Q: We bought a baby blue and gold macaw two years ago. Last year, we got a baby Catalina macaw, and they are both very nice family pets. When the birds were young, they played together in the rough-and-tumble manner of puppies, and their tail feathers were always bent and broken. However, now that they are older, that youthful play has passed. They have lost the broken feathers, and long, beautiful ones have grown in to replace them. This spring both of them are molting, and the long tail feathers are falling out, one by one. It seems such a pity to throw them out (and we can hang only so many on our wall). I heard there are companies that distribute them to native peoples to use in ceremonies. Can you tell me a bit more about this? --Kathy Green, Ronkonkoma
A: Molted feathers should be removed from your bird's cage immediately. If a bird starts to play with one and realizes how much fun it is, then it may start to pull the feathers or bite off bits of them to play with and otherwise amuse itself. It does seem to be a pity to throw them out, as feathers are a remarkable product of nature.
A number of cultures use feathers of all sorts in the creation of crafts that have been handed down from one generation to the next for thousands of years. Now that many wild bird populations are no longer available to harvest feathers from, they are dependent on the naturally molted feathers from domesticated birds. There are many organizations that coordinate the distribution of donated feathers to the people who need them. One such group is wingwise.com/feather.htm.
Q: I was grooming my husky outdoors this morning, as she is losing her winter coat. As the fur was falling off her in clumps and blowing about on the patio, I saw a little bird -- a sparrow, I guess -- that kept flying down to the patio and grabbing bits of the fur in its beak and flying off with it. Was the bird using the fur to build a nest? I brush my dogs every day, and I can collect bags of fur and was wondering it if is OK to leave out for the birds to use. If so, what is the best way to leave the fur out for them? --Alice Weller, Great Neck
A: Yes, that is exactly what the bird was doing. With all the ruination of the natural habitat, the birds that are trying to eke out an existence here have a hard time finding nesting material. I have seen birds using odd items such as newspaper and scraps of aluminum foil, as they have not been able to find enough natural fibers. Dog hair is very good for lining birds' nests. As a kid, I had a collie who had a very nice coat and I was always cutting off her fur and giving it to my pet canaries and finches to build their nests with.
The best way to present the fur for the birds to use is to put it in an onion bag or some other type of mesh sack and hang it near an exposed branch of a tree. That way, the birds can sit on the branch and pull the fur out.
This is a nice way to turn trash into treasure.