Author Archives: Paul Sonnabend

Thank You note

One of our favorite people, Betty Brewer, who has collected feathers from our club members for many years has forwarded the following Thank You note:

"I've now got a lot of beautiful feathers I've been sorting and cleaning (and will be for a long time to come) thanks to you. Hope you know (and will pass it on to others who contributed) how very much I appreciate your generous gifts and how honored I am that you allow me to be their keeper. My wife marvels at how much I enjoy sorting through all these bags and placing each feather in a particular pile of like size, color (or what distinguishes them), then put them in ziplock bags. May be doing it all winter as time allows. As I continue to sort, clean and store them, I'll send you pics that you can share with others to see how I respect and honor these feathers. I imagine these feathers will become "florals" or decorations on the larger feathers for hair ornaments, fans, tops for gourd dance and NAC (church) rattles, used on bandoliers or to adorn medicine bags/scarfs, etc. They will get used in some special way. Also, I have some kachinas that are missing small feathers, that I will restoreand bring them back to life. Feathers, to me any way, are like water - in that the more you have, the more you can do to bring life through them. Needless to say, they will not go to waste. With so many, some will have to wait, but they'll know they have a future and a purpose - and hopefully will bring joy to someone someday. I'll simply say "Thank You" again


Remember Betty Brewer will pick up feathers you want to donate. Contact her by email at


The following is a copy of an email that is making the rounds. This has been posted on "The Ultimate Cockatoo Message Board"


ALERT! Just learned about a bird poisoned by a puzzle piece from the Dollar Store. A necropsy was done, and the bird died from formaldehyde and other poison sprayed on the piece as it sat in his crop. The puzzle pieces were made in China, and came in cardboard boxes. Formaldehyde was sprayed on other things to be shipped and possibly leaked through the cardboard onto the pieces. Apparently, anything wrapped in plastic is considered safe as the poison can't get through, as is anything made in the USA or Canada.

Published in Bird Care, Bird Dangers

5 Ways To Play With Your African Grey

5 Ways To Play With Your African Grey
Have a great playtime with your pet African grey with these tips.
By Sally Blanchard

There are many fun games to play with your African grey.  Playing with your African grey can be fun and rewarding for both of you.

1) Teaching Labels
While not all African greys are excellent talkers, I think the ones that are usually have caregivers who spend some time teaching them to talk. This does not mean repeating words or expressions over and over, which will eventually drive both you and the bird crazy. Greys are social learners, and the best way to give your grey an advanced vocabulary is to label just about everything you do so that the bird can hear you clearly. When you leave, say something like “Good bye, see you later.” When you come home say, “Good to see you!”  Label foods, “Wanna bite, apple?” and food events, “It’s breakfast time.”   Events can be labeled, “Do you want to shower?” or “Let’s sort the mail!” “How about a head skritch?” or the more common, “Want a kiss?” The play part of all this becomes evident when the African grey uses these words and expressions appropriately to tell you what it wants. Sometimes you can set up a game by teaching the words ahead of time.

For example, back in the days before so much communication took place through e-mail, a friend of mine got a lot of mail every day. When she brought it into the house, she would say, “Let’s sort the mail” and her pet African grey would always help her sort it. Mostly she gave him the junk mail and envelopes for him to either rip up or throw across the room. Of course, he looked forward to the mail arriving, and it became an important game for him. He could usually tell when the mail came, and shortly after my friend started labeling the game her pet African grey would say, “Let’s sort the mail” when she got up to get it.

2) Teaching Responses
Another fun game that you can play with a talking African grey is to teach it to respond correctly to your questions.  Over a period of time, I taught my grey about 15 or so animal sounds as a response to a question. There was a trick to teaching the response and not what I said first. For example, I would say, “Cat got your tongue?” in a very quiet voice with little or no enthusiasm, and then I would imitate a cat’s meow in a loud and enthusiastic manner. Parrots are more likely so say something they hear if it is said with enthusiasm. As she learned one response, I would teach her another. I’d quietly say, “Nice weather for ducks” and then do an enthusiastic “Quack, quack.”  The fun part of it that we both enjoyed was when I was busy with something else, and she was on her cage, and I would look at her and say, “I live in a jungle” and she would do the Howler monkey call I taught her. It was a fun game when I would “test” her on her animal sounds.

3) Teaching Basic Tricks
I have written a lot about a basic trick that I think is really easy to teach most parrots, including African greys. The easiest one is “Gimme Four.”  The way I teach this trick is through patterning and repetition. First, I get the grey on my hand in such a way that he only has one foot on my hand. The other foot is just kind of hanging. I make sure that the bird is balanced as it sits on my hand so it is not uncomfortable. Then I take my open hand and gently push it against the hanging foot and say, “Gimme four.” I do this no more than 10 times in a row and then let the pet bird sit with both feet on my hand. Then I gently push into the foot again so the pet bird will raise it and say, “Gimme four” again.  If the bird shows any indication of lifting the foot for me, I praise it. I might repeat this process several times over a few hours or even a few days, but I find that most greys pick it up after only a few times. When his caregiver reaches over to pick him up, one grey I know says, “Gimme four” and lifts his food for her to gently push against. It has become a fun ritual for him.

4) “I’m Gonna Getchew”
When Bongo Marie, my African grey, first came to live with me, she was terrified of almost everything but particularly of being sprayed with water for a bath. I found that getting her used to being showered was a matter of spraying a gentle mist of water next to her instead of at her. It took a few months, but she finally began to look forward to her shower and actually asked for it. One of the reasons is that I would spray myself in the face with water first and then mist her. A few months after that, she was comfortable enough with being sprayed that we had developed a game. She would see me pick up the spray bottle and say, “I’m gonna getchew!” and I would squirt her and then she would say, “Oh oh, ya got me!”

5) Warm Potato
A lot of people think that Afrrican greys are one-person birds, but they actually are capable of forming bonds with several people. These bonds may be different. For example, there is often a most-favored person and a less-favored person.  The best way of evening the score is for everyone in the African grey’s family to sit down in the living room and to slowly pass the pet bird from person to person. Each person does something special that the African grey really loves. It can be whistling a short tune, singing a song, teaching a new word or expression, playing “Gimme Four”, laughing and making silly faces, giving a head skritch or even giving the pet bird a special treat. Each person only handles the pet bird for a few minutes before the next person reaches over and says “Up” to get the pet grey to step on his or her hand.

Published in Bird Basics, Bird Care

Kaytee Product Recall : February 2013


There's a product recall for Kaytee products due to the potential of salmonella. Get info on all affected products at link below:

Please note that while Kaytee has not had any positive Salmonella results on finished product to suggest possible contamination, they are initiating this recall in accordance with FDA guidelines as a precaution.

How Do I Know if My Parrot is Sick? By Dr. Brenna Fitzgerald, DVM

In general, healthy parrots are alert, bright-eyed, active and interested in what’s going on around them. Of course, individual birds differ in their activity level and behavior, and all parrots spend some portion of the day resting and napping. A normal, healthy bird can be expected to spend portions of the day eating, playing, vocalizing, and interacting with other members of the household.

Bird owners often notice that their birds are most active and noisy in the mornings and evenings, when household activity is at its highest, and are more restful during the intervening periods. When assessing your bird’s health, consistency is very important: Provided that a stable home environment and routine are in place, a healthy bird should be fairly consistent in his or her behavior, activity level, and appetite. For this reason, you should be alert for changes, even if they may seem insignificant.

It is a good idea to regularly monitor your bird’s body weight. You can do so at home using a small scale that weighs in grams. Although you can purchase a scale marketed specifically for birds, you can also obtain an inexpensive postal scale from an office supply store that works just as well. Checking your bird’s weight once a week or so can help you recognize significant changes; both large losses and gains can be important and should be brought to the attention of your veterinarian. You can also feel your bird’s breast musculature to assess his or her pectoral muscle condition. The pectoral muscles of most birds are well developed to support flight, and lay on either side of the “keel,” a pronounced bony ridge that is part of the sternum. Begin by gently feeling your bird’s breast to identify the keel, and then slide your finger to either side to feel the softer muscle tissue. Pectoral muscle is more developed in some individuals than others, and may be somewhat reduced in birds that do not fly frequently. What’s important is familiarizing yourself with your bird’s normal muscle condition, so that you can better recognize changes that can accompany illness.

In addition to familiarizing yourself with your bird’s normal behavior and monitoring his or her pectoral muscle condition and body weight, you should also pay attention to changes in your bird’s energy or activity level, appetite, droppings, or behavior. Birds are notorious for exhibiting very subtle early disease symptoms, with signs of illness not becoming apparent until the illness is very advanced. Some have theorized that this represents an evolutionary adaptation: birds that can disguise illness are more likely to avoid being picked off by predators in the wild. Regardless of the reason, early symptoms are often overlooked or discounted by bird owners, such that veterinary care is not sought until the bird is very ill. Clearly, early awareness is very important, as it may make the difference between life and death. Birds that are not feeling well may become quieter and less active, and may show reduced interest in socialization or play. You may notice that he or she spends a greater proportion of the day sleeping or resting, keeps his or her feathers fluffed, or is less energetic when going about normal activities. Furthermore, a sick bird may choose to stay on a lower perch or on the cage bottom, often because it takes less energy to do so. Changes in a bird’s typical behavior, including the way he or she interacts with others, can also be important. You should also observe your bird for changes in appetite. This not only includes a loss of appetite (termed anorexia), but also a relative increase or decrease, or a change in preferred foods. Birds can sometimes become more “finicky” when ill, showing interest only in highly palatable foods and abandoning their primary diet.

In addition, the character of your bird’s droppings can provide a wealth of information. The dropping contains three components, the feces produced by the gastrointestinal tract, and the urates and urine produced by the kidneys. Fecal color, volume, and consistency can vary tremendously and are affected by numerous factors, including dietary intake. Birds on a seed-based diet typically have primarily green feces, while those on formulated diets (pellets) have more voluminous feces that take on the color of the pellets consumed. Looser feces may be produced when birds consume a greater portion of fresh fruits and vegetables. Urates, a waste product eliminated by the kidneys, are typically white in appearance, but can also be cream-colored or light yellow in color. Urine, accounting for the liquid portion of the dropping, is most often clear, light green, or may take on the color of colored pellet varieties offered in the diet.

Be alert for changes in your bird’s droppings, or in your bird’s ability to pass droppings, as these can be indicative of disease. Notable abnormalities include passage of black feces (called melena), which can occur with upper gastrointestinal bleeding, blood in the feces, loose feces (diarrhea), passage of undigested food, or malodorous feces. Abnormal urates may appear bright yellow, green or pink, and abnormal urine may be dark green, brown, or contain blood. Changes in urine volume can also be important; if you notice a consistent increase in urine volume, especially if this is accompanied by increased thirst, you should consult your avian veterinarian.

The best rule of thumb is: If in doubt, GO. When it comes to birds, it is always preferable to err on the side of caution. If you are unsure, call your veterinarian’s office to discuss the situation. It is also important to locate a veterinary emergency center that is equipped to handle bird emergency care after-hours. It may be unrealistic and unfair to expect emergency veterinarians to be well versed in all aspects of avian medicine, but it is fair and appropriate to utilize their services to stabilize your bird prior to transfer to your regular veterinarian. This may include control of bleeding, fracture stabilization, pain control, and fluid therapy.

No one knows your bird better than you. For this reason, you should always trust your intuition if you think that your bird may be ill. Even if the signs are subtle, they should not be discounted because they may truly be significant.

Published in Bird Basics, Bird Care