Feeding Time at Scudder's Parrot Depot
Analysis of bird feed sold by Parrot Depot and advertised as what
they feed to their own birds, followed by an eyewitness account of feeding
practices at Parrot Depot.
Bird Feed Analysis—First Batch
The incidence of necropsies characterized by marked wasting, even
total loss of body fat, in birds from Scudder Parrot Depot is striking. The
presence of extremely thin, live birds with protruding keel bones was
also noted by Dr. Tracy Bennett during her inspection in 2003. So the question
arises: were the birds not getting fed, or were they getting fed
The evidence from Scudder v. Gallawa already suggested the latter.
Dr. Bennett noted that, in addition to an excess of oil-rich sunflower seeds,
the birds were being fed a "grain mixture, which may be obtained from a feed
store [which] should not be obtained from sources meant for farm
animals. Food for farm animals (horses, cows etc.) is often tainted with
aflatoxins (fungal toxins), which are very deadly to birds.
fresh fruit or vegetables were included in the diet."
Delving further into testimony from Scudder v. Gallawa, we found
additional evidence that the food purchased to feed the birds at Parrot Depot
was of low quality and composed of a large percentage of filler.
Kathy Scudder noted, in her Deposition, that feed was ordered from a place
called Animal Supply which sells wild bird food ([here»]).Furthermore,
she testified that:
||"she [Martha Scudder] would order
milo, she would order millet. There's beet pulp
. There's milo and millet."
||And I apologize if I asked already asked you
this. Do you know where Martha is currently getting her seed?
||She is still getting it there?
||Yeah. She has her own account there now, as far
as I know
..But all birds get the same diet.
If we had a diet for each specific bird or specie, it would be prohibitive to
feed because there is a lot of birds that are only nectar-eating birds, and
some birds are only fruit-eating birds and so [on]...
In other words, not only did Martha Scudder purportedly buy grain
and seed intended for exotic birds from sources fit only for wild birds and
farm animals, she allegedly was feeding all her different species of birds the
same diet—a cardinal error in avian husbandry. On top of that, a large
part of the diet was made up by milo, beet root pellets and millet:
- MILO is a low-cost filler akin to sorghum that is not well
accepted even by wild birds (for an image on a site where it's for sale, look
- BEET PULP PELLETS are usually fed to horses, and only recently
and uncommonly to dogs or cats. To our knowledge, they have never been studied
for efficacy or safety in exotic birds.
- MILLET, a tiny seed in clusters, is obviously not a preferred
food for large psittacines.
We wanted to find out if this unpalatable and
inadequately-nutritious diet was still being fed at Parrot Depot. One can buy
Scudder's "MS Diet," at the Parrots Pantry Online Store [here»]*,
advertised right on the order form as the same as
is fed to their own birds:
* As of
July 29, 2006—one day after the launch of this website—it appears
this link no longer works. The snapshot above was taken on July 23,
We arranged to obtain bags of both the seed mix and "pea" mix.
General Appearance, Smell—and Allergic Reaction!
The food arrived in two regular "baggies" both lacking any
standard seal. One arrived split with the contents leaking out; the other was
torn near the zip top. [Photo No. 1] The so-called "pea mix" contained
more seeds and grains than peas, more beans than peas. One of the seed
varieties in this unpalatable pea mix was milo, a seed that is often used as
cheap filler in wild bird seed though not recommended even as a quality wild
bird food. It is certainly unsuitable for feeding exotics. This same "pea" mix
also contained a large percentage of dried corn kernels, always a concern with
regard to growth of mold and production of mold-derived mycotoxins (see
The seed mix was difficult to examine in the bag because the
extremely large amount of amorphous, inedible debris was striking. [Photo
No. 2] Sunflower seed, again corn kernels
these are obvious. There
appeared to be a good amount of the cheaper white proso millet, and various
other grains and seeds. Not as easy to identify by sight were brown pieces of
what looked like dog kibble (see eyewitness statement toward the end of this
page). Dog kibble of this size is formulated for dogs that can weigh over 100
pounds, not parrots that weigh in at between 400-700 grams, on average. (16-25
ounces) There were also yellow chunks of what we could only call "mystery
matter"; it did not resemble anything the editors had seen in any type of
parrot food to date, nor did research into parrot food reveal anything that
resembled this yellow "mystery matter" [Photos No. 3 and No. 4]
Upon initially opening the shipping box, the "pea" mix had spilled
and emanated a sickening oily, rancid-like stench. The seed mix
emitted a different but equally disgusting dense, musty smell.
Opening the seed mix induced in the observer very shortly thereafter an
indisputable allergic reaction, characterized by runny eyes
swollen almost shut. The member of the Editorial Board who had received this
batch of the mix and had experienced the allergic reaction happened to be
visited that evening by another family member. The Editor asked them to witness
the allergic reaction—including eyes so inflamed that looked like they
"had been smeared with red lipstick." They became so alarmed they wanted the
Editor use their Epi pen—a prescription injection for severe allergic
reactions. (The likely explanation for this reaction will be discussed below,
The family member had been seated close to the box and recoiled at
the stench when it was opened, later describing the smell as "oily, rancid,
fatty and disgusting." (It was then that it was discovered the box contained
two zip-type baggies with no protective packaging and that the bag containing
the "pea" mix had split completely open spilling contents throughout the
Directions and Labelling
The Pea Mix directions failed to mention any
pre-soaking period which is usually used to remove toxic compounds from
some beans in bean mixes.
Additionally, the labeling for both feed packages [Photos No. 5
and No. 6] were in violation of Washington State Law in failing to adhere
to various stated requirements regarding proper disclosure of contents.
Analysis for molds for the Pea Mix revealed:
- a borderline elevated level of Mucor species (800 cfu/gm; low
level being <10 and medium being 100); and
- an elevated level of Penicillium species (119,200 cfu/g; low
being <100, medium being 1,000, and high being > 100,000).
Testing for Aspergillus, Fusarium,
and Candida showed negative. Total mold was 120,000, with a high being defined
as >100,000 cfu/g:
* a "cfu" is a colony-forming-unit, that is, viable and capable of growing into a whole colony when cultured
|Mucor SP||<10 cfu/gm*||100||>1,000||800
|Total Mold Count||<100||1,000||>100,000||120,000
Mold analysis results for the Daily Seed Mix (which induced
the allergic reaction) were even more striking. Aspergillus flavus at 300 cfu/g
was medium-high; yeast was medium-high at 19,000. Penicillium species were
medium at 1000 cfu/g. Mucor SP and total molds were astronomically high at
68,700 and 70,000 cfu/g, respectively. Clearly, this level of mold
contamination was capable of explaining the immediate human allergic
|Aspergillus Flavus||<10 cfu/gm||100||>1,000||300
|Mucor SP||<10||100||>1,000||68,700 (NOT A TYPO)
|Total Yeast Count||<100||1,000||>100,000||19,000
|Total Mold Count||<100||1,000||>100,000||70,000
Some additional background*:
- PENICILLIUM is found in the soil, in food, grains, indoors
dust, and decaying food materials. It is an allergenic mold (can cause
allergies in people) with certain species known to be toxic (produce
mycotoxins). It is a common cause of asthma.
- MUCOR is found in soil, dead plant material, animal droppings,
fruits, and fruit juice, and is commonly present in household dust. Mucor can
cause lung infections and destructive infections of the face in people who have
weak immune systems.
- ASPERGILLUS—a genus of fungi containing approximately 150
recognized species. Members of this genus have been recovered from a variety of
habitats, but are especially common as saprophytes on decaying vegetation,
soils, stored food, feed products. All Aspergillus should be considered
allergenic. Various Aspergillus species are a common cause of asthma,
potentially leading to further complications including emphysema. Many species
produce mycotoxins which may be associated with disease in humans and other
animals; some of these toxins have been found to be carcinogenic and are
considered potential human carcinogens.
- Aspergillus Flavus—Approximately 50% of the strains are
capable of producing mycotoxins in the aflatoxin group. Aflatoxins are a known
animal carcinogen. There is limited evidence to suggest that this toxin is also
a human carcinogen. Moreover, the toxin is poisonous to humans by
ingestion and may directly affect the liver. This fungus may also result in
disease via inhalation (aspergillosis).
In terms of testing for basic
nutritional content, analysis showed the following:
| ||Pea Mix||Daily Seed Mix
While the average fat content of 8% (mixing the two as suggested
by "Parrot Pantry") might be appropriate for some birds (outdoor or flighted),
it would appear to be excessive for indoor sedentary birds. Further, the fat
content should come from higher quality sources than all seeds—let alone
moldy wild bird seed.
In an attempt to restore a semblance of nutritional adequacy, Mr.
Vincent apparently adds a number of nutrients, but the quantities of these are
not provided on the label. Regardless, the bulk of any additive would wind up
in the debris or remain on the discarded husks.
A vitamin analysis is pending.
showed that the feed did NOT contain aflatoxin B1 or pesticide. Other mycotoxin
assays are pending.
The regular food that Parrot Depot apparently feeds all their
birds (regardless of species; cf. deposition of K. Scudder) and which
they are selling commercially at a price equal to that of of quality mixes and
balanced pelleted diets appears to be made up of inferior
farm feed and grains intended for wild birds. Both of these are
contaminated by large amounts of mold toxic to
humans and likely to birds. (Not to mention spoilage, based on the smell of the
The fat content of the mixed products (as suggested) is not only
excessive for some of the indoor, sedentary birds but largely consists of
sunflower and safflower seed oils instead of higher quality oils such as those
from nuts (as well as fruits and vegetables). When additions were occasionally
made to the Parrot Depot birds' diet (see deposition of K. Scudder),
they were usually of trash quality.
Laboratory results to date have validated—almost
verbatim—the clinical concerns of Dr.Tracy Bennett regarding feeding
practices at Parrot Depot. It is no surprise that so many birds at this
facility showed signs of malnutrition, if not starvation. Still, it was
unexpected that Parrot Depot feed mix could consistently (see Second Batch,
following) pose a health hazard to susceptible individuals.
Bird Feed Analysis—Second Batch
We felt it was important to examine another batch of feed and see
if findings were consistent. Poor packaging, odor, chunks of what appears to be
dog kibble in the seed mix were all present again, including the allergic
reaction. However, while advertised as a monthly subscription, the content
itself appeared to vary from our first batch—meaning, there's no
guarantee of what you'll receive month to month.
The individual that ordered this mix made several observations
about the sight and smell as they opened the box. Below, their direct
- Pea Mix—"What the heck is this stuff? It's hard to
say what it smells like, but it smells oily and nasty."
- Daily Seed Mix—"It has some kind of chemical
smell; this stuff smells oily too, and something else bad. I don't know what it
is, but that stuff stinks—no, really, it stinks."
- Concluding—"It doesn't smell like any ***** bird food
I've ever smelled!"
As with many individuals the Editors interviewed researching the
material for this site, this person requested anonymity. We will note, however,
that they have years of experience feeding birds and immediately recognized by
sight and smell that this is not quality feed.
The Pea Mix did not contain beans as did the first batch.
Both contained more dry corn than peas. The total amount of feed was also
substantially less by weight (the bags were not weighed but the difference was
obvious). The majority of the mix was again comprised of the same types of
cheap filler found in the first: milo seed and other seeds and grains
consistent with pigeon feed. The mix also smelled as did the first batch.
The Daily Seed Mix had a much higher proportion of black
sunflower seeds than did the first batch. The bag had several punctures and had
spilled out some contents. (Again, no protective packaging.) This mix also
contained what looked like dog kibble (see eyewitness statement, below),
only smaller chunks—but in more quantity than in the first batch. There
were hardly any dry corn kernels in it, another inconsistency with the first
batch. The mix also smelled as did the first batch.
Sadly, the most consistent factor between the two batches is the
smell. Laboratory tests are pending, although we would expect similar results:
food which smells bad and which induces allergic reactions is not fit to be fed
to any living creature.
Photo No. 8
Second Batch—Pea Mix
August 4, 2006)
Photo No. 9
Second Batch—Seed Mix
added August 4, 2006)
This second batch of product was sent for analysis to exclude the
possibility of a random, isolated problem.
The types of results seen in the analysis of the first batch point
clearly to the poor handling of feed. Below are excerpts from an article
discussing rancidity specifically as it pertains to handling feed for birds.
The article is from Clinical Avian Medicine Volume I; Greg
Harrison, Teresa Lightfoot (eds) HBD Publications.
Altering tissue structure mechanically (hulling, grinding,
and crushing in the case of vegetable matter or maceration in the case of
animal tissue) releases lipases.
Grains damaged at harvest also allow this lipase release to
occur. Similarly, micro-organisms (fungal contaminants) contain lipases that
cause hydrolysis of fats
.Expressing the oil from seeds increases the
surface area being exposed to oxygen, which can increase the possibility of
The production of lipid hydroperoxides does not appear to alter
flavor. Lipid hydroperoxides deteriorate to aldehydes in the presence of
oxygen. These do alter flavor and palatability. Alcohols and hydro-carbons are
also produced. These latter products have been reported to be mutagenic. Rancid
fats can lead to selenium and vitamin E deficiencies implicated in
encephalomalacia, pancreatitis, myocardial necrosis, hepatic necrosis and
general myopathy. Biochemical analysis of affected birds blood may show
anemia, elevated lactate dehydrogenase (LDH), aspartate amino-transferase
(AST), creatinine phosphate (CK) and phosphorous levels. Many of these
conditions are not reversible.
The article goes on to discuss the importance of proper handling
and storage, packaging, and safe cooking techniques to avoid rancidity. The
following paragraph from the article addresses the importance of moisture
Lowering the moisture content of a product also acts as a
stabilizer. Moisture plays a vital chemical role in most oxidation processes.
Levels below 5% are often required to deter degradation. The author (GIH) has
shown that these low moisture levels cause minor proventricular irritation
evidenced by excessive regurgitation and minor weight loss in some pet umbrella
cockatoos. Even at these low [emphasis ours] moisture levels,
over time non-free water is all lipases need to act. Non-free water
cannot be removed by drying.
Note that the recommended moisture levels are to be kept below 5%.
The results from the first batch of feed tested showed moisture content of the
Pea Mix to be 13.2%; the Daily Seed Mix to be 10.8%. The results
for the second batch were only marginally better, showing moisture contents of
11.6% and 8.3% respectively.
This article is based on extensive scientific research and
documentation, and in the end still comes down to common sense and sound avian
husbandryat the very least, good hygiene and food storage practices. The
final paragraph in the article ties in with the most consistent observation
weve made about the MS Diet feed weve receivedif it smells
bad, it most likely is bad:
For these reasons, all foods need to be smelled
when first opened. If they smell like old frying grease
or linseed oil they are rancid. (emphasis ours) A taste test
should be observed when first offering a new bag of food to the bird. If the
bird acts hungry but rejects the food it might be rancid. Rancid foods should
not be fed. Following the manufacturers directions for handling the food
and shelf life will usually prevent rancidity problems.
The same stench permeated the products in the second batch, again attesting to the presence
of some kind of spoilage (again presumably oxidation or rancidity). An allergic
reaction was again elicited, but was considerably less, matching much lower
levels ("low to medium") of molds.
The striking finding was the presence in the Daily Seed Mix
sample of significant levels (5000 cfu/g) of Fusarium . Fusarium
spp. produce a number of mycotoxins (including tricothecenes; zearalenone;
vomitoxin orDON, and fumonisins) which are toxic both to humans and to a
number of species of animals [here»].
Ingestion of grains contaminated with these toxins may give rise to allergic
symptoms, or may be carcinogenic (especially esophageal cancer) to people [here»]
.They have also been responsible for causing ulcers, necrosis, and other
lesions of the skin in addition to infections in some organs and tissue [
here»] and may
cause severe infections of the cornea (keratitis) in contact lens users.
Fusarium was , in fact, the fungal contaminant leading to the recent
mass recall of Bausch and Lomb ReNu contact lens solution [here»].
Both batches of feed were reported to smell bad, oily, and rancid.
Both batches caused allergic reactions to the observer, who is allergic to
mold; laboratory results confirmed the presence of mold in both batches,
dangerously high in the first, and of grave concern in the second. Independent
laboratory results confirm our obervations and expectations: a simple smell test—as the Clinical
Avian Medicine article suggests—was enough to tell us this feed
had gone bad and was completely unfit for consumption.
We'll announce any further findings here.
Feeding Practices Eyewitness Account
Interview with Frances Davidson*—July 13, 2006
Ms. Davidson lives close to the Parrot Depot facility and is
herself an experienced breeder of parrots. She no longer runs an aviary, but
has over 20 years experience with exotic birds. Prior to the death of John
Scudder, Sr., she was welcome at the Scudder's bird farm; the majority of her
observations are from the time period up to his death in 2002. Her eyewitness
statements go far in establishing the years-long history of abuse, neglect, and
poor husbandry at this farm, and as Ms. Davidson remarks, "A horse doesn't
change its colors"—certainly consistent with the results we have
Following are short vignettes from an interview describing various
aspects of the husbandry at the Martha Scudder Bird Farm. There was no attempt
in the interview to systematically cover all aspects of parrot husbandry. The
vignettes were chosen to illustrate the major points Ms. Davidson specifically
wished the Editorial Board to convey regarding the unacceptable level of bird
care provided there. In view of the central issue of starvation at Parrot
Depot, most deal with feeding practices; however, one story unrelated to
feeding was chilling enough to present as it appears to tie in with testimony
about birds being thrown into the trash or dump at Parrot Depot.
* Ms. Davidson has given us her express
permission to quote her and otherwise use the information she
Birds on Ice
Ms. Davidson recounted an episode which occurred in the early
90's; her best estimate was either 1993 or 1994. John Scudder Sr. took her out
to one of his "big barns" where there were several freezers: tall double-door
type and chest freezers. Ms. Davidson only saw the contents of one of the
chest-type freezers: a deep heap of many dead parrots. When asked, "What on
earth are all of those dead birds doing in there?" John Sr. claimed that they
had something to do with an upcoming tax audit but refused to elaborate
We have collected a representative selection of Ms. Davidson's
observations of feeding practices during Martha and John Sr.'s tenure.
- Ms. Davidson observed John Scudder, Sr. adding
Friskie's dog kibble to the seed mix he was preparing for their
parrots. When she expressed her outrage, John Sr. waved her off with a
dismissive laugh, insisting, "Oh, they love the stuff!" Judging by
the feed we analyzed, this practice appears to have not changed.
- On several occasions, Ms. Davidson observed the Scudders
preparing their seed mix. They would stir it in a concrete mixer. This mixer
appeared to never have been washed and was totally encrusted—they simply
poured new batches of feed right on top to mix them.
- Martha fed her parrots two base diets: a wet cooked "pea mix"
as she called it, and a dry seed mix—again, consistent with the feed
we received. Ms. Davidson observed her practice of dumping the wet mix in
the bottom of the parrot feeding dishes, then the dry seed mix on top. After
seeing how dirty the dishes were, she asked Martha if she ever washed them. Ms.
Davidson said Martha laughed and said "No, they eat every bit of what's in
there, no need to wash them." Ms. Davidson at this point said that in her
opinion the birds were starving, being fed entirely too little, so no surprise
they would eat everything given to them. (See following note on
- Ms. Davidson on many occasions had the opportunity to observe
John Sr. and Martha feed their parrots. They measured out feed with "old small
used tuna cans." A pair of amazons or cockatoos was fed only one
can-full of the cooked pea (pigeon) mix topped with the dry seed mix. In Ms.
Davidson's experience, the amount she saw being fed was entirely too
- Martha believed in using wheat germ oil as a nutritional
supplement, but found it was too expensive. To aid in dispersing the wheat germ
oil through the seed mix, she would "cut" it with a larger quantity of the
cheapest vegetable oil she could find: strained oil left over from restaurant
- The base constituents for their "pea mix," the portion of their
feed which is cooked before being fed, was pigeon mix supplied from Tradewinds
Feeds—we contacted Tradewinds Feeds, and their description of their
pigeon mix fits the Pea Mix we obtained and analyzed, above.
- One of the Scudder's main suppliers for their non-cooked seed
mix was American Feed, a supplier of feed for farm animals.
- The Scudders would add chicken layer pellets to the seed
mix in hopes of stimulating production in the breeder hens. This cheap poultry
feed would not, in fact, increase productivity in breeding parrots, a fact
which Ms. Davidson confirmed in a conversation with one of Martha's own
veterinarians. —Not being familiar with poultry feed, we did some
research. Feeding chicken "layer" pellets is standard practice...for
chickens whose eggs are going to be eaten. Feeding parrots a diet
intended for poultry is yet another glaring example of unsound avian husbandry.
Even if their idea had any merit at all, they would have fed "breeder pellets,"
which have extra nutrients to optimize fertility and the viability of hatched
chicks. So... wrong to start with (poultry feed for parrots!), and wrong feed
on top of it (feeding to get lots of eggs to eat, not eggs to hatch!). The
apologists would say at least this is not as heinous as feeding parrots rancid
hot dogs... No, wait! they do that too (see last bullet, below). [For a website
discussing poultry feed, look [here»].]
- Martha would add Spirulina as a food additive. The recommended
amount is less than 1% and when used in this fashion this additive barely tints
the food a light green. Martha was adding Spirulina at 10%, thereby turning the
food almost black. Her theory was, "If 1% is good, 10% must be 10 times
- John Sr. was well aware of the dangers the harsh winters
imposed on his birds. Having already had birds lose toes to freezing
temperatures, he wanted to come up with an idea to "keep the birds moving
around." John's theory was that if the birds stayed active, they would generate
heat and therefore would have less chance of losing their toes to the elements
in the unheated barns. His "solution" was to put Karo Syrup in their water,
figuring that having the birds "hyped up on sugar" would "keep them hopping".
(Karo Syrup is corn syrup, you can visit their website [here»].)
- When asked if Martha and John fed any "fresh foods" to their
parrots, Ms. Davidson laughed and said she wouldn't have called them "fresh":
the main times these birds received fruits and vegetables was when Martha or
John could negotiate cheap prices with a local fruit stand on produce they
planned to throw out anyway because it couldn't be sold. Other than that, she
only saw Martha occasionally throw some potatoes into the cooked pea mix and on
rare occasions, some carrots.
- Subsequent to the interview, Ms. Davidson wrote to us with one
more comment about the Scudder's feeding practices (quoted here in
"I just remembered something else that John Sr. did, he
bought out large lots of old outdated Hot Dogs from a meat supplier and fed
them to the Birds. He said it was a good protein source for them. He gave some
to my Husband to try on our Birds. I took one whiff of them and said no way.
They were rancid ! ! He said his Birds just loved them. I
guess when you are starving you will eat anything. Just think of the
chemicals in those things!"
The Broader Implications
The Editorial Board considers this analysis to be a perfect
example of why examinations by avian-savvy veterinarians of all the major
aspects of husbandry should be required of any commercial breeder of exotic
birds. If such an examination had not been forced upon the Scudder's Parrot
Depot, those conditions of large numbers of avian deaths by inadquate nutrition
and disease would have continued to go on unchecked and unchallenged.
Certainly, casual examination of parrots at a "bird farm"
by people not adequately versed in avian physiology and disease is totally
insufficient to justify any claim that abusive conditions do not exist.