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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.)
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!
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.
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."