Helping Spring Birds: Bird Houses, Foods and Baths for Small, Shy Species

Indigo Bunting

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Dan Pancamo

With winter finally vanquished here in the USA (or, most of the USA, anyway!), our long-awaited migratory birds have returned and are busy fattening up and building nests.  Many standard bird feeders, foods and other supplies work well year round, but spring also brings some changes that provide new opportunities for us to assist our avian friends.  As competition for food (especially insects), water and nest sites increases, small, retiring birds may be forced away from backyard bird feeders, baths and houses. This is especially true in areas where Starlings, English Sparrows and other aggressive species are common.  Warblers, Vireos, Wrens and similar native birds are at a disadvantage, and many are in decline.  Bats are also in trouble, with many suffering from an emerging disease, habitat loss and insecticide use…a bat house can be a real boon to local populations.  Following are a few interesting items that can be used to lend a hand.


Species-Specific Bird and Bat Houses

Although common birds can co-opt houses designed for rare ones, trying to cater to the needs of individual species can prove effective.  This is especially true if you place nest boxes in locations that will draw target species and discourage others.  Please post below if you have questions on nest box placement.


I especially like the Gourd House.  Although designed with Purple Martins in mind, this unique little nest site should also prove attractive to various wrens and finches.  It is constructed of plastic and equipped with a drain hole.  A ring allows you to easily hang it in the thick cover favored by many small, shy birds.  Also available are houses with dimensions that will suit Chickadees, Blue Birds and similar species.


t261082The Audubon/Woodlink Bat House is very sturdy, and quite attractive.  Even if you do not regularly see bats, it may be worth a try.  Little Brown Bats and several other species have managed to hang on even in the heart of NYC, and safe roosting sites are critical to their well-being.  Given that even the smallest bats can consume at least 600 insects per hour – many of which will likely be mosquitoes – bat roosts aren’t bad for our well-being either!


Bird Baths and Drinkers

I found two interesting items which should appeal to birds that are reluctant to leave cover in order to drink and bathe.


t261017The Perky Pet Droplet Station is a source of drinking water rather than a bird bath (water is enclosed…so no cleaning needed!).  It is small and easy to hang amid vines and branches.


The terra cotta Glazed Bird Bath can also be hung in locations that may dissuade starlings and other backyard “bullies” while attracting warblers, native sparrows, thrushes, and similar birds.


Important Breeding Season Foods

Most typical backyard birds consume protein-rich foods as the breeding season approaches, and rear their chicks on insects and other invertebrates.  While the spring spike in insect populations is usually sufficient, there may be situations where supplementary feeding will benefit small birds.  Freeze-dried mealworms might be just the thing to convince Brown Thrashers, various warblers, and other secretive insectivores to visit your feeders.


It may also be useful to provide species-specific foods and feeders that are designed with finches, hummingbirds and others in mind.  Seed mixes that contain ingredients favored by Goldfinches, Cardinals and others are now available.


Chuckanut’s Backyard Wildlife Diet will attract chipmunks, squirrels, rabbits, and other native mammals.  If you’re lucky, and able to view your feeders after dark, you may even get to see my all-time favorites, Flying Squirrels.



My Parrot is Sneezing – What’s Wrong!?

Sun Conure

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Melanie Phung

All parrots occasionally sneeze to clear their nares (nostrils).  However, frequent sneezing and the discharge of mucus is cause for concern.  Sometimes, a simple environmental change, such as the use of a humidifier, is all that is required.  In other cases conditions ranging from bacterial or viral infections to tumors, air sac mites or nutritional deficiencies may be involved.  Unfortunately, even if it is obvious that dry or dusty air is playing a role, medical issues cannot be ruled out without veterinary advice – websites purporting to aid in home diagnosis should not be relied upon.  In this article, we’ll review some common causes of sneezing and nasal discharge in budgies, cockatiels, cockatoos and other parrots.


General Considerations

As mentioned, an occasional sneeze is normal. The presence of mucus or other nasal discharge (with or without sneezing) should be taken as a danger sign.  Although typically associated with respiratory or related infections, mucus may also be formed when parrots need to rid their nares of dust, or in response to smoke or other chemical irritants.  Either way, prompt action is needed.  While veterinarians can draw some conclusions from the mucus’ appearance – clear, thick, coloration, presence of blood, etc. – pet owners should not speculate and attempt to resolve the problem without expert assistance.


Finger training

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Evenprime

Your Parrot’s Environment

Environmental problems are easier to remedy than are medical concerns.  While some budgies (parakeets) and some other species are adapted to arid habitats, most parrots are native to environments that are relatively humid for much or all of the year.  Indoor air in dry regions, and any indoor air that is heated or air-conditioned, is too dry for many commonly-kept parrots.


Fumes and mist or smoke from cooking, household cleaners and the like can also irritate the respiratory tract, leading to sneezing and the over-production of mucus.


Air filters, humidifiers, misting, live plants and saline flushes can be used to improve your pet’s environment.  However, be careful not to let environmental concerns mask a more serious medical condition – both can exist simultaneously.  Even if it is obvious that your home is too dry for your parrot, err on the side of caution and see a veterinarian.


Medical Concerns for Sneezing

Medical concerns that may be involved include fungal, bacterial, viral or yeast infections.  Parrots that have such ailments will usually show other symptoms as well, including appetite loss, a reluctance to move about, and labored breathing.  However, a bird may battle an infection for some time, behaving normally until a critical point is reached, at which time its condition can decline very quickly.  Therefore, a vet visit is prudent as soon as you notice unusual sneezing or a nasal discharge.



Any type of nutritional problem can weaken the immune system, leaving your pet open to attack by a variety of pathogens.  Vitamin A is of particular importance, as it is vital to the development of the cells lining the respiratory system.  Abnormal cells, common in Vitamin A deficient birds, seem to be easy targets for bacteria and other pathogens.  Most seeds are low in Vitamin A, while pellets and many fruits and vegetables have higher levels.  If your pet is on a seed-based diet, a vitamin supplement should be considered.  Please post below, and see the linked articles, for information on incorporating pellets and produce into parrot diets.


Other Possibilities

Tumors and other growths in the nares, sinuses or related areas may cause dry sneezing.  Parrots suffering from an air sac mite infestation may exhibit labored, open-mouthed breathing.




Further Reading

Nutriberries and Pellets: Improving Your Parrot’s Diet


Parrot Health: Labored Breathing and Respiratory Distress




Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease – An Incurable Parrot Virus Spreads

Cockatoo with PBFD

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by snowmanradio

The pet trade is being blamed for an emerging epidemic that is threatening captive and wild parrots worldwide.  Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease (PBFD) is caused by a Circovirus that evolves quickly, spreads easily, and survives for years in nests and roosting areas.  African Gray and Eclectus Parrots, Macaws, Cockatoos, Love Birds and Ring-Necked Parakeets are especially susceptible, but over 60 species have been infected. Included among these are wild populations of several endangered species, such as Swift, Orange-Bellied and Norfolk Island Green Parrots.  First identified in 1987, PBFD has recently reared its ugly head on New Zealand’s South Island, where it is killing rare Yellow-Crowned Parakeets.


An Emerging, Untreatable Parrot Disease

The virus that causes PBFD seems to have evolved in Australia, and for a time was endemic to that continent.  The threatened Orange-Bellied Parrot was the first species in which it was identified.  It has now been found in wild and pet parrot populations throughout the world.


Unfortunately, ongoing research has not yielded a cure.  Three forms of the disease are known.  Peracute and Acute PBFD afflict hatchlings and nestlings, and quickly lead to death.  Adult parrots infected with Chronic PBFD can be assisted a bit by strengthening the immune system, but they generally succumb as well.


A proper diet, exposure to sunlight or a UVA/UVB bulb, and the establishment of a natural day/night cycle has been useful in some cases.  Please see this article for more on testing, diagnosis, and treatments that may lessen the symptoms of PBFD.


The Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease Strikes New Zealand

Yellow Crowned Parakeet

Uploaded to Wiki[pedia Commons by Scott Wieman

In 2012, University of Canterbury researchers announced that a new strain of PBFD had been found on South Island, New Zealand, which until then had been free of the virus.  The island’s threatened Yellow-Crowned Parakeets were stricken.  The existence of a new strain is especially troubling, and illustrates the difficulties involved in studying and eliminating rapidly-evolving Circoviruses.  The disease was previously identified in the already-rare Red-Fronted Parakeets on Little Barrier Island, off New Zealand’s North Island (site of a Kakapo rescue operation).

The Pet Trade Connection

New Zealand is home to several of the world’s most unusual parrots, such as the alpine-dwelling, meat-eating Kea and the nocturnal Kakapo.  Despite decades of protection and study, the much-loved Kakapo is on the brink of extinction.



Uploaded to Wikipedia commons by snowmanradio

Escaped and released non-native parrots, products of the legal and illegal pet trade, are considered to be the source of the PBFD outbreak on New Zealand.  Eastern Rosellas, which are native to Australia but feral on New Zealand, were found to be infected with the virus.  Other Australian parrots that are or may be breeding in New Zealand include the Rainbow Lorikeet, Crimson Rosella, Galah, and Sulphur-Crested Cockatoo.


To determine the extent of the PBFD problem in New Zealand, researchers are monitoring native and introduced parrots.  In recent years, nearly 800 individuals representing 7 endemic parrot species were tested for PBFD.  Genetic analysis of the PBFD virus is also being undertaken.






Further Reading

Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease in Pet Parrots

 Saving the Kakapo

Kea Intelligence Shocks Researchers


New Bird Species in 2013 – Owls, Jays and other Surprises

Rinjani Scops Owl

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by or Sangster G, King BF, Verbelen P, Trainor CR

Birds are the most intensely observed and studied of all vertebrates, yet each year ornithologists and birders, surprise us with new species.  2013 was a particularly fruitful time for the species-seekers.  Included among the year’s discoveries are an owl endemic to a single island, a loud, colorful songbird found in the middle of a bustling capital city, and scores of others, some quite large and brilliantly-colored. Without further delay – check out the new bird species of 2013 below!


Rinjani Scops Owl, Otus jolandae

This owl was confused with the Malaccan Scops Owl until an ornithologist noted a difference in their calls.  The Rinjani Scops Owl produces  whistling vocalizations that are most “un-owl-like” and, once heard, cannot be confused with those of its relatives.  The fact that it is endemic to Lombok Island, in Indonesia’s Lesser Sunda chain, lends greater importance to the find…island endemics often face threats to their survival.


Birds of the Amazon Basin

C. chrysops

Uploaded to Wikipedis Commons by David.Monniaux

Once again, the Amazon Basin yielded more new birds (and a great many insects, fishes, mammals and other creatures) than anywhere else on earth.  This might be expected, as it is a world center of bird diversity, with over 1,300 species identified thus far.  But many of the 15 new species described this year surprised even seasoned local ornithologists with their size and coloration…the Campina Jay (a similar relative is pictured here) and the Tupana Scythbill (a

similar relative is pictured below) are good examples.   Other new species included woodcreepers, puffbirds, antwrens, flycatchers and gnatcatchers.


Cambodian Tailorbird, Orthotomus chaktomuk

Although the Cambodian Tailorbird is only wren-sized, it sings loudly and its rust-colored head cap and black throat are very distinctive.  So ornithologists were quite surprised to find that it had been “hiding in plain sight”.  It was first seen at a construction site in Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s bustling capital city.  Further investigation revealed that it inhabits patches of scrub throughout the city, and is common on nearby river floodplains.


Orange billed Sparrow

Uploadedto Wikipedia Commons by Jerry Oldenette

Guerrero Brush Finch, Aremon brunneinucha

This beautiful little bird, a relative of the sparrows and buntings, is in need of study and protection.  Found only in the cloud forests of Mexico’s Sierra Madre  del Sur mountain range, it is similar in appearance to related species (please see photo), but little is known of its natural history or the status of its population.


Sierra Madre Ground Wren, Robonius thompsoni

This newfound bird is placed in a very unique genus, which contains only two other species.  Ground Wrens are found only in the northern Philippines, and seem unrelated to other songbirds.  They stay mostly to thick brush and forest undergrowth, and are believed capable only of weak flight.  The newly-discovered species is, like the others, a master ventriloquist…locating one by voice alone is said to be impossible.  Much remains to be learned about the group’s natural history and conservation needs.


Red Billed Scythbill

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Michael Woodruff



Further Reading

Bald Parrot Discovered in Amazon

2012’s New Bird Species


The Best Holiday Gifts for Parrots and Parrot Owners

African grey parrot


Providing your pet with a larger cage is one of the most important steps that you can take to ensure its good health and longevity. My observations of parrots, both in the wild and under my care in zoos, have convinced me of this. Appropriately-sized cages allow our birds to engage in a greater variety of behaviors and, by reducing stress, help to limit health-care expenses.

t5071Training is often simplified, as parrots kept in tight quarters are difficult to interact-with.
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