May 1999 Magazine
Most parrot owners are well aware of the common hazards that endanger our parrots, such as overheated Teflon, forbidden foods, poisonous plants, toxic metals, and others. There are many lists of poisonous plants and many articles about the various hazards to be avoided.
Two other means of frequent exposure to toxins that have not been covered extensively are cleaning and pest control. Here are some suggestions for safe alternatives to the chemical solutions that normally are used to clean and control pests in the home and aviary.
NATURAL CLEANING SOLUTIONS
Add twenty drops of Grapefruit Seed Extract to a 32-ounce spray bottle filled with water. Use on all surfaces around the house and to clean sprouts, fruits, and vegetables before feeding to parrots.
Baking soda with water is a good all-purpose cleaner (1/4 cup baking soda to 1 quart water).
Sprinkle baking soda on surfaces to be cleaned or make a paste with baking soda and liquid soap. Scrub with a damp nylon scrubbing pad, soft cloth, sponge, or very fine steel wool. White distilled vinegar diluted in water removes baking soda residue. Dry with a soft cotton cloth. Recycled cotton clothing serves as a good cleaning and drying cloth.
CITRA-SOLV natural cleaner and degreaser is a concentrated solvent made of citrus oils, surfactants, and limonene (from citrus peel oil) that safely cleans chewing gum, ink, oil, grease, tar, gummed labels, and even sticky fly paper "goo". It is the only solvent safe for use on bird feathers, but it should be removed after it does its work. Using your thumb and first finger, rub a few drops of the Citra-solv thoroughly into the sticky goo or grease on the feathers. Remove it with a washcloth. Then rub Dawn liquid detergent into the feathers. It is crucial NOT to add water until straight detergent has been worked into the feathers. ONLY after you have thoroughly worked the detergent into the feathers should you add warm water. This also applies to cleaning grease from feathers. If you cannot locate a source of Citra-solv, call the distributor at (800) 343-6588 from 9-5 EST.
If cages are wiped down daily and cleaned well once a week, you rarely will need to do a major cage cleaning. Hot soapy water will clean most dirt on cages and will help to preserve the finish.
Grapefruit Seed Extract is a good anti-bacterial cleaner for cages. It can be added to a spray bottle and used for pre-soaking the cage or used on a sponge to wipe down the cage. It is completely non-toxic and is more effective against strep, staph, salmonella, candida, and e-coli than Clorox!
Citra-solv will easily loosen and remove the most stubborn hardened debris from cages and grates.
To clean grates, spray with Citra-solv or GSE solution over a layer of newspaper. Cover with another layer of newspaper and allow to stand for fifteen to thirty minutes. Wipe, rinse, and dry.
OxyFresh also is an effective cleaner for grates and hardened dirt. It is non-toxic and is effective against polyoma.
To catch droppings, use newspaper rather than bedding which can hold moisture and rust out cage bottoms. Damp corncob bedding can develop dangerous mold spores.
IN THE KITCHEN
For stains on counters, squeeze fresh lemon juice on the stain and allow to stand for 45 minutes. Sprinkle on baking soda, and rub with a sponge or soft cloth.
Burned or baked-on food in cookware--sprinkle cookware liberally with baking soda and add just enough water to moisten. Let stand for three hours and lift the burned food out of the pan.
Cutting board cleaner and disinfectant--Apply 10 to 20 drops of NutriBiotic to cutting board and work into entire board with a wet sponge or dish cloth. Leave on for thirty minutes before rinsing well.
Ovens--For lightly soiled ovens, make a thick paste of water and baking soda. Scrub well with a nylon scrubbing pad. If the oven is greasy, add a small amount of liquid soap. To remove spots, use very fine steel wool.
To clean underneath the refrigerator, tie a sock around the end of a yardstick. When one side is dirty, turn the sock inside out and repeat.
FOR THE BATHROOM
To clean the sink, shower, tub, and tile grout, soak with diluted liquid soap, sprinkle on baking soda, scrub with a nylon scrubbing pad, and rinse.
To disinfect bathroom surfaces, spray with a solution of one quart of water and twenty drops of Grapefruit Seed Extract from health food stores.
Mildew remover: Spray mildew with hydrogen peroxide.
Lime deposit remover: Spray a solution of 1 cup apple cider vinegar, 2 tablespoons salt, and 1 cup water on lime deposits and let stand overnight. Rinse with cold water.
For vinyl floors, damp mop with a solution of a gallon of warm water and 1/2 cup of white vinegar.
To cut grease on vinyl floors, dilute a small amount of liquid soap with water.
To remove black heel marks on floors, rub with a pencil or typewriter eraser.
To prevent water spots, dry with a cloth after mopping.
Products like "Carpet Fresh" have been linked to bird deaths. There is no safe way to use it as every time you vacuum clean the carpet, leftover particles will become airborne.
For odors, sprinkle carpet with plain baking soda. Let sit for 15 minutes, and then vacuum.
Carpet shampoos may contain toxic ingredients such as ammonia and perchlorethylene, a known carcinogen. Plant-based cleaning products, such as citrus cleaners are preferable. Use a steam cleaning machine with ten to fifteen drops of Grapefruit Seed Extract per gallon of water. Many hospitals now use GSE for carpet cleaning.
WOOD FURNITURE CARE
To remove water stains on wood furniture, dab white toothpaste onto stain. Allow the paste to dry and then gently buff off with a soft cloth.
Furniture polish can be made by mixing 2 parts olive oil with 1 part lemon juice. Apply mixture to furniture with a soft cloth and wipe it dry.
Nicks and scratches can be covered by mixing granular instant coffee with a little water and applying with a clean, cotton cloth.
Use your hair dryer on the cool setting to dust pleated lamp shades and other hard to reach areas.
NON-TOXIC WINDOW CLEANER
Recipe for window & glass cleaner: 1 gallon water, 1 cup white vinegar. Apply with cloth or spray bottle and clean with a linen cloth.
For extra sparkle, polish clean windows with a crumpled piece of newspaper when nearly dry.
SAFE DRAIN CLEANER
When drains are clogged by hair and debris, make a solution of equal parts of baking soda, vinegar and salt. Place in the drain and let it foam for 15-20 minutes. Then rinse with boiling water.
NATURAL AIR FRESHENERS
The use of commercial air fresheners is dangerous to parrots.
The only way to really freshen the air is to open windows and circulate fresh air with a fan or air conditioner.
Set out a dish of cut lemons or baking soda to absorb odors.
Simmer on the stovetop or in a slow cooker: water, slices of ginger, spices such as cinnamon, cloves, allspice, vanilla and almond extracts, and lemon and other citrus fruit slices to make your house smell fresh.
GENERAL PEST REMEDIES
Diatomaceous earth (DE) can be sprinkled on areas where pests are found. It contains the spent shells of tiny sea creatures that are sharp enough to damage the exoskeleton and cause insects to dehydrate. DE is harmless to humans and animals. Parrots should not breathe the powder as it is being applied in the aviary. One brand available in natural food markets is "Concern" by Necessary Organics.
Neem--the seed kernels of the Neem tree are rich in limonoids, bitter tasting chemicals that effectively block development, feeding and egg laying in many species of insects. The most powerful limonoid (azadirachtin) has been certified by health authorities in the USA and Europe as being non-toxic to birds, animals and humans, but highly effective against insects.
Ivory liquid dishwashing detergent, diluted with water to a 1 to 2% solution, provides insect control on many plants and is easy to mix. Spray plants until they are drenched.
Frogs, spiders, ladybugs, praying mantis, and dragon flies will help to reduce pest populations around the home and garden.
One bat will eat up to 600 mosquitoes, harmful moths and other insect pest per hour at night. Bats do not attack people or harm pets and can be encouraged to inhabit "bat houses" on your property.
Place some of the birds' discarded soft food in an open Ziploc bag in the evening. By morning, the bag will be full of fruit flies and can be sealed and discarded.
Place saucers of fragrant wine with a few drops of detergent in areas frequented by fruit flies. They will die happy!
Place fragrant fruit such as mango peels in the bottom of wine bottles. Fruit flies go in and cannot get out.
Wash countertops, cabinets, and floor with equal parts vinegar and water to deter ant infestations.
Sprinkle powdered cinnamon on ant trails. Several types of ants will not cross a barrier of cinnamon powder, powdered charcoal, bone meal, talcum powder, or chalk.
Parrot cage legs can be set in shallow pans filled with water--like small moats that ants cannot cross.
Fire ants--Killing the egg -laying queen is the only way to destroy the colony. Choose a day when the ground is dry. Gently sprinkle a teaspoon of instant grits on each fireant hill. The worker ants carry the grits to the queen who eats them. When she drinks water, the grits expand in her stomach and kill her. The remainder of the hill dies within a day.
Prevention--Close off all cracks around pipes and electric lines where roaches enter the house. Use cement, screening, or Brillo pads. Caulk small cracks along baseboards, walls, cupboards, and around pipes, sinks, and bathtub fixtures. Seal food tightly. Rinse food off dishes that are left overnight. Do not leave pet food out overnight.
Release small geckos in your home and aviary. Provide dishes of water for them to drink. They will feast upon the roaches at night in the late evening, and sleep out of sight during daylight hours.
Baking soda and powdered sugar mixed in equal parts and spread around infested area is a non-toxic roach killer.
Diatomaceous earth (DE) can be sprinkled on areas where roaches are seen. Parrots should not breathe the powder as it is being applied in the aviary. One brand available in natural food markets is "Concern" by Necessary Organics Inc.
Freeze bird seeds if possible to kill larvae and store all food in airtight containers.
Place basil leaves or mint teabags in bags or canisters of bird seed to repel moths.
Instead of using toxic mothballs in clothing storage areas, use whole cloves in cheesecloth or spice bags and hang them in closets or stored bags of clothing.
Place sticky fly strips (without pesticides) into an old bird cage or a closed basket out of the reach of children, birds, and other pets. Make your own sticky paper by boiling sugar, corn syrup, and water together. Spread the mixture on brown paper grocery bags. If a bird accidentally contacts fly paper and gets the sticky goo on its feathers, Citra-solv will safely remove it.
To prevent flies, keep garbage containers tightly closed. Sprinkle dry soap powder or flakes into garbage cans after they have been washed and allowed to dry.
In a small glass or jar, pour about one inch of real cider or red wine. Make a cover with saran wrap and a rubber band. Punch about six holes with a bamboo skewer or other shaper object. Flies will crawl in but cannot crawl out.
Avoid wearing perfume, bright colors, flowery prints, and bright jewelry as these items attract mosquitoes.
Burn citronella candles to repel insects.
Neem products repel and affect the development of mosquitoes. Two percent Neem oil mixed in coconut oil, when applied to exposed body parts, provides complete protection for twelve hours from bites of all anophelines.
Place instant mashed potato powder or potato eyes (buds) in strategic places with a dish of water close by. After eating the powder or buds, mice will need water. Drinking water causes fatal bloating.
Use "snap traps" inside a box with an entrance hole large enough only for mice to prevent birds and other pets from being injured.
By using natural methods of cleaning and ridding our homes of pests, we can eliminate two of the major sources of our birds' exposure to toxins.
Winged Wisdom Note: Carolyn Swicegood is a devoted fan of Eclectus parrots. Her aviary, The Land of Vos, specializes in the Vosmaeri subspecies. Carolyn has written for a variety of magazines and currently serves as Associate Editor of "Watchbird" magazine published by the American Federation of Aviculture.
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