Archive | January, 2009

The Proper Perch

28 Jan

As our birds are bipeds, they put a fair amount of use on their tootsies. As such, birds do have some common problems with their feet.

The most common problem is a malady called pododermatitis, also known as bumblefoot. This can exist at many points along a spectrum and can be either very mild (virtually unnoticeable by an untrained eye) or severe enough to allow a huge infection down into the bones, tendons, and ligaments of the feet.

Skin health from the inside is one of the best ways to prevent this. And one of the best ways to encourage skin health is to make sure the bird is getting a proper diet, one with plenty of vitamin A precursors (such as in the form of beta carotine). Read our bird care handout for more information on the diet details.

The next step is to make sure the surface that the birds rests the surface of it’s feet on is healthy. As far as determining that, you have to go closest to the original environment the bird came from. Trees.

Use natural branches for most of your perches- and mostly fairly rough-barked. No dowels. No plastic. And minimize smooth wood like manzanita. One perch being mineral/ terracotta (a nail conditioning perch) is okay but don’t position it where your bird spends all it’s time on it. And NO sandpaper covers, they abrade birds’ feet tremendously. If your bird chews up the perch, that’s great- the bird has something to do that is a natural behavior. Just replace it when it looks a little snaggled.

Smooth surfaces like dowels, manzanita, and plastic provide less ‘grip’ and the bird will either fall off frequently (which isn’t good for the bird’s health or confidence), or be forced to grip tightly. The foot as it shifts around will have tiny friction buffing which smoothes off the pattern on the bottom. This is the first step in pododermatitis. A rougher surface will allow the foot to hold with less slippage and less wear on the surface. This may seem counterintuitive at first but I have seen many cases of mild to moderate pododermatitis respond simply to a change in the perching material.

One cannot use just any natural branches. Some generally safe woods to use includes dragonwood, bottlebrush, citrus, hibiscus, seagrape, maple, pine (make sure it is dried a bit and isn’t so sappy- what a mess!), grapevine. There are plants too risky to use and here is a good list to examine further for what NOT to use.

Other concerns, even using a safe wood, include making sure the wood doesn’t come from a plant recently treated with pesticides, or coming from next to a heavily traveled roadway where road debris and exhaust chemicals may coat it. Give it a look to make sure no wild animals have left their ‘mark’, wash well with soap and water, and air dry. If there are any further concerns you can soak the wood in water and bake it at 200 degrees in an oven. If you do so you do this at your own risk- we do not take any liability for these instructions.

Some pet supply companies will sell wood (including dragonwood, bottlebrush wood, and grapevine) that has already been sterilized, and you might find this option more convenient.

Naturalizing the environment around our pets is always an important consideration. We are asking our animals to live with us and therefore, we need to provide them with an environment as close to what their ancestors came from as possible. They are optimized for the forest (or desert, or plains, or mountains, or… etc!) and not so much for our living rooms.

Ultraviolet Light for Birds and Reptiles

24 Jan

One fascinating aspect of birds is that they see in the ultraviolet wavelength spectra. Our eyes are unable to detect these levels of light but our birds can, and in fact, many objects have different reflective patterns of these UV spectra that we cannot see.

It is only a theory however I suspect our hands may have a different appearance in the UV coloration whether there are skincare products on them versus if they are clean. I have noticed a definite behavior difference of my own African Grey (Tesla of course) towards my hands whether I have lotion on them versus not and since this species has limited scent ability, and the hands don’t look any different in the visible light spectrum, I suspect it is the UV reflection difference.

I have had clients describe that their birds developed sudden aggression or fear towards them. Upon exhaustive discussion to try to resolve the cause of the biting, I found out that the client had used a new skin product right at that time. The clients almost invariably reported back that the birds resolved their behaviors as soon as the person discontinued the use of the product. Whose to say what would have happened if the person didn’t find out about this and continued using the product- perhaps the trust between the bird and the person would have disintegrated and we would have ended up with yet another unwanted parrot.

It would be fascinating to know whether a change in the UV coloration of some aspect of the bird’s environment, or of the bird’s caretakers (via a change in skincare, physiologic state, clothing), causes more behavioral abnormalities in our birds than we realize.

For additional mental stimulation, UV light sources can be placed near our birds. This will bring out more colors for our birds to see and enjoy, and possibly allow them to make better judgements in how to properly play with toys, preen their feathers, eat foods, react to things around them, and possibly generate additional nutrients (see the previous entry on African Greys and the importance of UV light).

And not to forget the importance for our reptiles, as well. They also see in the UV light and may see their food items better with this light. In addition and maybe more importantly, they may require UVB to activate vitamin D and absorb their calcium as well. However, there are reports of some UV lights being sold in this country having improper wavelength and causing some eye problems in some reptiles. For solid information on how to make sure your light source is firstly, safe and secondly, adequate, go to this website for more detailed information.

All in all, it reinforces the idea of how difficult yet how important it is to view the world around our animals through their eyes, not ours (literally, in this case)

Feathers being the window of health

17 Jan

Growing feathers take a huge amount of hit on the bird’s overall energy expenditure. They are grown so fast, and sometimes many grow in at once (like during a heavy moult, or the young bird’s first set). If there is anything that may interrupt that bird’s supply of nutrients to that growing feather, the feather will show it. Maybe not now, but in the future.

The most mild form of this is premature wearing. Just like clothes sewed from cheap, poorly made cloth will tend to wear out and wrinkle really easily, feathers grown from a substandard set of supplies provided by the bird’s system will start to look awful before their due date. This can be due to nutritional imbalances, underlying illnesses, stressful events, lack of food… the list goes on. But, feathering in poor shape is an important symptom we look for to indicate a possible problem that needs further addressing.

For further information on this, look at the recent publication Birds USA 2008; Dr. Rolfe has an article in that edition which will further explain the health-feather connection.