Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Why does Harrison's contain SOY and is it bad for my bird? Does SOY cause hormone stimulation in birds?
A: Negative press about soy (soybeans) is a classic example of anonymous claims from internet sources that are not accurate.
Harrison’s formulas are steadily reviewed by PhD avian nutritionists. This practice of review has been in place for over 30 years.
Many products being challenged for their use of soy actually use soybean by-products, which are made with soy oil or soybean oil meal from a chemical extraction technique using hexane.
Hexane was formerly used as a cleaning agent for removing grease in the printing industry as well as a solvent for rubber cement, but now it’s showing up in many so-called “natural” and even “made with organic” soy foods. Even this inferior soy source has not been proven harmful. (The soy in Harrison’s Bird Foods is whole, organic, rolled and toasted.)
The digestive system of a bird functions in a way different from ours. They can tolerate foods we can’t; we can tolerate foods that would make them ill.
At the 2nd International Symposium on Pet Bird Nutrition in Hannover in 2007, Harrison’s Bird Foods discussed this with our nutritionist, Dr. Kirk Klasing of the University of California Davis. He is studying the feeding of soybeans as they are normally raised and those that are genetically modified to produce phytoestrogens (specifically genistein), which are used by the pharmacological industry. This latter soybean has a thousand times the phytoestrogen content of regular soybeans. Dr Klasing has found no indication that even this high level has any effect whatsoever. His research subjects are finches, which have the highest metabolism rate and would show problems the soonest. His co-researchers have also set up flocks of finches for breeding, which starts at less than one year of age, and have not seen any effects on fertility, hatchability, chick maturation or illness.
Harrison’s formulas have been fed to the leading breeding facilities in the world for over 30 years, and the egg-laying, hatching and survivability have always been excellent. In fact, Harrison’s was developed to solve breeding problems in hyacinth macaws (i.e., no eggs, infertile eggs, eggs that had to be incubated to hatch, weak hatchlings that needed assistance to hatch, rejection by parents so the chicks had to be hand fed).
There was a 1970’s lawsuit in New Zealand claiming rosellas were maturing early due to being fed soy, and that some even died. The claimant had millions to spend on the case, whereas the new USA pellet manufacturer did not, and the case “appeared” to prove soy was the problem. It did not. Veterinarians familiar with the case said the birds were infected with one of the first cases of circovirus in rosellas. The manufacturer has continued to use his original formulas that have been used for over 30 years at the U of California cockatiel research flock without incident. The claimant has saturated the internet for these 30 years with the weakest of claims, all based on poor empirical observations.
There is a failure by claimants to conclusively prove that feeding products that contain soy are unhealthy. And again, processed soy is a very different product from raw soy.
The soy in Harrison’s Bird Foods is whole, organic, rolled and toasted. That is because our founder’s mentor was John Stoodley, who used whole organic soybeans in his famous formulas. John’s breeding results are unparalleled in seed-eating birds. He kept impeccable records. Most aviculturists do not. So, there is no honest way to compare diets.
Another exception is Eric Von Kooten, who has the only peer-reviewed comparison of traditional aviculture diets to Harrison’s. The study was on the members contributing to the Ruppel’s parrot stud book. His summary: “The conclusion is justified that the use of HBF (Harrison’s Bird Foods) is definitely worth the extra costs when compared to the use of traditional feed. Next to the benefits mentioned previously, such as a larger number of young birds, fewer dead birds, healthier birds, faster independence of young birds and fewer ill birds, other aspects have not been mentioned. Among others, the most important are that we experienced a major improvement in behavior since the introduction of HBF as well as a remarkable change in color of the feathers.
No doubt, the introduction of HBF is one of the elements that has improved the well-being of our parrots in addition to the other actions we initiated in the early 1990s to realize a more sensible captivity of these beautiful animals.”
Dr. Klasing (the top avian nutritionist worldwide) has chosen Harrison’s Bird Foods formulas to be the food used for the extremely endangered kakapo in New Zealand.
Q: Why do you advise not to feed Brazil nuts?
A: Brazil nuts are known to contain high levels of selenium. Selenium is an essential mineral that all bodies need in order to function. However, too much selenium can cause Selenosis. Selenosis is toxicity caused be excess selenium. Selenium is naturally occurring in some plants and in the soil and Brazil nuts are known to uptake too much and can cause toxic levels in birds (and all animals and people). For birds, the recommended feeding amount of a Brazil nut for a macaw is less than 1 single nut per month. In our opinion it is better to just avoid them altogether.
If you want to hear an educational talk between Dr. Harrison and one of our nutritionists, Dr. Dierenfeld on this subject visit:
Q: I have a customer that has a 25 yr old Timneh AFG with atherosclerosis. 1. Is the High Potency formula still recommended? Why, since the Adult Lifetime has less fat? 2. UVB – Does daily access to light make a difference?
A: In regards to formula choice, the most important factors to consider are appetite and the underlying disease process. As much as a combination of persistent reproductive stimulation, being female, unbalanced high-fat diets, and sedentary lifestyles increase the risk of atherosclerotic lesions in birds, once it is there and patients begin to show clinical signs, the body’s energy needs are higher because of it. Certain species are over-represented and include African greys, cockatiels, amazons, and macaws. When thinking about how to make lifestyle adjustments post atherosclerosis diagnosis, reducing reproductive stimulation and considering a move to a balanced diet (if safe) are to core things. In patients who have a decreased appetite, it is not advised to change the diet until they are feeling better. While their appetite is decreased, we want to provide nutrient-dense food items so each bite contains more good stuff since there are relatively fewer bites in this scenario. Once eating well as a result of responding to medical management, then diet adjustment is reasonable.
With this foundation in mind, when considering HP vs AL, the first and most important thing is that they are balanced. Ultimately, the next thing is which one is the bird more interested in as with disease we need more calories inherently, but with atherosclerosis, a relatively lower fat diet is logical as well. In evaluating the fat content of HP vs AL, neither are high-fat diets, just HP has more fat than AL. HP is therefore more nutrient-dense per bite. So it’s all a balance driven by the specific individual and their response to the disease process. Ultimately, it’s reasonable to conclude that either option could be good for different reasons.
In regards to UVB exposure, this is important for the ideal metabolization of a few different nutrients. There are great UVA/UVB bulbs marketed towards reptiles that can be used near the cage for birds. It is important to change these bulbs about every 6 months regardless of if they still emit light as their UVB/UVA emissions dwindle by 6 months. There are measurement tools similar to a heat gun that can help you get objective readings so you know exactly when it’s time to change it out. These are also marketed for reptiles as well. The last thing to note about this is that some of these bulbs emit heat. Avoiding that is very important as we don’t want to cause overheating or hot cage bars resulting in burns. Zoomed is a reputable company whose products can be purchased just about anywhere so that is a good place to start first.