Monday, March 28, 2011

Local Food Choices are Widening!

We had our last taste of "new" winter yesterday- snow! I say new because even an inch or two of snow was formerly an occasion down here, and now we have snow (not a lot, but still) at the end of March! When will we all get serious about climate change? I mean really. Anyway, despite the chill now in the air (just a bit over a week ago it was in the 70s,which seems closer to normal to me, instead of today's 45) spring is here. The daffodils are out all over the place, in all the shades of the sun, the violets are peaking from under the magnolia, the fruit trees are out in all their legendary glory of pink and white, and the trees in the woods are rushing all their energy into the leaf buds on the tips of their branches; first small barely noticeable and now just beginning to unfurl. While birds are present year round here, their spring exuberance makes their numbers seem to grow far beyond any migration. They seem to be everywhere, always busy, and the flicker reminds us hourly that this part of Virginia, in particular, is his. The air often has that unmistakable odor of the grey and brown waking up, starting to become green. The same delightful scent, by the way, that is already bring on my allergies. Ignoring that, (and learning to ignore that is an ongoing process) it is a lovely time of year!

This Ode to Spring does actually have a correlation with parrots, and a very important one at that! With warm weather comes farmers markets, and farmers markets are the best place to find local, hopefully organic or even better, unsprayed, produce. Not only can you support local farmers by buying their produce, you will be getting food that is far healthier than that which is in the store, as it is fresh. Fruits and veggies loose their nutrients rapidly after being picked, and since many foods, particularly fruits and tomatoes, are picked green to ripen on the way to the store, they will never have the important enzymes available in food picked when ripe. And besides the health reasons to get the freshest (and hopefully organic) food, I also think it is lots of fun to watch the seasons change in the food available, and to get a sampling of all the different foods so you can run home and try to find recipes to use them in. And don't worry if you aren't quite known as a fabulous chef- even simple salads are raised to new heights with fresh ( both literally and figuratively) flavors!

Your parrots will also appreciate the fresh foods. I find my parrots are picky about how "old" their food is, and a parrot that may have formerly shunned a store-bought food like, say, kale, will not be able to resist when it is fresh and crisp, just picked that morning, and hung from the side of the cage or on a skewer. Really, it can make all the difference. And if it doesn't for your parrot, well, don't blame me, please!

Another wonderful edible that makes an appearance in spring is flowers, for either your parrot or you! Obviously, make sure they are not only safe for consumption and not poisonous (trees and flowers), but also 100% free from all pesticides or any other chemical residue (this means anything picked beside a road, for instance, probably isn't a good idea.) Fresh flowers are a great foraging treat for my parrots, some, like Claudia and Frank, devour them, while some just like shredding them to little pieces, and throwing all those little pieces to the wind. I haven't quite decided whether the latter is just same-old same-old parrot behavior, or some form of parrot perfuming.

And finally, just in case anyone needs any inspiration in the food and recipe category (or even if you don't), I am going to link to my review of the always fabulous Phoenix Landing Cookbook. It really is wonderful. I think it is a great human cookbook to, but then, I have a different diet than much of the U.S. public! Even factoring that, I think anyone will find recipes for both their parrots and themselves in it, so I highly recommend it!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Stainless Steel

I am sure most people who have "been in parrots" very long have heard about the dangers many metals pose to birds, and that stainless steel is the safest, some would only truly safe, metal available. Good stainless steel will last a very, very long time, and should not rust easily, if at all. Along with stainless steel, nickel plated hardware and aluminum hardware can also be safe, depending on your parrot and climate. Most people also know that galvanized metal, aka zinc coated metal, is not safe.

Despite that, most manufactures of bird toys, perches, dishes, etc, still use unsafe metals in their products, and therefore, those unsafe metals end up in your bird's cage. Why? Cost. You have to be willing to pay for stainless steel, and though good stainless steel could easily last the lifetime or at least half the lifetime of your parrot, it does cost more. Even nickel plating, although cheaper than stainless steel, costs more than galvanized.

There is hope, though, for those of you that purchase all or most of your products, toys in particular, pre-made. A few bird toy companies are trying to walk the middle line, and use nickel plated hardware. Nickel is the main ingredient in stainless steel, and nickel plated hardware is also safe as long as all the nickel plating is in tact and has not chipped off. However, I find that nickel plated hardware rusts rather quickly for me regardless of whether my birds ever touch it, due to the high humidity in the southern climate. Be careful, though, galvanized metal is very shiny before it oxidizes, and many of the larger companies will use nickel plated quicklinks, but will allow the toy base, so well covered when you buy the toy, to be made from galvanized metal. And as soon as chomper tears away a few of those toy parts, he is left with that lovely base to chew on. Of course, this is ignoring that the galvanized metal does oxidize and start flaking, defeating the need for your parrot to remove the toy parts to get to the zinc. Contacting the company is the only way to know for sure. Also as a note, if the response you get from the company is rude, and they often are when you seem to be implying they aren't using the very best simply by questioning what they do use, I recommend avoiding purchasing even safe products from them. Completely up to you though. I just don't like rude people.

Aluminum is also new on the market, and so far seems to be thought as safe as stainless steel, although I would not trust it with a big metal chewer. However, I have not seen anyone making anything with aluminum hardware save for some quick links you can buy separately, so that really doesn't help you much.

Bird toys made exclusively with stainless steel, or stainless steel and nickel plating, are not as hard to find now as they used to be, though. Often, these stores will also customize their toys to include only stainless steel if that is what you prefer. Oliver's Garden, Nalani Toys, and Grey Feather Toys are three stores that are both fragrance and chemical free and use only safe metals, mostly stainless steel as well as some nickel plated. There is also the much larger ScooterZ company, that uses almost exclusively stainless steel. For safe perches, The Bird Safe Store is good for wooden ones, and My Safe Bird Store has both the old standard comfy perches, as well as some new boings I am really intrigued to try.

I decided several years ago that when any of my cages needed replacing I would replace them with stainless steel, both for the bird's safety and because it is far less wasteful than buying several cages over the bird's lifetime. However, please be aware if you are thinking of going this route that stainless steel quality varies greatly, so you really want to do plenty of research before putting down that kind of money!

I really think no bird should have any zinc hardware in, or on, their cage, as zinc toxicity in worst cases can lead to death. Obviously, it is expense to replace, but I think getting rid of it should be the definite goal. What metal you replace it with, whether it is stainless steel or nickel plated, or even aluminum, is completely up to you, as you know your parrot best.

My Aussies (budgies, tiels) do fine with nickel plated, as they never touch it, but I much prefer (quality) stainless steel as it will not rust so quickly, if at all. Their cage is not stainless steel, but I have noticed Linus starting to chew on his some, though, so I am getting a bit nervous. My ekkies have only stainless steel hardware, but their cages are not stainless steel, and neither does any chewing or anything even remotely like it on their cages. Chester, however, needs a new one, at a very in-opportune time, so I am trying to decide what to do about that. The quakers have only stainless steel, and are in a stainless steel cage, which is exactly what they need given their destructive tendencies!

Living in the south, and the coastal south at that, I am able to find stainless steel hardware very easily at most hardware stores. That is were I get many of my quick links, washes, nuts, bolts, etc, as well as some more unusual finds that are extremely useful! You can also find all of this online, either from a bird or hardware store, depending on the object in question, if you are not able to fine it locally.

In the above pic, you can see a small sampling, or what I grabbed out of my hardware box for the pic, of some stainless steel items found at the local hardware store. And yes, the washers are stainless steel, but they are quite beat up, and this made them reflect the flash to appear white. Odd, but in person they are shiny silver, with many, many scratches. The two objects in the top of the pic, the U-shaped ones, are an awesome find. Just attach to the cage with a knotted rope end in each "U"; instant "junglewalk"!

Above is a simple incredible, if massive, bird toy. I am simply in love with it! It is a 3' long piece of 1/4" threaded rod. Stainless steel, cheap, and one of the best toys ever. I am sorry I don't have a pic of it un-filled, but I didn't feel like taking it out just for the pic, so this is the best you get. As you can see, Claudia (for this is her cage) can chew on this toy from all manner of places, and chew on it from all manner of places she does! Bottom perch, swing, perch right beside my head and not in pic, and just hanging from the roof or side of cage. I had to get all of my mish-mash of acrylic pieces to fill it up! I also strung some lovely foraging pieces on it, wood with holes, loofa slices, etc, so it works wonderfully as a foraging toy, as well. Claudia has to stretch all the way across from the back of the cage, sometimes doing a split, to chew out the treats!

This pic is just to show you how I attached the rod to the cage, and how I kept the pieces on it. I find a simple nuts works fine with my ekkies (a wing nut they could un screw) but if your bird can and has a particularly fetish for removing nuts, obviously this would not work!

And finally, my very favorite stainless steel purchase- skewers. Not from a hardware store, but from a bird store, these simple things are one of the most useful and best investments you can make. I recommend everyone get at least one. You can use them to serve dinner, skewering veggies and fruits whole, or even put cups, or cups made from hollowed shelled veggie like small pumpkins, cucumbers, or peppers, and fill those cups with mash. They make one of the safest toys available when filled with toy parts of your bird's preference. In short, they are simply indispensable. That said, make sure you get a good kind. The only type I can truly and whole-heartedly recommend are the Expandable Habitats ones. I put my skewers through a lot of work, inside, outside, and lots of sticky fresh foods, and these just don't rust, not even discolor! Yes, they cost a bit more, but they are worth every penny. Another fact that seems not so widely circulated is that they do make the skinny1/8" skewers that are perfect for food, so their is no reason to keep using other types that are not as safe. I have tried other types, and found them to discolor or even rust. That said, I am now trying the Scooter Z skewers, and will see how they fair over the long run. So far, so good, but they haven't been through a southern summer yet, so I will wait and see, and will be sure to post if I decide they really are as good, or close enough to be truly safe given the price difference.

The empty skewers. The Expandible Habitats one is on the left; it is a 1/4" one I use for toy parts. You can either attach a quicklink to the loop and hang it that way, or hang it with the ball at the top as it is meant to be used. The ball method was originally developed to prevent large parrots from unscrewing it from the cage, and I imagine it works quite well! The ScooterZ skewer is on the right. It has a very different hanging mechanism.  I do not like it. It doesn't seem to like me. Just isn't as user friendly, you might say.

Now the skewers filled! These were taken out of Claudia's cage. The large red fish is a sample I got from Oliver's Garden, seems to be just the kind of wood she likes, very soft but with crunch!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Oh No, Hormones!

Yes folks, we are nearing that time of year again, a time when life as we know it is turned on its end and we feel our sanity seeping away, as eggs, frustration, and unbelievable volume mesh into one chaotic color wheel. Or that is what I was thinking this morning in bed, as Linus started his day-long deluge just moments before the sun came up. I am not talking a bit of happy-to-see-the-day singing, no, that is usual, and consists of a few loud calls, some beeps and tweets, and lots of (very pleasant) whistling. Who could complain about that? No, this is different- just one loud, high pitched call that will continue intermittently (but seemingly non-stop) throughout the day. This, my friends, is Spring.

Please, though, do not get the wrong idea- Linus is perhaps the best prepared, but he is certainly not the only one getting ready for the 20th. Frank and Lola are louder, more exuberant, seemingly bursting with joy, even if their expression of said joy doesn't always give me the same warm fuzzy feeling inside. Yo-yo and Miss Patty are clearly thinking nest-wise, although no sign of serious egg production quite yet. It was only about a month ago Miss Patty laid an egg (just one, she doesn't often lay more now as they tire her so) so I am hoping they will see the food abundance and decide to be fashionably late. I will take any time I can get before more egg stress! After the calling comes the aggression. Yo-yo is already started to get riled up with Linus, and, a true first, I noticed him picking on Miss Patty yesterday in a most un-pleasant manner. As of yet, they are still mostly friends, but the beginnings of another serious family feud are clearly underfoot. I can hardly wait.

Still, there is always the positive in a flock as large as mine- Claudia and Chester get hormonal in the fall instead of the Spring, as they are driven more by their inner calendar to give them the time of year to breed (fall is spring in Indonesia) rather than the changing of the season here, as is common with ekkies more so than many other species. And while that does mean I get hormone surges twice a year instead of once, I find it easier to deal with the hormones of part of my flock if the other part is still same-old same-old. Plus, Chester and Claudia are, in parrot terms, fairly mild hormones-wise. Chester is louder, Claudia starts digging on her cage floor considering the feasibility of laying a clutch, and both want more food and a bit more time alone in their cage destroying every toy in sight. Oddly enough, they also get along a lot less, so play-dates are shorter. That is really about it, though, so I don't know how I got so incredibly lucky!

For those of you that have been keeping tally, you might have noticed I have yet to mention one parrot: little Ava, the queen bee. Her "Spring Fling" is marked by a lot of napping. She is right in the middle of hormone heaven, where everything is a constant contest and every move is watched for hidden meaning. She really doesn't get into all this stress, and even if the very early morning until late at night scream fest didn't disrupt her beauty sleep, there really is only way one to get through it- sleep!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Claudia, Claudia, and Cookies

Just a note about the large funky-looking toy in the last post- Claudia has demolished the colored slats on it! Interestingly to note, she went immediately for the natural slats, tested several, made a few dents, but then tried the colored ones and just didn't look back! She has since tried the natural ones again a few times, but they are a different kind of wood and she just doesn't seem to get into them. I got the slats as a free gift during a sale from here; now to get them un-dyed! I can get that from the couple that makes them, but she is recovering from surgery so there is currently a 3-4 week wait. Worth it, after seeing Claudia go for this wood!

In another story about Claudia (hasn't she been busy this week?) she has once again shown that however "slow" she may be compared to my other birds and indeed other ekkies, she is still, as the saying goes "not stupid!" Few of us are, really, but that is another subject....

I regularly rotate the foraging toys Claudia has in her cage. Several of those foraging toys are these. This week, I put one of those toys in her cage; one that looks like this one:

(Just as a note, NEVER give this toy to smaller parrots that can fit their head in the track where the rings slide. They can hang themselves)

I know Claudia has not seen this toy in at least two and a half years. Still, when I hung it up, with the treat already in it, it took her under 8 seconds from "launch" to get the treat out. No messing around! She went straight from her perch, across the ceiling of her cage and, hanging upside down since I don't make my foraging toys easy to get to, she immediately grabbed the bottom ring, turned until it dropped, and then repeated with the top ring. She must have even remembered what position the handles are in when the notch is lined up so it will drop, since mine sticks (clean, just doesn't meet right or something) and you have to tug (or push if you are operating bat-like) it at that moment to get it to drop. She wasted no time, no mistakes, absolutely flawless, and all from memory! Now I can't say that competes with an elephant's memory yet, but ask me in another 50 years!

As my final story, I will answer the question I am sure you are all wondering, or if you aren't, you may start wondering now: what exactly was in that snack rack that Claudia wanted so badly? It was the parrots' new obsession, the thing they will currently defend to death from any number of creatures, including all the eagles, ospreys, hawks, owls, coyotes (you get the picture) outside. Seriously.

They are lovely pink mish-mash cookies!

My own invention, and I am ever so proud of them! I have never made anything so well and universally liked! I desperately wanted a pic of Linus, or at least Ava, eating these, to show that even they adore them, but they weren't co-operating. I did try for a while, really! No luck, so just take my word for it.

Unfortunately, I did not measure a thing, which is how I usually cook and even bake. I thought it would be like my usual "creations"- liked some, but not something you need to remember how to make ex-act-ly-as-it-was. So as soon as I realized what a gold mine I had hit upon, I sat down to try and remember what and how much I put in. Fortunately I have a pretty good picture memory, but since much of the stuff was added in little piles, not even each ingredient all together in one big pile, it was hard. Still, I think I am pretty close, and I will definitely be measuring next time, so I can work towards getting the exact measurements for perfection! And in case anyone is interested in trying for themselves, here is the recipe as I think it was!

Oh, and just to add the extra caramel sauce (or whatever your favorite topping is) these cookies smell absolutely beyond fantastic!! Seriously. Really. Good. They left the kitchen perfumed for the rest of the day, and now, after a few days in the fridge, they still smell amazing every time I open the container!

- I made this recipe to use up a couple different kinds of dried foods I had. They were dehydrated low-temperature, so essentially raw before cooking, at least.
- I tore my mango into pieces roughly 1/4' square, perhaps a bit bigger at times, and the sweet potato I crushed, so size varied.
- ALL ingredients are guesstimates, and your guess is as good as mine as to whether the actual amount was that, or a bit more or less.
- the rice flakes are similiar to oatmeal, but drier, but oatmeal would make a fine substitute
- The dough should be similar to oatmeal cookie dough, but barely sticky at all, and if anything, er on the drier side. Hopefully the last mixing step won't be needed in the future!

Pink Mish-Mash Cookies!
- 3/4 c chopped dried mango
- 1/2 c dried sweet potato
- slightly packed 1/2 c goji berries
- 2 cups pure no sugar cranberry juice

- 1/2 cup minced broccoli stem
- 1/2 c coconut
- a tablespoon at least dried ground ginger

-3/4 cup flour, half corn, half rice
- heaping c of rice flakes

- red palm oil from sustainable sources that do not endanger people, forests, or orangutans (I get mine form Tropical Traditions) OR other oil for coating pans

Mix together the mango, sweet potato, and goji berries. Bring the cranberry juice to a boil and pour over fruit (it should nearly cover it). Cover fruit and allow to sit for at least 15 minutes.

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.

After fruit has reconstituted, add the broccoli, coconut, and ginger and mix. Add dried ingredients and mix well. Adjust dry or liquid as needed and mix again.

Coat pans very well with oil. Make dough into patties about 1/3" thick and 3" across, or any diameter you like as long as they are all the same. Bake until they are ever so slightly brown and look fairly dry, or drier anyway. For 3" cookies, this was aorund 12-15 minutes in my oven. Allow to cool slightly on pan before transferring to rack to cool completely.

Enjoy the wonderful, wonderful aroma in your kitchen!