For the love of the birds and the bees

0614parrotstorypicBy Kathleen Grey

Do you remember learning in school about the use of canaries in coal mines to detect gas? This was done to help save miners from the silent killers: methane or carbon monoxide. The lungs of canaries, like all birds, are so fragile that they would die very quickly when exposed to the gas and their death served as a warning to evacuate the mine.

Today, bees are giving us a similar warning; but is anyone listening? Can the same toxins that are killing bees do harm to our parrots or the wild birds that visit your garden?

Some scientists are beginning to take note of what naturalists, holistic health and naturopath professionals are saying: that genetically modified (GM) crop seeds are directly affecting the bee population.

Research has shown that some bees are dying of digestive tract diseases. What is most alarming is that autopsies of bees indicate that the lower intestines are discoloured to black, which is synonymous with colon cancer in humans.

Pet bird owners should be concerned since the main ingredient in most bird pellets is corn and soybean, two crops that are nearly all genetically modified in North America.

The other danger, thought to cause the depleting bee population is a class of chemicals known as neonictinoids or neonics for short.

Over the past several years there has been a significant increase in the use of neonics, a derivative of nicotine. It is thought to be a better choice from a human perspective because it has lower toxicity in mammals than insects. However, some say that this insecticide is not only contributing to bee losses but also to the death of thousands of wild birds that eat treated or contaminated seed. (See American Bird Conservancy’s The impact of the nation’s most widely used insecticides on birds)

Neonics, developed in the 1990s, currently represent more than 80 per cent of all seed treatments and 25 to 30 per cent of insecticides used in the world. Approximately 10 per cent of packaged garden seeds for home gardening are treated with neonics.

Neonics, like nicotine, bind to neuroreceptors in the central and peripheral nervous systems. While low to moderate activation of these receptors causes nervous stimulation, high levels over stimulate and block the receptors, causing paralysis and death in insects and wild birds. A single corn kernel and even a small grain of wheat or canola, coated or treated with a neonicotinoid can kill a songbird. 1

There are no regulations for pet bird or wild bird food in North America. Keeping your pets and wild birds safe is entirely up to you. To ensure their safety, it’s recommended that you stay with well-known brands and reputable companies that make a conscious effort to ensure your parrots or wild birds are safe. You can avoid GM ingredients by choosing organic or non-GMO brands for both your pet and wild bird mixes and select garden seeds that have not been treated with neonicotinoids.

1 American Bird Conservancy

—Kathleen Grey is the owner of Parrotdise Perch, the largest parrot specialty store in Canada, with locations in Calgary, AB and Mississauga, ON. Kathleen is an advocate of positive reinforcement training. Visit