Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category


Just say NO! to Candy-Covered Millet Treats for Birds. Gross.

July 17, 2013

So this was just brought to my attention: A brand called FM Brown’s is selling bird “food” called Extreme! Candy-Covered Millet Treats. Hat tip to “Amanda’s Tweeties” for posting this picture:


Screen shot 2013-07-17 at 6.35.04 PM



Someone at a company that makes bird food thought it was a good idea to cover natural millet sprays with a candy coating. That’s basically sugar and carnauba wax, beeswax, shellac  (I’m not making this up! That’s from the ingredients list!) and a bunch of unpronounceable things.

Birds already love eating fresh millet… why in the world would anyone think covering it in edible wax is a good idea? This is beyond just a silly idea; I find it irresponsible and terrible corporate citizenship to push this product as “food” for animals as sensitive and small as birds — it’s hard enough getting them to eat real, healthy food. We should demand a much higher standard of excellence from any company that claims to “understand that your companion animal isn’t just a pet; they’re a part of your family. That’s why for six generations we’ve devoted ourselves to creating tasty, healthy, nutritious animal food and treats.” (emphasis mine)

A little googling shows that Brown’s isn’t the only company offering this. This isn’t just about FM Brown, but about any company that would sell this type of thing to unsuspecting pet owners who just don’t know any better just because it’s attractive on a shelf (I bet it’s super cheap to make and stays shelf-stable forever! Just want you want in a food product, right?). Pet owners, please educate yourself on your animals nutrition needs and give this type of thing a wide berth.

Please, please, please to not feed this crap to your birds. And you may want to consider not giving companies who make this type of product any of your pet-related business. If they think this is “food”, what other terrible decisions are they making about your animals’ health?

If you’re looking for healthy ideas for treats, try the Phoenix Landing cookbook for some inspiration: Nourish to Flourish: A Healthy Cookbook for Parrots.



Review: “Fantastic Foraging Blocks”

November 19, 2011

In our last post, we just had some fun posting pictures of us opening a box of Kris Porter’s “Fantastic Foraging Blocks.” But what do the birds actually think of their new wooden toys?

It turns out that they love ’em!

Mika likes the little wicker accents. She’s big into textures and accents. I appreciate that the blocks offer nice flexibility to customize and add details your bird might like, and I’ll experiment with stuffing the peek-a-boo holes with paper and cardboard for her to shred. As a pionus, she has a softer, more delicate beak, so she tends not to be much of a wood chewer, although she’s taken some bites out of the foraging block to try to get at an almond.

Stewie, on the other hand, really loves pine and other soft woods. There’s something about the design of the cuts that really appeals to him. Pine slats have always been a favorite of his, so the cuts offer the same sort of appealing shapes and textures that entice him to start trying to break them off.

Review of Kris Porter's Fantastic Foraging Blocks
Review of Kris Porter's Fantastic Foraging Blocks
Review of Kris Porter's Fantastic Foraging Blocks
And this is the one I left in Stewie’s cage after 24 hours: Foraging Block

Two big talons up for these wooden blocks. There’s a lot of visual and texture-based interest in the design that I think will keep both my birds’ attention for a long time (or until they are destroyed, whichever comes first).

Updated: Here is a before and after shot (one week later):

Fantastic Foraging Blocks - Before/After

Kris plans on making these available for purchase on her website sometime before the end of the year, These wonderful toys are now available for purchase on the website and they’re available to purchase at Phoenix Landing events as well.


Kris Porter’s Fantastic Foraging Blocks Are Here!

November 19, 2011

Last week, Kris Porter of asked if we’d give some feedback on a new foraging toy she has developed. Of course we jumped at the chance! (Are you kidding? A foraging toy developed by the guru of parrot enrichment? Yes, please!)

The box arrived Thursday night and we couldn’t wait to open it. Check out the “unboxing”.

Look, ma! A new box. Let me help you open it!
Unboxing Kris Porter's Fantastic Foraging Blocks

Yay! It’s full of paper! Paper is my favorite!

Unboxing Kris Porter's Fantastic Foraging Blocks

Ooh! A wooden toy?

Unboxing Kris Porter's Fantastic Foraging Blocks

It’s a 2″x 2″ column of untreated pine with peek-a-boo holes drilled through, as well as cuts in different directions creating little ledges to interest busy beaks and wedge treats into. 

Another one!

Unboxing Kris Porter's Fantastic Foraging Blocks

And more!

Unboxing Kris Porter's Fantastic Foraging Blocks

Some of the blocks came “plain” and some were decorated with vine stars and colored buttons (that hid pre-inserted treats behind them).

Let me dig through that box. I think there may be more!

Unboxing Kris Porter's Fantastic Foraging Blocks

Wow! Look at these toys. It’s like an early Christmas!

Unboxing Kris Porter's Fantastic Foraging Blocks

The toys came in two sizes. The small blocks were 2″x 2″. The medium blocks were 2″x 4″.

Let’s check it out!

Unboxing Kris Porter's Fantastic Foraging Blocks

Ahem, ma, I’m out of focus!

I think I spot something!

Unboxing Kris Porter's Fantastic Foraging Blocks

Bingo! It’s an almond! My favorite!

Unboxing Kris Porter's Fantastic Foraging Blocks

Nom nom nom…

Trying out Unboxing Kris Porter's Fantastic Foraging Blocks

So that was our unboxing event. For more about these “Fantastic Foraging Blocks”, and what Stewie thought of them, check out our review.

Update: The Fantastic Foraging blocks, in three sizes, are now available for purchase on Kris Porter’s site.


A Place to Land: Documentary Film

April 20, 2011

Last night I attended a showing of A Place to Land, a 30-minute documentary about the different circumstances of parrots, and in particular rehomed and sanctuary birds. The film won a national Student Academy Award in 2009.

A Place to Land - Documentary Film

The venue for the screening was a tiny community arts group in DC that hosts film screenings and discussions with filmmakers. There were only half a dozen people in attendance including me, the organizers, a veterinarian, a biologist and the film’s producer, Lauren DeAngelis.

Of the group, three were “bird people” and I was the only one who still had pet parrots, which fact made me de facto (and by orders of magnitude) the craziest person in the room.

The Film: A Place to Land

The film itself starts with discussion about some of the ways parrots find themselves “homeless” and different types of stereotypic behaviors that can arise from stress. We are introduced to Phoenix Landing via interviews with Ann Brooks, the organization’s founder, as well as Liz Wilson, parrot behavior consultant, and a few PL volunteers.

Watching the interview with Ann as she talks about the genesis of the organization (now one of the largest parrot welfare nonprofits on the East Coast) was tremendously moving. (Later, during the discussion, the veterinarian among us, paraphrasing Liz Wilson, said that a peculiar quirk about parrot owners is that they love birds while simultaneously being wracked with guilt over owning them. It was a profound observation that beautifully illustrates the emotion that was evident in Ann’s story about her first macaw.)

The film then moves on to tell the stories of parrots in different sanctuaries across the country. There are some really heart-breaking stories of parrots who have suffered awful abuse, but recovered with the right care and TLC. There are also some great stats and quotes about the challenges facing parrots in captivity, and what will happen as baby boomers age and a huge influx of parrots enter the “system” in need of new homes.

A Place to Land then changes direction with a look at Chris Biro and his dedication to free flying his parrots in the desert of Utah. By contrast to the swaying, plucked birds in the scenes just a few minutes earlier, Biro’s (and Susan Hilliard’s) macaws look magnificent, soaring against the desert backdrop. In the outdoor interviews, Chris talks about how avian biology presumes flight, and how parts of a parrot’s air sacs can’t fully inflate unless the bird is in flight. His commentary coupled with the sight of his birds frolicking in nature, make a compelling case that parrots are meant to fly.

On that note, the film concludes. It leaves the audience feeling a bit more hopeful and optimistic.

And that was actually my (only) real quibble with the film.

The Discussion: A Variety of Perspectives

I kind of felt like a jerk, leading off the Q&A asking a question that kinda sorta seemed to indicate that perhaps I had some misgivings about the implied narrative arc, and that one could perhaps interpret the film as telling a story of progress from “the terrible plight of captive parrots” to the uplifting conclusion of free flighted birds doing what they were born to do, and perhaps this could give people the wrong idea about what is the “right” course of action for their pet birds. If that was the wishy-washiest sentence you’ve ever heard, that’s basically how I felt asking it. It was with some relief that the filmmaker immediately understood what I was getting at and didn’t take offense. She mentioned that in hindsight she didn’t think there was enough of a disclaimer about the downside or dangers of attempting free flight.

Although Chris Biro did talk about the need for training, neither he nor the film went into detail about just how much dedication it takes and just how often owners lose their birds due to improper precaution, lack of training and environmental hazards.

It was a pretty interesting discussion, alternating between questions about the process of filmmaking and details of pet ownership. There was a bit of talk about the difficulties of free flight (and how a bird won’t automatically return simply because it is “imprinted” on humans), but we talked about everything from the number of birds waiting for adoption, to the overall cost of a parrot above and beyond the purchase/adoption cost, to the implications of wild flocks/invasive species, to the film new Pixar film RIO.

One thing I found really interesting is that one of the audience members (someone with no experience with birds) concluded after watching the film that parrots shouldn’t be pets at all. He seemed to feel very strongly.

Another member, a veterinarian who actually now worked on the regulatory side of aviculture, said: “It’s complicated.” Indeed, you can’t simply outlaw America’s third most popular pet. I mentioned that Europe has much stricter laws concerning the minimum standards of care than the U.S., but that’s not necessarily the easiest/best solution either.

Lauren pointed out that there are good parrot owners out there. Not sure if that answered the gentleman’s objection, but I do feel like that needed to be said. Yes, I’m one of those guilt-ridden parrot lovers but I do also see quite a number of birds who are healthy, happy and well-adjusted. No, they’re not flying free in their native rainforest… but they are also well-fed and in no danger of starving, being eaten by a predator or any challenges wild animals contend with.

I fear that perhaps I dominated the conversation too much, given that I wasn’t the person people came to see, but I can get pretty carried away when I feel passionate about a topic — and I feel passionate about the work Phoenix Landing does! Given how well I think the discussion went, it was almost a shame that the educational message didn’t reach a larger audience (but then again, I think the intimacy helped to facilitate the dialogue).

Getting the Word Out

Based on the experience I had, I think that a screening of A Place to Land would be a great event for bird clubs and avian welfare organizations to have with members. It could open up a lot of discussion, and under the guidance of knowledgeable parrot people, issues like free-flight risks could easily be addressed. It’s long enough to touch on some interesting topics, but definitely short enough not to tax anyone’s attention or create undue burden on workshop organizers.

If you haven’t seen the film, here’s the trailer and it’s also available on-demand online:

I’m hoping to get Lauren, the producer, to do an interview here on this site. If you’ve seen the film and have questions for her, please leave them in the comments and I may use them in the Q&A.


NOVA’s “How Smart Are Animals?” – Watch Video Online

February 6, 2011

On Wednesday, NOVA (in something they’re calling the “smartest night on television”) is airing a program about animal intelligence, which includes a segment about Alex, the famous African Grey, and his trainer Irene Pepperberg.

Here’s NOVA’s profile of Dr. Pepperberg and a show teaser.

And here’s my review of Dr. Pepperberg’s memoir, Alex & Me, which you should totally read if you are interested in parrots and/or animal intelligence.


Updated! You can watch “How Smart Are Animals” online here. The segment about Alex starts at the 38-minute mark.