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Pet Q&A: Is lighting linked to birds' feather woes?

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 7D

Are fluorescent lights bad for birds? I have read online that they cause feather-picking.

– Via email

I asked board-certified avian specialist Dr. Brian Speer (my "Birds for Dummies" co-author) for help with this one. He has his doubts that there's any problem with having birds in rooms lit by energy- saving compact fluorescent lights.

"Although there is a different flicker frequency that birds see as compared to ourselves, there is no confirmed direct causation between feather-damaging behavior and fluorescent lighting," says Speer, who owns the Medical Center for Birds, a birds-only practice in the Northern California town of Oakley.

He doesn't rule out fluorescent lights completely, however, at least as a contributory factor to the problem. Feather-picking is complex behavior, he stresses.

"This type of light may function as a stressor, and it is possible that some stressors may trigger anxiety," says Speer. "Anxiety may be addressed by displacement behavioral activities, and of these, feather damage could be seen.

"But this is a bit of a simplistic 'cause and effect' assumption for a problem that more often than not is multifactorial in nature," he says.

Stopping feather-picking, in other words, will remain a difficult road for many bird owners, with a lot of strategies employed along the way to find the magic ingredients to the cure – if it can be found at all.

– Gina Spadafori

The buzz

Disney crew includes lot of veterinarians

• Working for the Walt Disney Co. is no Mickey Mouse affair if you're a veterinarian. Dr. Mark Stetter, recently named as dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at Colorado State University, leaves behind a big job at Disney. DVM360.com reports that Stetter directed the company's animal-health programs around the world and managed a team of more than 500, including veterinarians, curators, zookeepers and aquarists. He also helped to oversee the company's international wildlife research and conservation programs.

• Of the more than 150 breeds recognized by the American Kennel Club, 13 commonly get ear crops, 48 have docked tails, and 11 have both cropping and docking. Ear crops seem more likely to disappear as a common practice sooner, as fewer pet owners choose to have their puppies' ears cut into an upright posture, and fewer veterinarians are willing to perform the procedure. The American Veterinary Medical Association opposes ear cropping and tail docking when done solely for cosmetic purposes, and has encouraged the elimination of these procedures from breed standards.

• A "three dog night" was once described by comedian Johnny Carson as a "bad night for a tree." But the term originates with the Inuit tribes of Alaska, who measured nocturnal temperatures based on how many sled dogs they needed to serve as bed warmers.

– Mikkel Becker and Dr. Marty Becker

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