Sunday, March 12, 2006

Dear Dr. Fox:

Q: I have two parakeets — a male, Sparky, and a female, Sparrow. Sparky has been eating the perch covers. I change them all the time. In the cage, I have a mirror square, cuttlebone, tropical-fruit-blend seeds, gravel, a bird swing, water and other toys. Sparky has a strong voice and is always singing. Is he lacking some vitamin? Please advise.

L.W., Hollywood, Fla.

Dear L.W.:

A: Sparky is probably playing, and his tearing up the perch covers is more a sign of wanting some material to shred and manipulate than a sign of some nutritional deficiency. Give him some unbleached paper towels or clean hay or straw to play with.

It sounds as though your birds are well cared for, and the real plus is that they have each other. So many caged birds live a solitary existence, and I think it is a widespread and unrecognized deprivation and form of cruelty.

I hope your birds have the opportunity to get out of their cages and can flit and hop around in a safe room or porch.

As for diet, avoid a seed mix too high in millet, which can lead to obesity and thyroid problems. While millet is higher in carbohydrates than other seeds, and budgies thrive on it, some seed variety is advisable. Thyroid problems may be prevented by giving the birds pieces of nori (thin sheets of seaweed) that they will enjoy playing with.

Seaweed is an excellent source of essential trace minerals. Adding a little flaxseed to your birdseed mix will provide important essential fatty acids. Ideally, the seed mix should be organically certified.

The fact that Sparky sings means he's happy and you are a good bird parent.


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