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Wings 'n Things on PetLifeRadio.comSusan Chamberlain, host of Wings 'n Things

Susan Chamberlain
Bird Expert, Author & Columnist

Can We Talk!

Roberta Fabiano

Roberta Fabiano

A lively Q&A session featuring some thought provoking dilemmas faced by companion bird owners. Is your spouse endangering your bird with over-zealous cleaning? Is there any safe-non sitck cookware? What's the best way to keep your bird away from ceiling fans? Tune in for the answers to these and other questions.

The second segment of this episode of Wings 'n Things is all about teaching your bird to talk! Try these easy and effective methods to encourage your feathered friend to speak your language...and learn to translate what he's saying in his!

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“So why do seagulls live near the sea?  Because if they lived near the bay, they’d be baygulls.  Welcome to Wings ‘n Things where you will 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 will have a bird’s eye view of everything there is 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: Welcome to Pet Life Radio.  I am Susan Chamberlain, host of Wings ‘n Things where we are all about pet birds.  In this segment, I will answer some pertinent parrot questions.  Roberta Fabiano and her mitred conure, 'Ratchet' are here to help.  Roberta welcome back to Wings ‘n Things.

Roberta Fabiano: Well, thank you for having us once again Susan.

Susan Chamberlain: Okay, may me have the first question.

Roberta Fabiano: Okay, here is the first one.  I have a lovely adopted 24-year-old double-yellow headed Amazon parrot named Crackers.  He is very sweet and will eat almost anything I give him except for most veggies.  I am worried because he prefers fruit to vegetables.  His basic diet is a formulated food and he favors the green pellets to the other colors.  I give him fruit in the morning and vegetables like corn, peas, peppers, spinach, broccoli and carrots in the afternoon.  How can I be sure he is getting all the nutrients that he needs? I love him and I want him to be healthy.  Bird nutrition is so confusing.  Please help.

Susan Chamberlain: Well, Roberta and listener, reader, viewer, I have a 30-year-old double-yellow head myself.  Her name is Cracker and I have had the same problems with her over the years.  It appears that you are already feeding your bird a nutritious diet.  Although exact nutritional requirements for all species are not known, formulated diets such as pellets provide much of what your bird needs when used according to directions.

There are many ways to entice your Amazon to sample additional healthful foods and this goes for other parrot species as well.

“Polly see, Polly do.”  If you have more than one bird, a finicky eater will often mimic a bird that eats a broad-based diet.  Place your poor eater next to the bird that eats everything.

“Will work for food.”  Birds are accustomed to working for their food in the wild.  String chunks of firm produce onto a skewer style rod feeder.  Use an ice pick to make holes in chunks of corn, peppers and apples to make that easier.  Suspend the rod feeder from cage bars and watch your pet investigate this new way of dining.  Small birds such as budgies, parrotlets and lovebirds that neglect fresh offerings from a dish may gnaw enthusiastically on firm produce clipped to cage bars.

There are also toys and receptacles that encourage foraging behavior.  That is one of the latest things going on encouraging foraging with your pet bird.  So, look up some of those toys and special feeders that birds have to work to open themselves.  And encourage your bird to forage and experiment.

If your bird refuses raw vegetables, try offering cooked versions.  Bogart, my red-lored Amazon refuses raw carrots but loves cooked ones.  Unlike most birds who eat to live, Bogart lives to eat, so I rarely have a problem coaxing him to eat anything.  None of my birds like raw cauliflower, but they do enjoy it steamed.  Conversely, they turn up their beaks at steamed broccoli but relish it in its raw state.  Go figure.

Cut vegetables into different shapes.  Bert, my African grey parrot refuses carrots cut into chunks, but he enjoys nibbling away on carrot sticks.  Figure that one out.

Roberta Fabiano: That’s wild.

Susan Chamberlain: I know.

Roberta Fabiano: Ratchet is the same way.

Susan Chamberlain: Is she, yeah.  Well, she is, I bird sit for Ratchet.  I see what she does.  My bird sitter says I spoil my birds by cutting their grapes in half.

Roberta Fabiano: Well, I do that too, now I am cutting in threes.

Susan Chamberlain: Oh okay.  Well, you know, it gets them to eat them.  And if you use vitamins on your bird’s produce, then it gives it a moist surface to stick to as well.  It is not going to stick very well to a grapeskin.  Resist the urge to peel everything.  Going back to the avian work ethic, my Amazons like to peel their produce themselves.  Peas in the pod, apples with the skin left on, orange chunks with the rind, banana rounds with skin, cooked potatoes with skin and similar foods entice my parrots regularly.  Wash all produce thoroughly before offering it your pets.

Roberta Fabiano: Should you wash it with pure water, filtered water?

Susan Chamberlain: Well, usually plain water or filtered water is fine.  After you wash it, you will want to wipe it off with a paper towel because that will reduce even more pesticide residue or organic residue that has been deposited on the skins during handling and growing.  You know, insects lay their eggs on plants.  The produce is picked by people and it has also gone over in the store by people with their hands.  So, you don’t really know what is on there, so it is a good idea to wash everything well.

There are special produce washes that you can use to reduce even a more bacteria and organic material on the skin or just use a solution of white vinegar and water if you are particularly concerned about this or just plain water.  And you know, rinse it, wash it, wash it well, don’t just give it a couple of drops of water and then pop it in your mouth or your bird’s mouth.  It is very important to be sanitary. 

But check out the frozen food department in your local supermarket too.  My birds enjoy colorful vegetable mixtures that may include lima beans, peas, corn, carrot, red pepper, celery and string beans.  Cube squash sweet potatoes, bean mixtures and other nutritious foods are also available frozen.  Cook and cool a portion for your birds, make sure you cool them to room temperature because overheated food can burn their crops.

Roberta Fabiano: Right, I actually prefer to do the frozen vegetable because I am not home that much.  Every time I buy the fresh produce, it doesn’t last long; it rots because I am not here.

Susan Chamberlain: You are right.  For those of you who do not know, Roberta Fabiano is a musician, so she travels a lot on the road and check out her bird song on  She wrote a song about, “The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill.”  It is right on there.  It is called “Dogen, Connor, and Tupelo.”  But anyway, Roberta does travel, so the frozen foods certainly makes sense, especially when you just have one bird you can buy it in bags and twist tie the bags back up, put them in the freezer.

And you know, you can fool some of the birds, some of the time.  And I regularly get some additional nutrition into my picky hookbills by cooking finely chopped broccoli florets and grated carrots into scrambled eggs or those egg beaters, you know, the egg substitutes.

Roberta Fabiano: That’s a good idea.

Susan Chamberlain: And you can grate them into muffins too.

Roberta Fabiano: And they are good muffins, yeah.

Susan Chamberlain: Yeah, so that really works.  Does your bird love pasta?

Roberta Fabiano: Mine does.

Susan Chamberlain: I made parrot primavera for my birds by adding steamed beans, peas, zucchini, peppers and other vegetables to Angel Hair pasta and sprinkle hot pepper flakes, spices to dish up enough to please their South American palettes.

Roberta Fabiano: You know, I have a question for you Susan.

Susan Chamberlain: Okay.

Roberta Fabiano: Doing so much for your 10 birds, how do you have time to do anything else? You are amazing.

Susan Chamberlain: Well actually, I have had my birds for quite a long time.  I got Cracker and my male Senegal in 1980.  So, I have had 27 years of parrot parenthood.  You might say I grew up with my parrots.

Roberta Fabiano: So, you have it down to a science then.

Susan Chamberlain: You kind of do, you get it in a routine and when you are getting the vegetables ready, when I buy a head of broccoli, I wash and cut up the whole entire head of broccoli.  I put it in a covered dish in my refrigerator. That way it stays fresh for the birds and stays fresh for me because I will use that same broccoli for my dinner and I just buy it every few days.

Roberta Fabiano: That’s great.

Susan Chamberlain: So, you kind of get into a routine and you get a little more efficient at doing something.  If you are cutting up carrots for your birds and you are going to have carrots for dinner that night, cut yours up at the same time and put them in the…

Roberta Fabiano: But it is funny because I have one little bird and it seems like it takes me more time to do that than takes you to take care of 10 birds.

Susan Chamberlain: Oh, not really.

Roberta Fabiano: Well, for me anyway.  I’m slow.

Susan Chamberlain: Well, I am speaking of efficiency, the reply to this person that sent the question.  Share your dinner.  My birds love to eat when I do.  I make a special dish just for them, you know, no feeding your bird off your plate or out of your mouth, maybe you think it is cute, but we have germs that aren’t natural to them.  And with that special dish, I dole out portions to all the birds as I sit down to eat.  And when my dinner isn’t suitable for the birds, you know, if it is too salty or if it has got mayonnaise in it or otherwise something that they shouldn’t eat, I treat them to some of that, parrot primavera pasta.  Or maybe some ready-to-cook bird food, you can get that in your bird store.  There are many formulas available and it all helps to enrich the diet.

Veterinarian Charles Greco of the Animal Medical Center in Centereach, New York sees a lot of birds in his practice and advises having your bird evaluated by an avian veterinarian if you are concerned about nutritional deficiencies.  He said Amazons have a tendency to become obese.  So, the first thing I would do is weigh the bird; next he said, I’d check the skin to be sure it is a healthy pink color rather than yellowish.  A good physical exam combined with a full blood screen to check liver and calcium levels can help rule out fatty liver disease, which is common in Amazons.

And for further reading there is a book called Feeding Your Pet Bird by Dr. Petra Burgmann.  It is published by Barron’s Educational Series and is available in book stores, at pet stores and bird supply catalogs and through online resources.

So, always have your bird checked by a vet for nutritional deficiencies.  Well, let us get on to another question.

Roberta Fabiano: Okay, here is the next one. Do we name the people who sent these in or…?

Susan Chamberlain: No, they are kind of anonymous, you know, they didn’t want to have their names published.  So, we will respect their privacy.

Roberta Fabiano: All right, well here is our next person, she is from Arizona.  They have a problem worthy of Dear Polly, okay….

Susan Chamberlain: Rather than Dear Abby.

Roberta Fabiano: Oh I see, there you go.  Her husband repeatedly cleans the floors using strong solutions of pine cleaners and bleach and she is concerned about the effect of the resulting fumes on her birds.  He also persists in using a paper with colored print on the bottom of the bird’s cages even though she insists on using only black printed newspaper on the cage bottoms because she travels for business.  She relies on her husband to take care of the birds in her absence.

Susan Chamberlain: Oh, I feel her pain.  Many of us have to hire bird sitters to care for our birds when we are away even though our spouses are at home.

Roberta Fabiano: That makes sense.

Susan Chamberlain: True, yeah, reluctant or incompetent partners are a problem as are overzealous caretakers.  Spouses, children and housemates who simply don’t listen to our instructions are really a cause for concern.  Is the woman’s husband mixing the bleach in plain, clean or together?  We don’t know that, but we do know that mixing chemicals is extremely dangerous to humans as well as pets and should never be done.  Use all cleaning products in well-ventilated areas, especially those products that contain, bleach, ammonia, pine oil or other ingredients that produce fumes.  Always dilute cleaning products with water according to package directions and read and heed the caution notices on labels.  You are correct in assuming that fumes and chemicals that are potentially harmful to humans can also be detrimental to birds.  Because their respiratory systems are so complex and sensitive, they are more quickly and easily affected by fumes and droplets from aerosol or pump sprays.  As far as training your husband is concerned, ma’am…

Roberta Fabiano: That’s another show.

Susan Chamberlain: …you may need to resort to a bit of subterfuge and preplanning.  Save a few empty bleach bottles and fill them with dilute solutions of bleach and water.  One part bleach to 10 parts water is sufficient for sanitation in most household situations.  Substitute the bottle of diluted bleach with a full strength bottle before you leave on your next trip and you will reduce the intensity of the fumes before Felix even begins washing the floor.  If he is like most people, he won’t interrupt this cleaning routine to dash out and purchase a replacement bottle of bleach if he even notices the difference.

Cleaning products containing pine oil frequently contain petroleum distillates, which when heavily concentrated can be harmful when inhaled.  Use pine and citrus oil cleaners diluted according to the manufacturer’s instructions and only in well-ventilated areas.  Never ever spray these or other chemicals in rooms where birds are present.  And do rinse off the pine oil residue.

Explore other options for your cleaning needs.  Peruse the avian supply ads in bird talk magazine for sources of bird safe cleaning products.  Avitech Exotic Birds markets Avicine, an odorless 20% chlorine dioxide product that does not require rinsing.  You can visit Avitech at for more information or check my bio page for other websites.  And you know, men love gadgets, your husband may enjoy using a steam cleaner like the one offered by Vanns of Louisiana or other companies.  Check it out at,

Roberta Fabiano: I have heard of that, Vanns of Louisiana.

Susan Chamberlain: Yeah, they make cage covers and they market a steam cleaner.  Although most ink now used in newspapers are nontoxic, old habits die hard and I still avoid using the color sections in my bird’s cages.  When I have to go out of town, I solved my cage bottom paper dilemma by precutting a pile of paper to size and layering it in the cage trays.  I add enough layers to allow for two sheets to be removed each day, a spare pile of precut paper near the cages makes it easy for a substitute caretaker to replace it in cage trays when necessary.  You may also be able to purchase precut cage tray liners in your pet bird specialty store.  If your husband is as fastidious as you have described, he may be delighted at its neat appearance and ease of use.

Roberta Fabiano: Okay, well that sounds good.

Susan Chamberlain: And you know what I use for small cages, I just like the bird’s travel cages, I just tear off a length of wax paper and put it in the travel cage tray.

Roberta Fabiano: You told me that, that’s a great idea.

Susan Chamberlain: Yeah, resists moisture too.


“Sitting on a branch overlooking the 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? Stay perched, Wings ‘n Things will be soaring back right after these messages.”

“Thinking about buying a monkey, how about a parrot or a skunk, then check out the show that will answer the burning questions, where do you get them, what do you feed them, how do you take care of them and most of all, “What Were You Thinking” with exotic pet expert and author Bob Tarte, every week on demand from”

“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 million of them.  Don’t have a canary, Wings ‘n Things is back with more great words on birds with your host, Susan Chamberlain.

Roberta Fabiano: We do have another question.

Susan Chamberlain: We do.

Roberta Fabiano: Okay, here it is.  Is there a nonstick cookware product that is safe to use around birds?  I was in a warehouse store and watched a demonstration of nonstick cookware.  They said several times that it is bird safe, how do I know for sure?  As a matter of fact, I don’t really know if stainless steel is safe either, maybe we should just eat out.

Susan Chamberlain: Now, that sounds like a plan.

Roberta Fabiano: That’s what I do.

Susan Chamberlain: You know, if the products are coated with polymers containing polytetrafluoroethylene known as PTFE, it is not safe for use where birds are present.  And most nonstick cookware and appliances are coated with polymers containing this PTFE.  In store demonstrators may not know the correct technical information about the products they are promoting.  Contact the manufacturer directly for clarification.  Stainless steel cookware is safe to use as long as it is not been treated with nonstick polymers and you do not burn the contents.  Smoke inhalation of any kind can be deadly to birds, humans and other species.  And you know, finally I think we can’t say that enough.  It is very important for everyone to know.

Roberta Fabiano: I would highly doubt that someone that works in a store that’s other than a pet store or bird store would know that a bird is allergic.

Susan Chamberlain: Well, it is a little more than allergic.

Roberta Fabiano: Meaning deadly.

Susan Chamberlain: They are sensitive.  It is deadly, they are deadly to the fumes emitted from those polymers and it is just odorless and colorless and…

Roberta Fabiano: I had a friend of mine whose bird from this.  He was a musician, came home, he was working on a score and he was boiling some water or something in a pot, then he had a conure at home with him.  And next thing you know, the water boiled away…

Susan Chamberlain: It boiled dry, very common…

Roberta Fabiano: He forgot about it and his bird passed away.

Susan Chamberlain: That’s a terrible thing and you know, it does affect him and it is also called polymer fume fever and it has flue type symptoms.  People just think they have the flue or a virus, but in severe cases, your lungs will bleed.  So, think about that.  If it is killing birds, what is it doing to us?  So just forego all nonstick cookware.  You know, use stainless steel, use corning wear, use glass, use aluminium.

Roberta Fabiano: Oh she wanted to know, who ever wrote this question here, how do we know that stainless steel is safe?

Susan Chamberlain: Well, stainless steel is safe.  Stainless steel does not produce fumes when it is heated.  I don’t know what would happen if you put it into a huge furnace and melted it and inhaled those fumes, but under household use, stainless steel is fine.  But if you have something in it that is going to burn, that is going to produce smoke.  And smoke in any form can be deadly.  Also if your stainless pot has a plastic handle and it is in your oven and you turn the oven on, it is not the stainless steel that will produce fumes, it is the plastic that will produce fumes.  So you know, don’t store your cookware in your oven.  I think we have time for one more question.  So, finally…

Roberta Fabiano: Finally, let’s see, what do bird owners do to keep their birds out of a running ceiling fan?  Now, that’s a great question.  Do you know a supplier of a ceiling fan guard? Never heard of that.

Susan Chamberlain: Well, most bird owners turn their ceiling fans off before allowing flighted birds out of their cages.  Many also keep their birds wings clipped so that they cannot gain the altitude necessary to fly up into a fan.  I recommend a combination of both wing clipping and turning off the fans.  The ceiling fan guards I have been able to locate are intended for commercial or school use.  They are heavy, expensive and wouldn’t keep small birds from reaching the fan blades.  But how about considering a bladeless fan.  Parrot parent Elise Negrin who lives on Long Island, New York reports excellent results from an air cleaning system she purchased from a company called Petiatric Supply.  The unit replaces the blades on a ceiling fan and circulates and cleans the air in the room.  So for some more information on that product, visit  Check it out.  You know it filters and it circulates the air and it fits right on to the ceiling fan fitting.

Roberta Fabiano: That’s great.

Susan Chamberlain: Well, that is all the time we have for questions.  So, send me your questions, and I will try and answer them on a future segment of Wings ‘n Things.

Roberta Fabiano: And they could be silly questions too.

Susan Chamberlain: Oh, they can be silly questions too.  Hey, there is no question that is too silly.  That’s for sure.  You know, just the one you don’t ask is the silliest one, but now I am going to address one of the attributes that has made parrots so desirable: Talking.

Most of us have seen various birds talking up a storm on television.  Many of these birds are professionals who appear in bird shows at theme parks.  The birds are accustomed to crowds and lots of hoopla going on around them. It is not real life.  Real life is your bird chattering away and then clamming up the minute company arrives.  Real life is your feathered friend picking up the very words you don’t want your children repeating or incessantly imitating your burglar alarm siren.

Friends and readers have told me about birds that have learned hundreds of words and phrases or sing songs all the way through.  Irene Pepperberg’s famous African grey, Alex seems to have cognitive abilities as well.  Alex recently passed away, but Alex certainly went a long way to letting us know how much birds actually understand.

Bonnie Boy, a budgie who lives in a Long Island, New York convent says, “Did you say god bless you today” and many other phrases.

What are some of the secrets of these super birds and their companion humans? Be patient.  Some birds may take a year or more to speak.  Your bird may even conceal the fact that he has learned to talk by only reciting words and phrases when you are not at home.  Don’t worry, he will eventually slip up and start chattering when you are lurking in another room.

Greet your bird.  Whenever you walk into the room or return home, greet your bird with a phrase you want repeated.  Do the same when you leave the house.  My African grey parrot Bert say, “I’ll see you later.”  Whenever he hears me open the coat closet or whenever he perceives that I am about to leave the house, maybe it is just my footsteps are going a little faster, maybe it is the fact that I am wearing shoes or he just knows the signs and he is says “I will see you later” very appropriately.

Get electronic help.  Supplement your own speech lessons with specially recorded training tapes and CDs to encourage your bird to learn to talk.  Record your own tapes so the bird can respond to the sound of your voice.  Leave the television or radio on when you are out of the house.  Soap operas are a good choice because they have a lot of dialog.  Cartoons are birdie favorites.  They seem to love the voices and sounds effects and will often repeat them.  My African greys do all the balm noises and the laughing and it is really funny when you have your own little cartoon soundtrack going on at your house.

Make it fun.  Longtime parrot companion Barbara Landsberg advises making an audio tape of yourself talking and singing to your bird.  Then tape the bird talking and singing as he begins to imitate you.  Act like a lunatic says Barbara and birds love it.  The birds will enjoy hearing you both banter back and forth.  Create new tapes as you progress. 

And you know something funny about tapes and television and media, when your bird hears a bird on television, they will know if it is a real bird or not.  I noticed with my birds.  If it is just the human doing a bird voice.  They don’t react to it at all.  If it is a real bird doing a bird voice though, they sit up and take notice.

Separation works.  Avoid pairing your birds while speech training is in progress.  Although there are exceptions, most paired birds will converse in bird speak instead of human language.  You know, my Amazons are so funny.  Sometimes they will just get it going.  My African grey and my red-lored Amazon Bogart both do the whistles from “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” that hoo, hoo, hoo, hoooo and one will do it, the other will pick it up, then they will just do that back and forth.  And the two African greys, they are working busily in their office every morning.  One African grey will ring the phone and the other one will say, “Hello.”  So, you know, they kind of do that and it is really really funny, very cute.

Hey, how about singing.  When Cracker, my female double-yellow head wants me, she cries “maaaaaa.”  She sounds so pitiful.  I despaired of teaching her anything new until I saw how she reacted to my Edith Bunker like singing.  So go ahead as Ratchet says, “come on sing.”

Change the pitch of your voice.  When your bird’s eyes begin to dilate and he begins to vocalize with you, you have hit the right notes.  You know, my birds kind of just do a ho...hoooo and maybe a little phrase or two from, “I left my Heart in San Francisco,” but I know Amazons that sing happy birthday all the way through.

How about teaching your birds some useful information.  Several Long Island Parrot Society members have taught their parrots their names, species, addresses and phone number in case they ever got lost or stolen.  It may take a while, but try to teach your bird something that will identify him in case of loss or theft.

Listen to your bird.  Do you hear the doorbell ring when you know nobody is there; is the phone ringing while you are on it.  The sounds may be coming from your feathered friend.  Many birds have a talent for sound effects mimicking household noises.  Pay attention to the sounds your bird picks up and you will be better equipped to encourage him to talk, sing, whistle or imitate various sounds.

Use positive reinforcement.  When your bird learns a desirable word or phrase, reinforce it by repeating it frequently.  Reward your bird with a special treat, a toy or attention.  Keep records, keep a log of words and phrases as your bird learns them, repeat them back to him every so often and make sure he retains his vocabulary.

One reason we love our feathered friends so much is because they frequently communicate with us in our language.  However, don’t automatically assume that your bird will talk.  Even though most hookbill species have the ability to talk, ultimately it is the bird’s choice.  Love your pet for its quirks and personality and consider speech an extra.

You know, one time years ago, I saw a funny ad in a newspaper.  It was advertising parrots for sale and it said, “The sounds of the Amazon jungle in your own home.”  Well, you know, what the Amazon Jungle sounds like.  I think we’d rather have them saying, “hello, hello.”  It is really a lot of fun to have your birds speaking with you and speaking in your language.  And they seem to enjoy the extra attention that it garners, but then again, you love your bird for its personality and for being a bird.

You can learn more about pet birds at monthly meetings of the Long Island Parrot Society.  The society meets the third Wednesday of each month at American Legion Post 94, in Babylon Village on Long Island, New York.  The doors open at 6:30 p.m. and the program begins promptly at 8 p.m.  That’s like a mini bird show every month.  Everyone is welcome.  There is a small guest fee, humans only, please leave your birds at home, they will not be admitted.  For details and directions, visit

That’s all we have time for now on this segment of Wings ‘n Things.  But send me your questions, send me your funny bird stories at and we will see you next time.

“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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