Jeff Sexton

Monday, June 05, 2017

Parot Toy Recycling

Toys are a necessity for parrots. And store bought bird toys are expensive. But I don't mind buying them now and then. For one thing they are generally handmade, so labor intensive, and that does justify the cost. For another they often include good, creative designs (that is, ideas we can use for toys we make ourselves).

But another nice thing about commercial toys is that once a toy is worn out, the surviving components can still be reused in new arrangements.

Take this house-shaped foraging toy for example. Harlan really loved this toy (as you can see) because it could be filled and refilled with treats that have to be chewed and clawed out. Even when the toy was pretty well done, Harlan still chewed the grassy material and the colorful wooden beads, most of which are still good.

The toy is (was) made of two mats with wooden blocks in between to create space, held together with cord and beads. Besides the surviving beads, the back mat is pretty good, as are blocks and the longer pieces of rope.
This toy has loads more life in it!
And Harlan definitely approves.






Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Parrot Blocks

While the table saw was out this past weekend I cut up some scrap pine into small blocks for use in bird toys.
 I added two sets of holes of two sizes.



Then by hand I randomly cut the corners and edges to make the pieces vary slightly.
After some sanding and cleaning up the holes (no splinters), the pieces look pretty good.
Birds like colors. So some vegetable dye for further interest...

These pieces will be good for all sorts of climbing, foraging and general interest toys. Stringing a few together for Harlan, the African Grey, creates a nice climbable base for attaching all sorts of other toys that can be easily swapped around. It's a regular parrot play station!






Sunday, May 28, 2017

Bird Stand Project

Bird accessories are expensive.

There's good reason for this I suppose. They are often handmade, they have to meet rigorous requirements in construction and materials, and it's a niche market.

Bird stands are a handy, and portable, place for a bird to hang out in other parts of the house, away from their primary area. And they are good for training.

They are also expensive.
I have made a couple of these now, using materiel I already had around the house.

The first pieces make up a simple frame of bird-safe wood, with a 1/4 inch cut-out around the inside.
It's assembled with just a very few well recessed nails. A nail gun is handy for this, but you can set them by hand too.
The next piece is a square of materiel I got in a big sheet from the seconds/damaged area at IKEA. It's a composite material with a glossy surface. They use in for all sorts of desktops and such in IKEA furniture. I bought two sheets quite awhile ago, one I used for my watchmaker's bench.

This just gets cut square to fit in the frame.


Little sanding and this is ready to go.
This is a store bought perch, but these are easy to make too. With a hole drilled in the center of the tray, this will attach, as well as holding the tray to the stand.

I zipped-tied a bowl to the perch for some snacks.
 The stand is an old steel plant stand.
I unscrewed the threaded part from the perch a little to reach, but assembled the wingnut holds it all together.

And there we have it, Harlan approved.













Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Bird Food

Among the many things that we did not have good information about upon getting birds was their food.

Sure, they sent us home from the pet store with a bag of a food mix especially for cockatiels, but really the picture is a lot more complicated. It's one of many things that I've since been troubled by in light of how easy it is to purchase a bird. It's disturbing to think how many birds must shortened lives due to malnutrition.

In fact, birds can (and should) eat a surprising variety of foods. It is easy to find information on foods for birds on line, but it's scary to think that we had them for weeks before I ran into a list that mentioned that nutmeg is toxic to birds. Today, our birds eat a combination of;

  • A specialty food mix 
  • Pellets
  • Fresh vegetables and fruit
  • Our food (a real good way to annoy a parrot is to eat in front of them)
Parrots can eat most of what people eat, with the caveat that it isn't necessarily good for them. A little common sense is in order, and after all a lot of what we eat is not good for us either.

No-no foods for parrots are;
  • Caffeine
  • Chocolate
  • Alcohol
  • Carbonated drinks
  • Fatty, sugary and very salty foods
  • Nutmeg
  • Avocado
  • Red meat
  • Milk 
  • Very hot, and very cold food
  • Peanuts
  • Rhubarb
  • Fruit seeds, such as apple seeds
Cabbage is on many no-no lists too, but not always, as is iceberg lettuce.  Celery is not on the lists, but has no nutritional value. Best to just avoid these. Also best to avoid peanuts, although they have been feed to birds and are often on "OK to eat" lists. Peanuts can have a fungus called aflatoxin that causes a nasty and typically fatal liver failure. This fungus can occur in other grains that are not stored well, but peanuts and legumes in general are particularly susceptible. The fungus is also harmful to humans, but this is one of many cases where FDA standards for human consumption are not rigorous enough to protect birds. Some bird food sources screen their peanuts to exceed human food grade standards, but I don't see a reason to chance it. There are plenty of other things our birds can eat, so no peanuts. This is another thing I did not know when we got birds, and I did in fact give Harlan a few peanuts early on.

At this point it's worth mentioning a general trend in information about keeping parrots. I get the impression that there has been a good deal of new research and new products just lately. For example, there internet is loaded with advice on getting parrots to switch to pellets, because pellets contain the right mix of vitamins that parrots don't get from seeds. But the mixes we have been getting do contain pellets and a brew of seeds and grains intended to provide the right combination. These mixes do not seem to have been around for very long. I get the feeling that as recently as the early 2000s birds were not being feed well.

Feeding nothing but seeds of course won't do. But I don't like the idea of the all pallet diet either since pellets are just a highly processed version of fresh foods with artificial additives and colors. An over dependence on processed food isn't good for us, why should it be good for parrots? Preparing fresh foods everyday for the birds is a lot of work, but it's good for them. So we offer the widest variety of food we can.

This brings up another food related point we did not know when Ed and Olive came home with us. Young parrots don't know much instinctively. They learn a lot from their parents, including what food is and what is food. If they are only feed one thing, it will be very difficult in later life for them to accept anything other than that one item as food. Thus, offering a wide variety, and changing the combinations, is highly beneficial in the long run. So in addition to the commercial mix, we give them, twice a day, some combination of these foods, so far, depending on what we have on hand;
  • Kale
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Green beans
  • Peas (in pods and frozen)
  • Cooked carrots
  • Cooked sweet potato
  • Zucchini
  • Squash
  • Non-iceberg lettuce
  • Collard greens
  • Chard
  • Sweet and hot peppers (yes, birds like hot chilies and it's a fun way to occasionally jazz up their food) 
  • Apples 
  • Grapes
  • Mango
  • Cantalope
  • Pear
  • Breads
  • Flax seed
  • Cornflakes
  • Spinach 
  • Fresh cilantro 
  • Seasonings, including cinnamon, red pepper flakes and cayenne pepper  
As new fruits and vegetables come into season, we'll be adding more. Treats:
  • Cheese (mild, and in small amounts)
  • Crackers (Ed is crazy for Wheat Thins)
  • Millet seed
  • Cooked pasta
  • Walnuts, and other nuts, walnuts seem to be the most popular with out birds
  • Popcorn (without salt or butter)
  • Commercial bird treats
As a general observation about foods for parrots, it seems to me that if a person ate a parrot's healthy diet, that'd be a pretty good diet. I buy a lot more fresh vegetables for the birds these days, and so I eat them too.

Here are few more things I didn't know at first...

  • Birds are picky eaters. They will pick through a mix and just eat what they like. Chopping up vegetables into a salsa like mix gets them the eat more, but I like to give them bigger pieces. If they are exposed to many different foods, they seem to eat nearly everything just fine.
  • Birds will change their tastes. One day's favorite may get left behind the next, and a food they seem to never eat may suddenly become a favorite.
  • A surefire way to get a parrot to eat a food is to eat it yourself in front of them.

















Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Speaking of Birds, Birds Speaking

Harlan is a Congo African Grey Parrot.

The "CAG" weighs about a pound, has a wing span of a little under 2 feet, is about 10 inches tall and is covered in grey feathers except for a short, bright red tail. One striking feature of the African grey is its rather large neck and head. A grey's neck and head look like almost half their body mass. There is good reason for this - the birds have a huge brain.

African grey parrots are the kings of talking birds. There are two especially fascinating things about their speech which make them unique, or nearly so, among speaking parrots. The first is that they do not speak in a single voice. The amazing range of sounds this animal can make allows it to mimic the voices of multiple, specific humans in its life. I have read that most speaking parrots speak in more or less their own parrot voice, or an imitation of their owner's voice.


The second amazing thing about greys is that they only start out mimicking. As they get older by a few years, they begin to know and understand the meanings of words (there is solid scientific evidence for this by the way), and they are capable of using words in new contexts, forming their own sentences. The African grey parrot may be the only animal on Earth with the potential to communicate directly with human beings using our own human spoken language.

That said...

Not all greys talk, ever. Some talk a lot, some talk very little, and some never do. While most greys speak well, many are more content to imitate the sounds of inanimate objects in their environments, such as the beeps of electronic devices, and the sounds of other animals.

As I write this, Harlan is 6 months old, and can do a very good "hello". However he only does this when he wants to get my attention, when I am not in the room. Whole days go by when I don't hear it at all. Various whistle and hoot sounds are apparently easier sounds to make, so I hear a lot of that, and a sort of mumbling sound. But when he really is trying hard, he drops into a very human voice like sound. What he "says" is usually unintelligible, but the fist time I heard it from the other room it was actually a little creepy. The sound really is very human. He also makes a variety of random clicks and beeps that I can not even imitate. The rage of sounds he is capable of is astounding.

The mumbling, grumbling sound, I have read, is practice. He does this a lot, and especially does this when climbing around on the cage. As time has past, I have realized what he is saying. I often say "careful" when he is climbing up something, or generally doing something that looks a little precarious. Over time, his mumbles while climbing around are morphing into the word "careful".

They say African greys don't get really chatty until they are a year old. They say greys don't form sentences until 2 or 3, if they do so. They also say to be careful what you teach them saying because you may end up hearing it 50 times a day.

I often precede things I ask Harlan with "wanna" or "want". This way when he says it, he will be telling me what he wants. For example, I say "Wanna walnut" and offer a walnut. Or "wanna scratch", "want shoulder", "wanna toy", etc.

I also just talk to him a lot, describing everything I am doing and each morning, what will happen during the day.

Even though Harlan does not speak much, he does communicate, and he does understand a good deal of what he hears. It doesn't take long, spending time observing a parrot, to pick up on a sophisticated array of body language.

Check out more posts about our adventures with birds here...





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Wednesday, April 19, 2017

USS Yorktown

USS Yorktown at Portland, Oregon

Date unknown...





The Red Electrics



The Red Electrics 
Of Portland, Oregon
1949






Friday, April 14, 2017

Ed, Olive and Harlan

At the end of October 2016, 6 or 7 months ago, we brought home two cockatiels, Ed and Olive. This wasn't quite an impulse buy, but it was close. We were at the pet store for other reasons, and when walking over to the bird area, these two just went nuts. The chirped and sang and ran from side to side in their cage. The were screaming "take us home!" as clear as their little bird voices could manage.

On the way home we talked about getting the two birds. At first not seriously. But then more and more so. That afternoon we did a lot of reading online. Just what's it like to have cockatiels? What do you have to do? What do they even eat? We had no idea.

The next day, we went back. They were still there. Went home with a cage, a bag of food, a couple toys, a little box with two birds inside, and a one page printed sheet of information.

In retrospect, knowing what I know now, this is frightening.

It's frightening to think the anyone can walk into a store like that and leave with an animal like a parrot, with so little preparation. These animals are both a huge joy, and huge commitment. Bringing a parrot into your life is nothing like getting a dog or cat, nothing. There is so much to know... I don't even want to think about how many birds have miserable lives because of unprepared owners.

When you Google up information about birds, you notice right away that every website starts with a whole page introduction that is really a big long, desperate attempt to talk you out of it. There's good reason for this. If you're thinking of getting a bird, do your reading, and believe the warnings. Birds require a lot of interactive time. The require toys. The require specialized medical care. The require good quality, fresh food, warmth and a big clean cage, every single day. You must be prepared to upend your life and rearrange your furniture. If you're not, get a hamster.

That said, Ed and Olive were an amazing addition to the household. They are incredibly intelligent, friendly, curious and active creatures.

In continuing to read and learn about parrots, it didn't take long to encounter information about an animal that may actually be at the top of the intelligence scales, second only, believe it or not, to humans; the African grey parrot. The more experience I had with Ed and Olive, the more interested I was in the grey parrots.

I mentioned the warnings you see on websites about parrots... When it comes to grey parrots, the warnings get really desperate. There are whole websites that seem to have been created just to talk people out of getting one of these animals. But the more I read, the more interested I became. And after awhile, my mind was made up.

There are a few ways to get an African grey. But they are not available at a typical pet shop. I did not know exactly how or when I would get one, but one day in September we went to a specialty parrot store out of town. My thought was to buy a large cage and get it setup, loaded with toys, and ready for when a bird became available.

At the store there were two Congo African greys (CAG), and one of the smaller Timneh grey (TAG). They were all young birds. One of the Congo greys climbed right up on my shoulder and wanted a head scratch. It rode around with me the whole time we were in the store, which was a awhile, looking at cages, talking to the staff, and the other birds.

Harlan came home with us. He now occupies the dining room. Getting Harlan has been a great experience, I wish I could have done something like it many years ago.

There are many things no one told us about parrots. Now, keep in mind that I am not a vet and by no means an expert at all. This is just what I have learned from reading and relatively short personal experience. Just the same, I thought it would be a good idea to create a series of blog posts here about Ed, Olive and Harlan, and all the things we have learned.

Here is the first thing...

The internet is wrong. There is a shocking amount of partial and incorrect information out there. After everything I have read I get the impression that parrots were vastly misunderstood up until fairly recently. As late as the 1990s, really good food mixes don't seem to have existed. Some say that today, the lifespan of many birds is actually much longer than previously believed due to birds typically dying young because of poor nutrition. That's just one example... More to come, stay tuned.





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Monday, April 03, 2017

DIY Straw Ring Shredding Toy for Birds

We bought some of these stray rings one sale cheap at a craft store. They were discontinuing this size and so there was a steep markdown.
The rings are bound with something like fishing line - not good for the birds. It took awhile to get all of it carefully removed, while doing my best to keep the ring intact.

I decided to use these rice paper wraps to cover the stray.


I soaked sheets of the rice paper in a tray of water until they were soft, a minute or two.
And then carefully wrapped the ring.
After sitting for couple of days the rice paper forms a crunchy layer.

Due to the size of this toy, Harlan was intimated by it for awhile. I had to introduce it slowly, and even then he ignored it for several days.

But once he figured it out, he worked on it almost continuously until the stray was in a heap at the bottom of the cage. It lasted 4 or 5 days.

Happy bird!











The Latest Bird Toys

This toy incorporates some smaller pieces. It's good for Ed and Olive, the cockatiels. Harlan the grey parrot would chomp through those wooden stars in one chomp.
Here's a version for Harlan. It lasted a couple days!
Here's an assortment of smaller toys, good fun for either birds...









Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Bird Chews

Here's an easy way to make something fun for medium and large parrots.

Parrots like to tear things up. They also like to eat. The two together constitute their foraging instinct, and it's important to give them ways to exercise that.

I don't recall where I got this idea, but the wrappers used for spring rolls are a fantastic way to add a little foraging to your birds day. They are thin rice paper that comes in hard sheets. They are tasteless and, as far as "food" goes, pretty inert.

I just soak the wrappers in a pan of water for a few minutes, until they get soft. They get a little hard to work with if they get too soft, but it's still pretty simple to roll up some parrot treats, or even just ordinary food (or a toy, or literally anything).




I used a counter top oven that has a dehydrate setting to firm up little balls of covered treats in about 30 minutes. But I found you can also just put them on a plate in the refrigerator for about a day and a half.
Harlan loves these! The texture ranges from slightly soft and chewy, but solid, to completely hard and crunchy, depending on how long they sit. He has to break through the shell, which he discards, to get the food.

I found the smaller birds, cockatiels, have a harder time breaking the shells open and tend to loose interest before finding out there is a treat inside, but Harlan has a great time with these treats and gets excited whenever he seed me making them.









Sunday, February 12, 2017

Beads for Bird Toys

Harlan the African Grey Parrot has a pretty significant bite. These are some smaller wood beads I had previously used for toys for Ed and Olive, the cockatiels. Harlan is able to crush them in short order.
I purchased some larger beads at a craft store.

They are plan wood, looks like pine so they are perfectly safe for birds (not all woods are).

First, I died the beads using food coloring. I used nested pint glasses to hold them down. It helps to heat the water. I put each one in the microwave for 20 seconds or so, just long enough to barely boil.

After sitting for a couple of days, they are not real vivid, but there is some color for added interest. Ready for more toys!









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