Why Your Parrots Should Try Spelt

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I admit it. I think the word spelt is a funny word. I don’t know why it just strikes me as amusing.

To be honest, I really didn’t know much about this grain until about five or six years ago. I grew up in the Midwest, and it was all about cornmeal and refined wheat flour. Instant rice was what you ate instead of the real thing. But with the rise of the organic food markets, a more global awareness arose.

With increased global travel and the growing demand for sustainable food, the public’s interest in alternative foods has brought some of the more unusual and ancient grains into the supermarkets and specialty shops. Spelt is one of those ancient grains that has captured the interest of the public.

Spelt or Triticum spelta has been grown for thousands of years. And of course, humans being humans, even though it’s been around that long, botanists are still arguing about it. Some seem to think it’s a subspecies of wheat while others maintain that it’s a completely separate species. Either way, it used to be a staple in many homes but lost popularity due to the chewiness and toughness of the outer husk. This flip-flopped in the last few decades due to a renewed interest in more naturally and organically ways of eating.

What Spelt is Like

I’ve made it for my African greys and it smelled divine! And the taste? Nutty, chewy and full of grain flavor. Spelt, like quinoa can be sprinkled into salads or used as a side dish. I happen to like barley and the taste is similar to that, but spelt chewier than the other grain and doesn’t get that slippery, slime-like texture to it.
It’s easy to prepare and it’s very versatile. I like to use it to change things up in my flock’s diet. Parker, Pepper, and Nyla seem to like it; I think it is the chewy texture that puts this one over the top.

I’ve used it in my chopped vegetable mix that I freeze for my birds and I also put it in my grain bake. I don’t even bother cooking it before putting it in the grain bake as it cooks beautifully in the oven along with the other ingredients. It doesn’t stick together, either — it maintains its fluffiness much like properly cooked rice.
If you want to cook it on the stove top, simply follow the directions on the package. The method is very much like making risotto and you can add herbs and spices and make it tastier if you like.

Spelt has more protein (15 to 21 percent) and more vitamins than wheat. The highest protein content is in hard red spring wheat, which has about 15.4 grams of protein per 100 grams.

Nutritional Benefits of Spelt

Spelt does look very much like a wheat grain. It’s about the size of orzo pasta and it has a tougher outer hull which I suppose explains that chewiness.

It’s not a gluten-free grain; it’s moderately high in gluten, but people who have issues with wheat can tolerate spelt for the most part. And if you are allergic to wheat, you just might be able to tolerate it. Because the gluten in spelt is more soluble than the gluten in wheat, it is thought that it is easier to digest. You can purchase spelt flour to make bird bread for your birds, but it might be tricky because of the soluble gluten.

Spelt is made up of 57.9 percent simple and complex carbohydrates and about 3 percent fat. Complex carbohydrates are a fairly important factor in preventing blood clots as well as stimulating the immune system.

Aside from being rich in protein, these proteins contain all of the eight essential amino acids needed by the human body. These amino acids are called “essential” because the body cannot manufacture them. You need to get them from food. Spelt is very high in the “bioavailability” department, meaning that the nutrients it contains are easily and quickly accessible to the body. It’s easily and rapidly broken down and used without much effort.

Many grocery stores carry it and you can purchase both whole grain spelt and spelt flour online. You can even find pasta and noodles made from spelt.

Give it a try for something new, different and nutritious for your parrots.

Why Tea Is So Great For Parrots

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Note: Interested in serving tea to your parrots? Be sure to use organic or herbal teas that have been naturally decaffeinated. Caffeine can be lethal to parrots.

According to Chinese legend, around the year 2700 B.C., Chinese Emperor Shen Nung observed that the water in his cup had changed color after leaves had blown into it. He was pleased with the mild taste and continued to experiment by brewing leaves from various plants.

Over time, this practice spread around the world, and there are currently many types of teas and a vast number of brands to choose from.

Tea is brewed using leaves, flowers, buds and twigs from a variety of plants. One of the most popular still is the common tea leaf, which comes from the plant Camellia sinensis, a flowering shrub native to China (sinensis means “Chinese” in Latin). Ever since that first “accidental brewing” in the emperor’s cup, scientists have discovered that drinking tea introduces important nutrients and minerals to our systems and has a wide variety of health benefits.

Although water quality is important for our avian companions, what birds drink in the wild is far from sterile. Many species of birds visit water sources like tree hollows into which these plant components leach tannins, other compounds and minerals. We have all seen wild birds drinking from what appears to be “dirty” puddles and other water sources. However, many contain a type of “tea” from the leaves that have fallen into the water.

Different types of Camellia teas are commonly used, and they differ according to when the leaves are harvested and their preparation. These plants also differ in their benefits to us and our birds when they are consumed. Teas from the Camellia plant include the popular green and black teas, as well as white tea. Green tea consists of young leaves that are picked and quickly dried to avoid oxidation. Oxidation is simply the leaves absorbing oxygen while drying, which causes biochemical changes to the leaves, similar to fermentation. We’ve all seen oxidation at work when apples turn brown after being sliced. 

Black teas are oxidized before firing, giving them a more wilted look. On the other hand, white tea is picked before the leaf buds have opened. They are steamed and quickly dried and are also unoxidized. Each of these teas has its own benefits for you and your birds.

Teas can also serve as a great enrichment tool; use a different type each day to keep tea stimulating and engaging. These methods of introduction will hopefully allow you to provide more diversity in your birds’ diets.

Types of Teas

  • Green tea: Green tea possesses potent polyphenols, antioxidants found in plants that have amazing benefits that include regulating cholesterol, reducing blood pressure and aiding weight loss. Research journals have cited additional benefits. It may prevent gene damage, which can lead to cancer, reduce heart disease and decrease the incidence of stroke. Green tea also helps boost the immune system.
  • Black tea: This tea also possesses antioxidants that help maintain healthy blood vessels and promote healthy blood flow. Black tea is sometimes used specifically for softbill birds, such as green aracaris. Softbills are prone to iron-storage disease, and the tannins present in the tea bind to dietary iron and prevent it from being stored in the liver. Many aviculturists, including zoos around the world, use black tea for other iron-sensitive species.
  • White tea: White tea has a host of important antioxidants that deters gene damage and inhibits the start of cancer. It helps the body break down cancer-causing agents and acts as an antibacterial, anti-fungal and antiviral agent. Evidence suggests that white tea supports bone health and density as well as enhancing skin health.

Herbal tea

Herbal Teas

Herbal teas originate from plentiful sources of various flowers, leaves, buds and other plant components. Each herbal tea has its own array of health benefits corresponding to its unique chemical composition.

  • Chamomile tea: A well-liked tea. The flower is used to brew this tea and many find it effective in settling indigestion and calming nerves. It also contains antibiotic properties and relieves muscle spasms. It has frequently been offered to birds that are prone to night frights. Chamomile acts as a natural sedative and helps eliminate insomnia, anxiety and stress. These properties might help birds that pluck or chew their feathers. Some human companions who struggle with their bird’s feather mutilation use cool chamomile tea in a spray bottle. They mist their bird’s feathers and the bird ingests the tea while preening.
  • Calendula tea: Calendula, a flower in the marigold family, contains fair amounts of beta-carotene. It has been used as an anti-inflammatory and antibacterial agent. These properties make it beneficial for the skin. It has been successful in reducing sunburn. This tea assists in detoxifying the body and helps limit the occurrence of digestive problems like ulcers.
  • Rose hip tea: This tea has a tangy citrus flavor and it’s high in Vitamin C. Rose hips help cleanse the blood and maintain liver and kidney health. Some find it good for fatigue and seems to help the body recover from illness.
  • Peppermint tea: This tasty tea has an irresistible flavor and is useful for digestive upset. It has antiseptic properties and contains compounds believed to possess antiviral characteristics.
  • Ginger root tea: This tea has been used to relieve pain from arthritis and to improve circulation. Ginger root aids in eliminating nausea.
  • Anise seed tea: This tea is effective in treating respiratory irritation like bronchitis. Anise can be used to halt coughing and soothe inflamed airways and has been found to ease indigestion.
  • Raspberry leaf tea: This tea is a very useful and potent tonic for female birds and can be a valuable aid to breeders. Raspberry leaf tea helps stimulate the muscular contractions in the female reproductive tract and helps pass the egg with less complication. This tea has been used successfully with egg-bound hens, and many zoological institutions use it with other species besides birds that may have complications during labor.
  • Rooibos tea: While lesser known than other varieties, rooibos is high in mineral content and has many advantages. It is known for calming muscle spasms and indigestion as well as possessing antiallergenic and anti-inflammatory properties. Rooibos also works all the way down to the genetic level by maintaining chromosome integrity due to its anti-mutagenic elements.

Hold The Caffeine!

One important note about tea: Black, green and white Camellia teas contain caffeine. Select organically decaffeinated teas — they are decaffeinated by a process using CO2 and water. The younger the buds and leaves, the more caffeine it contains. Many commercial teas may say, “Naturally decaffeinated” but they use ethyl acetate in the decaffeination process, which should be avoided.

A Tea Party

Some birds engage in the “one-eyed turn around,” where they circle the bowl to assess this new addition. You may begin by introducing a weak tea and increase the concentration over time as your bird becomes familiar with its taste and color. Brew tea in hot, but not boiling, water to maximize steeping potential. It is also recommended to use a stainless-steel mesh tea steeper when brewing tea, and remove it before serving. Do not, however, completely replace water with tea. If the bird refuses the tea provided, you’ll always want plain water available to avoid dehydration.

If your bird is still suspicious, there are other ways to glean the benefits of tea. When cooking for your bird, substitute tea for water when preparing beans, rice, pasta and other items prepared in hot water. Baking is another opportunity to incorporate it by adding brewed tea in place of the water in the recipe for bird bread, muffins or other tasty recipes and dishes your birds prefer. Offering certain teas without steeping them is another option. For example, many small birds love to eat flowers and will eat the flower buds found in tea when mixed in their dry food mix. You may also mix chamomile or calendula flowers into a daily fresh fruit mixture to increase and diversify the nutritional content of every bite.

 

* Check with your avian veterinarian for guidance in regard to the frequency, amount and types of tea you might offer your bird before incorporating tea into your bird’s diet. 

Patricia Sund is the creative director of Bird Talk Magazine.

Jason J. Crean, MS Bio, EdD, is a biology instructor, aviculturist and zoo consultant. Learn more at www.drcrean.com.

Photo credits: African grey by Ivonne Wierink/Shutterstock; Amazon parrot by Stanislav71/Shutterstock

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7 Items That’ll Make Life Easier for You and Your Pet Bird

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Air Filter

Your bird’s respiratory system is very sensitive, and good air quality is a must for her. While you can help by not using chemical cleaners and keeping your bird’s cage clutter-free, an air filter is one of the best tools available to clean the air. For the best results, use a high-efficiency particulate absorption (HEPA) air filter.

Playstand/Playgym

The No. 1 bird essential is a playstand or playgym. A playstand is a place your bird can hang out away for her cage, and this is good for many reasons. One, it means your bird can spend time with you and the family without having to risk your furniture being nibbled on by your bird. (She’ll still try, but it’ll be harder for her if she’s on a playstand.)

Another good reason to have a playstand is that it’s a neutral territory. Your bird will probably become territorial of her cage — through no fault of her own. It’s her instincts telling her to keep her home free of intruders. A playstand, however, isn’t her cage, and your bird can take a break from all-important cage-guarding duty and spend time with her family.

Playstands are a great place to teach your bird tricks, as well. But you do have to keep the playstand interesting, otherwise, your bird may wander around looking for something to do. Pile on the interesting toys and keep some treats on hand for a happy bird.

Microchip

There’s a chance your bird may one day accidentally fly out an open window or door. Consider having your bird microchipped. If your bird does get lost and is taken to a shelter, they can scan your bird and help get her back home safely.

Cage Cover

The moment the sun rises, your bird is going to be up greeting the day loudly. If you want to catch some more shut-eye, invest in a quality cage cover for your bird’s cage that will block out the rising sun until you’re ready to get up. Likewise, a good cage cover that blocks out light is good for birds that are tucking in for the night. Cover your bird’s cage to prevent any lights from disturbing them during the night.

Travel Carrier

Whether it’s for a vet visit, a trip or only for an emergency, a travel carrier is a must for you and your bird. Purchase a carrier that is sturdy enough to resist a bird trying to chew on it, and that you can outfit with a perch and some cups. For birds that have long tails, you might want to purchase a carrier that is vertical rather than horizontal.

Nonstick Pans

Teflon-coated pans are not your bird’s friend. Polytetrafluoroethylene, or Teflon, if burned, can kill your bird. Invest in other types of pots and pans that are Teflon-free for your bird’s safety, such as stainless-steel pans. There are “green” Teflon-free pans now available on the market — but keep in mind that manufacturers do not routinely test on animals to determine safety concerns. Also, if you have a self-cleaning oven, do not use it. There are too many reports of birds dying because people didn’t realize the fumes from their self-cleaning oven were harmful.

Earplugs

We asked readers on Facebook, “What is one thing every bird owner needs?” and a surprisingly large number of people answered “earplugs.” This might not be a bad investment, as birds are loud. They’re usually the loudest when they are at their happiest — at sunrise, when they’re happy to have survived the night, or when they’re just happy to be a bird. At these moments, you gotta’ let them scream. So, invest in earplugs, and maybe join your bird in those happy yelling moments!

Photo credit: Cockatiel by Nick Beer/Shutterstock

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Parrot Training Quiz

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Budgie on skateboard

What do you know about parrot training? Take this quiz and find out!

1. Does age matter when training birds?

a) Older birds cannot learn new things.

b) Baby birds aren’t capable of remembering what you’re trying to teach them

day to day.

c) Baby birds are easier to train, but older birds

can learn new things, too.

d) Older birds are easier to train because they

want your attention.

2. What is the ideal setting to begin behavioral training with your bird?

a) A quiet area free of excessive noise will help the bird remain calm and focused on what you are trying to teach it.

b) A quiet area outside under a tree will make the bird feel more at home and relaxed.

c) A moderate-noise setting will help your bird learn to focus its attention on you and to block out distractions.

d) A noisy setting with multiple stimuli will challenge the bird and teach it to learn under any condition.

3. What type of training routine is more likely to have positive results?

a) A fast-paced, 10-minute routine with no rewards until your bird perfects the requested trick.

b) A daily, 30-minute routine, with a new trick added each week to keep your bird’s attention, regardless of whether it has mastered the previous trick.

c) Only work with your bird at the times it seems most playful.

d) A daily, 10-minute routine infused with positive reinforcement (such as offering treats or head scratches).

4. Which is not one of the three basic behaviors to teach when first training your bird?

a) Stick-training

b) Step-up

c) Vocalizing on cue

d) Step-down

5. Does a timetable matter for when your bird should learn a lesson?

a) No, don’t worry about a training timetable. Enjoy spending time with your bird.

b) It somewhat matters; if your bird isn’t showing any progress then you must be doing something wrong.

c) It somewhat matters; if your bird isn’t showing any progress then something might be wrong with your bird.

d) Yes, your bird should be learning a new lesson in at least one month’s time .

Check Your Answers

  1. a
  2. a
  3. d
  4. c
  5. a

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Do You Know About Birds and Heat Stroke? Take This Quiz

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It’s summer and that means hot days are upon us. While many birds come from tropical climates where heat is normal, they can become overheated and suffer heatstroke.

What is heatstroke? This condition is also known as hyperthermia, and occurs when a bird cannot cool itself down and lose extra body heat. Do you know the signs of heatstroke and what to do about it?

1.) Which of the following behaviors is not a sign of heatstroke?

a. Holding the wings out

b. Panting

c. Difficulty keeping balance

d. Feather picking

2.) If you suspect your bird has heatstroke, what step should you take immediately?

a. Lie your bird on its back.

b. Mist your bird with cool, not cold, water

c. Give your bird something to eat

d. Perform CPR on your bird

3.) Which signs do birds with heatstroke experience, but not those with heat stress?

a. Panting

b. Holding the wings out

c. Convulsions

d. Elevated heart rate

4.) What should you do to help prevent heatstroke in a bird that spends time outdoors?

a. Make sure your bird has access to shade and clean drinking water.

b. Hang your bird’s cage up high so it will catch a breeze.

c. Check your bird frequently for signs of discomfort

from the heat.

d. Both a and c

5.) How can you help prevent shock in a bird with heatstroke?

a. Feed the bird

b. After misting your bird, take it to a veterinarian immediately.

c. Keep the bird calm

d. Both b and c

Answers

1.) The answer is D. Feather picking is not a sign of heatstroke. A bird suffering from heatstroke will hold its wings out, pant, and/or have difficulty keeping its balance. In addition to the three signs listed, weakness, a dazed expression and dry skin also indicate possible heatstroke. A bird that starts convulsing due to heatstroke is in immediate danger and could slip into a coma and die, so immediate action is necessary. Obese birds are more prone to heatstroke.

2.) The answer is B. An immediate step to take if you suspect your bird has heatstroke is to mist your bird with cool, not cold, water. Also, take your bird to a cool, well-ventilated area. Place your bird’s feet in a shallow pan of cool water if it can stand, but do not do this to an unconscious bird. If you suspect heatstroke, contact your avian vet immediately.

3.) The answer is C. Birds suffering from heat stress do not have convulsions, nor do they lose consciousness. Heat-stressed birds might hold their wings out and pant. While heat stress is not as deadly as heatstroke can be, this form of stress can affect your bird in the long run and lead to infection or illness.

4.) The answer is D. Birds that spend time outdoors should be provided with shade and clean drinking water, and checked on frequently to make sure they are not suffering from heat stress. Birds that are acclimated to outdoor housing and have access to shade and water typically do not suffer from heatstroke.

5.) The answer is D. Keep your bird calm, and immediately take it to a veterinarian if you suspect it has heatstroke. If your pet bird starts to convulse, give it a cool (not cold!) misting with soapy water (dish soap mixed with water), as the soap will help get the water under the feathers to the bird’s body. (Do not use soapy water on your bird in other instances unless directed by a vet.) Take your bird to avian veterinarian for a checkup.

How to Keep Your Bird Cool

  • Mist your pet bird
  • Run a fan to keep air circulating. (Make sure the fan or air conditioner is not blasting air directly on your bird.)
  • (If the fan is on, keep your bird inside its cage for its safety.)
  • Run the air conditioner.
  • Place your bird’s feet in a shallow pan
  • of cool water.
  • Provide shade for your bird.
  • Provide water or an electrolyte solution.

The No. 1 Cause of Heatstroke

Leaving a bird in a car on a hot day is the most common cause of heatstroke. Birds can tolerate relatively high temperatures as long as they have time to acclimate. If the temperature suddenly shoots up without time for your bird to adjust (as it would in a car) it is more prone to suffer from heatstroke.

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