ECLECTIC MISCONCEPTIONS from Pet Bird Report


The exotically beautiful eclectus has been the target of a variety of myths and misconceptions since man's first awareness of this unique parrot species. When discovered by the natives indigenous to their rain forest habitat, the male and female eclectus were believed to represent two separate species due to their extreme sexual dimorphism. It was Mother Nature's best kept secret that the sleek and streamlined, emerald-hued bird with the melon colored beak and the stockier-bodied crimson bird with the jet-black beak belonged together. Even their unique hair-like feather structure did not betray the fact that they were male and female of the same species. It must have been a surprising revelation to the rainforest natives when first they discovered a nest site tended by green birds but occupied by a dramatically different looking hen.



THE BIRD BRAIN MYTH

As aviculturists and pet owners discovered the eclectus, the birds' unique behavioral traits were misinterpreted. Their elegant and thoughtful demeanor was mistaken for a lack of intelligence. The fact that they did not react to threatening situations with panic was mistakenly attributed to a lack of awareness. Eventually the term eclectus freeze was coined to describe the way that they remain frozen in place while assessing a threat. This passive defense method is likely to be effective in dealing with reptilian predators in their natural habitat, but in captivity, it earned them the undeserved reputation of being dull, lethargic, and unintelligent.

Ask those who share their lives with one or more eclectus parrots and you hear descriptions such as "extremely intelligent, amazingly perceptive, and endearingly empathetic". Dee Thompson, who owns many parrot species and who is devoted to her parrot rescue organization says, "I perceive the eclectus as more an intellect than a sports fan. Once a couple of young hens of mine were playing near a window and got their feet tangled in the cords of the blinds. Rather than frantically fight and run from the situation, they both stared intently at the tangles and knots for quite some time before making any move at all. Once they had the situation clear in their minds, they proceeded to methodically pull the strings one by one without making a single error in completely untangling the cords from their feet. It is easy to see how someone with a preconceived notion that eclectus are not smart could have misinterpreted this situation. In fact, eclectus are among the most intelligent parrots I have ever known."

It is likely that an unfortunate dietary factor contributed to the myth of the unintelligent eclectus. No one realized when eclectus parrots were first imported that they required a variety of fresh foods for optimal health. When birdkeepers attempted to maintain them on an all-seed diet, nutritional deficiencies caused many health problems and the birds generally did not do well. Unhealthy birds can hide their compromised state to a degree, but they cannot act bright and energetic. The eclectus was dealt a double injustice when they were labeled "dull and lethargic" because of their keepers' ignorance of their dietary requirements.

Wanda Loper says that her female Solomon Island eclectus named Mercedes tries to be involved physically with everything going on around her. One of her all-time favorites is bobbing her head and prancing to music. "If my four daughters are dancing, Mercedes must dance too. She is so smart and has learned to recognize the sound of our car before it is in the driveway. Before he even gets in the house, Mercedes prances and announces 'Dads home'! She loves her toys and can slide the knob to turn on her toy TV. She also is able to push the buttons on her infant toys to make them play music. One of her favorite toys is a bear that plays music, lights and sounds. With our little red Mercedes around there is never a dull moment!"

Eclectus parrots do best with keepers who speak and move in a calm and deliberate manner. They are known for their habit of observing quietly even when chaos reigns around them. If their human family is relaxed and happy, the eclectus mirrors this tranquility. If instead, tension and stress are the norm, many birds of this sensitive and intelligent species never quite relax and are continually on guard. I know of no other species that is so acutely attuned to the emotional energy of its human flock.

Many owners claim that their eclectus are therapeutic for them. They describe the benefits of being forced to 'slow down' and take deep breaths to be on the same energy level as their birds. Indeed, this is one of the secrets of successful eclectus stewardship - keeping oneself on an even keel emotionally. I have read many examples of eclectus empathy. When a member of their human flock is grieving or distressed, they often are comforted by the intense loving concern shown to them by their green or red feathered therapist.

DO THEY TALK?

The myth that eclectus parrots do not talk, or that either males or females in general are not good talkers, seems finally to have been laid to rest by public awareness of the breed. A decade or two ago, many people had never heard of eclectus; most had never seen an eclectus; and hardly anyone knew an eclectus up close and personal. Now, whenever bird enthusiasts gather, almost everyone knows something about this species. Many own them or know someone who does and almost everyone knows that they talk, sing, and mimic almost as many interesting sounds as the Grey. Lots of owners have living proof of the superior talking ability of this parrot species.

Marjorie Metzger shares, "I have always had a fear that people were going to catch on to what seems to be a well kept secret. My two eclectus talk as well as any of the talking birds! My female, Lolly, seems to have enjoyed a past life as royalty. She has lowered her lofty standards enough to fit in wonderfully with our family, but once in awhile she looks down her beak at us. This usually happens when one of my children does something that offends her highness, such as burping at the table."



Many eclectus keepers count their birds are among the top three talking parrots. Other good talkers are African greys and the talking Amazons such as yellow napes, double yellow heads, blue fronts, and Panamas. The clear bell tone of the eclectus voice and the ability to mimic perfectly the human voice and other sounds make them good talkers. Some eclectus males use two distinctly different voices. They use a high-pitched feminine voice as well as a lower voice that sounds distinctly masculine. Most eclectus females have a sweet and seductive voice -- full and throaty - like that of a charming southern belle. In fact, one of the most popular names for these sultry sounding redheads is Scarlett, and rightly so. Not only do they sport scarlet colored attire, they would fit right into the leading role of Scarlett O'hara in Gone with the Wind. Whether or not our birds develop talking skills, there is much to love about them. Talking should be considered a bonus.

MEANINGFUL SPEECH

Many people who never have gotten to know a talking bird think that they only mimic sounds and have no understanding of the words they repeat. It is a rare eclectus owner who does not have a story indicating that their bird does indeed know the meaning of what they say. Judy Cochrane shared an interesting story about her eclectus female, Emma, who is Merlin's mate and the expert food slinger mentioned earlier. Says Judy, "Emma was painfully insecure when I first got her. In hopes of bolstering her confidence, whenever I took her anywhere, I would say, 'It's okay. We'll go home in a little while.' Afterward, when we pulled into the driveway, I would say, 'See? We're home! 'Well, I recently left her with the vet for a day for blood tests. When they deposited their patient into her travel cage in preparation for me to pick her up, Emma clearly asked 'Home?' My vet assured her that she most certainly was going home! That story was repeated over and over by the vet and his staff. I didn't even know that she knew the word, but sure enough, when I pulled up in the driveway, she said, 'Home!' in her happiest voice."

ECLECTUS AT PLAY!

In spite of the old rumor that eclectus are dull and lethargic perch potatoes, they have appropriately been described as "feathered monkeys" because of their energetic and playful antics. The imaginative aspect of the eclectus intellect is never more evident than when they are hard at play. It is a crime against avian nature not to provide them ropes, swings, Boings and other interesting exercise accouterments. Their entertaining gymnastic feats are richly imaginative. Their skill at manipulating objects to create games for their own entertainment is tangible evidence of their brainpower. One activity of the very young eclectus is the vigorous attacking of its toys. They engage in fierce mock battles with imaginary foes. Many times I have laughed aloud as my three to five month old green and red feathered babies killed their stuffed animals and other toys with wild abandon and fierce determination! Wild eclectus fledglings have been observed engaging in mock battles with their young flock mates. This behavior might well be a means of developing strength and survival skills since they must deal with a number of predators in the wild.

Nancy Wolf who shares her life with an eclectus playboy named Bulla says, "My guy loves any toy that moves or makes a sound. His favorites are the toys made of brightly colored acrylic, especially those with moveable parts. Other favorites are baby rattles and crib toys that I find at garage sales. He loves the ones with moving beads, bells and the ones that make sounds. He also plays with some of the safe small toys from fast food eateries. He loves the small, plastic wiffle balls that are sold in bird stores. The lighter weight balls made for cats should be avoided because they can easily be broken and ingested. He also really enjoys playing with polished stones. I get the ones that are bigger around than the faces on most men's watches. They are not a choking hazard. Bulla loves to run his tongue over these rocks and roll them around and around in his beak. Then he likes to put them in small bottle caps and take them out and put them back again. Bulla has a toy basket with a handle on it that can be carried room to room. He loves to rummage through it, discovering each toy anew before throwing it on the floor. I am privileged to be Bulla's retriever!"

Tena Stetler discovered that V-Tech toys are a favorite of her two-year old Solomon Island eclectus female named Taco. Tena says, "The V-Tech phone is a perfect parrot toy. It has big easy-to-push buttons, when pushed result in brightly colored flashing lights, a series of sounds and music. There is also a mirror (not glass) for the parrot to admire its reflection. The V-Tech phone is made of colorful, sturdy, and non-toxic plastic, which Taco has not been able to destroy. It's a great learning toy. Taco pushes the buttons, repeats some of the sounds and watches the bright lights flash. The phone keeps her amused for several minutes at a time, which in itself is amazing." Other eclectus owners learned that parrots could enjoy the many V-Tech toys, and they have become quite popular for the fun-loving eclectus.

An eclectus that is dull and lethargic is likely to be unhealthy because of an inadequate diet or inactive because it is forced to live in an environment barren of toys or other objects of interest. This says more about the neglectful owner than about the bird. One cannot imagine the devastating effect that malnutrition and neglect has upon a sensitive creature as complex and intelligent as a parrot.

LONGEVITY MYTH

One of the most disturbing eclectus myths concerns longevity. Common sense dictates that these hearty birds are destined to live as long as any other parrot of similar size, which is generally fifty years or more. Unfortunately, it was printed in one or more publications that their average life span is eight years.  Occasionally, a devoted eclectus owner happens upon this troubling misinformation and searches frantically for information indicating that their eclectus can live longer than eight years. No one will argue that the life span of any living creature is somewhat dependent upon diet. If young eclectus parrots are introduced to a variety of healthful foods to develop lifelong eating habits that promote good health, they have the potential to enjoy the same life span as other medium to large-size parrots. Because the eclectus has not been kept in many countries for more than a few decades, there are few eclectus over the age of thirty in captivity in the U. S. and other countries. With proper care, they should be able to live for 50-75 years just as other parrots of comparable size.

THE VITAMIN A FALLACY

A lack of understanding of the nutritional needs of the eclectus has caused problems for this species. It has been repeated endlessly that the eclectus is predisposed to a deficiency of vitamin A. All parrots definitely do need vitamin A but because of this myth, many vets continue to routinely administer unnecessary and sometimes problematic injections of vitamin A to their eclectus patients. Beta-carotene, a precursor of vitamin A, is found in the deep orange and dark green fruits and vegetables relished by the eclectus. In this natural form, the body can eliminate an excessive amount. However, in the form of supplemental vitamin A, hypervitaminosis can become a problem. Excessive vitamin A can alter the ratio of calcium and phosphorous and create an unhealthy imbalance. Among eclectus keepers, the consensus seems to be that these birds assimilate beta-carotene best from natural sources rather than from supplements or pellets.

Well-meaning eclectus owners sometimes add vitamin and mineral supplements to a diet with a full complement of vitamins and minerals, such as pellets. This too causes problems associated with hypervitaminosis, such as toe tapping and wing flipping. These symptoms have not yet been thoroughly researched, but it appears that there are several causes.

TOE TAPPING AND WING FLIPPING

For those eclectus owners who never have seen this syndrome, toe tapping, or more accurately, foot clenching, is the rhythmic, involuntary opening and closing of one or both feet. As the toenails hit the perch, a tapping sound can be heard; hence the name. Wing flipping or flicking 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 quickly several times to rearrange the wing feathers. Sometimes it indicates their pleasure, as when their favorite person talks softly to them. Many healthy birds flip their wings several times as they are preparing to sleep. This is a perfectly normal behavior and not a symptom of a problem.

These two troublesome symptoms, which often occur simultaneously and seem to affect mostly eclectus parrots, have not been thoroughly researched at this time. There are causes other than excess vitamins and minerals. Some of the suspected causes of toe tapping and wing flipping are calcium deficiency, metal toxicity, pesticide overload, chemicals, and food allergies.

CALCIUM DEFICIENCY

Some cases of toe tapping and wing flipping clear up quickly after calcium supplementation. If low calcium levels are discovered by a blood test, and a calcium supplement is administered, the symptoms can clear up within an hour. Low calcium has proved to be a problem for a number of the birds exhibiting these symptom. Dr. Dave McCluggage, a holistic vet of Colorado, says that most avian testing is not very accurate. He recommends the addition of calcium if a blood test indicates not only low, but also low normal calcium levels. Amazingly, toe tapping often clears up within an hour of the administration of supplemental calcium. NeoCalglucon, available from pharmacists without a prescription for about $25, is the calcium of choice. There are calcium/magnesium supplements from health food stores that also are effective. Calcium supplementation should never be done on a long term basis without first establishing a deficiency by blood work done by a vet. Calcium deficiencies do not occur in healthy birds if they are given the proper diet. Eclectus parrots effectively assimilate the necessary nutrients, including calcium, from whole foods. Surprisingly to some, collard greens contain more calcium than the same amount of milk. Dairy is not the only good source of calcium. Leafy green foods such as kale, mustard, turnip and dandelion greens, broccoli, as well as almonds (a big favorite with eclectus), Brazil nuts and white navy beans contain good amounts of calcium in its natural form.

Other cases have turned up no shortage of calcium and no metal toxicity. Some birds exhibit the symptoms for weeks or months, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. This is stressful for the owner as well as the bird. Some of the remedies that have helped to alleviate the symptoms are calcium supplements, exercise, the elimination of all vitamin and mineral supplements including pellets, and treatment with a detoxifying formula of Aloe and herbs. The best 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 some of the serious conditions that often accompany toe tapping and wing flipping.

Isabelle Sislak, owner of a much-loved female eclectus named Kanani, said, "I have had the toe tapping and wing flipping problem with Kanani from time to time and it seems to be related to her consumption of food containing preservatives or possibly pesticides. I cannot figure out which yet. She does not toe tap or wing flip if I feed only organic foods and do not feed enriched pasta or breads which also cause the problem. I check labels very closely and usually give her all organic foods rather than worry about it. I buy bread, pasta, grains, seeds, and of course fruit and veggies from Whole Foods Organic. This avoids the preservatives and pesticides and prevents the problem. I also limit pellets as Kanani has had problems when eating too many."

One theory as to why toe tapping and wing flipping are seen most often in eclectus parrots is that this species is extremely efficient at extracting the nutrients they need from fresh whole foods. When given a rich diet, such as a high percentage of pellets which are meant to offer complete nutrition, a vitamin and mineral supplement added to their diet can cause nutrient overload. Fortunately it generally ends in one to three days without apparent permanent damage, once the "causative agent" is determined and corrected.

THE MESS IS NOT A MYTH!

A wise person once stated that all eclectus parrots are hybrids, half bird and half pig! If you are an eclectus owner, you know how much these birds enjoy eating. They watch with eager anticipation as their food is prepared. They dig into a fresh dish of food with such gusto that it inspires their human companions, or EclectuSlaves to go to great lengths to please their palate and satisfy their voracious appetite. They let their psittacine chefs know just how much they enjoy our culinary offerings by verbal expressions such as "Mmm, good!" Our efforts are very often rewarded by their beak smacking squeals of approval.

Judy Cochrane, mom to four feather kids, says of her eclectus pair, "I thought that my male eclectus, Merlin, was the piggiest bird in the world. That is, until recently when his new mate Emma joined us. Emma can sling food eight feet away! She does this at every meal without fail. I usually feed the birds in a certain order, and Emma and Merlin come first just because food is so important to them. Once I was preoccupied and fed everyone else before I got to Emma. As I was filling her bowl, Emma said in a distinctly impatient tone of voice, "Well?" They are such a joy! Sometimes I look at them and all their beauty and intelligence and feel that I have really been touched by a miracle. I am struck by the fact that I have such incredible and intelligent beings living with me. Merlin will sometimes whisper, "I love you, Swatch." (Merlin is having trouble pronouncing "so much") It really blows me away, just the wonder of it all. I gladly will change my name to Swatch if it makes Merlin happy!"

THE ECLECTUS CAF╔

Eclectus actually are no messier to feed than any other parrot species that enjoys a varied diet. It is easy to contain the mess by wrapping a beach towel around the feeding area of their cage during meal time. However, Nancy Coats and her husband, Lee, chose to design and create a feeding station for their two Solomon Island eclectus parrots named Sweet Pea and Carmen. The container solved the problem beautifully. The mess is completely contained in this easy-to-clean feeding station. The birds actually enjoy visiting their special restaurant now. If you are interested in the feeding station, you will find photos and easy building instructions here.

BREEDING MYTHS

It has been said that eclectus parrots are difficult to breed but actually, they are among the easiest parrots to breed after they work out the logistics of getting started. Once a pair starts producing fertile eggs and hatching their babies, the biggest problem is convincing them to take a break. Like African greys, eclectus will breed year round if not forced to rest. Some eclectus take longer than others to become successful breeders but they are generally known to be wonderfully devoted parents. They are less prone to breeding problems such as mate aggression, egg eating, unsteady incubation, chick mutilation than some parrot species.

THE VICIOUS REDHEAD MYTH

The most unfortunate and unfair eclectus myth is that the female is unsuitable as a companion bird. This persistent untruth is not only a disservice to the birds, but to those who love her exquisite beauty as well. I wonder how many bird lovers have been awestruck at first sight of the brilliantly colored eclectus redhead, described by Linda MacDougall as a kaleidoscope of colors. How many parrot enthusiasts have decided that they simply must share their life with one of these exquisite beauties, only to hear that they are NOT pet quality? Many times I have been told by lovestruck owners of the beautiful eclectus female about how thankful they are that they listened to their instinct instead of believing the warnings that these birds were not capable of a pleasant disposition. Many simply deduced that if the male is such a great pet, and no one argues that point, then the female of the same species could not be that different. As Mary Latterman expressed, "I too heard the awful myths about eclectus, and especially about the females. I am so thankful that I didn't let the stories prevent me from getting Gurley. She is a true loving companion and friend."

Even though the female is the dominant of the two within their own pair bond, that does not preclude a relationship with a member of the human flock. The following comments are representative of eclectus lovers who share their lives with the often-maligned but well-loved redhead.

Arlene Brice shares, "Try and tell the patients who have been visited by my Tilly that she is not the sweetest bird they have ever met! Tilly has been a therapy pet for over a year. She has been to nursing homes and rehabilitation centers. She has been cuddled, hugged, and handled by many. She has brought out responses from patients who had never before shown any interest in anything. Not once has Tilly ever bitten, squirmed, or even squawked when handled. I have had many different species of pets, wild & domestic, but never have I been as enthralled, in love, or impressed with an animal as I am with my Tilly."

According to Jaudon Vance, "When I first learned of eclectus, I too read about the negativity associated with females, so I chose to buy a male. I fell so much in love with him, that I decided to breed Solomon Island eclectus and keep the first female that I raised to see for myself if the rumors were true. Besides, I could not sell females as pets if they really were unsuitable for that purpose. The articles were wrong if my birds are any indication. My first female baby is now approaching three years of age and has never once bitten me. She is my angel."

Lynn Oliver says of her Vosmaeri pair, "My Tulip (3-1/2 years) is so sweet, I let her go onto the hands of very young children (supervised, of course)! She's quite cuddly and very, very trustworthy. My Male, Mojo, on the other hand is a one-person bird and will gladly bite anyone besides ME. Go figure!"

"Aurora, my three year old Vos follows everyone around the house looking for company, a hug, or just a perch to ride around on," says musician, Diane Arnemann. If we don't take her with us when we shower, she will push open the bathroom door if it's left ajar and invite herself into the shower. She talks and sings and does tricks. When my band comes to my basement to rehearse, we can hear her singing away upstairs and sometimes I let her come down and join in. She is delightful. She loves to greet friends who come to the house and loves to go to them and look them over."

Jennifer Moore relates, "Babe is a bird I can let on my shoulder without any worry. She has never bitten my face. She is a real caretaker of a bird. She preens my face, hair and fingers, though she doesn't want me to reciprocate. She alerts me to any "intruders" long before I hear them myself. In rough play, she doesn't bite me, even accidentally, though she'll bite the heck out of the wiffle ball and bang it against the cage."

Luna Blue, a Solomon Island girl met her family literally during a 'blue moon'. Her lucky owner, Mary Kay Neumann, says, "This little bird is the light of my life, and my husband's too. Neither of us can believe how lucky we are to have been picked by her to come into our lives, and we feel blessed to be her family. I would have never believed I would be capable of happily waiting on her, shopping and cooking for her, and cutting our wonderful ocean vacation short because I missed her so much. This little bird has cuddled on my chest every night for the past year. Yes, she has had her moments of crabbiness, and has bitten me a couple times, although mostly from my ignorance and not paying attention to what she was trying to tell me. She is unbelievably sweet, and gentle. The little girls down the street can barely let a few days pass without coming to visit Luna."

"Our Ruby is a prolific breeder and very protective of her babies", says Michelle Mondshein. "Yet, she will let me look at the babies any time. She loves to give kisses to me and to her mate, Hogan. She doesn't talk much, but greets me every morning with 'hello!' I think that Ruby is seven years old and she has always been a breeder She has not been handled much and is still quite skittish if she thinks that I am approaching her to pick her up, but she has never bitten me."

Judy Cochrane says of her female eclectus, Emma, "She is so SWEET. First the person that she loved abandoned her. Then she sat in a loud pet shop for weeks probably waiting for her person and feeling lost. Then she came home with me to the animal farm. After all she has been through, she has never bitten me. She will sometimes will take my finger with her beak and move it away from her. That's a very clear message that she isn't in the mood to be handled at that time. After all the difficulty of her early life, Emma is still a sweetheart. What a little trouper!"

In spite of the numerous inaccurate labels applied early on to the endearing eclectus, as the birds become better known, they slowly but surely are shattering the misconceptions that we previously believed to be accurate.

Who could resist such beautiful and elegant creatures that so willingly accept us as their human flockmates? Until one has been locked in the intense, adoring gaze of a friend of the eclectus variety, well let's just say that they never really have been loved!




Copyrightę 2001 by Carolyn Swicegood. All Rights Reserved.