Jeff Sexton

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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