Recently I found myself in a store that had a few cage birds and in order for the store employees to help keep the cages clean they used corncob grit on the cage bottom. This is dangerous for the birds. Most grains have a contaminant mold called Aspergillus, but corn has the worst record and some parts of the country have more than others. Essentially, all corn needs to be tested. There are 200 species of this mold and hundreds of others that may or may not be infective. Most if not all can possibly create respiratory problem. This goes for humans as well. This mold is notorious for causing respiratory infections in birds called Aspergillosis. This disease is almost impossible to cure if not caught early. Sometimes surgery can repair the infection and give the immune system of the bird a chance to fight the disease.

Birds do not generally show disease. It is a protective behavior. To show illness in nature makes the animal more vulnerable to predation. In order for a pet owner to diagnose a problem with a bird they must do two things: Watch for poop and listen.

The best bedding to use is newspaper. Newspaper is rather sterile, cheap, and many birds like to tear it up. It’s a win-win situation. The toxin buildup from these dangerous molds can also destroy the liver over time so our pets can get contaminated in two ways: through the liver and/or the lungs.

Most people are not aware of the threat, and pet food manufacturers that use corn and other grains have to be hyper-vigilant in monitoring levels of Aspergillus. For better or worse, the USDA has set allowable levels of Aspergillus in foods. Manufacturers will take grossly contaminated corn and reduce the toxicity levels by adding lesser contaminated corn or grain. Most corn used in manufacturing pet diets has some Aspergillus contaminants.

Diamond Pet, a very large dog and cat food manufacturer, didn’t catch their contamination until dogs started to die. Even though they clearly displayed negligence in testing and monitoring their contamination level, they blamed an employee that took in contaminated corn for a bribe of some kind. This resulted in one of the largest pet food recalls of all time.

How much faith do you have in pet food manufacturers that intentionally reintroduce contaminated grains through mere dilution of a product? That puts a lot of trust in those compiling our pet diets. I’m not a big fan of grain in our pets’ food for just these reasons.

The Diamond Food recall affected tens of thousands of animals. Horses, birds and other animals can be affected as well — but birds are really susceptible to molds. More than 50 years of experience has taught me a lot about how manufacturers think. Many lead their marketing direction with price. Lower prices, lower cost. Who are you going to trust? More and more of our pet foods have been bought out by hedge funds, corporations that don’t actually care much about your pet. As long as they can keep it alive long enough to make money selling you food. It’s a cruel outlook, but how else are we supposed to interpret the very damning observations about the way these companies do business? Every job in the chain of command is based on an increase in sales and profit. They bought the businesses in order make money — not be pet evangelists with the animal’s best interest at heart.

Getting back to bird bedding.

When using newspaper, don’t use the glossy colored sections. The ink can contain heavy metals that are possibly toxic. Just use the old fashioned newsprint. Plain and simple. Plus, you can contribute to the remarkably important print newspaper industry at the same time. Subscribe to a paper. It’ll do your brain good and then you can recycle it for the health of the bird – on the bottom of their cage.

Another bedding that worked really well in theory was ground English Walnut shells. If the walnut granules were left too long in the cage they developed mold. It worked really well for suppressing odors, but if the owner got lazy the shells would grow pretty moldy. Since it was quite expensive people did not want to change the bedding until it smelled. That’s a recipe for disaster.


Birds in general are some of the greatest pets we can have. I’ve had three great parrots that all died of fairly old age (Over 40). To achieve avian longevity one needs to know something about birds to keep them healthy. In the future I will discuss birds more in-depth because I’ve neglected writing about them in the past. In the meantime cherish your ball of feathers. They are a gift. Buy quality seed. Over the years I have like Goldenfeast, Abba, and Harrison’s. No matter the manufacturer, I would stay away from corn. There’s just too many potential problems.

Above is a photo of our African Grey Parrot, Rufus. He’s 25 years old and was our store mascot on McKnight Road for all those years. For those that know Rufus, he’s settling in to his new digs quite well and has decided he really likes my wife, Sharon. She feeds him regularly throughout the day with all kinds of foods, both cooked and raw. He has virtually no dry grain in his diet – and that’s just fine by him.

Until next time….

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