Laurella Desborough's Eclectus Center

"Toe-Tapping" in Eclectus Parrots

Laurella Desborough

When the discussion of toe-tapping comes up, we look for the cause, the reason, and generally, that is ONE cause...too much of this or that creating an imbalance.

There can be many causes of toe tapping and wing flipping.

First, a serious infection with swelling of organs inside the body which presses upon the nerves leading to the feet and toes.

Second, an adult hen coming into reproductive mode, with the reproductive organs enlarging to reach active status (when non-reproductive, the organs are "closed/folded/shrunk" into smaller size to increase flight mobility), and the arrangement of those organs happens to be such that some are pressing against the nerves leading to the feet and toes.

Third, and probably the leading cause, is improper or inadequate diet, leading to a mineral imbalance in the bird's physical system leading to muscle spasms which cause the toes to open and close, thus causing the toe nails to "tap" on the perch in a patterned repetitive fashion. This is especially noticeable at rest time for the bird, or when the bird sleeps at night....because the environment is quiet and you can hear the taps. You cannot simply say it is a calcium problem, it is more complex.

Fourth, light wing flipping during the night is relatively common for caged birds that do not get enough flight exercise during the day...the muscles need to be used and the wings do mild flips during the night. This is not thought to have any relationship to the basic toe-tapping/wing-flipping problem, which occurs during the waking hours. The toe-tapping/ wing-flipping at night that is extreme and appears to be disturbing the bird's rest is considered to be a problem event.

I would like to posit the idea that there may be an interaction of more than one item, chemicals/minerals/vitamins (natural & man-made), phytoestrogens, etc. In addition, there may be individual susceptibility or vulnerability in a specific bird, that is greater at one time than at another. For instance, after the bird has been through a drug treatment process, after the bird has completed hand rearing process, during or immediately after a moult, the bird may be more subject to toe-tapping.

No definitive work has been done to identify the reason for toe-tapping. To my knowledge, no definitive work has been done to establish the dietary requirements of eclectus parrots. No state or federal standards exist regarding exotic avian diets.

Quality control at the manufacturering plants depends entirely on the company's protocols, and also on their monitoring system for checking the product routinely to see that it is meeting the pre-determined ratio of ingredients.

Do all bird food manufacturing companies even have a quality control system??? We do not know.

What we do know is that there have been instances where different bird food companies had cases of product that were improperly formulated, or contained contaminating bacteria, or contained heavy metals (metal "chips" from the grinding machines) and ended up killing birds. I know of at least 3 companies with such problems one in Europe and two in the U.S...(no names will be provided).

Then, add to this mixture, the new hybridized seeds. Are they the "same" as the non-hybridized seeds? I don't think so. Not according to one scientist who carefully compared the chemistry of non-hybrid soybeans with that of hybrid soybeans. He listed at least two natural components which were missing from the hybrid soybean.

What effect will this have on our birds? We do not know.

The most recent Watchbird, May/June 2000, contains an article about the phytochemicals in veggies and fruits, and discusses the role they play in maintaining health: "The Medicinal Value of Plant Food" by Alicia McWatters, Ph.D.

Toe tapping seems to be a phenomenon most often found in eclectus parrots in a pet situation....where diet might be less regulated or monitored.

One thing I notice about young birds that are weaning is that some individuals will select one or two items and eat an awful lot of that item for a period of a week or two or more, then go on to another item and focus on it. It could be that specific bird did chow down on the pellets to a great degree for a brief period, resulting in toe tapping, which stopped eventually as the bird began to expand his choice of food items. These youngsters who do focus on one item pass through this period and eventually expand their interest in foods greatly.

I cannot remember a time when the problem occurred with vosmaeri youngsters or adults... but I have had it happen to one Red-sided adult, when feeding the hen with chicks in the nest when the male over loaded on pellets.

I have had very few youngsters develop this condition, unless I purposefully fed them vitamins on their soft foods in order to demonstrate toe tapping.

As with people, individual birds can have allergies or have certain vulnerabilities which are not necessarily found in the entire eclectus subspecies.

Regarding the pet birds on the various chat lists...it appears that these pet owners, because they like their birds and are trying to be good to them, are offering them treats containing vitamins, and foods containing chemicals/preservatives/coloring agents, or vitaminized seeds. The birds appear to be over-supplemented with vitamins, creating some kind of chemical imbalance as Scott has described.

I have not heard of that many eclectus breeders having the problem of toe tapping with their birds.

Perhaps we should ask our veterinary advisor to address the toe tapping issue with some comments.