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Dr. Gwen Flinchum interacts with Sydney, a 13-year-old black palm cockatoo.
Flinchum is owner/veterinarian at the All Bird Clinic of the Palm Beaches.
Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star

 

By Arden Moore

Although the name of my column is called Paws Up for Pets, for this issue, it may be more appropriate to refer to it as Wings Up for Pets. 

In the past decade, I’ve written 24 books on dogs and cats and am certified as a cat and dog behavior consultant with the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. Yes, I know how cats and dogs think, but I confess that I know zilch about pet birds. 

So I am devoting this column to our winged friends and shining the spotlight on one of the nation’s foremost bird experts: Dr. Gwen Flinchum, a veterinarian board certified in avian medicine, who operates the All Bird Clinic in Lake Worth. And for many years, she served on the advisory board of the Wildlife Care Center in Fort Lauderdale.

Step into her clinic and you won’t hear barks or meows. You will see birds of all shapes and colors, ranging from parakeets and cockatiels to African grays and Macaws. Some are accomplished singers and others can charm or confound you with their wordsmith skills. 

“We will treat any type of bird except ostriches — they are far too dangerous,” Flinchum says. “Most clients bring in parakeets and cockatiels, but we see all types of pet birds.

“We even have a clinic bird, a pigeon named Twinkie, who loves greeting people. She’s a smart pigeon, too. When it’s time to put her back in her cage, we open her cage door, tell her to come to get her treat and she flies right into her cage.”

The All Bird Clinic (www.allbirdclinic.net) provides medical, nutritional and behavioral care. I learned from Flinchum that parakeets tend to live about seven years and cockatiels can surpass age 20 if  they receive regular veterinary care and are provided the right nutritional diet. 

“Being on a poor diet of seed is the No. 1 cause of disease in pet birds,” she states. “Feeding your bird seeds is like feeding your children only french fries. Seeds are high in fat and contain no nutrients. Birds need to be on formulated pellet diets.”

Pellets should be the mainstay, but Flinchum says to think orange and green when serving treats to birds. 

“Fresh broccoli, carrots, papaya are healthy treats and some birds enjoy almonds,” she adds. “But don’t give them table food. The biggest reason birds pull out their feathers is because they are not on a good diet. Anything that affects their liver causes them to be itchy and to start pulling out their feathers.” 

Behavior-wise, Flinchum says most types of birds are smart and learn best when their owners are consistent, clear and concise in their training. And just like dogs and cats, many birds form close bonds with their favorite people and enjoy showing off. 

“I love dogs and cats, but I find birds to be so smart and I love that some can talk,” says Flinchum, explaining why she made the decision after graduating from veterinary school 17 years ago to specialize in birds.

Her home in Loxahatchee is within sound of the roar of lions residing at Lion Country Safari. She shares her home with a pair of beloved dogs named Sophie and Lucy, but the passion in her voice heightens when she starts to talk about her flock of 17 birds that include personality-plus African gray parrots named Pandora, Kamtoris and Baby Dora.

The first two she brought back from South Africa, where she lived with her then-husband 25 years ago. Both birds are bilingual, happily singing out au revoir when Flinchum prepares to leave for work each day. Baby Dora’s favorite line to recite is unique: “I see a butt and I’m going to kiss that butt.”

I didn’t know what to say when the good veterinarian informed me of that linguistic talent of Baby Dora. 

And then there is Freddy, a friendly female flamingo who chaperones Flinchum and her close friends in their regular ritual of strolling to the edge of her five-acre property to watch sunset and sip wine or Champagne. 

“We hang out with Freddy and then she goes back to the aviary by herself,” says Flinchum. “The next time you’re in the area, you should join us.”

Now, I’ve sipped wine in the company of dogs and cats, but never in front of a flamingo. It’s an opportunity I don’t intend to miss. But when attending a wine party featuring a flamingo, does one bring red or white — or blush?

Arden Moore, founder of fourleggedlife.com, is an animal behavior consultant, editor, author, professional speaker and certified pet first aid master instructor. She happily shares her home with two dogs, two cats and one overworked vacuum cleaner. Tune in to her Oh Behave! show on PetLifeRadio.com and learn more by visiting www.fourleggedlife.com.

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