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Dear Parrots magazine,

Warning: asparagus proved deadly

In the past British asparagus had a short season and was expensive. As other greens and vegetables are available at this time, it is probably unlikely it has been fed to caged birds. But, supermarkets are now importing asparagus year round from far flung places such as Peru, making it more accessible and bringing down the price.

We recently bought some asparagus and, after checking my books for any advice and not finding any negative comments, I fed some raw offcuts to my collection of parrotlike birds. Fortunately, most of them either left it alone or dropped it on the floor of the aviary. However, a home-bred 7 month-old White-capped Pionus, housed alone, could not follow its parents’ example and ate the four or five small pieces I had given with its normal dish of fruit and vegetables. As I had some left it was given again over the next two days. This bird has since died after a short illness.

After making the potential link, I found that a subsequent search on the internet gives conflicting advice. Little seems to be known about the effects of feeding asparagus. I e-mailed Rosemary Low, but she has not had any experience of birds being tried on asparagus, so could not give me a definitive reply. Rosemary's experience may have sub-consciously warned her against it.

Rosemary has since e-mailed back to let me know that Pauline James has found on the internet that the compound Asparagin (that gives asparagus its distinctive taste), can cause severe stomach upset in parrots.

Pionus are one of the species of parrots that have been observed eating clay from river banks in the rainforest. This is believed to negate any toxins found in their food and this may mean that, without access to this, they are more susceptible.

It is not proven that the asparagus was the cause of death of this bird, but I feel the risk is not worth any potential benefits. I have effectively poisoned my birds and would hate it if anyone else was to do so.

Darren Sefton, Foreign Bird League




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