Bird-Proofing Your Home
Susan talks about keeping your pet bird safe and sound in your home, and how to avoid the dangers that lurk within! Roberta Fabiano joins Susan again to talk about "crazy parrot questions".
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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 I’m in the studio with Ratchet, a mitered conyer. At the moment you may hear her chattering a little bit in the background, and if we’re lucky we may even get to hear her say a couple of words or sing a little song. Right, Ratchet? Hello, hello!
Susan Chamberlain: Well, there she goes in the background. But anyway, this time we’re going to talk about bird-proofing your home. You know when you share your home with a companion bird it’s not just a hobby. It’s a whole new lifestyle. Believe it or not, the average home is actually a birdie booby-trap. Things have got to change once your feathered friend moves in. There are dangers lurking everywhere. The first thing you need to do is secure the escape routes. Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security because your bird never lets you out of its sight. He’s just trying to prevent you from escaping. Seriously though, even the tamest, most loving pet birds sometimes escape or are inadvertently released into the great outdoors. But there are things you can do to prevent your bird from ending up in the lost section of the local newspaper or on the Internet. Loss prevention begins with the bird.
Have your bird’s wings clipped regularly by an avian veterinarian or by an experienced bird groomer. Inspect the wings for regrowth at least once a month. They grow out an awful lot faster than you think they would. And do be aware that cockatiels can often fly no matter how closely their flight feathers have been clipped. They’re just like little rockets no matter what. They can fly a little bit even if their wings are severely clipped. Wing clipping doesn’t hurt the bird. It’s like cutting your hair. But you should have it done by an experienced person to avoid cutting a blood feather or injuring your bird.
Take precautions to ensure that your bird doesn’t have an opportunity to escape from your home. Keep the doors and windows closed when your bird is out of its cage. When you take your bird to be groomed, make sure you take it safely inside a carrier. And one thing you should teach your bird is how to step on a stick or a perch. In the event that your bird ever does escape and is up in a tree, you’ll be able to extend that stick or perch towards your bird, and your bird will hopefully automatically step right onto it. If your bird, on the other hand, is not familiar with stepping onto a stick or a perch, it’ll be afraid of it and may fly off again. So perch-training your bird can really be a lifesaver.
Keep a record of the information on your bird’s leg band. Your bird has a little band around its leg, and there are numbers on that band. Copy them exactly as they appear on the band so you can positively identify your bird in case it ever does escape and is recovered. Take a good close-up photo of your bird too. And make a note of distinguishing physical characteristics, like a missing toe or toenail, or a toenail that’s a different color than the others. And make an inventory of your pet’s vocabulary for identification purposes. Did you know that the black lines on a blue & gold macaw’s face are actually little tiny black feathers? And the patterns that those little feathers make are each as distinct as a fingerprint. No two birds have exactly the same pattern. So do take a picture of your macaw’s face. If you have a blue & gold macaw or a green-wing macaw, they have those little rows of feathers on their faces, and they can also be used for identification purposes.
Now let’s take a look around your home. What can you do make sure your bird stays safely inside? Check out the window screens. Are they in good repair? Is your bird’s cage or gym located away from frequently opened exterior doors? If small children are in residence, install safety latches high up on the doors and keep them fastened, for goodness’ sake. A bird playing peacefully on its stand may be startled by a sudden noise or movement in the home and take off through the open door. One of my African Greys is always startled by the landscapers and when they come with their great big lawnmowers she takes off and goes and hides in the dining room. Now if there were an open door on that side of the house she might take off through there too. So you know you have to be aware of the dangers and work with them. And work with your bird and take steps that your bird doesn’t fly off or get hurt. You know when I hear the landscapers coming, I run and get Bobo and put her right in her cage so she doesn’t take off.
Avoid collisions! Keep your bird’s wings clipped to help prevent collisions with mirrors, windows, sliding glass doors and other household objects. Teach a formerly flighted bird that it can no longer fly by sitting on a bed or a floor with him. Allow him to attempt flight from that low altitude. After one or two soft landings, he’ll realize that you’re his best mode of transportation.
Tour your home holding your bird securely. Walk right up to mirrors and closed windows with your bird. Allow him to touch the windows and mirrors with his beak, so he’ll learn that these are solid objects, not something he can fly or walk through. Make sure to turn off ceiling fans when your birds are at liberty too. Even if they can’t fly, small birds especially may gain some altitude.
Throw your bird a life preserver. Avian drownings can occur in open toilets, fish tanks, bathtubs, and other receptacles full of liquid. Keep the toilet seat down. Cover your fish tanks. And close the bathroom door. Before you know it, doing all these things will be second nature; you’ll just do them automatically and your bird will be a lot safer for it.
Is there a killer in your kitchen? [ominous sound: from Dragnet] Fumes emitted from nonstick cookware and appliances can kill your birds quickly. Nonstick products are coated with polymers containing polytetraflouroethylene. And when these products containing this element, known as PTFE, for short… when these elements are heated, fumes and minute particulate matter are dispersed into the atmosphere, where they’re inhaled by air-breathing creatures. And that means your birds too. These odorless emissions may cause polymer fume fever, a flu-like condition in humans, but they can be deadly to birds in a matter of minutes. Manufacturers have stated that nonstick products must be overheated to emit these toxic fumes, but that isn’t really true… there’s some difference of opinion, first of all, as to what temperature must be reached to cause this overheating. The manufacturers don’t agree on that. And bird owners have reported that their pets have perished when the products are just under normal use. So the safest thing to do is simply not to use nonstick cookware if you have a bird. It is produced in a variety of different brand names, like “Teflon”, “Calfelon”, “Analon”, “Circulon”, and many others. Just don’t use it. If it’s nonstick, chances are it’s quite dangerous.
Another thing around the house that could imperil your pet birds are other pets, cats and dogs. I think we may have discussed this previously, but you have to be really careful not to allow your bird physical contact with your cat or dog. They harbor a bacteria in their mouth called “pasturella”, and if the cat scratches the bird or the dog bites the bird, that bacteria can be transferred to the bird’s bloodstream and cause an infection, which may be fatal.
Watch out for children too. You know, little kids… if you have children in the home, be careful of their little fingers too. You know big beaks can bite! And be careful to safeguard the birds also, from children. They may be feeding the birds things that the birds shouldn’t eat, like chocolate… not a good thing, chocolate candy. Or they may be giving the bird small little children’s toys that birds shouldn’t have, especially if they have removable parts.
I hear Ratchet over there… she’s kind of chattering away. What’s up, Ratchet? Come, what’s up? What’s she say? “What’s up?”
Susan Chamberlain: Nope, she’s just chattering. But Ratchet tries to stay safe in her home by retreating to her cage when she feels threatened or she just wants to spend some cozy time in her own little home. You know your bird’s cage should really be a sanctuary. Don’t think of it as “the lockup”. You know, in the wild, birds have their nests. They have their own trees. They have their own roosts. And the cage in your home is your bird’s own little microcosm of safety and security within your home. So have that cage in an area where the bird can see what’s going on in the house, but isn’t necessarily right in the middle of all the activity.
Birds do need 10 or 12 hours of sleep a night. They really do need that quiet time. Even though you may think they’re having a good time partying on, they can be very grouchy the next day!
Some of the other household hazards that you need to be aware of when you have a bird in the house are the cleaning chemicals, the things you use to clean. They can be toxic to the birds. The fumes may bother them. And certainly you don’t want the birds actually getting into any of your cleaning products. So make sure they are securely away from curious beaks. And when you are using cleaning products, move your bird to another room and make sure to ventilate your house carefully.
Scented candles can also be a problem. Some of the oils in the scents can harm your bird. They can be sensitive to them. And even people with asthma or breathing problems may have sensitivities to scented candles. So that’s another thing that you’ll have to give up when a bird moves into your house.
Cosmetics… that’s something we don’t always think of. But you know, Cracker, my [indistinct]-headed Amazon likes to be with me no matter what I’m doing. And when I’m putting on my makeup, she’s right there looking in the mirror with me. And sometimes she tries to grab an eyebrow pencil or a little piece of lipstick. But that’s a big no-no. You don’t want your bird messing in your cosmetics. Or, you know, there may be compounds in them that may be harmful to your birds. There may be bacteria in your mascara. At the very least, it’ll make a godawful mess if your bird is chewing up cosmetic products. Hair spray and aerosols are no-nos. Make sure you only use those behind closed doors away from your bird. Because birds have such very sensitive respiratory systems, inhaling these aerosolized droplets can be very, very harmful. So be very careful.
You know, there are a lot of lifestyle changes when you have a pet bird. But most of them, you know, make life better for your bird and they also make life better for you, because truthfully, who needs all these toxins anyway? If they’re not good for our birds, chances are in the long run they’re not good for us either. So there’s a whole host of things. You know, even when you’re recarpeting your home, a new carpet, a lot of carpets emit formaldehyde fumes. So you’re going to want to have that carpet aired at the store for several days before they even lay it in your home. Or you can opt for formaldehyde-free carpeting. It’ll be a little more expensive, but in the long run, again, it’ll be better for you and better for your birds, because neither one of you will be inhaling these formaldehyde fumes.
There are a lot of things to think about, and you know we’re thinking about the greenhouse gasses and saving the world, and a lot of less toxic products are going to be available. And think about that when you’re shopping for things for your home because the less toxic things you use inside your home, the better it is for you and for your bird. Your bird comes originally… you know, its ancestors came from the pristine jungles or the savannahs of Africa, or the islands of Malacca or Indonesia or Australia, so that’s what they’re used to living in. They’re not used to indoor air pollution. So that’s something we really have to be mindful of and control. And the three best things you can do: ventilate, ventilate, ventilate. Open a window for a portion of each day.
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.
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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: Hi, this is Susan Chamberlain, back on Wings ‘n Things. Roberta Fabiano has now joined me in the studio, and we’ve got some silly parrot questions that may not be so silly after all. Welcome, Roberta.
Roberta Fabiano: Well thank you for having me back so soon, Susan! That’s very nice.
Susan Chamberlain: Well what are your questions?
Roberta Fabiano: Okay, I’m sure they’re going to be very silly-sounding, but they are things I thought about when I first… I knew nothing about birds when I had my first parrot. So, however here goes… Could you talk about the parrot’s toes? They seem to be different from other birds, the wild birds.
Susan Chamberlain: Well, parrots are unique in that they are zygodactylous, which means that they have two toes facing frontwards and two toes facing backwards, where most birds will have the three toes facing the front and one facing the back. And a lot of times, if you notice when you’re looking at merchandise, like maybe a little sculpture or statue of a parrot, if it’s made somewhere where they don’t generally see parrots, you may see that they have three toes facing frontwards instead of the correct two toes. Now most people wouldn’t notice that, but people who share their homes and share their lives with parrots would notice that.
Roberta Fabiano: So the parrots are the only birds that have their toes in that… the two in the front and the two in the back? No other feathered creature on this planet?
Susan Chamberlain: No other feathered creature on this planet? Well I’m not 100% sure about that. I would have to look that up, but I think we are pretty safe in saying that parrots are pretty unique that way.
Roberta Fabiano: And what are you calling it? A “pterodactyl”? …what is it again?
Susan Chamberlain: No, it’s not a pterodactyl, although we may… some of our birds may seem like pterodactyls! It’s “zygodactylous”! [laughs]
Roberta Fabiano: Here’s another really silly question: Do parrots have ears? You know, I used to… I do actually know the answer to that, but that was a question I had.
Susan Chamberlain: Well, yes, parrots do have ears. Even though there’s a lot of giggling going on in here, but the segment is called “Silly Parrot Questions”. Yes parrots do have ears, although we don’t ordinarily see them. They are located on the sides of the head right behind the eyes, and if the feathers are a little thin there or if you’re scratching your bird’s head and it lifts up its feathers, you may see the ears. They just look like a hole in either side of the head. So this little round hole there. And sometimes new bird owners get scared and nervous and they’ll even call the vet and say, “My bird has a hole in his head. What is that?” And it’s his ears. There’s absolutely nothing wrong when you see that little hole in your bird’s head.
Roberta Fabiano: Yeah, the first time I saw the hole in my bird’s head is the vet pointed it out to me. I had no idea! And there was… You know, it’s just something that never occurred to me. What about this question? I don’t know the answer to this, so… Do parrots have eyelashes?
Susan Chamberlain: Well you have to get pretty close to your parrot to find that out, and actually I’m not quite sure about all of them, but my African Grey, Burt, when he sleeps on me, you can see little teeny, teeny, almost microscopic eyelashes. And…
Roberta Fabiano: What about eyebrows?
Susan Chamberlain: Ah, no, I don’t think they have eyebrows. [laughs] Although some of their markings may look like eyebrows.
Roberta Fabiano: Oh, with a minute, wait a minute. What about that mustached parrot? Isn’t there a mustached parakeet? I’ve seen it in the stores. It looks like it has a mustache.
Susan Chamberlain: Yes, the mustached parakeet is a member of the genus citacula; it’s related to the Alexandrian parakeet and the slatey-headed and plum-headed parakeets. And the mustached parakeet looks like it has a little beard or a little mustache and that’s its markings. The birds are particularly beautiful. They’re from Asia. They’re part of the Asian parakeets, and they kind of almost look like a miniature male Alexandrian parakeet, and the males have the more distinct markings. But they are just incredibly beautiful. They look like paintings; their feathers are so fine.
Roberta Fabiano: What color ?
Susan Chamberlain: Oh, they are… they’re green with a little rose on the breast and the black mustache, and maybe some blue on their heads. And then there’s another a Durbian parakeet, it’s also related to them, and they are very, very beautiful as well. But Durbians don’t make such excellent pets. They can be good pets, but if you want a cuddly… you know, they’re never going to be a cuddly Amazon. They’re still… I compare them to tigers. They are as tigers are to lions. They always have that more… that bit of wildness in them. You know, a lion is very content to become a house pet, practically, whereas a tiger is always going to have that tiger in him. And a Durbian parakeet is always going to wanting to fly up and down the Himalayas.
Roberta Fabiano: Wow. So here’s another silly question: What is the best way to clean up after your bird defecates?
Susan Chamberlain: I presume you mean as your bird poops?
Roberta Fabiano: Yes.
Susan Chamberlain: Yes, well, just because it’s green doesn’t mean it’s pesto. And that stuff needs to be cleaned up. You know, it can go all over the place if you’re not careful. You know, people walk around with birds on their shoulders… somebody said to me one time, I can always tell who own a parrot in Florida… they’re the ones with the green streaks down the back of their tee-shirts. But we don’t have to worry about tee shirts. You can just throw them in the washing machine, and the bird poop will come right out of them. But you know, we’re more concerned with the dried bird poop on your tile floor or on the birdcage itself, on the cage gratings, on the cage aprons and on the cage perches. The best way to get it off a perch is to first scrape it off, and then take that perch and throw it in the sink and use hot water and a scrub brush. With your metal cages, you need to soak it. If it’s dried you really need to soak it. You can use some dish detergent and hot water and just keep soaking it. Or a really, really good way… there’s a product I like very much; it’s by a company called Avitec Exotic Birds and you can find them at www.avitec.com. And they have a product called “Aviclean” that’s an enzyme-based cleaner. And it starts dissolving that bird poop almost right away. You just spray it on, leave it for about five minutes or so and come back and wipe it away.
Roberta Fabiano: So is that, the Aviclean, is it safe if you use it in the cage? What if you clean the perch that your bird went on? And if he touches it with his beak, you know…
Susan Chamberlain: Well certainly, with anything, you know, it’s not going… If he touches it with his beak it’s not going to kill him, but anything that you use to clean a porous surface like a perch, you would definitely want to rinse off before you let your bird use it. Yeah, just in case, you know, it’s relatively inert. It’s an enzyme-based cleaner, and I would email or call the company and ask Janelle, who owns the company. I mean, she’s a great gal; she tests all these products on her own birds, and she’s very, very helpful. So you can just give Janelle a holler and she’ll be happy to tell you.
Roberta Fabiano: Well I also use diluted vinegar, vinegar and water. Is that okay? And someone also suggested Listerine, watered down Listerine. Are those two products also…
Susan Chamberlain: Well white vinegar and water is great. I really like cleaning with white vinegar and water because, aside from having excellent cleaning properties, it’s great on glass; it’s great on tile; it’s good on your bird cages; it rinses off nice and cleanly. You don’t even have to rinse it off if you don’t mind your house smelling like a salad. But the acidity of the vinegar also inhibits the growth of mold, which is a great little by-product there. And I keep a spray bottle, a spray top on a bottle of vinegar and spray…
Roberta Fabiano: Yes, I learned that from you. I’ve seen you in your house; you know that. And also the alcohol.
Susan Chamberlain: Oh, the rubbing alcohol, yes, I clean all my non-porous surfaces with rubbing alcohol. You may be starting to realize I’m kind of an obsessive germ freak where my birds are concerned. [laughs].
Roberta Fabiano: And also you have a very white house, so you know.
Susan Chamberlain: Yes, I do. I have a very white house. And I like to keep it that way. The color scheme is black and white, not green and white. [laughs] And Listerine… I mean, Listerine you can use the same way you use alcohol. It’s germicidal. And a friend of mine who’s a veterinarian said that one time when they were in vet school, they cultured the water in toilet bowls, and they used different antiseptics in each one, and Listerine killed the most germs.
Roberta Fabiano: Oh, wow. Wow.
Susan Chamberlain: Yeah. It really did.
Roberta Fabiano: I have a question. I use this Shaklee product. I don’t know if you ever heard… they make vitamins and cleaning products, all natural. And I wonder if… They have a product called “Basic H”; I wonder if that would be… It’s one of these products that they use in NASA. They could brush their teeth with it, and they could clean the spaceship with it too, as well.
Susan Chamberlain: Okay, well, you know, I don’t know what the product is, so I can’t really say that it’s absolutely safe to use around your birds. But one thing I do have to say is that even if a product is natural, and if a product is non-toxic, you still don’t want to be spraying it around your birds. Birds have very sensitive respiratory systems, so you don’t want to be spraying anything right around your birds, where they can inhale it. I mean, you know what happens if you inhale too much water, don’t you?
Roberta Fabiano: Well, uh, uh…
Susan Chamberlain: You drown!
Roberta Fabiano: Oh, that’s what you mean! Well actually, my next question is the silliest of all. Okay, you ready? Drum roll! I have a feeling, and am I wrong (?) that people sometimes think that parrots might have teeth.
Susan Chamberlain: Well! You know, I have a friend who works in a bird store, and she told me that a couple came in one day, and they just fell in love with this little African grey parrot, and a baby… you know he couldn’t leave the store because he was still a baby. He was still on baby food and he wasn’t weaned yet. And they were almost ready to commit to buy the parrot, and she was almost ready to sell them the parrot, and then they asked the question, “When does he get his teeth?” Well, she almost fell over. But I’m sure they’re not the first people that ever asked that question. Parrots don’t have teeth, because they don’t need them. They have beaks. [laughs].
Roberta Fabiano: But how do they speak? How do they form those words when they don’t even have lips?
Susan Chamberlain: Well, they don’t have lips. They don’t need lips. They don’t even use their tongues to form those words. The words are formed down in the bird’s throat. And we’ll talk about that more in-depth in another program.
Roberta Fabiano: Is it sort of like a ventriloquist?
Susan Chamberlain: Well you might think so. I mean, the very back of the tongue is a little involved, but it’s really an amazing process. I did an article for Bird Talk magazine about that a couple of years ago. And I’ll dig up the research and we’ll talk about it. But one thing I know about birds’ tongues: Years ago there was this myth that if you split a bird’s tongue, it would learn to talk. Absolutely not true. That’s not a good one. Don’t even think about it.
Roberta Fabiano: No, don’t go there.
Susan Chamberlain: No, that’s prehistoric and archaic.
Roberta Fabiano: Okay, I have a… a friend of mine asked this question, and I know it’s another silly question, but… What is the difference between a bird’s foot versus a bird’s claw?
Susan Chamberlain: Well, the term, when you’re talking about birds, the terms “foot” and “claw” can be used interchangeably. The foot is a claw.
Roberta Fabiano: There you go!
Susan Chamberlain: But you know, people usually don’t refer to pet birds… you know, your own pet bird… you usually refer to it as its foot. Or like in my house, as “his little tootsies”. [laughs]
Roberta Fabiano: That’s great. Well, thank you. Those are all my silly questions for the show.
Susan Chamberlain: Okay, well thank, Roberta. We have to think up some more for next time.
Roberta Fabiano: We will!
Susan Chamberlain: Okay, well thanks for being here on Wings ‘n Things on Pet Life Radio. And email me your silly questions at Susan@PetLifeRadio.com.
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 PetLifeRadio.com.