The Australian Galah

 

HEALTH

 

If fed a proper diet and given plenty of exercise, cockatoos are usually healthy and happy and can live a very long life. A Galah's life span is about 40 years, but unfortunately their life span can end up being much shorter, if they are not given proper care.

Health problems that are most common in cockatoo species are:

 

Self-mutilation - Feather mutilation can be seen in a number of ways and can be the result of sexual frustration, boredom, a skin irritation or a pain deep within the birds body. It can also be caused by a bacterial infection or other health problem. Mutilation of skin or feet, although less common can also occur. Anytime a birds shows signs of mutilation, they should be taken in for a veterinarian exam, even if they were recently examined to check for any physical causes. Once the many possible physical causes are ruled out, then psychological reasons can be explored by looking at the birds environment. Is it bored, is the cage large enough, does it have enough toys that it's interested in? Have there been any recent environmental changes?

 

Psychotic behaviour - this happens when a bird is ignored. Birds are social creatures, very intelligent and need daily interaction. If a bird is left alone in a room, a garage or basement, without light, social contact or toys psychotic behavior can be the result.

 

Idiopathic liver cirrhosis -There are several causes of liver disease. Perhaps the most prevalent cause in Galahs is obesity.

 

Proliferative foot lesions - this is caused by poor housing, unhygienic cages, dirty perches. Cages and perches toys etc. should be wiped down daily and sanitized weekly. A diet high in natural source Vitamin A, can help lesions heal quicker as well as help to keep a birds immune system stronger.

 

Obesity - Obesity can be a problem in Galahs after they reach sexual maturity, and even more of a problem after 6-7 years of age. Feeding a varied low fat diet, and assuring your Galah of proper exercise, you can hopefully avoid this problem. A good scale should be used to monitor a Galah's weight throughout its lifetime.

 

Lipomas (Rose-breasted and Sulpher-crested cockatoos) - Lipomas are fatty tumors that are sometimes found in obese birds. Most commonly they are found in Galahs and sulpher crested- cockatoos of the cockatoo species. Lipomas are usually located on the lower part of the abdomen, near the vent and if left untreated can become enormous in size. They can be prevented by a good low fat diet. Exercise and dieting can reduce lipoma size. If they should become ulcerated or start to affect a birds movement, they should be surgically removed.

 

Cloacal prolapse - The cloacal is the area where the urine, feces and urates wait to be passed. The vent is the outermost part of the cloacal and controls the frequency with which your bird will eliminate its droppings. A cloacal prolapse can be caused by a physical or psychological problem or both. This is a protrusion of the inner tissue through the vent opening. This can result in exposed intestines, cloaca or uterus. This requires immediate emergency care by an avian veterinarian.

 

 

The best way to help your bird avoid possible health problems is to supply a nutritious diet. Good nutrition leads to good health and a strong immune system. A low fat diet, consisting of a variety of fresh foods. To feed a varied diet, some different foods should be offered at each meal, and variety will also change seasonally.

Vitamin A is synthesized from plant carotene's in plant material and is important for birds to be able to keep a healthy immune system . Birds on an all seed diet are likely to suffer from a vitamin A deficiency, as seeds do not contain adequate amounts of vitamin A. Symptoms of vitamin A deficiency vary but the most common affected area is usually a birds respiratory system. The best way to avoid a deficiency is to feed plenty of vitamin A rich foods. When buying food, choose the darkest color oranges and greens. There are several varieties of yams or sweet potatoes available, the ones that are the richest in vitamin A are the darkest in color.

Vitamin A rich foods, IU per 100 gms

Broccoli leaves - 16,000
Dandelion greens - 14,000
Carrots - 10,000
Dark Orange Yams (sweet potatoes) - 9,000
Collards - 6,500
Mango - 5,000
Cantaloupe - 4,000
Endive - 3,500
Swiss chard - 3,300
Broccoli flowers - 3,000
Papaya - 2,000
Pumpkin seed - 380

 

An important mineral for good health is calcium, whose major function is building and keeping bones strong. Minerals needed in conjunction with calcium to work properly are phosphorus and magnesium. Also important is Vitamin D. Cuttle bone and egg shells both will provide approximately 20 times the needed calcium. You can give cuttle bone whole or break it into small pieces and add some to dry food. Some sources of calcium are nonfatal organic yogurt, legumes, oats, oranges, berries, and green leafy vegetables.


Food sources of calcium in mg. provided by one cup:

Broccoli leaves - 48
Chard - 18
Dandelion greens - 102
Mustard greens - 57
Kale - 90
Broccoli stem - 50
Orange - 72
Celery - 48
Watercress - 40
Yogurt-lowfat plain - 199


EXCERCISE

 

Exercise is important for any parrot but has an added benefit for a Galah, to help fight obesity and avoid limpomas. Galahs are active curious birds, so if given plenty to keep them busy, they will be active most of the day. If they are not supplied with an adequately sized cage, adequate toys and perches to play on, then they may sadly end up sitting, without an outlet to burn energy. Playing on the floor with you, playing on a perch once you arrive back home, is not enough. They need objects to keep them busy throughout the day. Please see the Cage and Toys page for ideas if you have not already viewed it.

Some of the best exercise for any bird is when they flap their wings. You can exercise your bird by perching it on your hand, or gently holding onto its feet and placing your arms up over your head, putting your bird above you. Then gently lower your arms down in front of you as not to scare your bird. If it becomes frightened, then stop and take smaller steps, never pushing it to do what it is uncomfortable with. When you lower your arms, your bird should flap its wings. You can tell your bird "flap" and it will soon associate the word flap with flapping its wings. This is a good aerobic exercise.

Flying has exercise benefits, but also has many risks involved that always need very careful consideration by the caregiver.

Playing games with your rose-breasted will also help to exercise it. You can lay a towel out and when your Galah steps onto it, you can gently fold it over its head, then open the towel up again saying "peek-a-boo". Never start with the towel moving down over top of your Galah , this would resemble a predator motion.

You can take a familiar piece of cloth and tell your Galah "I'm gonna get you" and playfully keep the cloth behind it, as your Galah walks away. This is a fun game to play on an ottoman or sofa. It's important that you not chase your bird or continue this game if it seems at all alarmed or uncomfortable, because birds are prey animals . It is also important not to ever catch your Galah during this game, unless it decides to let you catch it, by walking up to you, perhaps looking for a head scratch.

Candida or Yeast infections: These infections are usually found in younger birds. This is a type of yeast fungus (C.albicans) that affects the upper gut, occasionally affecting the lower gut. The mouth, crop and esophagus are most often affected and a white surface can usually be seen in the mouth. Candida is curable but is often a secondary infection to poor nutrition, mostly a diet lacking enough vitamin A. Candida can also be the result of poor husbandry, syringes and such not being cleaned properly.

Metal poisoning: Because galahs and other cockatoos are avid chewers, metal poisoning is a concern. This results when birds chew on metal such as lead or zinc and ingest minute pieces. These are digested and absorbed into the bloodstream causing metal toxicity. Pet birds can be more prone to lead poisoning if allowed to wander around the house, and chewing things they should not be chewing. Aviary birds can be more prone to zinc poisoning due to chewing on aviary wire. Aviary wire should be checked, scrubbed with a wire brush and washed with vinegar to help avoid zinc toxicity problems. Metal poisoning can be diagnosed by blood test or radiograph and is curable as long as it is caught early enough. Zinc sources for pet birds are galvanized "C" hooks that many toys are hung from. You can replace them with stainless steel "C" hooks. Also some powder coatings contain zinc and sometimes metal parts in toys.

Viruses: There are several viruses that can affect our companion parrots. Over the years research has been ongoing and some viruses have been isolated and there are even some vaccines available now. Currently more research is needed but funding is also an important part and without it research cannot continue. Donations are always needed and accepted. You can contact the International Aviculturists Society to make a donation to help stop PDD, currently one of the most puzzling viruses of all. We need to stop this virus before it takes any more of our precious birds.

* Progress in Understanding PDD

PBFD (Pssitacine Beak and Feather Disease): (The acute form of PBFD is commonly known as "French Molt" in Australia) This is a virus that attacks growing tissue. Young birds seem to be the most susceptible. Feather follicles (the root of the feather) are often growing new feathers so this is where the virus will attack. It can also affect the beak (when the beak is affected, it is usually the upper beak) and on rare occasion the toenails. It might start out looking like a normal molt but the feathers will fail to regrow properly, leaving less and less feathers on the bird. A bird with PBFD often becomes immunosuppressed and dies from other secondary illnesses. PBFD is not curable but some birds do produce antibodies and survive. Once a bird has PBFD and survives it is then resistant to this disease. There is a vaccine but funding is needed for it to become available. Dr. Ritchie has been working with the Pssitacine Research Group, on the vaccine at the University of Georgia.

When bringing a new bird home, quarantine is important and so is testing for PBFD, even if no signs are present. This is done with a simple blood test that your veterinarian or breeder can perform. If a bird should test positive for PBFD and is not showing any clinical signs it should be retested in 90 days. During this time it should be kept isolated from other birds. If a bird has been exposed to PBFD and contracted the virus, this will show up with the DNA test two days after the exposure, even though the bird will not be showing any signs yet.

Incubation time varies, it is less in younger birds that in older birds. Incubation can be as short as 21 days or as long as 18 months. The age at which a bird is exposed can also affect how the disease progresses. It seems to generally be much quicker and more severe, the younger the bird is when it is exposed. PBFD is most likely to affect birds three yrs. old or less. When older birds are infected, they generally develop antibodies.

 


DIET

 

Natural diet in the wild: A wild galah's natural diet is varied, consisting of several foods that will vary seasonally and depend upon location, mostly consisting of seeds, oats, wheat and several grasses (button, flinders, mitchell), weeds such as cape and storksbill. Galahs also dig in the dirt or grass for insects, larvae and shallow plant roots. These cockatoos also will eat budding new growth on trees, leaves and blossoms of various shrubs, trees, grasses and plants. Also berries and occasionally fruit such as passionfruit, mango, starfruit, pawpaw, lychee, although fruit does not seem to be their most relished food. Nuts such as pandanus and casuarina can be found on the ground and fed to native pet Galahs.

 

Diet for a pet Galah:

The difference in lifestyles between a wild and a companion Galah need to be considered when you are considering a proper and nutritious diet. A wild Galah uses a tremendous amount of energy on a daily basis, flying, playing, foraging for food, raising families, avoiding predators etc. A companion Galah does not expend the amount of energy to burn up the same amount of calories and because of this can easily become obese if fed the natural/wild diet that is high in fat.

A Galah needs to be fed a diet low in fat if it is going to have a chance of keeping its waistline in shape. Therefore a diet consisting, for example of sunflower seeds, would be totally inappropriate. Not only would this not be nutritionally sound, but would be very high in fat. Sunflower seed contents 35-49% fat, depending on the variety and would lead to an obesity problem for a Galah in no time. Cockatoos in general should be fed a diet consisting of no more than 5-8% fat on average, and a galah with its propensity towards obesity, should be on a diet of about 3-4% fat. This does not mean that a galah cannot have an occasional sunflower seed, or other seeds or nuts as a treat. The concern here, is the total fat percentage of the daily diet. Fat content, calories and carbohydrate intake all need to be considered.

Also a good diet does not consist of one or two items but a variety of items and those items should vary some on a daily basis.
Suggested foods are (organic foods if available): millet, sprouted seeds, grasses, vegetables, greens, cooked brown rice, grains, cooked legumes, wheat pasta, fruits, birdie bread

Why organic? Organic produce is often fresher and preferred by birds. Fresh foods from your garden are also, often more readily accepted than are chemically sprayed conventional produce from your grocer. Birds seem to sense, what is fresher. If you are having problems introducing your bird to new vegetables or fruits, try organic or fresh from your garden...it is possible that they will be more readily accepted.

Over the years our soils have become depleted, losing valuable nutrients. Organic farmers work the soil in a more natural way and their end product may possibly end up containing more valuable trace minerals and better overall nutritional content. When the digestive system lacks minerals, vitamins can simply pass through, unabsorbed. Trace minerals are absorbed through the gut and can help keep the gut working properly. Organic frozen vegetables can also be offered, whenever fresh is not available or if it is simply more convenient for you. Fresh however, is the most ideal. Also, many seasonal items can be frozen such as pomegranates, pumpkin and cranberries. Organic produce is not always available to everyone. In this case the freshest produce possible is the next best choice, preferably using a vegetable wash (available in most produce sections) to remove pesticides.
Millet:

A good low fat seed (actually a grain) is millet at about 4% fat. There are several kinds of millet and your Galah might prefer one over another. Some tend to prefer the larger millets. Millet is one of the oldest and most nutritious foods we know. As a grain, it is nutritionally balanced, non acid forming and is rich in high grade protein (containing 10 essential amino acids), minerals, vitamins and lecithin. You can buy millet sprays at a bird supply store or unhulled millet at your health food store.

Mega-millet sold at bird supply stores, actually is not millet but the grain milo. Milo is approximately 4% fat, 11% protein and 2% minerals.

For variation, you can plump millet sprays by simmering them for about 10 minutes. You can also sprout millet. Also look for puffed millet in the cereal section of your local health food store, for something a little different.
Seeds:

Although seeds are a source of nutrition, some can be high in fat. If unsprouted seeds are fed, they should only be fed occasionally as treats. Here is a table showing averaged fat percentages of some common seeds.

 
Fat Protein Carbohydrate
Canary Seed 5.6 15.6 65.6
White Millet 4.1 11.5 69.4
Groats 6.6 14.3 67.5
Sunflower (striped) 33.9 21.7 41.5
Sunflower (white) 47.0 24.0 20.2
Sunflower (black) 49.0 22.0
Safflower 34.6 15.2 43.2
Pumpkin 42 32

 

Sprouted seeds:

Seeds can be an important part of the diet, but must be from a clean source and be fresh. Seeds can provide vitamins such as niacin, riboflavin as well as essential amino acids and minerals. When you sprout a seed, it comes to life, changing its entire chemical composition. The fatty oils found in the seeds are converted to essential fatty acids.

Sprouts are an ideal source of protein that can also help the body to cleanse itself. Besides providing protein, sprouts are rich in almost every nutrient, vitamins (especially vitamin A, B vitamins, C, D and E), enzymes, essential fatty acids and minerals (including iron, potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, calcium, zinc and chromium) all of which are natural antioxidants that strengthen the immune system and protect against toxic chemical buildup. The few calories that are found in sprouts come from simple sugars, which makes them a quick source of energy.

Sprouting is easily done, and there are several "how to do" articles about it on the internet. Here are some links to a few sprouting sites: Dr.McWatters, Carolyn, Holistic Bird. Sprouting can be safe, as long as it is done properly by washing, soaking and rinsing with an anti bacterial, anti fungal agent such as grapefruit seed extract or a diluted bleach solution. Sprouting times can vary, depending on your area of the country, time of year, room used etc. You need only sprout seeds until a tail appears. At this time the maximum nutritional value has been reached. Most sprouts that are not greened up and only have tails, can be frozen for storage. It is often easiest to sprout hulled seeds that you can buy in your health food store. There are also sources where you can buy sprouting mixes for birds. China Prairie comes highly recommended, providing a fresh clean product with easy to follow instructions.

China Prairie has had success treating fatty tumors (lipomas) in Galahs with spouts. This is what they said:

The Avian FRESH Diet Program has shown numerous times that it can "remove" (resolve) fatty tumors on Galahs without surgery. Sometimes it takes six to eight months for the tumors to completely disappear, and on one 20 year old male with very large tumors it took nearly two years. What this demonstrates also is that Galahs fed The Avian FRESH Diet Program, that do not have fatty tumors, will be free of the problem. The fat content of a diet is not the most important factor. It is the ability of the bird to process and utilize that fat. Sprouting converts fats to fatty acids and sugars. The herbs in the AFD program contribute to the utilization. Sprouting is always a good thing, but what is sprouted is more important. The components in AFD have proven to be capable of balancing the birds nutritional intake so that elements like fats, proteins, and minerals are utilized whether they be in lesser or greater amounts than what is considered correct. Of course, if detrimental elements like synthetics and other toxics are present in the birds diet, optimum health is more difficult to achieve. Remember that each bird is unique and will respond to good and bad factors in it's diet differently (just like people).

Galahs at the China Prairie Breeding Facility consumed as much Avian FRESH Diet as they wanted without any sign of obesity, but they were fed little else. China Prairie
Birdie Bread:

Birdie bread is most often corn bread, to which whole eggs (including the shells for added calcium), several chopped vegetables, grains and fruit have been added. Often sweet potatoes or carrots are added to help supply vitamin A. There are several recipes that can be found on the web.

 

Food suggestions:

Vegetable suggestions: Green peas, broccoli, cauliflower, red and green peppers, *spinach, celery, zucchini, tomatoes, cucumbers, cooked white potato, cabbage, small amounts of yellow corn, only a few times per week

Orange vegetables: Limit these vegetables to 2-3 times per week with the exception of carrots due to their carbohydrate content: cooked sweet potato or cooked yams (dark flesh),butternut and acorn squash, carrots, pumpkin.

Herbs: Small amounts of the following might be enjoyed: rosemary, basil, watercress, thyme, garlic, dill, cilantro, savory

Greens: dark leaf lettuces, dandelion greens, collard greens, mustard greens, kale, beet greens, *swiss chard

 

* spinach and swiss chard contain high amounts of oxalic acid. Whereas several other foods contain a trace or moderate amount of oxalic acid of about 200-400 mg. per 100 g. of food, spinach and swiss chard contain over 1,000 mg. per 100 g. of food. Oxalic acid may interfere with the absorption or use of calcium or magnesium present in the diet. It may combine with these mineral elements to form highly insoluble compounds. It is recommended that the amount of spinach and swiss chard in the diet should be limited. Both of these greens are highly nutritious and oxalic acid fed in the proper amounts is beneficial for digestion. However, cooked spinach or chard should never be offered as the oxalic acid is rendered useless to aid digestion and it will still bind calcium and magnesium, preventing its absorption. So if feeding spinach or chard, feed it raw and in limited quantities. Excess amounts of cooked spinach have been linked to serious calcium deficiencies resulting in bone loss in humans. There have not been any studies done specifically on birds to know how they react to oxalic acid.

 

Fruits: pomegranates (a possible favorite), passionfruit, oranges, berries and apple (fed in limited amounts as apple is mostly fiber with little nutrition), cherries......you might also want to try - cantaloupe, organic strawberries, nectarines, peaches, apricots, pears, bananas, plums, mango, figs, papaya, kiwi, star fruit

 

Grass: Wheatgrass can be found in some grocery or health food stores, growing live in containers. If you cannot find live wheatgrass, you can buy it powdered in capsule form and sprinkle it on food as a limited natural supplement.

 

Bean and rice mixtures are often greeted eagerly. These should be cooked. Homemade mixtures would consist of several varieties of legumes along with rice and grains. The mixture should be soaked for at least 6 hours, then boiled for 10 min., and simmered for 20 more min. and cooled before serving. Legumes, grains and potatoes are cooked to neutralize enzymes that inhibit digestion and also to neutralize toxins. You can find many of these bean and grain mixtures available premixed, look for the low fat ones. If you cook your own bean and grain mixture, using equal amounts of each, your mixture will contain approximately 2% fat and 10% protein.

Bean suggestions-pinto beans, black-eyed peas, adzuki, green and yellow split peas, garbanzo, black beans.

Grains-wheat, barley, triticale, brown rice, millet, oats

Pellets: This is a product that is fairly new on the market . Pellets were developed partially to help combat malnutrition in birds, which were being fed a 100% seed diet and also as a convenience for bird owners. If you are feeding pellets, they are not recommended to make up any more than 40% -50% of the diet. There are also some veterinarians who have lowered their pellet recommendation to 20-30% of the total diet. Be sure to offer a wide variety of other foods as well. When looking for a pellet for a Galah, check the fat content. There are some low fat pellets with a 3% fat content available.

 

Supplementation: A wide spectrum water soluble vitamin supplement is one choice but not necessarily needed if feeding a fresh variable diet. You can store vitamins in the refrigerator, in a salt shaker, with several holes and sprinkle on wet or green food, sparingly 3-4 times a week, if you are not feeding a pellet based diet. NEVER put supplements in the water, as this can cause bacterial growth. If you feed pellets, be careful offering supplements, as they can easily be overdone. Only offer a sprinkle of them on food one or two times a week on the average. Suggested supplements that are not synthetic are wheatgrass, spirulina, blue green algae (occasionally some birds are sensitive to spirulina or blue green algae).

 

Foods that should NEVER be offered are: Chocolate, Avocado, Alcohol, Caffeine

Other foods to avoid are: refined sugar, dairy products (with the exception of nonfat yogurt and small occasional amounts of cheese), salt, fried foods

 


DIET SUMMARY

 

An optimal diet for a Galah would consist mostly of fresh greens and green vegetables with the additions of orange vegetables 2-3 times a week. If your bird picks through the fresh food, only eating its favorites, then chop food finely or pulse it in a food processor, making a veggie mash. This will help ensure that your Galah is eating all of the variety of produce you have fed it. Finely choppd fruits can be added. Varieties of millet can be added to the diet for the hard seed and sprouts are a wonderful nutritious addition, which are highly recommended. Also a warm cooked bean and grain mixture and a treat of birdie bread will round out the diet. Fruits can be offered daily. Cooked egg can be offered in small quantities once or sometimes twice a week. Be sure that you offer a variety of foods, not just a lot of the same foods. Make every meal is a little different from the last one, this way you should be supplying adequate nutrition.

Obesity: If you have a galah that is overweight, you will need to make special considerations for its diet, along with making sure it is getting plenty of exercise. If your galah has a very sudden weight gain or loss, you should watch it carefully and consult your avian veterinarian. It should also be noted when referring to weight averages, that Australian Galahs, tend to be a bit larger than the Galahs found in the US and weights can range from 255 to 430gm, the average being 330. Males tend to be slightly larger than females. So you need to know the size of your galah, and what your vet recommends as it's individual ideal weight. The following are suggestions by a post from Sam Foster, who has bred Galahs and is now a professional avian behavioral consultant:

I have mentioned before to several people on the list that rose-breasted's are prone to obesity in domestic and captive environments. They have such naturally high 'energy' that it almost seems impossible for us to provide enough aerobic exercise for them to burn off the calories they 'eagerly' devour each day.

As you know, it can often be much harder to lose weight (whether human or avian) than to gain it. The objective in this situation should not necessarily be to lose the weight 'quickly', but to do so in a healthy manner that will reidentify, for the bird, his eating and exercise pattern. This is totally dependent upon the bird's owner.

I would suggest a moderate change in diet initially, and lay out a plan and goal to help the bird attain his 'normal' weight within a specific time frame. One of the keys of course will be to keep a daily chart of his weight, diet and exercise.

It will also be important to monitor his overall behavior during this time to be sure he is maintaining a normal (for him) playfulness and curiosity. If he begins to seem lethargic or reclusive, this needs to be noted and addressed immediately.

So what I suggest is that the owner, set goals realistically and with consideration for his physical and emotional health during this transition. Personally, I think a 4-6 month time frame would be an achievable goal. A weight of under 325g would be an excellent mark to shoot for, in my opinion.

If he is being fed a broad variety of healthy foods you should not see a 'sudden' weight loss. If this should happen, I would suggest consulting with your avian vet right away as there may be something else causing the problem.

By Sam Foster



HOME ENVIRONMENT

 

Cage size: You and your Galah can have many hours of laughs and good times. You will find them to be even more intriguing and entertaining if given the proper space, such as a large cage and a variety of toys to keep them busy. Given a proper cage you might see your Galah hanging upside down, wrapping its wings around a hanging toy, chattering some sort of scolding and attaching it in a comical act. It might also hang from a rope, hanging from only a toenail, while flapping and carrying on. If the cage is too small, the galah will not be able to do such things and you will both missing out.

Galahs are very active birds, so cages should be as large as you can manage but no smaller than 24" deep x 36" wide. A larger cage is highly recommended if at all possible, as playful Galah's will use every inch of space. Height is not as important as floor space is for a Galah because these birds enjoy spending a great deal of their time playing on the ground. Because they enjoy being on the ground you will need to look closely at the cage grate, to make sure it will have proper, comfortable footing for your Galah. If your cage has the normal barred grate, you will want to consider covering the grate with a piece of laminate or a rubber mat that can be washed weekly, and keeping it covered with newspaper. Or consider removing the grate completely and only using newspaper if your cage allows this without the cage becoming unsafe by revealing a large escape area. No more than 3/4 inch to 1inch bar spacing for the cage is recommended, to keep your Galah safe from danger.

One of my favourite suggestions about thinking of how our bird might view their cage, is that we should try to think if we would be happy in the cage if we were a bird, by looking at it and thinking of it as our living room. Would we have plenty of room to move around in? not feeling cramped? Is there plenty to keep us interested and not get bored? Is this or that toy suitable and in a good place? Basically, would we be happy if we were a Galah and were to call the cage our home.



CAGE TOY SUPPLY SUGGESTIONS:

  • At least one boing is suggested which is a spiral shaped rope that hangs from the cage top.
  • Swing
  • Ladder
  • Plenty of hanging toys to chew and destroy, made out of different woods, leather, beads
  • A large crock on the cage floor to hold foot toys and wooden blocks of different shapes and colors, wooden tongue suppressors, wooden spoons or chopsticks, leather pieces
  • Safe clean untreated tree branches for chewing (if eucalyptus is available, this would be a favorite) untreated sanitized pine cones, untreated willow or grape vine wreaths
  • Acrylic toys- hanging and foot toys are available
  • Paper- such as unwaxed paper cups, wadded newspaper for a floor toy, folded newspaper stuck in-between cage bars, plain index cards
  • Cotton or sisal ropes, knotted or tied to the top of the cage, left to hang straight down like vines OR fastened to the top of the cage on both ends, but left to hang like a swing (When using rope perches or toys, keep a careful eye on loose strings and keep them clipped, to prevent the possibility of feet becoming tangled)
  • Wicker baskets with handles can hold foot toys and be fun toys themselves.

Toys should be rotated on a weekly basis and old toys replaced with new.

 

Perches: Perches should be placed at varying heights and be of varying shapes, sizes and textures, such as:

  • different sizes and types of woods, some hard wood, some soft boing rope (When using rope perches or toys, keep a careful eye on loose strings and keep them clipped, to prevent the possibility of feet becoming tangled)
  • polly or concrete perches
  • PVC perches and/or roughed up acrylic perches

 

Feeding bowls: There should be at least 3 feeding bowls in the cage. One for water, which should be changed at least twice a day. One for any dry food such as cereals, wheat pasta or pellets. One bowl for fresh foods such as fruits and vegetables or mash. These should be placed in an area of the cage where they will not be soiled. To keep the water bowl cleaner, it sometimes helps to keep it on the side of the cage that is opposite of the feed bowls. You might want to experiment by putting a food crock on the cage floor and/or a crock of water, since Galahs are ground feeders. Be sure to use heavy crocks, so they will not be tipped over.

 

Cage tray: This should be lined with newspaper or some other type of paper, such as white butcher paper and changed once or preferably twice a day, since Galahs do run around on the bottom of the cage. Using paper lets the owner keep a constant eye on their birds droppings, which can be an important indication of a birds health and alert us to problems before they become more serious. Never use corn cob or walnut shell bedding. Corn cob bedding can be ingested, causing serious medical problems and in some cases death as it can expand once ingested. Walnut shell litter can also be ingested, causing serious problems. Either litter can harbor problem bacteria, unless they are completely changed everyday. Also, droppings cannot be viewed well when using litters.

 

Cleaning: You will want to wipe the cage down daily with soap and water or a bleach solution. Bleach loses its disinfecting power if it comes in contact with any organic material, so if using bleach, wipe off any organic material beforehand. For disinfecting you can use 1 TBS. bleach added to one quart of water. Once a week the cage should be disinfected. There are several products available for disinfecting cages.

 

Cage placement: Cages should be placed where your companion Galah can feel that he/she is part of the flock/family. It should also be in a place that your Galah can feel secure, by being able to view people entering a room, rather than being startled by unseen visitors. For example, you would not want to place a cage on a wall, just around the corner from an entrance. Birds like to see what or whoever is approaching. Also, window views can be nice but make sure there is nothing outside that could startle your Galah or cause it to feel threatened. A sunny window should never be an option, as the heat on a sunny day could be unbearable and your Galah would have nowhere to escape the heat.

 

Covering the cage: Covering the cage at night is not necessary but an option. It can help to give your bird a more secure feeling. Wild galahs do not sleep out in the open, but in nest cavities while nesting or nestled in tree branches at night the rest of the year. Covering them can help to simulate this and help give them more of a sense of privacy.

Being extroverts, these birds love to be in the middle of all the action but even a galah might want some occasional privacy. If your galah's cage is placed in front of a window, or busy area of the house, you can use partial covering to give them a place of their own, a place of occasional quiet and escape if they like. Partial covering a cage can also be helpful if you are moving a bird, to give them a bit more security until they are adjusted. You can use a sheet to cover a corner of the cage, or perhaps one side if you like.

 

Cage or environmental lighting: UV lighting is important to the avian world. Galahs live and thrive in a world of sunshine most days in Australia. UV light, not only helps a bird to manufacture Vitamin D to help absorb calcium but light also affects a birds vision, because unlike us, a birds vision goes one step beyond ours. They have ultraviolet vision, enabling them to see things that we cannot and if not provided with UV light, they are not able to use their vision to full capacity. Having or not having proper light can also affect a birds overall attitude. Birds are not happy living in dark areas, they should have light, they are creatures of lots of natural sunlight. If birds are not able to receive natural sunlight such as having access to an outdoor aviary, then you should consider using UV lights. Having a birds cage near a window does not supply UV rays, as these rays are filtered out by modern window glass.

 

Sleep: Wild Galahs, because of their location, living near the equator, receive 10-12 hours of darkness most every day of the year. To keep your companion bird healthy and happy, it should also receive 10-12 hours of dark and quiet, every night. It is sometimes thought that if a parrot gets less night time sleep than the required 10-12 hours, that it can make up for lost sleep by taking naps during the day. This is not true, as the quality of sleep is different. Birds are prey animals and sleep lighter than predator animals. They will sleep heavier during the night however, because they are less threatened by predators. This instinct carries over in companion parrots. Although companion birds will take naps, they sleep very light during daytime hours. If your parrot is sleep deprived, it might be more prone to being cranky, or plucking, screaming or it may not show any outwardly signs at all but sleep deprivation can wear on them, just like it can affect people and is not a healthy situation.

 




SOLUTION or MUTILATION?

 

Mate Aggression of Male Cockatoos
by Shauna Roberts




Update: Since this article was written, I am happy to say that the procedure of beak splitting is now frowned upon by the AAV, thanks to many people who voiced their opinions. It should be a thing of the past~!

 

Cockatoo male aggressiveness towards their mates in captivity can be a serious problem in aviculture and in some cases mean life or death to a cockatoo hen. Hen abuse is a perplexing problem of which I feel questions need to be asked as to why it occurs and answers sought. Unfortunately I have read or heard from some angry and tearful breeders lashing out at the male cockatoos, blaming him for his rage towards a hen and not continuing to seek humane solutions to the problem. It should not be forgotten that male aggression towards the female has not been observed in the wild. Males need hens to pass on their genes and in turn males protect hens. Is it really correct to assume that the captive male is the one at fault when abuse takes place in aviaries? or should we be taking a look at what is wrong with aviary environments and seeking solutions? These male cockatoos are not naturally aggressive but aviary environmental problems are making them aggressive... These problems can be solved and have been solved for the most part in several countries, such as the UK and Australia. Many US breeders have also worked out solutions and are no longer seeing mate aggression, by using some or all of the suggestions that follow.

 

Regrettably, some breeders in the US, who claim to have tried all known options, (not realizing they have not gone to the needed extent), to stop mate abuse, have turned to a medical procedure labeled as beak alteration. This is a procedure where the veterinarian splits the males lower beak and mandible down the center from top to bottom. This procedure is viewed as being unethical in the UK and in many other parts of the world. Prominent Australian vets view the procedure as being barbaric. There are also several, avian vets in the US who, when asked their opinion, stated that they thought the procedure wrong and if asked to perform it, would refuse....further stating that they felt that any type of procedure that disfigured an animal or possibly could effect its psychological being was wrong unless there was a medical reason to justify it.

 

This is Alexander, a wild caught male ducorps cockatoo. Alex NEVER showed any aggression towards his mate. Another Ducorps in the same breeding facility had killed its mate, so shortly thereafter, Alex and all other Ducorps males lower mandibles were permanently split. Other alternatives were never tried. The nest boxes at this particular aviary only had ONE opening...leaving NO escape for the females. The aviaries were also very small, hardly giving the birds room to fly other than to hop a little from perch to perch. It is also my understanding they were not given wood to chew or anything else, to help to keep themselves occupied and to help burn up some of that hormonal energy.

 

Surgical beak altering is a permanent procedure, leaving the males beak mutilated, unable to crack nuts, and certain seeds as testified by owners of beak mutilated birds. Think about how these males would have to drink water, using two separated lower beaks. Cockatoo males feed and nurture their babies, can a male with an altered/split beak ever feed babies again? Once the lower beak has been split, the now two new beaks will grow upwards like tusks and must be filed (or left to eventually break off on their own) for the rest of these birds lives. I have heard this procedure justified time and again by people, saying "If you have EVER held a mutilated hen in your arms, then you would understand" or a dead hen", or a hen with its beak ripped off, bleeding to death". I personally think that all we need to feel this heartache is to know what has happened to these hens. This is a deeply sad and heartfelt situation. It is not something that anyone wants to happen BUT in good conscience, should the male be mutilated for life because he is not acting correctly in a caged environment? I feel that we must step back, assess the situation and look for the real causes of the problem, taking the blame and responsibility upon ourselves. We need to ask questions and find out, why would a male cockatoo be driven to act so differently in an aviary situation, than his wild cousins?

 

In the wild, cockatoos grow up in flocks, getting to know each other. Learning each others communications and the excepted socialization behaviours within their flock. They also have numerous other cockatoos to choose whom they might want to pair up with. If they do not like each other or have had enough of each others company, in the wild they have ample room to fly away and get their own space for a breather.

 

Once cockatoos pair up, they begin searching for their nest site. This site will be used year after year but first they will look perhaps at several possible sites before deciding on just one. After finding the perfect cavity to nest in, the male starts to work, chewing out the cavity to the pairs exact liking. He is also busy defending the nest and hen from other creatures and especially from other male cockatoos. The pair then raise their young and once the babies are fledged they rejoin the flock. When the pair rejoins the flock, if for some reason they no longer get along, they are free to seek a new mate...although cockatoos do for the most part stay with the same mate for a lifetime they can occasionally change bonds.

 

Breeders around the world have given the following suggestions to stop mate aggression. Following is a list of what has worked for them. Some of the same suggestions were given by avian vets. I would also like to urge cockatoo breeders for the pet trade to consider what seems to be a crisis of older cockatoos, over the age of 2 being passed from home to home, before breeding any more babies that could possibly end up in this sort of cycle. Also for the optimal health of breeding pairs consider limiting breeding to one clutch per year. Please put the birds first, parents and chicks, above all else and take responsibility for their lives.

 

The most important step to stopping mate aggression seems to be aviary size....more information is below.

 

One tool to fight mate aggression is to have an observation camera, enabling you to observe the cockatoos without being present. This can sometimes help to alert you to problem behavior in the earlier stages. It can also give a false sense of security, missing tell tale signs of trouble. You may observe obvious aggression by the male or less obvious flying to the ground by the hen to escape a male. Without a camera you can see if two cockatoos are sitting on opposite ends the perch, things are not right, they are not good, separate the birds.

 

Diet is important. If a cockatoo is not feeling well, due to a nutrient poor diet, he could become aggressive. Birds should be fed a variety of foods, including some fresh foods on a daily basis.

 

If possible let the cockatoos do their own mate selecting. They may not all pair up, but it would be better if they did not pair up than to have mate aggression occur. If for some reason you are unable to allow birds to choose mate themselves, then try pairing like personalities such as aggressive males with aggressive hens, layed back males with sweet hens etc.

 

Communication skills can be vital. Since these skills are learned from parents and flock groups, using hand-raised cockatoos for breeding should be avoided. Communication skills of parent raised birds can be better but they still lack the education of a flock language. Wild caught birds would make the best breeders.

 

Supply multiple wooden nest boxes initially, to let them establish their nest the way they want it to be, and the location they want it in. Australian aviaries provide two nest logs to breeding pairs.This way if one log is rejected, they have a second choice which helps to avoid frustration which could lead to aggression. Also supply toys, fresh branches and chewing materials at all times, to help keep the male busy. A wild cockatoo would never have time to become bored and a bored male in captivity with nothing but time on his hands can turn into a frustrated and aggressive male.

 

Some breeders have had success leaving same species cockatoos housed side by side (in large outdoor flights), giving the male an outlet for his aggression, but this seems to only work, if cockatoos pairs have a hidden area, when their nest hole is located. A secure and hidden area away from and seemingly out of sight of neighbors.

 

Make sure that after a nest box of their choice has been selected, that it has an escape, essentially two entrances so that the hen cannot be trapped inside by the male. Although a two entrance box, does not do a lot to assure a hens safety from a ranting determined male. Also do not add perches to the nest box, to encourage a male to hold a hen captive.

 

If the males wings are kept clipped and the hen is left flighted, then she can escape easier. Use good judgement in this case though...if the male is so aggressive that he needs his wings clipped, ask yourself if he should be in a breeding situation at all. This will not help to prevent aggression in the case of a male attacking a female in the nest box. ALL nest boxes should have escape holes. Some male cockatoos have been known to be infuriated when clipped, not easily being able to approach a hen. A few of these males have taken the tactic of clipping off the hens primaries, leaving her unable to escape him.

 

Provide at least two feeding and water stations to avoid a situation where the male will not let the hen access food.

 

Aviary size plays perhaps the most important role for stopping mate aggression! Some aviaries have been expanded to 20 feet long on average but a higher success rate, at avoiding male aggression has been achieved in aviaries that are 30 to 40 feet long by 15 to 20 feet wide. I read one recommendation that simply stated cockatoo aviary flights need to be large enough to provide *some* flight. Obviously whatever size of cage this is referring to, it would not be of adequate size to stop mate aggression. Companion bird owners are told that if they cannot provide the needed space to provide a large enough cage for a cockatoo, then they should not get one. This also should be applied to breeders, if you cannot provide adequate aviary space to avoid mate aggression, then you should be looking into a different species. It has been noted by some breeders that if the aviary is to large, then their birds will not breed. This is because the male can no longer catch the hen. If the male is having to chase the hen, chances are that the pair is not paired up properly OR the male is to aggressive to be in a breeding environment and should be removed. He is not adjusting to a captive environment and the question might be asked, if he remains aggressive, is this the type of bird that should be passing on his genes? Is he actually capable of producing even tempered/pet quality babies or will his babies be aggressive later in their life to their caretakers and end up being passed from home to home? Another question about large aviaries was about whether or not they would be suitable in cold northern climates. There are breeders up north in cold climates who have provided large aviaries and the birds do very well. These birds also have a sheltered area within the aviary.

 

If you feel that a pair is not getting along, that they seem to squabble a lot, then IMMEDIATELY separate them, please.

 

If the male is acting aggressive, you might want to try a temporary separation. If you try this, do NOT remove the female from the aviary. Always remove the male from the aviary. If you remove the female, then the male could become territorial and when you reintroduce the female, she could possibly be attacked by the male as an intruder. Once separated you can watch for signs from the female that she is ready to breed, such as working the nest box or calling to the male. If a female should become ill and needs to be taken out of the aviary, then also remove the male at that time and then reintroduce both birds back to the aviary at the same time. You might consider reintroducing these birds by housing them next to each other in separate cages for a while, letting them meet each other all over again, before turning them lose into their old aviary.

 

Never put the same species of cockatoo in adjoining aviaries. Ideally the same cockatoos species males should not have sight of each other as this can result in the males feeling challenged, keeping them emotionally on edge.

If a male has ever killed a mate, he should be permanently excluded from any breeding.

Hopefully, with some work, male aggression can be avoided by finding solutions, and by us making the commitment to our captive breeding cockatoos to do our best for both, hen and cock. And when a problem arises, we will look first to ourselves, ask what we might be doing wrong, what we can better provide them, rather than blaming the male and mutilating him for life.


FAQ's

 

My Galah uses its foot when it eats, but not to the extent that my other cockatoos do, why is this?

In most instances, Galahs tend not to use their foot quite as much as most other cockatoos, although there can always be individual exceptions to this as with other behaviors. This does not say they do not or will not use their feet, but rather they do not use them as extensively for the most part as some other cockatoos, most notably the arboreal cockatoo species. *It has been noted in field studies, that ground feeding species are not adept at using their foot as a hand, thus the Galah does this much less than other cockatoos with the exception of the cockatiel, in which using its foot is rare behavior. All other cockatoo species have this ability and use the foot, while feeding, much more than most other parrots.*

Note of interest: Forshaw noted that the Gang Gang cockatoo has the most advanced foot holding-technique while eating, of all the Australian cockatoos.

It was found in another field study of 5 years, that the Carnaby's or the white tailed black cockatoo, although having many similarities in behavior, to the Galah, the Carnaby's cockatoo uses its feet to handle food much more than Galahs do. These wild behaviors tend to be found in our pet birds, although as noted, there are always exceptions to any rule. The Galah for example uses its beak extensively in the wild and this is carried over in companion Galahs and is known as being "beaky".

*from Rosemary Low's book Cockatoos in Aviculture

 

How does my bird keep from falling off its perch while sleeping at night?

When a birds leg bends at the knee, they have the ability to more or less lock their grip to their perch, thus keeping them from falling off while sleeping. If you bird is ever stubborn, not letting go of an object with its foot, a tip would be to straighten out its leg before trying to have it release the object from its foot.

 

I keep hearing that Galahs are "nippy" birds, is this true?

This is a term that has recently been attached to them and has been overused. They are not nippy birds but do use their beaks a lot, so a better term might be to say that they are "beaky" birds.

 

I've heard Galahs called "beaky" birds, what does this mean?

Galahs are commonly referred to as being 'beaky' due to the fact that they naturally use their beaks a great deal (in the wild, and in captivity) to explore, dig, chew, allo-preen, etc. Although most parrots, and especially cockatoos, use their beaks for these purposes, those who spend a good bit of time on the ground foraging for food, such as rose-breasted's, seem to utilize this practice more consistently. Sam Foster

 

My Galah is starting to nip hard, what can I do?

You might think about providing alternatives for him to nibble on such as blocks of wood, pieces of leather. This does not mean of course that he will stop using his beak on your skin. After all, you are his flock mate and allo-preening is very much a part of Rose-breasted's behavior.

What might be of help is to increase your rose breasteds opportunities for scraping and rubbing his beak on other items. I have found that they particularly like something with texture, and if it makes a slight noise of some kind (such as when their little beaks scrape against tile) it usually just increases their enjoyment.

Keep his 'preening' sessions on your arm or neck limited to short amounts of time. Galahs can easily get themselves worked up into overload, and this is very easy to observe. So, when he is very calm and relaxed, that is when I would sit with him to allow him to 'preen' me. If he is very playful and energetic, I would encourage him to 'preen' something else, and probably best if he is not sitting with you during these times.

Since your bird is a young bird, he may be testing a bit as well to see what he can get by with. I've heard some people refer to rose-breasted's as not being as 'bright' as some other cockatoos. My response to that is "HA!". They are one of the cleverest little creatures in the world, and can very quickly learn how to turn a situation to their advantage.....which is probably one of the reasons they have continued to survive and thrive in their native habitat when other species have become threatened.

So, just as you would work to teach another one of your cockatoos that biting is not allowed, you will do the same with your Galah when he is being too rough. The principle of using a soft voice and calm demeanor will prove your best method. Galahs 'love' drama as much as any cockatoo (perhaps more), so a loud NO or sudden movement such as standing up and pulling your arm away will probably just make him more determined.

Find some eucalyptus branches and let him strip the bark. I can promise this is something he would relish and much prefer to pulling the hair from your arms or neck! Sam Foster

 

Why are birds so sensitive to fumes, becoming sick or even dying?

We humans breathe using lungs. Whatever air we take in, goes out the same path it came in. Because of this our lungs do not empty completely and as a result only about 20% of each breath we take is absorbed by our lungs.

A birds breathing is quite different from ours and extremely efficient. When it takes a breath, it goes into the birds lungs...which is a small area, and does not go in and out to the degree that our lungs do, and is more of a box. The breath they took, then continues through tubes and into the rear air sacs. When the bird breathes out, the air continues to move, through more tubes and into yet another air sac. When another breath is taken, the first breath of air moves yet again, and finally, out of the bird. Every breath our birds take in, goes in the same direction through all of the air sacs, the air absorption of each breath a bird takes, is almost total, using close to 100% of each breath. This is much different that our 20%.

Having these airsacs, helps a bird to fly, as it keeps them lighter and more buoyant. Also because flying is so energy demanding, they need a large oxygen supply. Most birds have nine airsacs. They are found in the neck, upper chest and toward the back of the abdomen. Some bird species even have airsacs in their bones in the wings and legs.

Because of the efficiency of a birds breathing system, fumes can be deadly. Problem fumes to consider are any sprays, perfumes, household cleaners, smoke , PTFE, which can be found in nonstick cookware coatings, self-cleaning ovens, some hairdryers, iron plates, ironing board covers.

 

What is a safe cleaner for my floors, furniture, windows etc. ?

A solution of white vinegar and water does a good job as an all-purpose everyday cleaner.

 

Can I feed my bird milk products?

Milk products contain lactose and birds lack the enzyme lactase for its digestion. Cultured products such as cheese and yogurt however are digestible. Cheese is a good source of calcium and also contains vitamin B12 but when feeding it to birds, keep the high fat content of cheese in mind, only offering very small portions, on a few special occasions. Also, only offer *real* cheese to you birds, never give them imitation cheeses as these could cause serious problems. Many birds love yogurt. It not only contains calcium and vitamin B12 but also beneficial bacteria for the gut. If yogurt is fed, it should be offered in small amounts and preferably be organic. A no fat unsweetened organic yogurt is suggested.

 

I have heard that parrots, including Galahs need 10-12 hours of uninterrupted dark quiet time each night. However, I have read that Galahs will fly around at night, is the 10-12 hours really necessary?

Even though Galahs have been recorded as being active through entire nights...this only happens occasionally. These occasions occur on clear nights, sporting a full moon. As a result the night is very well lit and they can almost see their own shadow. Activity only happens with the combination of a clear sky and a full moon and the nocturnal activity can continue for 2-3 days if conditions remain. After this time its once again dark enough that Galahs as well as other birds sleep through the night, unless momentarily disturbed by another bird or the sound of a predator.

This is only an occasional change of sleep pattern, as it does not happen every night, nor does it happen with every full moon or clear sky. Most nights Galahs do rest 10-12 hours in the wild and yes, your pet Galah should also receive a restful 10-12 hours every night.

 

http://www.pacifier.com/~birdart
Accessed: March 2005

 


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