Sunday, May 15, 2011

Out of Time - Too Many Interests

Sunday, May 15, 2011

April and May are my busiest months of the year. That’s because I try to get all the required Master Gardener volunteer and education hours completed during those months. (Yes, the woman who hates working outside in Michigan’s hot and steamy summer weather is a Master Gardener.) Then, for the rest of the year, I can pursue my other interests and volunteer assignments without concern over whether I’ll be re-certified by the county M.G. folks.

Well, that often leads to conflicts, like this one. Yesterday, I showed up at a gardening center to report for my 1:00 – 5:00 volunteer shift. I didn’t see the Master Gardener info table in its usual place, but it was raining, and I figured it had been moved inside. So I went in search of the owner to see where I was supposed to be. When she saw me, she laughed and told me that I’d shown up on the wrong weekend!

But I knew I had an assignment for yesterday, so I drove home to check my planner (thankfully, it wasn’t far). And I saw that I was supposed to be at a local hardware store’s garden center instead, and that I was now 20 minutes late. So I flew to the hardware store. As I was driving, it occurred to me that I’d recently committed to volunteering at a farmer’s market the same weekend that I’m supposed to be at the other garden center. Plus, because it’s my husband’s birthday that day, we were supposed to go out to dinner that evening.

So, because I don’t back out of commitments, I’ll be showing up at the farmer’s market at 8:00 a.m. and working ‘til noon. Then I’ll head over to the garden center for the afternoon shift. And we’ll go out for dinner another evening. It’s a good thing that the Mr. is easy going about stuff like this. He’s already proven that, since we never did celebrate his birthday last year. It kept getting put off, until it became silly to continue rescheduling it. Yes, everyone close to me suffers during April and May.

Photo by Sandy Laurence©
Title: Boyne Garden


Monday, May 9, 2011

Caring for Your Cockatiel

Monday, May 9, 2011
So you have a new cockatiel! Well, I used to breed parakeets, then cockatiels and then lovebirds and have learned a few things about having birds as pets. Whenever someone bought one of my cockatiel babies, I gave him or her a handout similar to what I’ve written below. I hope this info helps you raise a healthy and happy cockatiel!

Health and Safety

• Keep a night light on for your bird. Cockatiels may “thrash” in the dark. That is, they flap their wings and fly into the sides of their cages. This can result in broken blood feathers, which can be very serious. (The experts don’t know what sets the birds off, but it can be as insignificant as a shadow from an outside light or even an insect, like a spider.)

• If your bird breaks a blood feather, use styptic powder (brand name: Qwik Stop) to stop the bleeding. If you’re unable to stop the bleeding, you’ll have to identify the broken feather and use tweezers or needle-nose pliers, depending on the size of the bird, to pull the feather shaft out from as close to the base as possible. Then put styptic powder on the wound. (Although I’m not aware of other birds that thrash like cockatiels do, any bird can break a blood feather. So you should always have styptic powder on hand.)

• As with all pet birds, keep yours out of any drafts and avoid severe temperature changes.

• All birds spend a good part of their day sleeping off and on. However, if your bird is “fluffed up” with its eyes closed most of the time, it is ill, and you should see an avian veterinarian. In the Detroit metro area, I recommend Dr. Julie Cappel of Warren Woods Veterinary Hospital (586-751-3350). (Most vets recommend an annual check-up for pet birds.)

• If you use non-stick cookware (Teflon, T-Fal, Silverstone, etc.), do not keep your bird in the kitchen! If any of these surfaces becomes very hot or burns in the process of cooking, the fumes could kill your bird instantly. The safest thing is to not use that kind of cookware.

• Many plants are toxic to birds, so it’s best to keep all plants away from them.

• Many fumes and the accelerant in aerosol sprays are toxic to birds, as well. Air fresheners, cleaning solutions and combustion fumes to name a few, can kill your bird. It’s best to remove the bird from the house, or at least put it a few rooms away, when using chemicals.


You can contribute to your bird’s longevity by feeding it properly. In the wild, cockatiels eat insects, grasses and other greens, seed, fruits and vegetables. When we feed our birds only seed, they become malnourished. The following are some of the recommended foods:

• Vegetables – just about anything is fine – broccoli, celery leaves, beans (all types), squash, carrots, sprouts. Avoid onions.

• Fruits – apples, grapes, pears, bananas, kiwi, most berries, including cranberries, oranges (infrequently, because of the acidity), raisins, etc. Avoid avocado, since parts of it are toxic to birds.

• Grains – whole wheat bread, pasta, rice (preferably brown rice, which is more nutritious), cornbread, cereals (Cheerios, Rice Krispies, Cream of Wheat, Oatmeal). Avoid sweet cereals.

• Protein – eggs (hard-boiled or scrambled with very little fat), chicken (not fried), fish.

• Of course, change your bird’s water daily or more often, if necessary. They may put food in the water or get droppings in it, which could lead to bacterial growth and illness. Also, always keep seed or pellets available to your bird.

Since cockatiels don’t eat much, put only small amounts of fresh food in the cage, and remove it within a few hours to prevent bacterial growth.

The “people” food choices are practically endless (avoid fried foods). Your cockatiel may seem uninterested in what you put in its cage, but keep trying. Eventually, the bird will play with the food and taste some in the process. Then it just might decide to eat more of it.

There are also many excellent pelleted bird foods available, including Zupreem, Harrison’s, and Roudybush. Check with an avian vet for a recommendation. Pellets provide much more nutrition than seed, so I encourage you to provide them.

Seed is like the “McDonalds” of bird food. Still, some experts recommend feeding limited amounts of seed, along with pellets and fresh foods. For my rescue birds, who were fed only seed before they came to me, I buy Kaytee or Sun Seed mixes that have little or no sunflower seeds, which are high in fat. I do sprout sunflower seeds, however, by soaking them overnight, draining the next day and leaving them in a collander for a day or two to sprout. In this form, sunflower seeds are nutritious. I also soak soft wheat (available at feed and health food stores) the same way. They love this.

Do NOT give your bird – any bird – chocolate! It can be deadly.

Many bird owners supplement their pets’ diets with vitamins. If your bird eats soft foods, such as rice or vegetables, you can buy powdered vitamins and mineral supplements to sprinkle on that food. If it becomes strictly a seed-eater, you can buy liquid vitamins to add to its water. But if the bird eats a variety of fresh fruits, veggies and some protein, it won’t necessarily need vitamins. An avian vet can check the bird’s vitamin levels.


Many cockatiels can be taught to talk. Usually, males learn to talk more easily and quickly than females. However, many females do talk, and many males don’t. If you want to teach your bird to talk, it’s important that you begin when it is very young.

Start with a simple two- or three-word phrase. Consonants are easier for birds to pronounce, so phrases like “Pretty bird” are good first words. Begin by putting your pet on your finger or a perch held at about your chest level and softly repeating the words over and over again for about 15 minutes.

Do this twice a day, if possible, making the session pleasant for the bird by speaking in a soothing voice and petting it occasionally. Many cockatiels will begin repeating your words within a few weeks; however, some take longer, so don’t give up. If your bird doesn’t talk after months of training, it may never learn. So just enjoy it for the great pet it has become and consider teaching it to whistle.

Cockatiels are excellent at imitating our whistling. Whistle a favorite song repeatedly when you’re around your bird, and it will start imitating the tune. One of mine whistled “Jingle Bells,” and another did “Sweet Georgia Brown.”


Birds, like any animals, can become challenging or frustrating at times. For example, sometimes during the spring, sexually mature birds may be “nippy” with their owners. This is natural and will usually pass within a few weeks. Never strike or in any way hurt a pet bird, because it’s not only cruel and ineffective – they also never forget it.

If your bird develops an attitude, the first thing to do is clip its wings, if they’ve grown out. Have a veterinarian show you how to clip the flight feathers. I recommend keeping the wings clipped at all times for both behavior and safety reasons. Full-flighted birds tend to be more independent, because they don’t need you to help them get around. Clipping the flight feathers usually makes them a little less likely to act up.

Also, a full-flighted bird can fly out an open door or window or off your shoulder, if you forget it’s there and walk outside. Or it could fly into a window, ceiling fan or something cooking on the stove, with disastrous results.

If the aggressive behavior persists after the wings have been clipped, you’ll need to try some corrective measures. Immediately after any unacceptable behavior, say “NO!” firmly, but not too loudly, and return the bird to its cage. After about 10 minutes, let it out again. If the behavior continues, repeat the process. Don’t shout or scream at the bird, because that will just make it become more riled. Plus, they tend to repeat behavior that results in a dramatic response, especially if they don’t get much regular attention.

With some of my birds, I used a “time-out” box. Save a box that’s just large enough so that the bird can flap its wings without touching the sides, and its head doesn’t hit the top. When the bird misbehaves, say “NO!” and tell it that it’s going in the box. Then place the bird on some paper or paper towel on the floor or other flat surface, and put the box on top of it. Birds don’t like being confined in a dark place and will usually straighten out to avoid it. Never leave your bird in the box for more than a few minutes – I limited it to five minutes. And I did this with only one bird, an Eclectus parrot that was going through the “terrible twos” and was biting. So this is something I used only in a severe case of misbehavior.

These are just suggestions. Hopefully, you won’t ever need to use any of them. Cockatiels are people-oriented and get very attached to their owners. If properly cared for, they don’t usually exhibit behavior problems.

There is a wealth of information available from breeders, in books on cockatiels and on the internet. I recommend that every bird owner purchase a book on the breed they’ve chosen. And if you have questions on anything not covered here, feel free to email me at:

Photo by: hddod©
Title: Cockatiel