by Barry B. Burtis D.V.M.
Polly wants a cracker. Can she have one? It was a question I wanted to ask some of the parrot experts when I recently attended the Canadian Parrot Conference in Guelph. This three day conference is held each November. It is a wonderful opportunity for parrot owners or people interested in these fascinating birds to gather, attend seminars, visit the associated trade show and share information and parrot stories. You are also sure to see a variety of parrots riding around on the shoulder of a friend or sitting, front and centre, somewhere around the conference site.
The speakers at this year's meeting were an impressive group of avian experts. I interviewed three of them. Dr. Branson Ritchie, a veterinarian at the University of Georgia, is internationally recognized for his contributions to the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of disease in avian and exotic companion animal species. Ritchie's research team has developed serological tests and DNA probes for beak-and-feather disease and polyoma diseases. They have also developed a vaccine for Pacheco's disease, Chlamydia and polyomavirus which causes a fatal disease in psittacine birds.
Sally Blanchard from California has a special interest in companion parrot behaviour. She has parlayed her passion for parrots into a full time career as a consultant and publisher of the Companion Parrot Quarterly. She has always been a proponent of non-aggressive taming of wild caught parrots, the importance of early socialization of domestically raised parrot chicks and the use of verbal commands and cues in maintaining a parrot's pet potential. She has been a speaker at many international avian conventions and written books outlining her highly respected theory of 'Nurturing Guidance'.
Neville Connors traveled all the way from Grafton, N.S.W. in Australia to speak at the conference. He is a full time bird breeder at his aviary, Casuarina... He believes his most rewarding achievement within the world of aviculture is to have successfully bred all the Australian cockatoos and three exotics ( Moluccan, Umbrella and Citron crests).
Well, can Polly have that cracker or not? The consensus from the people I spoke with is that she can, as long as they are eaten in moderation. Also, try to make it a whole wheat cracker with minimal food additives, if you can. That word moderation is probably the key word in providing treats to parrots. Parrots are foragers in their natural environment. Much of their behavioural stimulation, especially as companion pets, involves food gathering, food manipulation and food consumption. It is probably very important to feed a variety of nutritious foods and many of these can be offered as treats.
Feed them a good balance of nutritious foods such as carrots, yams, winter squash, collard, mustard or turnip greens, kale, broccoli, apricots, peaches and nectarines. Whole grains, tofu, fresh, well-cooked chicken, non-fat yogurt and occasionally a very hard boiled egg also are safe and healthy foods for parrots. Almonds, natural pistachios ( not the red or salted ones) and macadamias are the best nuts for parrots. There is concern that peanuts may be a source of moulds that could be dangerous for parrots so it's probably best to avoid them. Good quality pellet diets for parrots are usually recommended as a good staple in the diet as well.
There are a couple of other parrot feeding tips to remember. Avoid feeding them avocados. The meat of the avocado which is in contact with the seed and the skin is believed to be toxic for parrots. The rest of the avocado is probably safe but is extremely high in fat and therefore not good for parrots. A slice of orange (or other citrus) a few times a week should be fine. Healthy parrots produce their own vitamin C and therefore do not need extra but a bit of an orange is a safe, healthy treat.
If you are, or would like to become a parrot enthusiast, I would recommend joining a parrot club. The Golden Triangle Parrot Club at www.gtpc.ca can be contacted for more information.
Learn more about your pet and how to celebrate a safe Holiday Season with it, by watching Pet Tales Live at 8:00 p.m., Wednesday, December 13, 2006 on Cogeco Community Television, Channel 23 in our viewing area.