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Holiday Season Treats and Cautions for Parrot and Finch Owners

Yellow Naped AmazonHoliday visits and celebrations, pleasurable as they are, can also bring some nasty surprises to both people and pets.  A bit of planning now can help make the upcoming season safe and enjoyable for you and your birds.

Stress, Noise and Late Nights

Responsible bird owners know that certain holiday treats and, of course, alcohol, are bad for birds.  But many overlook the important role that sleep plays in bird health (please see article below). If you entertain late, or will be out often during the holidays, keep in mind that most birds need 10-12 hours of sleep in a dark, quiet environment. If necessary, move your pet’s cage to an area that is off-limits to guests, and shut the room lights via a timer if the rest of your house will be lit after the usual “lights-out” time.  Maintaining a stable day/night cycle is good for your birds mental and physical health.

Holiday parties can mean a house stocked with loud, tipsy guests, excited children and unfamiliar dogs. Each of these “creatures” (especially, those influenced by alcohol!) may take liberties with your pets that they otherwise would not. If it will be difficult for you to monitor all that is going on, consider keeping your birds in a locked room while parties are in progress (or “raging”, as the case may be!). Read More »

Using Flowers as Food for Parrots, Finches and other Birds

Plain-throated SunbirdSending flowers is a time-honored way of showing affection and concern, but did you know that your parrots and other feathered pets might appreciate a bouquet as well?  I’m not suggesting actually having flowers delivered to your parrot (although I know several who have done that!), but rather that you consider edible flowers as a source of bird food and behavioral enrichment.

The Role of Flowers in Bird Diets

Flowers, buds and nectar figure heavily in the natural diets of many parrots, finches and softbills.  In fact, lories and lorikeets are actually “floral specialists” (please see drawing of lorikeet tongue, adapted for nectar feeding).  However, with the exception of nectar-mixes, flowers have largely been ignored by most pet keepers.

Flowers are also a major food item of several less commonly-kept softbills, including hummingbirds, sunbirds and the aptly-named flower-peckers. Ornithologists speculate that the brilliant colors of some species may have evolved to provide camouflage during feeding sessions in flowering trees.

Behavioral Stimulation

In addition to their nutritional value, flowers can provide important behavioral stimulation for parrots and other birds.  Most parrots delight in tearing them to bits, and bud-covered fruit tree branches (apple, pear, plum etc.) will provide hours of entertainment for both pet and pet-owner.  Finches, White-Eyes, Pekin Robins and other small birds will also poke about in flowers for insect treats, real or “imagined”, and may consume petals and nectar as well.

Purchasing Flowers

Lorikeet tongueFortunately, it’s quite simple to incorporate flowers into your birds’ diets.  Many bird-safe flowers are relished by people, and are available in food stores.  In NYC markets, I’ve come across squash, zucchini, rose and daylily flowers (note: not all daylilies are safe for people or birds, so do not pick your own), as well as a number that I did not recognize.  Korean, Chinese and Indian neighborhoods have proven especially rich flower-hunting grounds.

Do not buy edible flowers from garden supply outlets or florists, as these will not have been slated for human consumption and would likely have been exposed to toxic chemicals.

Dried flowers specifically marketed as bird food are also a useful option.  Goldenfeast’s Hibiscus and Chamomile

may be offered to a variety of parrots, finches and softbills.

Growing and Collecting Flowers for Your Birds

If the option is available to you, growing your own edible flowers is a great alternative to shopping.

Harvesting wild flowers is also possible, but you must be confident in your ability to identify the various species and have access to a pesticide-free collecting site.  A field guide will be useful in this regard.

Common, Easy-to-Grow Edible Flowers

The following common flowers are readily accepted by many birds and can easily be grown or, in some cases, purchased at food markets.  Do not buy flowers intended as food anywhere other than at a food market; please see above.


Daisy                                                   Marigold

LorikeetsDandelion                                           Rose

Carnation                                            Sunflower

Violet                                                  Zucchini Blossoms

Tulip                                                    Squash Blossoms

Elderberry                                           Hibiscus

Impatiens                                            Apple,Plum and Pear Blossoms




Further Reading

Further information on edible and poisonous flowers; written with people in mind but applicable to birds.

Gardening for Pet Birds

Eat Your Roses: a guide to 50+ edible flowers



Lorikeets image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Tatiana Gerus

Plain-Throated Sunbird image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Ltshears



Parrot Health – Obesity and Related Nutritional Problems

Avian veterinarians report that obesity, and related health concerns such as atherosclerosis, fatty liver and hernias, are now among the most common maladies exhibited by the parrots under their care.  The problem is approaching epidemic proportions.

Obesity in Parrots

Much of what we know concerning obesity in parrots parallels what we have learned about the same condition in people, and leads to similar health concerns.  When lab tests are run on overweight parrots, a condition known as Hyperlipidemia – high levels of fat in the blood – is usually diagnosed.  Read More »

Parrot Nutrition – Pellets Re-visited

I read an interesting parrot nutrition article recently and was inspired to expand on a few points that I made in an earlier post on parrot pellets (please see below for both articles).

Pellet Pros and Cons

Great progress has been made in the development of pelleted parrot foods in recent years, and they now play an important role in both zoo and pet parrot care.  However, the convenience offered by pellets may lead one into poor bird-keeping habits.  Ideally, as mentioned in the articles below, a species-appropriate combination of natural and pelleted foods should be provided. Read More »

Bird Weights – How can you tell if your pet bird is too heavy or too thin?

Your bird’s weight can be an important indicator of its health.  Unfortunately, however, it’s difficult to access  weight by eye – feathers hide most of the useful signposts, and by puffing up or flattening its plumage a bird can give very different impressions of its size.

Gauging Your Bird’s Weight

With experience, it is possible to develop an “eye” for a bird’s weight – several older keepers I worked with at the Bronx Zoo were amazing in this regard – but a manual check is generally best.  With your bird in hand, feel along each side of the keel, or breast bone.  Even on the tiniest of finches, there should be a layer of muscle (in active, full-winged birds) or fat.  You should not be able to easily feel each side of the keel (the outer edge of the keel, which runs along the breast, will not have a fat/muscle covering).

If you are concerned about your bird’s weight, periodic checks with a gram scale are advisable.

Typical Weights

I’ve listed below some average weights for various birds (in grams).  Bear in mind that captive breeding has led to different strains of birds that vary widely in weight from what is “normal”.  Also, the weights of many species differ from population to population.  Budgerigars, for example, typically weigh between 25-70 grams, while Moluccan Cockatoos range from 650- 1,050 grams.

Zebra Finch                              10-18 Grams

Canary                                     15-30

Pionus Parrots                          200 (Blue-headed Pionus to 250)

Quaker Parrot                           100-150

Crimson Rosella                        130-160

Lovebird                                   50 (Peach-faced Lovebird to 85)

Red Lory                                   160-170

Rainbow Lorikeet                       125-140

Sun Conure                               100-130

Golden Conure                          260-280

Goffin’s Cockatoo                      230-400

Orange-winged Amazon            350-500

Reasons for Weight Gain

Cage Design, Exercise Options:

A small or poorly-designed cage leads to boredom, lack of exercise and increased weight.  This is as true for finches as for parrots.  Even when given ample out-of-cage time, birds with clipped wings tend to burn less calories than do their full-winged brethren.


Many species are notoriously picky eaters, and tend to choose the worst diets possible.  Sunflower seeds and mealworms, are common culprits.  Low Fat Pellets are an excellent option; acceptance of these can be encouraged by using LaFeber NutriBerries which integrate pellets with tasty foods.

I consider Foraging Toys to be indispensible – by forcing the bird to work for its food, they stimulate both mind and body.

Fluid Accumulation:

Liver and heart problems can cause fluid to be retained and a consequent increase in weight.

Egg Binding/Retained Eggs:

Egg-bound females will usually seem in acute distress and cease feeding.


Hepatic Lipidosis/Fatty Liver

Reasons for Weight Loss


Many diseases depress appetite or the ability to digest food.  In some cases (i.e. Avian TB), the afflicted bird may continue to feed but will lose weight none-the-less.  Weight loss is typical of Aspergillosus, PDD, Psittacosis, Candida and many other ailments.


Via airborne toxins (pesticides) or through chewing toxic materials or plants.

Digestive System Blockage:

From ingested wood chips, plastic, inappropriate grit; feces are usually retained.

Aggression from Cage Mates; Stressful Surroundings:

Check for aggression from a hidden vantage point; consider noise or lights at night as well.

Overgrown or Damaged Beak

External (mites) or Internal (roundworm) Parasites


Further Reading

Size and shape are useful earmarks for birders as well…check out this informative article from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Please also see my other Bird Health Articles.


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