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Our aim is to provide humane education regarding environmental enrichment to enhance the life of all captive animals.

Thursday, 26 July 2012 17:58

Sprouting Seeds For Pet Birds

 

Sprouts for pet birds? Absolutely! Sprouting is one of the best ways to ensure your bird gets some of the best nutrition available, made fresh by Mother Nature. There are so many advantages to sprouting, it's unbelievable.

Seeds have been supplied with all of the nutrients, energy and information needed to become a plant. Thus, when sprouted, seed has the nutritional value of the plant but in a more concentrated form. Considering the fact that parrots are much smaller than people, this packs a huge wallop of nourishment for your bird in the sprout's tiny package.

 

From Seed To Sprout

Seeds are shells containing the potential for a living plant; a wonderful invention in Mother Nature's cupboard. But Nature has allowed for many possibilities and installs defense mechanisms in numerous life forms including the little seed. Seeds not only contain the blueprints for plant building, they contain toxins, including enzyme inhibitors that protect them until tip-top conditions make themselves available to start the growth process. Seeds also contain fat, the fuel used to provide energy to produce a plant. Sprouting the seed gets rid of the toxins, burns unwanted fat and transforms this life form from one type of food into a more nutritious one.

 

Sprouts are essentially live bundles of pure nutrition, all in one tiny purse. They contain digestible energy, vitamins A, C, E, B, minerals, amino acids, proteins, antioxidants and phytochemicals, which have protective and disease preventative properties. Sprouts are also stuffed with digestive enzymes. These enzymes break down the food consumed, making it absorbable. If your pet bird eats and doesn't absorb the nutrition food contains, it doesn't do your parrot much good. The digestive enzymes in sprouts make the delivery of the nutrition more efficient. They are comparable to a "package delivery system" of the digestive world.

 

Research suggests that the period of time when there are the most enzymes in a sprout is between germination and seven days. It has been estimated that there could be up to 100 times more digestive enzymes in sprouts than in a full-grown plant, depending on the type of sprout.

Ann Brooks, Founder of Phoenix Landing, a nonprofit parrot welfare organization, is one of many sprouting advocates. "When you think of bird seed, think sprouts. These are live plants, packed with growing nutrition, the very food stuff of parrots in the wild. If there is one whole food you can encourage your parrot to eat, from budgies to macaws, this would be my choice!"

 

You don't have to be a horticulturist or even have a green thumb to succeed at sprouting. You can sprout easily, efficiently and safely using basic equipment that is readily available. You can purchase organic sprout mix and begin kitchen farming almost immediately.

 

What You'll Need

• Organic sprout mix

• Glass jars, bridal netting and a rubber band or a commercial sprouting kit

• Grapefruit seed extract (Sometimes called GSE, it is found at most health food stores and online. It has been found to have natural anti-fungal, anti-viral and anti bacterial agents.)

• Water

Sprouting Tips

 

1) Place the desired amount of sprouting mix in a clean, glass canning jar and fill with water. Add a few drops of grapefruit seed extract. If you are using a sprouting kit, place the rubber netting over the mouth of the jar, fit the ring over the net, and screw the ring on to hold the netting in place. The ring has no top allowing the jar to breathe through the netting.

 

2) Rinse the sprout mix several times; drain and refill until the water rinses clear and clean. Refill the jar until it covers the mix with lukewarm water and let sit overnight.

 

3) The next morning, drain the water and rinse until the water is clear and rinses clean. Place the jar upside-down at a 45-degree angle in a dish rack or in a bowl so that any excess water drains and the mix is allowed to breathe. Make sure that air can circulate around the sprout mix.

 

4) At least two to three times a day, rinse the sprouts and place at a 45-degree angle to allow drainage. Keep the jar out of direct sunlight but in a place where it is at least room temperature.

Within two to three days, you will have little protrusions emerging from the seeds of your sprout mix. These are plants emerging out of the seed shell, alive and growing. The plants look like little tails that keep lengthening. You now have a sprout; a viable living plant packed with nutrition waiting to benefit your pet bird!

 

Storing Sprouts

Sprouts are a living organism, so refrigerate them after they have begun sprouting in the same inverted position to drain excess water. Wet sprouts tend to decay.

 

Leslie Moran author of The Complete Guide to Successful Sprouting for Parrots and Everyone Else in the Family and host of moranscritterconnection.com, recommends the sniff test to determine if the sprouts are fresh. "Sprouts are living foods. They should look vibrant and alive, and smell fresh and inviting. If sprouts develop a 'slimy' appearance or their smell repels you, throw them out and begin again."

 

After you are done growing your sprouts, ensure they are dry to the touch, and store them inverted in their growing jar or in one of the special commercially available produce bags. After the final rinse, dry them by letting them stand inverted in the jar for a few hours or use a salad spinner to dry them before placing them in the storage bag.

 

Parrot Meets Sprout

Learning to sprout is one thing; getting your pet birds to eat them is another matter entirely. But there was probably a time when your pet birds weren't familiar with other foods until they tried them. You have many options for introducing your birds to fresh sprouts:

 

• Gradually introduce sprouts into your bird's favorite pellet mix.

• Add to scrambled eggs.

• Add to a cooked bean mash by adding just before serving.

• Add to a vegetable mix.

• Offer as treats or rewards

• Have your birds observe you eating sprouts.

• Hide them in some of the food you share with them.

• Chop finely and serve mixed in with your bird's regular wet food.

 

Most pet birds eagerly gobble them up, but if your pet bird is suspicious, just keep trying!

 

An Ongoing Cycle

Start the soaking process about two days before your first sprouts are eaten and, in a day or two, you will have a fresh crop ready to feed your pet birds. As you become more comfortable with this process, you can estimate the rhythm of your sprouting with the correct amount and have several cycles of fresh sprouts in an ongoing process. This ensures that fresh sprouts are available every day.

Sprouting is a very easy process. Once you get the basics down, you can begin sprouting on a regular basis. Fresh sprouts add an entire spectrum of nutrition to your pet bird's diet, as well as your family's.

 

See the original article here.

Published in Avian
Thursday, 26 July 2012 17:40

Birds Bolster Their Brains To Retain Song

Research Could Hold A Key On Human Memory Loss

 

MIDDLETOWN —

 

The song of the zebra finch is a pretty simple one, and not particularly tuneful, but it can tell us a surprising amount about how brains work and preserve memories.

"One of the biggest hurdles in stem cell research now is directing new cells to go only to the site where you want them to go; it's like herding cats almost," said John Kirn, a Wesleyan University neuroscientist who has studied bird brains since the 1980s.

 

Birds can create new brain cells through most of their brains, while the creation of new neurons, known as neurogenesis, can occur in only a few regions of a mammal's brain. Better understanding of how neurogenesis happens in birds' brains, Kirn said, could lead to medical breakthroughs for humans.

"If we can understand how they manage to do this on the molecular level, it might give us some insights that we can use," he said, adding that stem therapy is one area that could benefit.

"There's something special about the bird brain that might be important in how we can create therapies for human brain damage," he said.

Kirn recently co-authored a study on neurogenesis in the zebra finch. The study, published in the May issue of the Journal of Neuroscience, could influence research into neurodegenerative illnesses in humans,includingAlzheimer's andParkinson's disease.

Typically, the song of a zebra finch will gradually degrade if it loses its hearing. But the researchers found that new neurons that developed in zebra finch brains helped the birds retain their song even after they were surgically deafened.

"It's completely counterintuitive to what everyone thinks neurogenesis is, which is to provide the flexibility for change and to learn new things," Kirn said. "And this is perhaps an example of the opposite of that. New neurons, in this case at least, are designed to preserve function."

To arrive at this insight, the research team studied a group of zebra finches, recorded their songs, injected the birds with a biomarker that would highlight new neurons, and then deafened half the birds. After 30 days, they analyzed the songs of the deafened birds to see which ones best preserved their songs. "We have some really sophisticated software for measuring all sorts of acoustic parameters," Kirn said.

The birds were then killed and their brains examined to see which birds had the most neurons. One of the scientists' predictions was shot down immediately.

"There's a lot of evidence that certain kinds of experience including social enrichment, can augment the number of neurons," Kirn said, adding that the researchers thought the lack of hearing would have the opposite effect. "We thought that the hearing birds would have more new neurons than deaf birds, but there was no difference."

But when the researchers looked at the brains of the deafened birds, he said, "that's when things got interesting."

"We found that the more new neurons a bird had, the longer it preserved the song after it was deafened," he said.

 

This has some implications for the brains of other species — including humans — and about the possible causes and even treatment of neurodegenerative disorders.

"On the very abstract scale, it suggests the possibility that in some brain regions, it might be possible to preserve information by adding new cells," Kirn said. "If [human patients are] losing cognitive function, if they're losing memories, this may be a way to not just enable you to learn new information, but actually preserve old information."

The link between the brains of birds and humans is indirect, Kirn said, but "not trivial." For instance, it was generally believed that most animals — including humans — could not produce new neurons later in life. By the 1990s, though, the idea was well-accepted that the production of new neurons did occur in certain animals — thanks largely to research on birds. Eventually, scientists accepted that it happened in humans as well, though only in certain parts of the brain.

Fernando Nottebohm, a neuroscientist at Rockefeller University in New York City and a mentor of Kirn's, was among the first to prove that neurogenesis occurs in birds. His study of bird brains grew out of an interest in figuring out how humans learn to vocalize.

"Some birds learn their songs much the way that people learn the sounds of speech," he said. And bird brains are a lot easier to study than the human brain. "We know much less about what goes on in the human than in the bird brain."

Kirn studies the zebra finch almost exclusively, although he did a brief stint concentrating on the canary. Unlike the canary, which learns a new song each year, the zebra finch has a limited repertoire. It learns one song in its first 90 days of life — made of four to eight notes "in very specific order and they don't vary at all" — and then sings it for the rest of its life.

Nottebohm studies both. He said they each have their advantages as study subjects. But, aesthetically, the more tuneful canary wins, hands down.

"Zebra finches have a squawky little song," Nottebohm said. "They sound like a mechanical cat."

 

See the original article here.

Published in Avian
Thursday, 26 July 2012 17:28

Enrich Your Pet Bird's Life

Enrichment, foraging, toys, devices and quality of life are all phrases that are thrown around in the pet bird world on a regular basis. We all have a general knowledge of what they mean, but is there truly understanding of how to create an effective enrichment plan for your pet bird? With this article, I hope to walk you through those terms, the end result being a more enriched life for your companion pet bird.
 
By definition, enrichment means anything that makes something else better. That’s a pretty broad and subjective definition. In my opinion, the definition of enrichment for companion parrots can be anything offered to a pet bird that in some way enhances the quality of life in direct correlation to the animal’s roots in the natural world.
 
Foraging has become the hot topic for pet bird owners in recent years. Foraging is defined as seeking out or making a search for food. That’s fairly straightforward. Offering foraging opportunities to your parrot can be done quite easily.
 
Toys and devices are just terms applied to the things you purchase at your local pet store or make yourself to help keep your pet bird mentally stimulated. While toys and devices are absolutely in the big picture of pet bird care, they are certainly not the only way to keep your parrot happily occupied.
 
Quality of life is a broad term that we in the animal care profession have come to embrace as the quality of care that an animal receives. Again, this is an extremely subjective term that becomes even more difficult to define when used to describe a creature that does not communicate in the same language that we use. Parrots can speak, that’s true, but in describing quality of life, we must certainly look at behavior and health based on criteria we have established. Now that the terminology is out of the way, let’s talk about how to create an enriched environment for the pet birds that share your life.
 
Study Wild Parrot Behavior
So many times, when I speak with pet bird owners about enrichment, they tell me that they buy toys at their local pet store and that their pet birds chew them up so they have adequately enriched their pet birds’ lives. Of course, parrots need an assortment of toys, but there is also more to creating an enriched life for a parrot in our homes.
 
Consider the life of parrots in the wild. They are certainly multi-sensory creatures that are getting input on a second-by-second basis. By keeping parrots in our homes, we have significantly reduced the number of sensory experiences. As a conscientious parrot owner, it is your job to fill the void in your parrot’s sensory life. Offering choices is the key to successfully enriching your companion parrot. In the wild, a parrot has numerous choices that it makes on a daily basis. Those choices come in the form of questions like, “What will I eat today?” “Will I be eaten today?” “Where will I roost?” “Will I breed ... who will I breed with?” and the list goes on and on. We remove those choices by creating a controlled environment that we refer to as pet ownership. Enrichment is the solution for the lack of choices our pet birds might experience in a captive setting.
 
Now we know why we bother doing enrichment. But what about how we offer enrichment? The best suggestion I can give is to know your pet bird’s natural history. Natural history refers to the behavior that your particular species of pet bird would be exhibiting in the wild.
 
Each parrot species has particular behaviors that will help you create enrichment that is not simply an exercise in futility. Offering a pet bird that forages on the ground a variety of foraging experiences up at the top of the cage or high on perches is frustrating to both you and the pet bird; you spend time creating the opportunities, and the pet bird doesn’t seem to interact at all. This might be because the behavior you are asking for is completely foreign to your pet bird as an individual but it might also be foreign to the pet bird in a species-specific way. There are so many good websites and publications about parrots in the wild that you should have no trouble at all finding out what your parrot does in a natural setting.
 
After doing your research on your particular pet bird or pet birds, get busy enhancing the sensory needs of your companion. Once again, I will say that the toys are essential to your pet bird’s enriched life, but you also need to address all of your pet bird’s senses, not just the need to destroy or chew.
 
 Whether working with facilities that house parrots or individual pet bird owners, I suggest approaching an enrichment strategy using categories of enrichment. I call it the “Chinese menu approach,” where you have choices in each category that you can offer your pet bird on a schedule — one from column A and one from column B. Although your pet bird may show a propensity for a particular toy, device or opportunity, it will soon diminish if you offer that same opportunity repeatedly without variety. In this case the old phrase “variety is the spice of life” holds true.
 
Your Pet Bird’s Five Enrichment Needs
For the purpose of this discussion, let’s create five categories of enrichment that address the sensory needs of your pet bird: tactile, visual, dietary, auditory and social. The next few paragraphs, I will define each category and offer suggestions to introducing that form of enrichment to your flock.
 
Tactile enrichment refers to anything your pet bird touches, whether it is with its beak, a claw or even its feathers. This is the sense that is so often addressed with the toys available for purchase in pet stores. Chewing is essential to your pet bird’s well-being. Your parrot doesn’t have to be what I call a “hookbill wood chipper.” It can be the type of pet bird that chews minimally but interacts with chewable items.
 
Manipulating items for chewing helps maintain the pet bird’s beak. A parrot that is deprived of chewable items might end up with a beak that is overgrown, which could lead to serious health issues.
 
When considering tactile enrichment don’t forget the feet. Offering a variety of perching materials and standing surfaces allows the pet bird to keep nails trimmed and reduces the chance of foot issues. Perches should also be different sizes.
 
Consider a parrot flying in the wild looking for a place to perch. The opportunities in nature aren’t always perfectly suited to the size of a pet bird’s feet. A variety of sizes for perches allows the pet bird the chance to use muscles for gripping that might go unused otherwise.
 
Tightly securing perches to the cage or wall is really unnecessary. Branches in the wild are seldom solid surfaces that don’t bend or move. Ensure your parrot’s safety but don’t overprotect to the detriment of your enrichment offerings. Tactile also includes offerings that allow the pet bird to experience different temperatures, such as the cold of ice cubes or the warmth of river rock heated in the sun.
 
Tactile enrichment should also include some softer surfaces for your pet bird that mimic the foliage it might experience in the wild. (Just be aware that when offering softer material like bedding, you might be encouraging breeding behavior.)
 
Visual enrichment is often (forgive the pun) overlooked. Our pet birds are such visually stimulated creatures when they are in the wild. Their colorful plumage is the first clue to how important visual stimulation is in their world. Visual offerings don’t need to be grand productions suitable for a museum. Use the resources available to you, such as the Internet, to print pictures of other parrots of the same species as yours. Hang those pictures near the cage or playgym. (Be sure that there is an avenue for escape if your pet bird feels threatened by the picture of another pet bird.)
 
Offering mirrors is another way to provide visual stimulation for your parrot. Don’t worry about the old wive’s tale that your pet bird won’t learn to talk if it sees another pet bird of the same species. It might hold conversations with the image in the mirror, but it can still be encouraged to mimic human speech.
 
Another dynamic of visual enrichment is what’s going on in the environment around your pet bird’s cage or gym. If you can, get behind the perch, and take a look at what your pet bird sees every day. Try moving the perch to create a different view for your pet bird. If possible, move the cage to give your pet bird a really different outlook. Not to be confused with a pet bird sitter, using the television for visual stimulation is a great resource. There are several products on DVD available from various organizations that show footage of birds in the wild. Think about purchasing one of those to use as a form of visual enrichment.
 
Dietary enrichment is perhaps the easiest but most frightening of the enrichment categories. If you have your companion parrot on a food diet that you find satisfying and nutritionally sound, it can be intimidating to think about straying from that plan. Don’t be afraid to vary your pet bird's food diet. Maintain the usual routine, but vary the presentation or include novel and appropriate food alternatives in small quantities in addition to the daily diet. (Be aware that if you are offering additional food you will have to cut back on some of the usual diet to maintain a healthy weight on your pet bird.)
 
The other scary issue with offering dietary enrichment is the overwhelming number of resources for toxic versus nontoxic items for parrots. The multiple lists of toxic versus nontoxic items must be carefully researched. Look at several lists and cross reference for particular items. If you have questions about whether a food item is safe, consult your veterinarian. If you still don’t feel comfortable after your have exhausted all your resources, err on the side of caution and don’t give that particular item to your pet bird.
 
Even if you don’t choose to be adventurous in your dietary enrichment of your parrot, you can use foraging as a form of dietary enrichment. Offering foraging is one of the easiest ways to stimulate your pet bird’s natural behavior. I could write a whole article on foraging. For the sake of this discussion, foraging can be as simple as moving the food bowls or covering the food bowls with a piece of paper.
 
If your pet bird is obviously advanced when it comes to foraging, then up the ante a bit, and hide the food in boxes or foraging devices that you can find at your local pet store. As I have said in my lectures so many times: foraging isn’t brain surgery. In the wild it just means going and finding food, not solving a 200-stage puzzle to get an almond! There are a number of great foraging products available and even the “Captive Foraging: The Next Best Thing to Being Free” DVD by Dr. Scott Echols that will give you great ideas for creating foraging activities for your parrot.
 
Auditory enrichment is perhaps the most often underutilized form of enrichment for parrots. In the wild, parrots use vocalizations across long distances for communication. Squelching that screaming behavior 100 percent of the time might be doing your pet bird an injustice. Work with your pet bird to allow calling vocalizations at appropriate times of the day; namely dawn and dusk. This might even end some of the screaming at inappropriate times.
 
Play audio clips of parrots in the wild for your pet bird. The number of downloadable audio clips available online is huge, so you have a lots of choices. You can also play natural sounds that are relevant to the geographic origins of your parrot’s species. In small doses, you can also play predator calls such as hawks and eagles. Use this form of enrichment quite sparingly, as you don’t want to add undue stress to your parrot’s world.
 
Social enrichment is the last category we’ll discuss. Parrots are flock animals. In the wild, they are most often found in large groups or smaller family groups. By placing a pet bird in your home, you are removing it from a natural flock. Therefore, you need to become the flock for your companion pet bird. Spending time with your pet bird is crucial, not on a rigid schedule but a bit of time when you can. Interactions should include play and should allow your pet bird the choice to not interact.  If you have more than one pet bird, you have created a flock in your home. It is your job to provide social enrichment opportunities for your flock. (Please don’t take social enrichment as an opportunity to run out and purchase another pet bird or two! There are ways to provide social stimulation without overpopulating your home with parrots.)
 
If you are already providing a varied enrichment program, challenge yourself to add a few more new opportunities. If you are just starting out, the cardinal rule is to be creative. Relate the opportunities to your parrot’s natural history and you will succeed.
 
If you’re a new pet bird owner or new to a particular pet bird, there is a learning curve for both of you. Some pet birds need training to learn to interact with enrichment, and some will dive right in. Whichever type of enrichment you offer, have fun creating it and watching your parrot enjoy a more enriched life.
 
Published in Avian