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Susan Chamberlain
Bird Expert, Author & Columnist

Bird Care for Birdbrains!

The least you need to know when you decide to share your home with a pet's not a hobby; it's a lifestyle! You'll learn what things around the house may be dangerous to your bird, the pros and cons of wing clipping, and valuable shortcuts to your new career as a bird servant!

Chorus: Pet Life Radio!

Male Announcer: You’re listening to

Female Announcer: So why do seagulls live near the sea?  Because if they lived near the bay, they’d be bagels [bay-gulls]. [laughter]

Welcome to Wings ‘n Things, where you’ll find real answers to real questions about everything you want to know about pet birds – care, feeding, bird products, travel and more.  Everything to make your frequent flier a happy camper.  From parrots to parakeets, cockatiels to cockatoos, you’ll have a bird’s-eye view of everything there is to know about your fun feathered friends.  So spread your wings and get ready to fly, with your Wings ‘n Things host, bird expert and author, Susan Chamberlain.

Susan Chamberlain: Hi, welcome to Wings ‘n Things on Pet Life Radio.  I’m your host, Susan Chamberlain, and here on our inaugural podcast we’re going to be talking about bird care for birdbrains, the least you need to know.  Okay, suppose you just got a new bird and you need a crash course in parrot parenthood.  Well, here are some things I wish somebody had told me years ago. 

Talk about the noise!  Your bird may be quiet for a few days in its new environment.  When I got my first birds years ago, they were two cherry-headed conyers, some of the noisiest species you can find.  Well, I brought them home from the pet store, and for the first few days they didn’t make a sound.  Imagine how the poet store proprietor laughed when I called and said, “These birds are too quiet.”  He said, “Just wait.”  Well, it didn’t take long before it was morning-to-night Amazon jungle right in my own home.  That’s exactly what it sounded like.  Well, noise is their way of communicating.  Birds communicate to warn each other of impending danger, to say, “Hey, I found food,” and just to communicate with their flock. 

If a normally chatty bird suddenly becomes quiet or silence is accompanied by other symptoms, like listlessness, a nasal discharge, or lameness, or puffy feathers, consult an avian veterinarian.  You can find an avian veterinarian by logging on to  Develop a relationship with a veterinarian before emergencies arise. 

Mess: “Mess Management 101”, that’s something that you are going to have to excel in.  Birds are messy.  Their favorite game is “fling the food… toss the toys… and watch my servant clean them up.”  You’ll learn.  You’ll develop a very close relationship with at least one vacuum cleaner, and paper towels are going to be on your grocery list from now on.  It’s very important to clean up after your bird, because spoiled food can cause disease if eaten.  Bird droppings, once they dry, can aerosolize.  They’ll be floating around in your home like little dust particles, and you certainly don’t want to inhale that.  People with asthma and other breathing difficulties may be especially affected.

Food: Birds do not live by seeds alone.  Supplement your pet’s diet with pellets and treats specially formulated for birds.  Fresh fruits and veggies, pasta, a protein source such as well-cooked eggs, beans, to meat.  Dump those brown grapes and mushy carrots.  Don’t feed your bird anything you wouldn’t eat.  Use vitamin supplements according to package directions and veterinary advice.  Birds that eat pellets or formulated diets may not require additional vitamins.  So read all package directions very carefully.  And again, consult your avian veterinarian if you have questions.  Also, many packages may have an 800 number that you can call and ask questions of the company directly. 

Grit and gravel is something that used to be commonly found at the bottom of birdcages years and years ago.  It’s still sold in pet stores, and the veterinary conclusion is that most birds don’t need it.  Most vets will advise against it.  If a bird eats too much grit or gravel, it can get an impaction in its crop or digestive system.  So you generally do not need grit or gravel, especially for the larger species.  Birds such as canaries or budgies may benefit from a few grains of grit or gravel occasionally.  But basically the birds have everything they need to digest their food, and they don’t need it.  Another use for grit or gravel, if you do have some in your cabinet, use it on top of your houseplant soil.  It’ll help sweeten the soil, and it’ll be a first line of defense if your bird does happen to land on a houseplant and start digging around there. 

Forbidden foods:  You know, it’s great to give our birds things that we like to eat, and many of them actually beg.  I call my Amazons “spaghetti hawks”.  If they see Italian food in the house, they are just all over it.  They’re just leaning out and eyeballing it.  They just can’t wait to have their little treat of pasta.  So I prepare a special bowl for them, and I use a clean fork or spoon to serve it to them in their treat dishes.  I don’t take a fork out of my mouth and feed the birds.  I don’t allow the birds to eat out of my mouth or off my plate.  We have bacteria in our systems that aren’t natural to birds.  So it’s not a good idea to allow your bird to eat off your spoon or your plate. 

There are some forbidden foods that are toxic to birds and possibly other animals as well.  One of them is chocolate.  The theobromine in chocolate is harmful to birds, and especially to dogs as well.  Avocado, parts of the avocado plant, fruit, skin, and seed can be toxic to birds.  And there have been avian deaths reported because of avocado ingestion.  Alcoholic beverages, absolutely forbidden.  When you have a party, don’t allow your guests to let the birds drink out of their glasses, not a good idea.  Cola drinks aren’t good either, but alcohol can be very toxic.  Candy or sugary snacks, you know, one little grape or one little bite of candy, to your bird, can be equivalent to you eating a whole candy bar.  So be very careful about allowing sugary snacks to your bird.  Just moderation in fruits and other things that contain sugar.  Don’t feed them sugary cereal, candy, or other things like that. 

Sometimes in a bird mix you’ll find dried papaya, dried pineapple; that’s very sugary as well, and should only be offered to your bird in moderation.  Caffeine is harmful.  It’ll rev up their already-revved up systems, so don’t allow your bird to drink coffee, tea, or caffeinated soft drinks.  Birds are lactose intolerant, so milk products too are forbidden, unless it’s a milk product that has the lactose processed out of it, such as cheese.  Some cheeses are safe in tiny amounts, and when I say “tiny amounts”, I don’t mean as big as the bird’s head.  I mean as big as the bird’s eye.  Be very careful about string cheese, mozzarella cheese, and things like that, because that can remain in the bird’s crop and cause an impaction.  Not a good thing.  Salt and salty snacks are no good.  Keep your bird out of the potato chips, out of the salted popcorn.  Plain popcorn is fine, and fun for birds to eat, because it requires them to do some work. 

Uncooked meat, fish, and eggs, no good.  Too big a risk of salmonella and other bacteria.  And remember to wash your cutting boards very, very carefully and your cooking equipment after you’ve cut chicken or meat on it.  Don’t use the same board to cut your bird’s fruit and vegetables.  Sushi, not a good thing for birds.  You may love it, but it’s definitely not good for the birds.  Raw fish, not a good thing, and if you use soy sauce or other condiments, they may be much too salty, as are processed meats.  Between the salt and the chemicals, those too are not good to feed your birds.  Salads containing mayonnaise mat deteriorate in the heat, so avoid feeding them to your birds as well.

Now that we’ve done the food thing, let’s talk about, a little bit about, injuries in the home.  Reduce the possibilities of escape and injury by having your bird’s wings clipped by a veterinarian or pet shop professional.  Here’s a real no-brainer:  Use a carrier to bring your bird in for grooming.  To many birds have flown off their owners’ shoulders on the way to having their wings clipped.  You know there are so many dangers around the house.  Birds can fly into ceiling fans.  They can fly into glass doors, uncovered bodies of water like fish tanks, open toilet bowls, water boiling on the stove.  You know your house is just inherent with dangers.  So look around and see what trouble your bird could possibly get into.  It’s a given that if a bird can find trouble, it certainly will. 

And there’s a great deal of consternation and disagreement about whether it’s the right thing to clip your bird’s wings, or not.  I would say that that’s a very personal decision.  I keep my birds’ wings clipped.  I’ve had my amazons for 27 years, 25 years, and 20 years, respectively.  And they’ve always had their wings clipped and they’re just fine, happy, and thriving.  They have plenty of freedom outside their cages, and they climb around; they run around.  They are happy birds.  They have enriched lives.  They’re not sitting there depressed because their wings are clipped.  Of course, it’s a joy; it would be wonderful to be able to see our birds flying around freely.  But you have to assess the cost of that with the benefits.  If you can guarantee that you’ll keep your doors closed at all times when your birds are out of the cage, and if you cover your windows and minimize the dangers, well maybe it’s okay to let your bird fly freely.  But if you can’t guarantee that, if you have other pets in the house, if you have small children, if you have people coming and going, you may want to question whether it’s a good idea to let your bird fly freely around the house, especially at times of the year when doors are opening and closing more frequently, like at holiday time. 

You know, escapes are heart-breaking, and very few birds are actually recovered once they’ve escaped form their homes.  Things are a little better now than they used to be.  Years ago, when the birds were all imported into the United States, they were wild-caught, and they acted pretty wild.  So if one escaped there was probably less than a 5% chance that that bird would ever, ever be reunited with its human companion.  Now the birds in the United States, ever since 1992, imports have been prohibited, so the birds are for the most part captive-bred and hand-raised.  So that makes them much better pets and much more apt to come to a person rather than fly away in fear.  So there is a better recovery rate for these birds when they’re lost than there was in the past.  Often they’ll walk up to somebody. 

I have one of my birds because it walked up to someone in their driveway.  And try as we might, my bird club and I and other people were never able to locate the owner.  So the bird is still at my house, and it’s a nice bird.  I can’t believe nobody is looking for this bird, but the tragedy is maybe they just didn’t know where to look.  So the bird’s wings were not clipped, and it was healthy.  Obviously not out for too long because it hadn’t been beaten up by other birds or starved, but it may have flown a great distance.  So assess all the pros and cons of wing clipping, discuss it with your avian veterinarian, discuss it with other bird owners, and evaluate your lifestyle before you make a decision. 

And always have your bird’s wings clipped by someone who is well qualified to do so.  I’ve had birds for almost 30 years, and I never clip their wings.  I’m too much of a mother hen.  It’s just like, I just worry too much over it, and worry that I’m going to do something wrong or hurt them or whatever.  So a friend of mine who is a very experienced bird groomer, she’s been in the business for most her adult life, I would say, she comes and clips them several times a year.  But it’s something that a qualified person can do, because you don’t want to clip a blood feather.  That’s a living feather, and if it’s cut, the bird can bleed from that feather.  The remedy for a cut blood feather is to actually pull the feather out of the wing completely, and then apply direct pressure to that wound until the bleeding stops. 

So if you can be instructed by someone who’s very knowledgeable and capable, then by all means learn to clip your bird’s wings.  But if you have any trepidation about it at all, please take your bird to an experienced groomer or an avian veterinarian.  Experienced groomers are really great because they often groom birds from morning till night, especially if they work in a busy bird store.  So they’re very experienced; they know how to handle them; they know how to look for signs of stress.  One of my friends grooms birds bare-handed, so that she can feel the heartbeat as she’s grooming the bird, and this way if the bird’s heart starts racing, she’ll put the bird down and stop the grooming process.  Sometimes people have to wrap a bird in a towel in order to groom it properly, and some groomers use gloves.  Some birds are frightened of these processes; some are not.  You’ll have to look into all of this and see what your bird reacts to the best.  The upside is that grooming usually takes only a few moments, and once it’s over the bird ruffles its feathers and goes right back to what it was doing beforehand.

Female Announcer: Sitting on a branch overlooking a parking lot, the pigeons watched as a Mercedes pulled in below them.  “What do you think?” one bird said to the other, “Should we put a deposit on that car?” [laughter]

Stay perched.  Wings ‘n Things will be soaring back right after these messages.

Male Announcer: [dog sounds] Having a rough day?  Longing for the dog days of summer?  Think you fun furry friend lives a dog’s life?  Well find out everything you’re begging to know as Pet Life Radio presents It’s a Doggy Dog World, with pet expert and award-winning author Liz Palika.  Every dog has his day, and you’ll find out how to make your dog’s day fun and rewarding, every week on demand, only on [dog sounds end]

Let’s talk pets, on

Female Announcer: A Frenchman walks into a bar with a parrot on his shoulder.  The bartender asks, “Where did you get that thing?”  The parrot replies, “In France.  There are millions of them there.”  [laughter]  Don’t have a canary.  Wings ‘n Things is back, with more great words on birds, with your host Susan Chamberlain.

Susan Chamberlain: Is there a killer in your kitchen?  Non-stick cookware and appliances can kill birds very quickly when they are overheated.  Polymers in the coatings of these products emit fumes that are deadly to birds when they’re heated.  Now the companies that manufacture these non-stick products are in disagreement about the temperatures which these products have to reach in order to emit these toxic fumes.  Some say they have to reach 560 degrees.  Others say they have to reach 700 degrees.  We don’t really know; it probably depends on the quality of the non-stick coating.  But the fact is that birds have died when these products have only been heated to normal baking temperatures.  So they are very dangerous.  And there are many, many brand names of non-stick coating, Teflon, Silverstone, Calfelon, Analon… those are just some of the names of non-stick coatings.  They are many, many brand names.  You’ll see them advertised everywhere.  If it says “non-stick” it’s a really good bet that it contains these toxic polymers.  The name of the element in the polymer is polytetraflouroethylene, which is usually known as PTFE.  The products aren’t labeled to show the presence of this element, this chemical.  But some, like Revere, some companies like Revere Ware, do put a little note in their product instructions saying, you know, “Please do not overheat these around pet birds… blah, blah, blah, you know.  May cause harm to pet birds if overheated.”  So how many of us actually read the cooking instructions that come with our pots and pans?  I don’t know.  So, you know, be aware of this and let your friends know too.  You have some great alternatives.  You can switch to stainless steel, enamel, aluminum, or glass cookware.  Or just plan to eat out a lot.  That sounds a lot better to me. 

Be aware of self-cleaning ovens too, especially around holiday time when you’re tempted to put them on the self-cleaning cycle.  Smoke products from stuck-on food and emissions from chemical coatings on the insulation in these ovens can be deadly.  Open the windows and relocate your birds when you clean the oven this way, or when you use chemical oven cleaners too.  You know, many people report success just by wiping out their ovens with white vinegar and water after they cook, and that seems to really clean it up pretty well.  Of course you can use an aluminum foil oven liner inside your oven to catch spills.  That always works; keeps your oven a lot cleaner.  And you know I have people who tell me they haven’t cleaned their stove in years, because they’re too afraid to do it with the birds in the house.  So you know, get the birds out of the house; clean the stove.  Once the stove is cleaned, if you’re using a chemical oven cleaner, run it through a heated cycle a couple times before you bring the birds back into the area. 

And don’t keep the birds in the kitchen.  You know that’s really the worst place to keep a bird.  How many times years ago did you hear, “Oh, my bird just died!  I don’t know what happened.”  The bird “just died”.  Well, they probably didn’t “just die”.  They were probably exposed to some sort of kitchen fumes that killed them.  So be very careful and the top three things you can do when you’re cooking in your home: Ventilate, ventilate, ventilate.  Open a window.  You know, indoor air pollution can be very harmful. Also, we did talk about the toilet lids and fish tanks a little bit, before.  So unless your bird has webbed feet, it can’t swim.  So make sure to keep these covered, especially when your bird is out of its cage. 

Torment the dog or cat by insisting the bird ride around on its head, and your feathered friend may pay for it later.  Bites and scratches from mammals or reptiles are always serious.  You have about half an hour to get your bird to a vet before bacteria begin racing through its bloodstream.  Dogs and cats have a bacterium in their mouths called pasturella, and when cats wash themselves and lick their paws, they transfer this pasturella to their claws.  If they scratch the bird, even lightly, that can be transferred to the bird’s bloodstream.  And if a dog bites a bird, that’s how the pasturella can get into the bird’s bloodstream that way.  So be very careful with other pets, and take you bird to the vet immediately if the skin is broken by an attack from a cat or a dog.  Even if it looks minor, it may not be, and your bird may need to be put on antibiotics immediately.

Do you have houseplants in your house?  Well, they look like salad to your bird.  And some of them are poisonous.  I keep my birds away from the houseplants, even the safe ones.  But be wary of poisonous plants.  Those grown from bulbs, like tulips, daffodils, etc. are very poisonous.  And holiday plants, holly, poinsettia, and mistletoe, are toxic as well.  One good rule of thumb to follow: If a plant is associated with a holiday, it’s probably poisonous.  So keep it away form your bird.  Philodendrons are poisonous.  Calenchoe, I just learned is poisonous.  So don’t let your birds eat these plants.  You know, out in the jungle, they may eat some of these plants, but then they also go to clay licks; they eat things on the ground that help neutralize these toxins.  And these aren’t available in a captive environment.  So be very careful about houseplants where your birds are concerned.  One exception is spider plants.  Spider plants seem to be fairly innocuous, and they grow easily an well.  There’s been some research that suggested they actually remove some of the toxins from the air.  That research was refuted, and then again validated.  I think you’d probably have to have hundreds and hundreds of spider plants in order to have any appreciable reduction of indoor air pollutants.  But the point is that if your bird lands on a spider plant and eats some of it, it is probably going to be very safe, as long as you haven’t sprayed the plant with pesticides or fed it with some toxic form of plant food or given it a systemic pesticide.  If your plants get bug, throw them out. 

Make sure you wash your hands before you handle your birds.  You know, birds don’t catch our colds, but they are susceptible to some of the creepy-crawlies on our skin and in our bodies.  You know humans harbor e-coli.  We may have picked up a staph germ somewhere.  So be very careful about handling your bird.  Keep a waterless hand sanitizer handy for quick cleanups.  Or do what I do – I just keep a spray top on a bottle of alcohol on my counter and spray my hands with that.  It kind of dries them out in the winter, but you know I use that to clean countertops and everything else too.  But wash your hands before you prepare your bird’s food.  And if you get a new bird, make sure that you quarantine that bird away form your existing birds.  And wash your hands again after you’ve handled the new birds and before you handle your existing birds.  It’s very, very important.  You know they talk about humans having colds and everything transmissible by hand contact.  Well germs that birds get are often transmitted by hand contact as well.  And if you’ve handled food, prepared chicken or prepared your mean, cleaned out the litter box for your cat, changed the baby’s diaper, anything…make sure you really wash your hands well before you pick your bird up.

Do you know that your bird requires 12 hours of quiet time every day?  Yeah, your bird really needs to sleep.  And it’s not a nocturnal animal.  In the wild, birds wake up at dawn, and they go to sleep at dark.  Amidst a lot of chattering beforehand, you’ll probably notice with your bird when it wakes up early in the morning, and starts carrying on, saying, “Hey, I’m happy to be alive!”  It may not sound like that to you; you’d like to get a little bit more sleep.  Well, if you want to get a little more sleep in the morning, use a dark-colored cage cover on your bird’s cage.  There’s a little controversy about whether or not it’s necessary to cover your bird’s cage.  It used to be to protect them from so-called drafts.  A bird won’t get sick from a draft alone, unless it’s so cold it significantly its body temperature and makes it susceptible to germs.  If you think about it, you know birds live outdoors.  I mean there’s always wind or a draft.  But anyhow, a cage cover can give a bird security, signal that it’s time to go to sleep at night, make it feel secure in its nest, which is actually its cage.  And in certain climates help keep flying insects out of the cage.  When I live din Florida, I felt that it was a good protection against mosquitoes and no-see-ums.  So it’ll help your bird too if you’ve got the lights on and everything at night.  Just when it’s time for your bird to go to sleep, cover your bird up, and you’ll hear it chortling to itself in there, as it settles down to go to sleep. 

You know, birds hide illness very, very well.  So be alert for abnormal droppings, tail bobbing; you know if the tail is bobbing up and down while the bird is at rest on its perch.  Lethargy, decreased appetite, increased thirst, drooping wings, and other unusual signs.  You know if a talkative bird suddenly stops talking, that can be a sign of illness.  If the nostrils are clogged up, that’s definitely a sign that there may be something wrong.  So consult your avian veterinarian for specific advice.  It’s very important; birds hide their illnesses and you often don’t realize it until the bird is seriously ill.  So look for these little signs of illness. 

Provide your bird with shelter from direct sunlight in the house.  Bright light is nice; natural light is good; a little sun is fine; but your bird needs to be able to get out of the sunlight.  Constant cold drafts from an air conditioner aren’t good, as we discussed before.  You know if it’s too c… a breeze isn’t going to hurt your bird; a drop in temperature alone isn’t going to hurt your bird, but a constant deliverance of cold air may lower the body temperature and make your bird susceptible.

Sanitation is mandatory.  Can’t say this enough.  Clean cage, clean water, and clean dishes every day.  Don’t just dump out that water dish and fill it with water again.  If you do that, after two or three days it’s going to be pretty slimy in there.  So wash those dishes out.  Keep a couple sets of dishes and replace the used dishes with a nice clean set every day.  Then you can wash the other ones at your leisure. 

You know birds aren’t dogs.  They don’t respond to punishment or thumps on the head.  You’ll have to resort to parrot psychology.  Read articles and books on bird behavior.  Listen to the upcoming programs on Pet Life Radio.  Join a bird club and network with other bird-owners.  And realize that your bird is an individual.  It’s a sensitive intelligent creature.  The bird needs physical and mental stimulation, and a really strong relationship with you in order to thrive.  You know, you need some equipment for birds as well, LOTS of it!  Would it be kind to describe your home décor as “haute avian”?  I totally understand.  Your bird occupies a position of honor in the family room, the cage carefully chosen to suit its needs and complement the surroundings.  The all the rest of the stuff moves in, age covers, T-stands, bird gyms, carriers, special light fixtures, toys, treats, and other avian accoutrements soon litter corners, closets, and counters.  Perhaps that T-stand does double-duty as a clothes rack!  And hey, is that carrier being used as an end table?  Do you really need all that stuff?  Well you can create a clutter-free avian lifestyle by designating an alcove, a corner, or an entire room just for the birds.  Make a rule that anything in this area must be bird-related.

Well, we’re ready to sign off Wings ‘n Things on Pet Life Radio.  I’m your host, Susan Chamberlain.  Bye-bye!

Female Announcer: Join us every week on Wings ‘n Things with your host, Susan Chamberlain.  And get a bird’s-eye view of everything there is to know about pet birds, and how to make your frequent flier a happy camper.  Wings ‘n Things, only on

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