Life in My Own Private Zoo

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Things are going well with the parrots, especially the new hawk-headed parrot (this bird has been living with me for one week and one day now). As I already mentioned several times, this bird is eating on his(her?) own now, although I still handfeed the bird each evening before we all go to sleep.

Speaking of food, this little bird is as eager an eater as any of my birds are. This morning, for example, I gave all my birds their breakfast* and the hawkheaded parrot immediately dove in to the bowl, head-first and began eating. Elektra, the Solomon Islands Eclectus parrot, stood on the edge of her bowl in her cage a few inches away, watching this little bird with a mixture of what appeared to be astonishment and admiration. Oblivious to her presence, the hawk-headed parrot was busily making high-pitched squeals interspersed with a soft trilling, or purring, sound, all of which echoed inside the bowl. I wish I had a tape recorder so I could share these sounds with you.

    *This morning's parrot breakfast

    frozen mixed vegetables (corn, whole green beans, peas and carrot pieces)
    fresh corn on the cob (appx one inch-long piece cut from the cob)
    fresh red bell pepper pieces, including seeds
    fresh globe grapes, sliced in half, including seeds
    fresh pomegranate pieces
    fresh apple pieces
    fresh kiwi fruit pieces, including seeds
    fresh orange pieces, including seeds
    fresh squash pieces, including seeds (sorry, I forgot the type of squash!)
    fresh sprouted beans (I sprout the "16 bean mix")

    Special foods added to this breakfast;

    Yellow-bibbed lories only: extra globe grapes along with mango juice poured over the top of everything
    Eclectus and hawk-headed parrot only: fresh jalapeno pepper pieces, including seeds, and also a separate bowl containing a high-quality parrot seed mix
    Hawk-headed parrot only: approximately one dozen raw shelled pine nuts and almonds are added to the seed mix and fresh fruits and veggies to increase the bird's dietary fat consumption

Everyone's favorite food? The globe grapes, followed by pomegranate.

Oh, did I mention that I enjoy feeding birds?

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Even when life is overwhelming and I find myself hiding from everyone and everything, as I have been for awhile now, I still find pleasure in feeding my birds. I know that many of you understand and share in this pleasure, so I thought I'd tell you what's on my parrots' menu for this week;…
tags: parrots, feeding One of the great pleasures I have is feeding my birds. I love everything about it, from shopping for the finest and freshest foods to preparing them for the birds to eat. As a result, I'd guess that my food preparations for the birds become rather complicated. Anyway, I…
Adult red fan (hawk-headed) parrot, Deroptyus a. accipitrinus. (Adults of both sexes are distinguished from juveniles by the creamy white spot on the forehead and the orange ring around the pupil of the eye. The skin around the eye darkens in adults if the birds are exposed to sunlight). Image:…
The little hawk-headed parrot is settling in fairly well. (S)he is rather cautious about me, reminding me, by flying away whenever the opportunity presents itself, that I am not the human that (s)he is familiar with. This will pass soon enough, though. This bird is is good flesh, but is not yet…

Splendiferous! I enjoyed observing my animals eat, too - horses and goats munching on hay, poultry feasting on fresh greens, cats and dogs eating special dishes of Jiffy cornbread, flaked brewer's yeast and chicken livers when they arrived ill or undernourished, and rescued rabbits playing with and then devouring their apple treats. During the summers, the rafters were filled with barn swallows, and so I always left extra food for them to enjoy with the sanctuary animals. There's something about enjoying their enjoyment and contentment, isn't there? And for your wee one, the excitement of food s/he obviously enjoys is wonderful! It sounds as if your bird buddies are terrific dining partners! I'm very happy for you, GrrlScientist.

Gosh, that's quite a menu. I think I'd purr too.

By carolyn13 (not verified) on 06 Nov 2007 #permalink

I have a little mutt named Boo, part Pekinese, part Jack Russell and the rest a question mark.. She's the most clever dog I've ever seen at getting human attention - and snacks. One of her tricks is to dance on her two hind feet. People actually come to my house to visit and feed her. She goes to see my mother-in-law, who has Alzheimer's, every Sunday and gets a chicken breakfast. She also has her rounds, the bank, and other drive through windows where people shower her with dog biscuits. She's an efficient little scrounger and has learned to exploit people's joy in feeding animals.

By carolyn13 (not verified) on 06 Nov 2007 #permalink

Thought I'd share this with you - it's about birds (well, kindasorta):

Why did Beethoven get rid of his chickens?

All they ever said was "BACH Bach bach bach BACH Bach bach..."

(Sorry, but you know how those things are: you HAVE to pass them on!)

Cute ... I assume uncut grapes would be two big for your birds, but I have been entertained by a sulfur-crested cockatoo peeling their grapes.

Jalepenos: OK, I get the birds-don't-taste-capescin thing, but is there a nutritional reason not to use other peppers (such as bell)?

By David Harmon (not verified) on 07 Nov 2007 #permalink

Is there a gray in your collection of birds?

I ask because I have a Congo gray that I've raised since she was five weeks old (she's about 1 1/2 years now). I adore this bird. The feeling is mutual.

But, she's very small, thin. Should I be giving her the diet you give your parrots? At this time she gets a mixture of seed, with, apples, and the occasional green pepper, and such, on the side.

I should mention that she will only eat the fruit and veggies if I hand feed them to her while she sits on my shoulder.

I'm doing a lot wrong with this baby, I just feel it.

debra; i did once have a grey. this bird was also a fatality when i was in the hospital. i have been reluctant to even talk about it because it was so incredibly upsetting. i still hope to get another African grey parrot, but we shall see if that will transpire.

how much does your bird weigh? how do you know she is thin?

anyway, if i lived with your bird, i would take her to a vet for a complete check-up. it will be expensive (probably a couple hundred dollars), but if there is an underlying physical problem, it is best to identify it and take care of it.

next, i would make sure the bird has a high-quality seed mix (not solely sunflower seeds, regardless of how much they might like that) and access to plenty of fresh foods. greys can be notoriously reluctant to eat any foods that are out of their ordinary experience, so if the bird will eat "unusual foods" from your hand, so much the better -- many greys won't even do that. you can also feed your bird other items that will help her gain some weight, such as pasta, pizza and cheese (in moderation, of course).

Grrl, thanks for the reply.

Nelson (female) weighs 389g. I do feed her quality food, plus anything she can snag from me or my family.

She had a complete checkup about a month ago, so I'm fairly certain she's in good health, just skinny. Or not. I had her nails clipped yesterday and the vet tech remarked on how thin she is. And when I compare her to a younger gray at a terrific local pet shop, the other bird is rounder, healthier looking.

The vet wanted me to put her on a diet of only Harrison's formula food. I relented after a couple of days into her hunger strike.

I've never had a large bird before, but found this one (only 5 weeks old) huddled on the floor of a rabbit run in a pet store. Dried food was crusted all over her face and breast, she was exposed to children poking at her, drafts...I was disgusted. I bought her, took her to the vet, and learned to feed her myself.

Anyway, here we are best buds, but I worry because I care.

Maybe she's just from a scrawny bloodline.


hrm, that is quite light, depending upon the subspecies. is your bird a "congo" african grey or a "timneh" african grey parrot? "timnehs" are quite a bit smaller than "congos" and have different coloring as well.

pellets are not necessarily the best food to be providing to a parrot, especially if that is the ONLY food they are eating. veterinarians are notorious for demanding that their clients convert all their parrots to a pellet-only diet because the vet is the only source for the pelleted food that the pet owner is suddenly dependent upon.

that said, when i was breeding hawk-headed parrots, i fed them pellets as a PART of their diet, which also had a high-quality seed mix and large amounts of fruits and vegetables included (along with flowers that i grew specifically to feed my birds). i purchased my pellets in bulk, wholesale, and not from a veterinarian.

it is possible that your bird is thin/small because of a poor early start in life, as you mentioned. in that case, it might not be possible to overcome all that, although the bird should not be thin at this point in time.

i'd be concerned about the bird's thinness, although not so much about the bird's size.

Hey Grrl....

Is there a reason you don't feed a pelleted diet? When i have had large parrots (green winged macaws, most notably), they had a free choice, high fat pelleted mix available to them at all times, and then got fresh fruits/veggies, pasta, mashed potatoes (they LOVED mashed potatotes), etc. throughout the day.

My vet says that a seed based diet is asking for trouble, like fatty liver disease and other metabolic issues. =o)

I'm not criticizing your care -- I'm just curious! I don't know a lot about lories (except that they're nectar eaters mostly), and I know that Eclectus are often calcium deficient in captivity... The only experience i've had with hawk heads were the three i handfed when i worked in a petstore. :)


By TankDiveGirl (not verified) on 08 Nov 2007 #permalink


I must have been typing as you were commenting!



By TankDiveGirl (not verified) on 08 Nov 2007 #permalink

Nelson is a Congo African Gray.

Thanks, Grrlscientist.

BTW, I only discovered your site today. So much to delve into here!


jamie; people can and do argue forever about the proper diet for a parrot -- any parrot species, in fact. but we all need to remember that NOTHING that we feed is "natural" for parrots since they all have been removed from their natural habitat and are simply making do with what is convenient for humans to feed them. and this diet-of-convenience often consists of a bowl of dried seeds, which almost no parrot species eats naturally (cockatiels and budgerigars eat dried grass seeds in the wild, but no other parrot species subsists mainly on dried seeds of any sort).

it is important to remember that most of the instances of fatty liver disease, etc., were caused by the seed-only diet that was so common among pet parrots even as little as ten years ago. in fact, there are some parrots out there who were (and still are, i suppose) fed only sunflower seeds, which is a terrible diet for them, resulting in poor plumage condition along with health and even some behavioral problems.

with the exception of my lories (nectar- and fruit-feeders who i feed exclusively on a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables along with mango and other fruit juices), my parrots' diet is mostly fresh fruits, vegetables and sprouted seeds (i'd guess something like 60% based on mass) while the rest of it is comprised of a seed mix. this diet -- while not "natural" in the strict sense of the word -- more closely resembles what they consume in the wild.

but, like everyone who lives with parrots, i am doing what i think is best, based on a lifetime of experience and research; reading about birds, watching and studying birds, and living with/breeding parrots. that's about all that any of us can do.

Deb, my Congo weighs ~450 g, so yours does seem a bit thin (it is a Congo, and not a timneh?).

My vet doesn't want me giving my birds any seeds at all! She made me radically change their diets in the last 10 months. This is what I feed them now:

Bird bread (a low-fat cornbread with lots of veggies) crumbled, mixed with chopped fruit, grated carrot, and Harrison's mash, all on top of a bed of Roudybush pellets.

This is the bird bread recipe (adapted from Charlene of Charlene's Avian Care near Seattle):
2 cups corn meal
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 1/4 tablespoons baking powder
1/4 cup sugar
mix these together in a large bowl.

In a microwave, defrost:
10-oz package chopped frozen spinach
10 or 16-oz bag frozen shelled edamame
1 cup frozen corn
1 cup frozen bean mix (16-bean mix, soaked overnight and cooked until done, then divided up into baggies and frozen)

In another bowl, mix:
2 eggs, beaten
1 6-oz can low-sodium V8
1 serving cup natural apple sauce (1/2 cup)

Add wet ingredients to dry mixture and mix; add defrosted vegetables. Then add:

1 small, peeled yam chopped into small cubes
2 large chopped jalapenos (1/2 cup) seeds and all!

Mix these until blended, adding plain soy milk to moisten mixture. Bake at 375 degrees in a greased 8" x 13" pan for 50 minutes or until bread starts to pull away from sides of the pan.

I also sometimes add a handful of frozen blueberries. I cut the bread up into 10 pieces, which are stored in gallon baggies in the refrigerator. This lasts me 5 days (5 birds share 1 piece mornings and afternoons) - if you have fewer birds, cut it into smaller pieces and store baggies for 4 or so days at a time in the freezer until needed.

My birds really look forward to their mealtimes now, and yes, it is really a pleasure to watch them enjoy their food, and the happy beak-grinding that follows.

Using the frozen veggies available and doing the bean mix ahead of time saves time; you can also do a bunch of jalapenos all at once and freeze them. I know using the individual serving sizes of V8 and apple sauce is a little wasteful packaging-wise, but I got nervous about keeping opened jars of applesauce and V8 around in the refrigerator for long enough to use them up, so this approach seemed safer. I also found that Asian markets carry frozen shelled edamame in larger bags for much cheaper than your neighborhood grocery store ($1.29 for 16 oz vs $3.89 for 10 oz). Hope this helps. If you have the time an inclination to try it let me know if your birds like it. Mine dive for the edamame first!

I do give them Nutriberries from time to time as a treat, but my vet seems to think my parrots can do without them, and it appears that they can, as they are healthier now that they are eating this diet.

I had a sick birdie earlier this year, and you know what they say...more often than not there's some dietary deficiency underlying when a domestic parrot gets sick. In this case, my dear Pionus got so hormonal she ended up with egg-binding AND aspergillosis :-(. I almost lost her twice. So I was sort of forced to get very serious about diets for my birds.

Long story short, after five months of terbenifine, she's clear of fungal infection, and we have her on HcG to keep her from getting eggy again. The vet advised that we really limit her fat intake so as not to encourage any more estrogen, meaning no more peanuts or seeds, which they used to get along with pellets and fruit and veggies. So, we switched them over to this bird bread and pellets. The original recipe I got did not have quite as much stuff in it, but I love to cook, so I never, ever leave a recipe alone :-). It is more work, but it has been worth it, as the birds love it, besides how grateful I feel at seeing the Pionus come back from being so ill. The first times she solicited head scratches again, or ground her beak again, and I knew she was feeling well enough to do that, were more gratifying than I can say.

Now, I just have to keep the Congo from laying eggs (something she did twice this year)...but that's another story!

my 2 cents on bird diets....
Last winter a good bird friend gave me the most fabulous present... a rice cooker.
Not only can you cook brown rice in it, but its great for cooking mixes of other grains,beans and peas.
On a regular basis I put a mix of all or some of the following: brown rice,lentils, green peas,black eyed peas,barley,cracked wheat, quinoa, red beans, black beans,
adzuki beans, buckwheat , you get the idea
anyway, in 20 minutes they all cook up nice and tender but not overcooked. I freeze what i don't use for quick microwave meals too.
I also use the rice cooker to steam vegetables for myself and the birds and often after I use the vegetable water to cook the grains.
I often eat the grain mixture too, addding a bit of hot sauce and maybe some cheese. yummy!!!
btw my birds get zupreem pellets daily but the bulk of their diet is mostly fresh food... cooked and raw vegetables,fruits,sometimes a small bit of cheese, or cooked poultry,I share with them when i make fritata/omelettes.
variety is the spice of life!!!
I loved the birdy bread recipe above too.

tlazolteotl, your parrot diet recipe makes me (hungry)ashamed, because it reads so nutritious for my bird, but too time consuming for my life. I've made a copy of it, however, just in case.

What your recipe(and Katchaya, your suggestions, too) has done, is make me aware that I've been overly cautious with the foods I offer to Nelson. I'm sure I'm the reason she's underweight -- perhaps even malnourished; there should be a law against good-intentioned, but ignorant parrot owners like me.

Now that I'm getting better information than I've been able to find on the web, I'm on a campaign to fatten my baby up.

If you're interested I can report her weight in a week or two. Maybe she'll have gained a bit.

Thanks so much.


An update on my CAG Nelson.

Within the last couple of weeks she has developed overly long, curly wing feathers. She also appears to be losing feathers in a spot on her crop.

Her activity/noise levels are as strong as ever, but in the last few days she's begun to eat very little -- snubbing even her favorite treats.

Yesterday I took her to the vet so that blood could be drawn then sent away for testing. That she has PBFD is my greatest fear (I, of course, read about it on the internet(s), which is why I called the vet).

Her vet said that her symptoms could be caused by many other things, but I can't locate information on what these other causes might be. He might have been trying to alleviate my anxiety.

I was told it would take 2-3 weeks for the results of her blood test to be available.