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Essential reading for those that care about parrots

Our review» of The Tacoma News Tribune's November 9, 2008 article on Mira Tweti, bringing us back to the situation in Pierce County, WA.

Alex is the proof: Parrots deserve protection

with Tacoma News Tribune reader's comments. Our followup and commentary» to the August 21, 2007 Pierce County Council meeting in the light of the lessons we should all learn from Alex's life and untimely passing.

Historical parrot engraving

FEAR AND LOATHING IN PIERCE COUNTY—A Savage Journey to the Heart of a Dream of Compassion

Sides are drawn in Pierce County, and not to the benefit of the parrots».

Hopes…and Lives, Lost

A new witness account» of conditions observed at the Scudders' breeding facility.

Parrots married 50 years
Historical parrot engraving
Historical parrot engraving
OverviewChronologyNews ArticlesDocumentsCourt CaseNecropsy ReportsFeeding Time

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 nutritionally-inadequate food?

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. …No 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 pellets…. There's milo and millet."
Q: And I apologize if I asked already asked you this. Do you know where Martha is currently getting her seed?
A: Animal Supply.
Q: She is still getting it there?
A: 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 [here»]).
  • 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, 2006.

Photo No. 1
Photo No. 2
Photo No. 3
Photo No. 4
Photo No. 5
Photo No. 7

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 "Aspergillus", below).

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, shortly.)

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 box.)

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.

Photo No. 6

Laboratory Results

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:

Mold speciesLowMediumHighOBSERVED
Mucor SP<10 cfu/gm*100>1,000800
Penicillium SP<1001,000>100,000119,200
Total Mold Count<1001,000>100,000120,000
* a "cfu" is a colony-forming-unit, that is, viable and capable of growing into a whole colony when cultured

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 responses.

Mold speciesLowMediumHighOBSERVED
Aspergillus Flavus<10 cfu/gm100>1,000300
Mucor SP<10100>1,00068,700 (NOT A TYPO)
Penicillium SP<1001,000>100,0001,000
Total Yeast Count<1001,000>100,00019,000
Total Mold Count<1001,000>100,00070,000

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).
    * Summarized from http://moldtestkit.com/moldglossary.html and http://www.toxicmoldusa.com/mold_glossary.htm

In terms of testing for basic nutritional content, analysis showed the following:

 Pea MixDaily Seed Mix
Crude fiber4.0%4.6%

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.
Preliminary screens 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 Pea Mix.)

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.

Initial Observations

The individual that ordered this mix made several observations about the sight and smell as they opened the box. Below, their direct quotes:

  • 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

(photo added August 4, 2006)
Photo No. 9
Second Batch—Seed Mix

(photo added August 4, 2006)

Laboratory Results

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 rancidity occurring.

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 content:

Moisture Content

“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 husbandry—at the very least, good hygiene and food storage practices. The final paragraph in the article ties in with the most consistent observation we’ve made about the MS Diet feed we’ve received—if 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 manufacturer’s 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 documented.

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 provided.

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 further.

Feeding Practices

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 portions.)
  • 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 little.
  • 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 fryers.
  • 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 better."
  • 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 full):

    "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.

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