Land of Vos Flight Academy
Expert Fledgling Instruction
Breeder Interview Questions
Do they Talk?
Entertaining the Eclectus
General Care for the Eclectus
Aloe—Parrot Pharmacy In A Leaf
Toe Tapping and Wing Flipping
Safety Precautions for Birdkeepers
Tips for Finicky Eaters
Aloe for Bird Bites and Frasier Learns to Bite!
First Aid! Be Prepared to Save Your Parrot's Life!
My Eclectus Diet
Breeding the Eclectus
Wild Eclectus in Papua New Guinea
Eclectus Species Profile
QUESTIONS FOR THE BREEDER
So you want to share your home and your heart with an Eclectus parrot and you have located a few breeders -- NOW what? How do you determine which breeder is best for you? Before you call or visit, be prepared to ask the right questions to get the information that you need. If you can find a good local breeder, that's a plus because you will have good access to support after the purchase. Good breeders will welcome your questions and they will also have questions for you to assure that their Eclectus baby goes to a good home. Here are some suggested questions for your interview of breeders.
Beware of sales tactics. Locate a breeder who has for sale the subspecies that you prefer. If a breeder insists that you buy a subspecies other than the one that you prefer, more than likely they do not have the bird that you want. If a breeder insists that you buy a pair of Eclectus when you prefer only one bird, find another breeder. It is not necessary to keep Eclectus in pairs. This usually is a sales tactic to double the profit for the seller. Ethical breeders do not make negative comments about other breeders and other birds. If you encounter negativity and other unprofessional sales tactics, find another breeder.After The Interview
When you find a breeder from whom you would like to purchase a bird, ask for references and follow up by checking each of them. Buyers sometimes learn only after the purchase that a breeder's reputation was well known to local vets and area pet stores. There are many reputable and professional Eclectus breeders and it is well worth your time and effort to find them.DO THEY TALK?
The answer to this question is a resounding "YOU BET!" Although considered by many to be the most beautiful of the parrots, Eclectus are not just pretty birds. Rivaling the African Grey and the Amazon in clarity of speech and scope of vocabulary, Eclectus not only repeat many words and phrases but also sing songs and talk to both their human and bird companions. Many Eclectus chicks learn their first word before they are weaned, especially if the hand-feeder repeats a word to them often.
There is of course some controversy as to whether parrots actually understand language, but in my opinion, they definitely associate words with events and things. For example, my Eclectus gang often use the phrase "Wanna go out"? when they want to change locations. Most Eclectus owners have been fooled more than once by phantom doorbells, running water, and family members talking in absentia! As with all parrots the wolf whistle seems to come naturally to the Eclectus. Eclectus are relatively "new kids on the block" among talking parrots.
I recently heard of a breeder who kept a few pairs of African Greys for the purpose of advertising, knowing that once the client came to see the Greys, but just happened to see the Eclectus, they would be hooked on the Eclectus. Some of the first-time viewer's questions are, "Are they REAL?" and "Do they talk?" Although it may sound too good to be true, these birds not only are strikingly beautiful but they definitely are very good talkers too. It's a WIN/WIN option for parrot lovers-except maybe for the man in England with the Vos male who sings The Yellow Submarine from beginning to end at least twelve times a day!
Healthy Eclectus chicks usually begin weaning at five or six weeks of age and finish by the time they are eleven or twelve weeks old. This is the perfect time to introduce a large variety of nutritious foods which the bird will continue to eat for a lifetime. Some of the foods which are most acceptable to a chick just beginning to wean are cooked brown rice and small pasta foods such as Acini Pepe. Cheerios, other breakfast cereals and whole wheat bread should be offered after moistening with pure water or juice. Many foods can be made palatable to a weaning chick by reconstituting them to their fresh moist state. This is easily done in the microwave oven by covering the food with water or juice and cooking for five minutes. Shelled sunflower seeds and millet sprays "plumped" by this method are relished by weaning chicks and adults alike. Also, the small seeds, such as Canary mix, which Eclectus are known to enjoy, are especially favored when prepared in this fashion.
Sections of corn on the cob, raw or cooked, are another favorite. It helps to loosen the kernels with a knife when first presented. Boiled eggs with the shell can be chopped and offered every few days to supply extra protein and calcium. Perishable foods must be removed several times daily to avoid spoilage. Chopped fresh fruits and vegetables should be offered daily. Papaya is an excellent choice as it is a soft fruit with the added bonus of papain, a wonderful digestive aid.
Monkey biscuits, moist or dry, are often enjoyed by weaning chicks, as well as small pellets. Shelled pine nuts, pecans, walnuts etc. can be offered with little concern about rapid spoilage.
Healthy Eclectus chicks seem to take weaning in stride and the process usually goes smoothly. Forced weaning is never a good idea but when a chick begs between feedings, a few bites of weaning food offered by hand is usually all that is needed to satisfy them. Weaning need not be a stressful time for Eclectus babies or their caregivers if we offer a healthy variety of palatable foods.
Parrots in the wild are very busy creatures. Locating food, water and nesting sites consumes much of their time. Socializing and grooming also keeps them busy. When we assume responsibility for their needs in a captive situation, we provide their food, water, and nestboxes, which virtually eliminates most of their natural activities. We've all seen the problems which boredom can cause in our pet birds such as feather plucking, screaming, and other undesirable behavior. TOYS TO THE RESCUE! Most of the toys made specifically for parrots are quite safe. Many of us also like to give our birds quality children's toys. Even used baby toys can be sterilized and hung in cages and playpens.
By observing a few basic precautions, our birds can be safely entertained and stimulated for many enjoyable hours. Eclectus parrots especially enjoy ropes and swings, which brings up an important word of caution; always make sure there are no loose strings or material to entangle your bird's toes or feet! Eclectus toys need not be "macaw proof" but plastic toys should be sturdy enough to withstand normal beak pressure without splintering into dangerously sharp pieces. Infant toys usually are not as beak-proof as toys made for toddlers and older children. Even small stuffed animal toys can be given to parrots if there are no small parts to be removed and possibly swallowed.
We must be ever diligent in preventing lead poisoning in our birds. Some of the old style bell toys for parrots use toxic lead clappers. Eclectus parrots enjoy and easily master the musical toys made for birds. Toys which incorporate food, such as millet sprays threaded into the wood blocks bored with holes for nut treats, are fun and rewarding for birds. Wooden toys which can be disintegrated by busy beaks are also appreciated by our feathered friends. We shouldn't consider a toy chewed to shreds as a sign of destructiveness. I believe that a "toy destroyed is a toy enjoyed"! We may not be able to bring the rainforest to our Eclectus, but with a little caution and imagination, we can create a safe and stimulating environment where they always can find something safe and fun to do!
GENERAL CARE OF THE ECLECTUS
Nutrition is one of the most important concerns in the care of the Eclectus. It is generally agreed that they need optimal amounts of natural Vitamin A in their diet. Also, because of their long digestive tract, we must provide ample amounts of fiber daily. They seem to thrive on a diet based on a wide variety of foods including fresh fruits and vegetables, sprouted seeds and beans, brown rice, beans and peas, high-fiber cereals, a variety of nuts and seeds, and high-quality pellets which are not artificially colored.
The favorite fruit of most Eclectus is the pomegranate. Unfortunately, it is seasonal and available for a very limited time. Other favorites are apples, grapes, papaya and mango. Cantaloupe, melons, berries, citrus fruits, kiwi, banana, cherries, peaches, pears, apricots, figs, guava, and nectarines are also good sources of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and enzymes which are essential and not only aid in the digestion of food but also stimulate the production of antibodies essential to the maintenance of good health. One of the easiest ways to insure an adequate supply of daily enzymes is to feed sprouted seeds, beans, and peas. Sprouts are truly a "live food" and raw, live foods are what our birds are biologically adapted to consume.
The favorite vegetable of most Eclectus is corn. They like it fresh, cooked, frozen, dried, or "plumped" by soaking shelled dry corn kernels and then cooking until soft. Another favorite veggie is sugar snap peas. They also like carrots, pole beans, celery, squash, broccoli, sweet potatoes, bell peppers, sun chokes, greens (such as parsley, mustard, turnip, collard, beet and dandelion), and all hot peppers.
Eclectus also relish cooked beans, brown rice, pasta, and whole wheat bread. In addition, it is good to offer quality protein foods several times a week. Chopped hard-boiled egg with the shell is an excellent protein food which Eclectus eat very well. Bits of well-cooked fish and turkey may also be offered.
Young Eclectus rarely attain their full body weight until the age of two years, therefore we need not worry about the calorie content of their food when they are very young. A dish of nuts and seeds can be offered full time as long as they also eat their fresh foods. Most Eclectus have such good appetites that this is not a problem. In older birds who have been given a predominately seed diet, it may be necessary to offer the nuts and seeds in the afternoon after they have consumed their fresh foods. Contrary to some things that have been written, seeds do provide health benefits to parrots. They contain the B-complex vitamins, vitamins A, D, and E, unsaturated fatty acids, protein, phosphorous, potassium and calcium. A good mix of seeds for the Eclectus is millet, sunflower, oats, wheat, buckwheat, pumpkin, sesame, and hemp. Young Eclectus are especially fond of pine nuts, which are soft and easy to eat. Other raw and unsalted nuts which may be offered are pecans, walnuts, almonds, brazil nuts, hazel nuts, peanuts and fresh chestnuts. A few high-fiber, salt and sugar-free cereals which can be added to the seed and nut mix are shredded wheat squares, which the young Eclectus is particularly fond of, and Cheerios and Granola.
Foods which we never should give to our Eclectus include pork, avocado, chocolate, and any foods which contain high amounts of alcohol, salt or sugar.
Water is of course very important too. Birds cannot metabolize high amounts of chlorine, fluoride, and other chemicals added to our city water supplies, so it is necessary to find a source of the purest water possible for our birds. Do not add chemical vitamins or other supplements to your bird's water, as the bird can become dehydrated if he finds the taste objectionable and does not have enough foods with high water content to supply the necessary liquids to the diet.
Teflon in any form must be avoided. When over-heated, it can kill a bird within minutes. Most of us are aware of this coating on cooking utensils, but teflon seems to be found in more and more household articles. There are teflon-coated burner bibs which can give off deadly toxins every time the burner is heated, teflon-coated irons, ironing board covers, electric fry-pans, and others. The most recent horror stories of teflon-related deaths in birds involve the very popular bread machine. Most of them have teflon-coated baking pans inside which are heated for hours as the bread bakes, emitting deadly fumes with sometimes disastrous results to birds in the house. Some bird owners avoid buying products with teflon coating, except for one fry pan used properly for preparing eggs, and even that pan is kept in a special place so that other less diligent cooks will not mistakenly overheat it. Do not use sprays of any kind near your Eclectus, including hairsprays, cleaning fluids, spray starch, etc.
Young Eclectus who have been handfed and given the proper attention enjoy being cuddled but can become tired or overstimulated if handled excessively. Also, it is not a good idea to give them more attention when they first join your household than you can continue to give them in the future. They should be provided a darkened quiet place to sleep for at least twelve hours a night. When feasible, some birds enjoy having their cages covered at night as it makes them feel more secure. In all areas of care, moderation should be used. With the proper care, your Eclectus will provide you with years of delightful entertainment and companionship.
ALOE--PARROT PHARMACY IN A LEAF
Aloe Vera is a thick-leafed perrenial succulent belonging to the Lily family and resembling a cactus plant. It is perhaps the best-known medicinal plant in North America and is also known as the burn plant. It has been used for over four thousand years all over the world for a great variety of human and animal ailments. If you apply the gel from the inner leaf to an itchy insect bite or a painful sunburn, you will get instant relief. Even cuts and bruises are instantly soothed by the application of the gel, due to the pain-killing action of Lupeol, Salicylic Acid, and Magnesium. A poultice made from this inner-leaf gel is highly effective on burns, bites, cuts, blisters, bruises, and blemishes. As a first aid-treatment, it can stop pain and reduce the chance of infection and scarring while greatly enhancing the healing process. Although skin cancer is a serious medical problem requiring medical attention, there are many reports of total cures by applying Aloe Vera gel two to four times a day for several months. Cold pressed Aloe Vera gel is hypoallergenic, has anti-itch properties, is a superior skin penetrant, and is an effective skin moisturizer. It's renewed popularity has not been lost on the cosmetics industry. Just read the labels of such products as moisturizers, cleansers, deodorants, lotions, suntan preparations, shampoos and conditioners for hair and quite often you will find Aloe Vera listed among the ingredients, sometimes as the main ingredient. Even "baby wipes" now contain Aloe Vera!
Many of us use this natural healing agent to treat the skin problems of our parrots. Whereas chemical ointments may have toxic side effects in our birds, Aloe can be used to soothe and heal minor cuts, bruises, abrasions, and rashes with complete safety. There is preliminary evidence that Aloe gel spray is effective with some feather plucking in parrots. It is thought that this effect is due to the "anti-itch"properties of Aloe. The sooner treatment is begun, the better the chances of cessation of this frustrating problem, as the long-term habitual plucker is more difficult to treat. Try filling a spray bottle with four parts pure water and one part Aloe Vera. (Do not use cold spray on the bare skin of a feather-plucked bird). It can be made stronger or weaker as needed.
From the experiences I personally know of with Aloe Detox, it probably should be a part of every parrot owner's first aid arsenal. Aloe Detox is a detoxifying formula available from better health food stores. It contains double-strength Aloe Vera Gel (200:1) with pure Aloe Vera pulp and a natural herbal blend of Milk Thistle, Burdock, Dandelion, Echinacea, Green Tea, Red Clover and Blue Cohosh. There are several brands available but the cases that I know of personally were successfully treated with a brand called NATUREADE, which uses all organic ingredients and has been around since 1926. At this writing, it costs less than fifteen dollars for thirty two fluid ounces. It is recommended at the ratio of one part formula to two parts water for human consumption. Because it is non-toxic, one can adjust the amount given a parrot according to the severity of its medical condition. One case was that of an Amazon baby, which a practicing veterinarian had given up for dead because of a very stubborn and serious crop problem. The bird had been treated with spinach, BeneBac, Nystatin and even Tylosine with some improvement, but after two feedings with Aloe Detox, the bird made a dramatic recovery and the problem has never recurred. In another case, two veterinarians had been unable to diagnose or successfully treat an adult female Eclectus which was extremely ill. Both had tried everything at their disposal to save her but finally sent her home to be kept comfortable until the inevitable end. In desperation, the owner started the bird on Aloe Detox and for the first time in six weeks, the Eclectus resumed eating, gained weight, and within weeks had PERFECTLY NORMAL VALUES on a CBC. One of the veterinarians commented that had he not drawn the blood himself, he would have sworn that it came from a different bird which had never been ill! These are documented cases, although no formal tests with controls have been run on this product as far as I know. At the very least, when our veterinarians give up on seriously ill birds or other pets, there is nothing to lose by trying this all-natural and non-toxic product.
Although it has been used in the United States mainly as a treatment for surface skin injuries and problems, Aloe is used primarily as a beverage in the rest of the world. Aloe is effective for many inflammatory conditions of the digestive system and other organs. It has been shown in lab tests to prevent stomach lesions and to cure gastric and peptic ulcers. There have been many reports that it is effective in cases of colitis and other inflammations of the digestive tract. Just as in humans, many health conditions in parrots and other animals begin with digestive problems. Many parrot owners now seek to prevent these problems by the regular addition of Aloe Vera to their water or food supply. In the wild, our birds could seek out natural clays and plants to detoxify the foods they consume which may have toxic properties. Few of us provide our birds an effective substitute for this valuable component of their diet. In Russia, tests were conducted on rabbits to see if Aloe increased the body's ability to handle harmful substances. Of the rabbits given Aloe Vera for thirty days, a third of them were able to survive deadly doses of strychnine, whereas no rabbits without the Aloe Vera were able to survive. This could indicate that the natural protective functions of the body are stimulated by this remedy. Considering the fact that the fresh fruits and vegetables as well as the seeds and grains that we feed to our birds are USUALLY contaminated by varying amounts of pesticides and other chemicals, the addition of a detoxifying agent could prevent many illnesses and discomforts as well as prolong their lifespans, which all too often are not what they could and should be. Perhaps the addition of Aloe to the diet of parrots could be considered the next best thing to feeding all organic foods, which sometimes are expensive and difficult to obtain. The polysaccharides found in Aloe Vera gel exhibit antiviral activity and enhance immune cell function. AIDS patients have been able to obtain relief from many of their symptoms such as night sweats and fever without the toxic side effects of prescription drugs. If this enhanced immunity translates into less illness for our birds, it's definitely worth trying.
Many arthritis sufferers have found that their aches and pains respond to an oral regimen of four tablespoons of Aloe Vera gel daily. At that rate, a gallon of gel or juice will last one person for two months. When the dosage is titrated down to the small amount needed for a parrot, Aloe Vera may be the least expensive supplement on the market. It is obvious in older parrots that they too have arthritic changes causing aches and pains. It certainly would seem possible that they too may be helped by the addition of Aloe to their diet. There are many claims by dog owners that the addition of Aloe to the diet made remarkable improvements in their dog's crippling arthritis. Many people swear by stabilized Aloe Vera juice as a nasal irrigant to prevent and eliminate the discomfort of sinus conditions. Many of our birds too suffer with this malady and the use of an Aloe Vera and saline solution to flush congested sinuses may prove to be a useful remedy. In addition to all of the aforementioned benefits to our birds, the following conditions also have been improved by the use of Aloe Vera: abscesses, cysts, E.Coli, fungus, mycobacterium, strep and staph infections, salmonella, respiratory infections, yeast infections, and parasites! And best of all, even if Aloe Vera does not improve ALL of these conditions, how many other remedies can make the claim that they do no harm? At the very least, in non-emergency situations, Aloe Vera can be tried before other products which may have detrimental side effects. Perhaps preventative use of this wonderful natural remedy will restore some of the components missing from the diets of our parrots and prevent some of the associated problems.
TOE-TAPPING AND WING FLIPPING
Overall, the Eclectus is a healthy and hearty parrot. When fed appropriately and provided clean and relatively stress-free surroundings, health problems are rare. However there is one worrisome syndrome to which Eclectus parrots are prone. Toe tapping, or more accurately, foot clenching, is the rhythmic, involuntary opening and closing of one or both feet. The toenails sometimes make a tapping sound as they hit the perch during the opening and closing of the foot. This repetitive and involuntary motion should not be confused with the display of purposeful foot stamping that cockatoos sometimes exhibit when they feel threatened.
Wing flipping, or flicking, also is an involuntary and repetitive movement of the wings. The wings droop and then are tightened against the body, making a slight popping sound. All parrots flick their wings occasionally. They sometimes do it several times in succession to rearrange the wing feathers, to show excitement and pleasure, and to prepare for sleep. This behavior is not repetitive and is not a symptom of a problem. Wing flipping as part of the toe-tapping syndrome is repetitive and continuous. Some birds exhibit symptoms of this syndrome for weeks, or even months, although it usually does not last longer than a week. It is stressful for owners and birds alike.
Some of the remedies that have helped to alleviate the symptoms are exercise, calcium supplements, the elimination of all vitamin and mineral supplements including spirulina and pellets, and treatment with a detoxifying formula of aloe and herbs. The prudent course of action when a bird has these symptoms is an immediate vet check with comprehensive blood work including tests for metal toxicity. Although many vets are not yet familiar with the syndrome, it is important to rule out metal toxicity which can cause toe tapping and wing flipping. Metal toxicity can be fatal but with diagnosis and chelation treatments, the bird's health can be restored. Only blood tests can reveal metal toxicity, as well as calcium deficiency, another culprit.
Causes of the syndrome
Obviously, there are a number of triggers for the toe tapping and wing flipping syndrome experienced by some Eclectus parrots. We have attempted through a general survey to determine some of the factors that the affected birds have in common.
Birds with perfectly normal blood work can be affected and these are the cases that baffle owners and veterinarians alike. To date, no specific research studies have been reported. Owners have been frustrated to discover that their veterinarians are not always aware of this syndrome and therefore doctor and client must investigate causes and solutions together.
One of the first triggers of toe tapping to be discovered was the over supplementing of vitamins and minerals. When an Eclectus parrot is consuming a full complement of nutrients from its diet, especially if pellets are a good portion of the diet, the addition of supplemental vitamins and minerals can start an episode of toe tapping in a susceptible bird. The reason that one bird is affected while others on the same diet remain symptom free is perhaps a matter of sensitivity, just as food sensitivities depend upon the individual chemical makeup of each bird.
The food supplement that has caused the most cases of toe tapping and wing flipping appears to be spirulina. It is a microscopic, spiral-shaped blue-green algae which is a single celled plant. It is often touted as the most nutrient-rich food in the world, which just might be the problem for some Eclectus parrots. Many people swear by the health-giving properties of spirulina for themselves and their pets. One of the manufactured bird diets most popular with Avian veterinarians is fortified with spirulina. However, since Eclectus thrive on a nutrient-sparse diet in the wild, it is possible that this nutrient-dense food is simply too rich for the system of some sensitive individuals and therefore causes the toe tapping and wing-flipping syndrome. Another fact worth consideration is that "all spirulina is not created equal". Because it is grown on water, quality control is an important issue.
Another trigger of the toe-tapping and wing-flipping syndrome is low blood levels of the important mineral, calcium. Blood tests will reveal whether or not blood levels of calcium are low and the syndrome usually clears up quickly once calcium levels are restored to normal. One veterinarian stated that calcium should be supplemented not only when a blood test indicates low calcium, but low normal calcium levels as well. Toe tapping sometimes clears up within an hour of the administration of calcium (when low calcium caused the problem). Liquid NeoCalglucon, available from pharmacists without a prescription, is one source of oral calcium often recommended by veterinarians. There are calcium and magnesium supplements from health food stores that also are effective but calcium should not be given full time on a long-term basis without testing and monitoring by a veterinarian. Natural sources of calcium are safe and easy for the owner to provide. Baked egg shells are calcium rich and easily assimilated by healthy birds. If cuttlebone is available, it is possible to get a therapeutic amount of calcium into a bird that is experiencing toe tapping by "shaving" cuttlebone onto a favorite food. There has been some concern about cuttlebone contaminants so a source of cuttlebone that is routinely tested would be good.
Calcium deficiencies do not occur in healthy birds with normal metabolism if they are given the proper diet. Eclectus parrots effectively assimilate necessary nutrients, including calcium, from whole foods unless there is a problem. It is important to know the best food sources of calcium. Parrots lack the enzyme needed to digest milk products so dairy products are not the best calcium source for them. Leafy green foods such as kale, greens such as mustard, turnip and dandelion, broccoli, as well as almonds (a big favorite of Eclectus), Brazil nuts and white navy beans contain good amounts of calcium. Other food sources of calcium are apricots, beans, carrots, beets, endive, figs, hazelnuts, oranges and watercress.
We conducted an unofficial survey of the owners of Eclectus parrots affected by the toe-tapping and wing-flipping syndrome. Two hundred cases were logged. The responses have provided some interesting information about factors common to the birds that have been affected, the diagnoses and treatments recommended by veterinarians, and the remedies that have been effective. I am hopeful that the survey information will interest professionals in the avian community who have the medical background to research the problem. It is a source of frustration for Eclectus owners that there is no scientific research available to further our understanding of the syndrome.
To see a video of a mild case of toe tapping, click here.