Answers provided by Pamela Clark, Avian Behavior Consultant, Atascadero, CA
Is there any indication that (GSE) might be useful in preventing feather
1. Of all herbs, it is perhaps the only true 'antibiotic' the meaning of
which is "antilife".
Most studies on GSE have been in the lab (in vitro) not in the body (in
vivo). In vitro acitivity is not always a reliable indicator of in vivo action.
There have been few clinical trials using GSE in vivo.
In vitro studies have found GSE to be effective in cleaning hospital
equipment, swimming pools, and veterinary practice.
He used it effectively in the treatment of Heliocobacter pylori, the
organism that causes stomach ulcers.
5. GSE and garlic are the two most powerful broad-spectrum antibiotics available for use. The broad activity of GSE is available from minute doses of the extract, whereas garlic must be taken in relatively large doses to be equivalently effective as a straight antibiotic.
There are two negatives to GSE.
a. GSE will kill off intestinal or skin bacteria where garlic will not, whatever the amount consumed
b. GSE is difficult to prepare for use at home, whereas garlic is easily
You can get a listing of the many laboratory
studies on GSE in Shalila Sharmon and Bodo Baginski's "The Healing Power of
Grapefruit Seed" from Lotus Light Publishing (1996).
Question: What species pluck the most?
Answer: To my knowledge, no one is keeping statistics on this. However, as I indicated before, it does appear that Greys and cockatoos are most likely to feather pick. After them, I suppose I see Quakers and macaws most often.
At this stage, we can only guess as to why these species feather pick more than others. From my observations with my own birds, and those I have as clients, I would say that I think there are two contributing factors: (1) innate methods for using the beak, and (2) social requirements.
I did an experiment once with my own birds. I made an identical toy and gave it to them all...cockatoos (3), Amazons (2), macaws (2), Pionus (2), African Greys (7), Poicephalus (2). This toy was a length of leather onto which I strung marbella beads and pieces of wood, and the leather was knotted at the bottom to hold these things on. The macaws, Amazons, and Pionus all chewed the wood pieces until they lost interest. The Poicephalus chewed a little on the wood, but largely ignored the toy altogether. The African Greys and cockatoos chewed the wood, but also focused on the knot at the bottom of the leather strip. In short, Greys and cockatoos seem to have an inclination to focus on smaller detail...like feathers. More than this, however, I think that both Greys and cockatoos have distinct social needs that often are not met in captivity. This may also perhaps be true of Quakers, given their communal nesting habits. Greys behave quite differently in the domestic environment than do New World birds. They keep in close psychic contact with their human companions and, accordingly, are more profoundly effected when their human caregivers leave on vacation, abandon them, or are under extreme stress themselves.
Cockatoos form extremely strong pair bonds, and enjoy much physical closeness with their mate. These instinctively programmed needs are hard to meet in captivity. Further cockatoos are very "beaky" birds, and have a propensity for swallowing harmful items, like heavy metals. Macaws often are quite sensitive emotionally, and subject to stress from less than optimal conditions in the home. They are quite loving, soulful creatures that enjoy a close bond with the human caregiver and form strenuous objections when not receiving adequate attention. Sometimes these objections take the form of feather picking.
I don't believe that feather picking is passed down to offspring genetically. We believe, and observations would seem to bear out, that parrots in the wild do not, or rarely, pluck. This information in itself would make it unlikely that plucking would somehow be "passed down" genetically, since most of the domestically raised parrots are only one or two generations away from wild parents. The other option is that this might be behavior that a chick could learn from it's parent in the nestbox. However, most domestically raised parrots only stay with their parents for 2 weeks...certainly not long enough to learn something like feather picking.
Question: Could there be any link between our hand feeding and picking? Could we be taking away some lessons the parents would teach the babies?
Answer: I think the answer to both questions is "yes," although I do not believe that "hand feeding" is the problem per se. Instead, the problem lies in the combination of other practices that usually go along with hand rearing baby parrots. Three of these I believe to be problematic, and are likely to be contributing factors to the tendency of domestic parrot to feather pick.
First, the vast majority of baby parrots are still weaned by "deprivation weaning" practices. This means that the breeder or hand feeder has an arbitrary time frame within which the baby parrot must be weaned so that he can be sold as early as possible. This practice maximizes profits for the pet store or breeder. Thus, if the hand feeder wants the baby weaned by 12 weeks of age, then he begins to drop one feeding at a time, with the intent of making the baby parrot hungry enough that he will begin to eat on his own. Hunger is supposed to be the motivating factor here.
There are huge problems with this idea. For one thing, baby parrots do not automatically seek out food when hungry. The young of predators do this, but not the young of prey animals. Parrots are prey animals, and according to the "rules" of the flock, when a baby parrot is hungry...his job is to hunker down and cry out to his parents. Their job is then to fly over and feed him. From observing the interactions that are occurring in feral flocks of parrots that now live in the United States, we know that the parents often feed the baby parrots until they are two or three years of age. Granted, these feedings do not occur very often in the second or third year, but they most certainly do happen, especially during times when the young fledglings are under stress.
There is a flock of wild Amazons that lives in Santa Barbara. Phoebe Linden at the Santa Barbara Bird Farm has placed feeding stations for them on her property. One of the breeding pairs is comprised of a DYH male and a LC female, so that the babies they are producing are hybrid Amazons that have different markings. That means that she can tell the babies apart, and she has been watching them long enough to know their ages. According to Phoebe, the parents of those Amazon chicks *never* allow those babies to go hungry...they *never* ignore their babies' calls for food. They are doing their genetically programmed "job." And...all works well.
So, what happens in the domestic environment when the baby parrot cries for food, and the hand feeder refuses to feed it, and instead pushes a dish of food under it's face? That baby parrot develops distrust in the human caregiver, and develops a feeling of anxiety. How do we feel when *really* hungry? We get a little edgy, don't we? So does a baby parrot. The baby parrot knows instinctively that it's not time for him to learn to eat on his own yet. In the wild, baby parrots can not possibly wean or become food independent until several weeks after fledging. Baby Greys, for example, fledge at about 10 weeks of age (sometimes later). Therefore, anyone weaning a baby Grey at 12 weeks is definitely doing so in opposition with the baby's innate timetable and instinctive needs. I believe that this creates a lifelong inclination towards anxiety, nervousness and distrust, which, under increased stress, can manifest in feather picking.
Secondly, parrots have the spirits of flying creatures. Every physical feature, every sense, every speck of intelligence and emotion they bring to the domestic environment was originally developed to augment and support their ability to fly through the air. I don't believe that it especially hurts them to clip their wings, and I absolutely do *not* believe that clipped wings contribute to feather picking. However, I do believe that *never* learning to fly does contribute to this condition. I raise a small number of African Greys each year. I always fledge every one. They fly in my home and in an outdoor aviary until they can fly without even having to think about how to land. They are magnificent in their ability...and they know it. The experience teaches them to both *think* and act volitionally.
Before fledging, most of a baby parrot's experience is passive. When he fledges, he suddenly has to start thinking about where he wants to go and how he will get there and where he will land. He has to calculate and plan ahead. He has to become conscious of where he wants to go...and to do this he has to develop the personal fortitude to act volitionally. This experience forever changes the personality of the bird. My little fledgling Greys are the cockiest, bravest, most incredible little socialites...and it's largely because (1) they are not hungry and have never learned that they can not trust me to meet their most basic needs, and (2) they know themselves as flying creatures and have the confidence and coordination that go along with this experience. This sense of self remains with them even after their wings have been gradually clipped back.
Third, parrots learn in a number of fundamental ways. One of these is called associative learning. I think the name for this was first applied when a study of chickadees was done ... chickadees that had learned to poke through the foil caps on the milk bottles left by the milkman outside people's homes in certain areas. It was shown that the birds learned by watching each other. This is very basic, but sadly, is also something that we have largely ignored in our rearing of baby parrots.
I raise my baby Greys with older Greys, that I call "nanny" birds. It is quite obvious that the young Greys watch the older Greys to see how to play with toys, how to relate to humans, how to navigate around the area where they live, etc. The best example of this is the fact that these baby Greys talk much earlier than those not reared with older Greys in the home. I have done it both ways.
This instinctively programmed need to learn about the world is often not taken into account when we bring home a new baby parrot. We tend to focus instead on the happiness and pleasure this new pet brings us. Thus, many young parrots are not intentionally challenged with the learning experiences they need to develop greater confidence. They languish in their cages, and we remain unaware in large part that our role with them must be more proactive. They need us to teach them about our world...to challenge them with sensitivity.
Thus, I think that the three essential aspects of parrot rearing are (1) abundance weaning, (2) fledging, and (3) being allowed experience with either the parent birds for between 2 and 4 weeks, and/or experience with other older birds of the same species - just being able to observe the latter before going home. This, then must be followed with much guidance and teaching from the human caregivers.
Every single feather picking African Grey I have ever had as a client was deprivation weaned, incubator hatched or pulled at an early age, and was never allowed to fledge and learn to fly. I have come to solidly believe that these factors have contributed to their inclination to feather pick.
Having these three aspects of early rearing in common is not necessarily certain to predestine a parrot to feather pick. However, they do predispose the parrot to feather picking, because this same parrot does not have the intellectual and emotional resources to meet stresses that a parrot raised correctly does.
The manner in which baby parrots are currently being raised in most facilities poses a real dilemma. It is much harder to make a profit when babies are abundance weaned, fledged, and well socialized. They have to stay with the hand feeder for a longer period, which equates with decreased profits. Therefore, there will be no motivation for breeders to change their practices...until buyers know enough to demand chicks that are fledged, comfortably food independent, and self-confident from learning about the world from sensitive, loving teachers. *If* and when the public is so knowledgeable that they refuse to buy production raised chicks, there will be real hope for aviculture.
Question: Are blood feathers just grown in the wings?
Answer: No. All new feathers, when growing in, are blood feathers. As a new feather emerges from the skin, it has a blood supply going to it, which can be seen. If you look at a blood (or new) feather growing in, you will see that the central vein is dark in color. That is the blood supply and is feeding the feather as it grows. As the feather reaches it's full length, the blood supply recedes back into the body, and the feather is no longer known as a blood feather. At this point, the central "vein" will turn whitish in many species. All new feathers have this blood supply to them. However, you aren't very aware of it in the chest or body pin feathers, because they reach their full length pretty quickly and the blood supply recedes equally quickly. We are just much more often aware of blood feathers in wings because those feathers are the longest feathers on the body, take so long to grow in, and accordingly break more often.
Question: My bird continually breaks blood feathers. Should I pull them out? If it bleeds but can be stopped with flour, should I leave it alone?
Answer: These are good questions, and very pertinent to some feather picking problems. Such a situation is always a difficult one, but in time such a parrot can actually grow out a complete tail and set of flight feathers on each wing. This just takes nutritional support and careful management.
A parrot in this predicament may benefit from additional protein in the diet. We really don't know what the protein requirements are for parrots. Pellet manufacturers are guessing at best. Rarely are we able to observe wild parrots feeding in enough detail to know what animal or insect food sources they might consume. Sometimes, since parrots are fairly hard-wired instinctively, offering them choices and observing their reactions can provide valuable information.
One day I had my Blue and Gold Macaw out in the garden with me. I was planting some starts and unexpectedly dug up a potato bug. I wondered what Goldie would do with it, and offered it to her after washing it. She took it in her foot, bit off the head and ate it, and...with eyes pinning in delight...said, "Ummmm!" That latter is her comment for the things she *really* likes to eat, and she proceeded to consume the entire insect. Experiences like this allow me to realize that we might not have taken into account the fact that parrots may certainly eat their share of insects, which is a viable food source for protein. One breeder in Australia that I once talked to described how breeders there will release live mice into the flights for the cockatoos to catch and eat. Again, this is indicative of the fact that parrots may have higher requirements for protein that we realize.
Feathers are largely made up of protein. A parrot who routinely breaks his blood feathers can benefit both from increased protein in the diet, and good management about his activities. Sometimes it is necessary to curtail a parrot's physical activities if he plays too rough, thereby breaking his feathers. More floor time can be offered, and changes can be made in such a parrot's routine so that he has fewer opportunities for breaking his feathers.
In most cases, even when a blood feather breaks and starts to bleed, it does not need to be pulled and is best left in place. Trips to the vet for the pulling of broken blood feathers are often contributory to later conditions of phobia. This can be quite a scary and painful experience for a parrot. Usually a broken blood feather will stop bleeding on it's own within 30 minutes. If it doesn't, pressure can be applied to the feather follicle, the spot where the feather emerges from the skin, and which can be instrumental in stopping the bleeding. Pulling such a feather should be considered at a last resort.
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Question: Can a 9 mo old B&G Macaw, learn to fly? If so, what dangers would she face?
Answer: Yes, a large macaw can be re-fledged, but most people don't have the physical circumstances in which to do this successfully. Careful consideration must be made for this to be successful, and such a task is difficult in a residence. For one thing, the wing span of a B&G is quite large, and it's not always possible to re-fledge a large macaw in a house. When a parrot is learning to fly, they are quite awkward in terms of learning to turn corners and land. The larger the bird, the more awkward they are. My own B&G wasn't fledged, and now has all her flight feathers in. Although we live in a house with a very open, large second floor (in which the baby Greys fledge quite nicely), it is still not large enough for her to learn to fly. I'm thinking about building a large flight that would
measure 12 ft by 25 ft for her to learn to fly in. In addition, a macaw must fly at a certain speed in order to fully develop her ability, and this type of speed isn't possible in a small enclosure. As it is now, I just encourage my macaw to do a lot of flapping exercises. This might also be adequate for yours. Macaws are a species that generally fare rather well in captivity, even if they are not allowed to fledge.
Perhaps, given the difficulty of re-fledging a large macaw for the pet owner, it is more important to make sure that she develops a good musculature and gets enough exercise. Most parrots do not get enough exercise, and both behavior and health problems can result, the same way they can with humans. I'll recommend a great way to exercise her:
You will need a thick rope about 36 inches long. The pet stores these days are selling such a rope for dogs so that owners can play tug of war with their canines. These thick ropes have a couple of knots in them, which is fine for your purpose. If you can't find one of these, or choose to go another route, you can just buy 72 inches of 1 inch rope from the hardware store, double it so that you have a 36 inch length, and then tie knots at a couple of intervals so that you have a thick portion of rope that is about 36 or more inches long.
Once you have the rope, leave it laying around so that she can see it and learn that it isn't a predator (i.e. snake). Once she is used to looking at it, begin to encourage her to step up onto it by holding it taut between your two hands. Your hands should be a little wider than shoulder length apart with the rope stretched tightly in between them to provide a stable place for her to step onto. If she is reluctant, just keep trying, gently encouraging her. I usually have my macaw step up onto the rope from the door of her cage or the back of the couch.
Once you have her perched on the rope, you will gradually begin to lower one hand downward toward the floor, while you keep the top hand about shoulder level. She will continue to grip the rope, even though it is becoming more of a vertical perch. Once your lower hand has reached the bottom of the vertical line of the rope, just release the rope with that hand, while you continue to hold it with your top hand. Then, slowly and gently begin to swing the rope back and forth. She will begin to flap.
If this exercise is introduced slowly and gently, with consideration for the parrot, most of them learn to love it. It's a lot of fun for them to flap and flap while gripping the rope that you are swinging back and forth. Be sure to only swing her until she is breathing a little more heavily. You don't want to tire her out too much. Her stamina will slowly increase.
This is probably a lot safer way to see that she gets flying exercise than trying to re-fledge her inside your home, which very likely is not big enough.
Question: How can I implement an elimination diet to identify allergies?
Answer: When we implement an elimination diet, we eliminate from
the bird's diet anything that we suspect of causing the problem for a period of
two weeks. If one of the foods that is eliminated is causing the problem, then
you should see a decrease in the feather picking. After two weeks, the
foods that have been eliminated are added back into the diet *one at a time* and
careful observation is made to see if the picking worsens in response to the
addition of a particular food. If a particular food causes the picking to
increase, then that food is eliminated from the diet permanently.
Question: How can I get my adult bird to accept handfeeding?
Answer: Since adult birds are usually fairly conservative (and
often opinionated), this is a process of trial and error coupled with
persistence. For one thing, very few parrots will have an accepting
reaction to anything new. If you place a wild bird feeder outdoors, it
will take your neighborhood wild birds at least two weeks to get used to looking
at it and begin to explore it as a possible source of food. So it is with
our parrots, also, since they are not domesticated. I always figure
that it will take an older parrot *at least* two weeks, or 14 times, of seeing
or being offered a certain food before they might even consent to try it.
With my rescued Umbrella Cockatoo, it took six months of offering him warm
oatmeal before he would eat it off of a spoon. However, now he gulps it
off the top of the spoon, making little baby sounds as he does. It took a
long time, but it was worth it.
All of the rescued birds I have taken in were weaned too early (as was yours). Most have learned to allow themselves to be hand fed again and include my Umbrella and Goffin's Cockatoos, Meyer's Parrot, Senegal, both a Congo and Timneh Grey, and Blue and Gold Macaw. My Amazons and Pionus rebuffed all advances over a very long period of time, and I did not feel that they especially needed the practice (they're such easy going birds), so I gave up on them. Those that did eventually accept the practice were all suspicious in the beginning, but now there is little they enjoy more than the warm food they get right before bed. Those that accepted the practice were the ones that came to me as most needy, and fearful, or anxious. I believe that the practice has served to create a much greater sense of security in them, and has benefited them nutritionally as well.
Question: How often would you hand feed an adult bird?
Answer: I would hand feed her once or twice a day, depending
upon how much she seems to want this and your own schedule. I find that
feeding them warm, wet gloppy food just before bedtime helps to develop a real
sense of security. Feeding her then might alleviate your worry that she
wouldn't eat on her own.
Last Update: 09/11/01