Fresh opportunities for avian nutrition and enrichment arrive with autumn!
Halloween pumpkins are decorative and fun, but they are also a great source of Vitamin A and other nutrients. Vitamin A deficiency (hypovitaminosis A) is most often seen in birds on all-seed diets. Because the deficiency affects mucus membranes and epithelial tissue, respiratory and sinus infections may more severe in birds that lack enough of the vitamin. The best way to avoid problems is to provide your bird with fruits and vegetables rich in beta-carotene, which is converted in the body to Vitamin A. Fall is a great time to introduce your pet to pumpkins, broccoli, squash, sweet potatoes, root vegetables and more.
Fresh cranberries are also available in the fall and add anti-oxidants and phytonutrients to the diet. Serve them fresh or bake them into muffins or bird bread. Cranberries freeze well, so buy an extra bag or two for use when they are out of season.
Picky parrot? Sneak the food into something your bird likes. Add pureed pumpkin, acorn squash and other fall vegetables to birdie bread recipes. Whip up eggs, a few broccoli florets, carrot chunks and mashed pumpkin in a blender and scramble as usual. Start with a small ratio of veggies to eggs, gradually increasing the ratio as birds become accustomed to the new taste. If you are concerned about cholesterol in eggs, use egg whites or a low-cholesterol egg product instead.
Particular parakeets? Budgies frequently refuse to eat painstakingly prepared produce from a dish. Instead, clip chunks of broccoli, corn-on-the-cob and other firm vegetables to cage bars so they can gnaw instead. Hang wet broccoli leaves, beet greens, kale and other fresh greens from the top of the cage. Parakeets enjoy bathing in the wet leaves and chewing on the leaves.
Finicky flock? Add interest to vegetables by presenting them in different ways. Texture can be important to birds. Mashed pumpkin and sweet potatoes may be flung on the floor, but birds may accept chunks or ‘riced’ versions. Try cooked vegetables versus raw, and they may be more palatable to your pet. Encourage your bird to work for its food by stringing vegetables onto a rod feeder instead of putting them in a dish.
*Ornamental gourds, often used in fall centerpieces or as wild-bird birdhouses may be coated with lacquer to preserve them and don’t make safe playthings for birds. Dried corn on the cob and corn stalks, also used in fall decorations, may be treated as well. Miniature pumpkins are often available in the fall, and many birds love to play with and eat them. Be sure to purchase only edible pumpkins and gourds if you plan to give them to your pet.
*Decorative seasonal and holiday items may look pretty, but they’re not bird toys! Decorations from discount stores, crafts shops and other retail outlets may be made of questionable materials or coated with paint containing toxic compounds. Transport ships are often treated with pesticides as well.
*Birds (and humans too!) are often affected by scented candles. Use beeswax or unscented candles instead. Never leave a candle unattended and make sure birds do not have access to flames. Similarly, keep birds away from Jack O’ Lanterns that have candles inside. For safety’s sake, use a battery-operated candle or small flashlight instead.
*Escapes occur all year but are especially tragic during cold weather. Doors opened and closed more frequently during the fall holidays. Be sure your bird is safely caged or in a room behind closed doors during Trick-or-Treat hours and when company is coming and going.
*Planning a big dinner during the holidays? Don’t use the self-cleaning feature on your oven until you remove your feathered friends from the area. Choose a dry, breezy day when you can open all your windows during the cleaning process. Use the oven hood fan if it vents to outdoors. Smoke from burned-on food and emissions from coatings on oven parts can be lethal to birds.
*Plants associated with holidays (poinsettia, amaryllis, holly, etc.) contain parts that are toxic to birds. Keep them well out of reach of pets.
*Don’t bleach your pumpkins! If you’re intending to leave holiday jack-o-lanterns outdoors for wildlife, don’t preserve them with bleach! It will render it inedible or even poisonous.
The Great Pumpkin!
Pumpkins can be boiled, baked or microwaved.
To boil, first wash the pumpkin. Cut it in half and scoop out the seeds and stringy matter inside. Peel the pumpkin and chop it into chunks. Put it into a pot large enough to accommodate it, cover with water, cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook until the chunks are tender. Drain in a colander, cool and then puree, chop, mash or put the pumpkin through a ricer.
To bake, pre-heat your oven to 400 degrees. Wash and halve the pumpkin. Scoop out seeds and insides. Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil or parchment paper and place pumpkin halves cut side down. Check for doneness after 30 minutes. Bake until it feels soft enough to mash with a potato masher. Let cool and chop or mash as you wish.
For microwave fans, wash the pumpkin, cut it in half and remove the insides and then cut into large chunks. There is no need to peel. Put the chunks into a microwave safe dish, add just enough water to cover the bottom of the dish, cover and microwave on high or a ‘fresh vegetable’ setting for several minutes. Check for doneness and cook for a few minutes at a time until the chunks are soft. Let cool, then scoop the pumpkin away from skin and prepare as above.
Pumpkin Seeds are a Special Treat!
Pumpkin seeds can be enjoyed by humans and birds alike! Here’s how to prepare them: