A friend emailed me a while back and asked me for some book recommendations about parrots. He was asking me about a book that had been published in 1999 and did I think it was any good. Hmmm. Well, here’s the deal on that. I could neither recommend it or not because I’d never read it. But I did explain that things have changed a tremendous amount in the industry since 1999. As a matter of fact, as far as I’m concerned, it has changed enormously in the last five years. I touched on this in my post, “The Tribe.”  

The point I’m trying to make is that we have come so far in the business of birds and yet we truly have a long way to go.

However, this got me thinking about Robert Stroud’s book on bird diseases. If you aren’t familiar with Robert Stroud, he was commonly known as “The Bird Man of Alcatraz.”  Burt Lancaster starred in a movie by the same name which became  a runaway film hit in 1962.

I did some research on Stroud and discovered that he wasn’t a particularly pleasant man. He had a mean, violent streak and wasn’t particularly fond of showering which certainly didn’t make him the most popular guy on the prison block.

But he did do some amazing work and pioneered avian medicine research in his book, Diseases of Canaries, originally published in 1933. It was considered a remarkable book at the time and even more remarkable, he wrote it entirely while behind bars in prison.

I was curious about Stroud’s work and wondered if it was still of any value. So I emailed Dr. Scott Echols for his take on it. Yes, that  Scott Echols. You know the one…

Scott is not only an Avian Vet, he also has a video production Company called, “Avian Studios.” Scott and his partner, Dr. Brian Speer have released several DVDs on companion parrot bird care as well as a remarkable DVD on captive foraging.

But I digress. Anyway, I asked if he thought Stroud’s work in Avian medicine was still at all relevant. Here is Scott’s response to my question:

“The Bird Man of Alcatraz wrote what was the authoritative book on medicine and care for caged birds for many years and all based on his powers of observation while in prison. So while Mr Stroud did not have all of his diagnoses correct, he did a surprisingly pretty good job.

For the purposes of your question, ‘avian medicine’ should be broken down into commercial poultry, wildlife, conservation and pet birds. The reason I say this is that poultry research has been ongoing to help support the large commercial poultry industry and has also been supported by government money for bioterrorism and infectious disease monitoring research.

Wildlife has also been receiving government grants for research on infectious disease such as avian influenza. Money for conservation however, has been dwindling unless the species in question is high profile or involved in disease monitoring program. Research on pet birds has unfortunately been declining over the past decade due to a poor economy, reports of a declining pet bird population (in the US) and fewer university programs focusing on avian studies.

So in one sense, pet bird research has declined over the past 5-10 years. However, some of the current research is very exciting, such as understanding pain management and elucidating the cause of proventricular dilatation syndrome. We are also seeing (proportionately) better designed and more sophisticated studies on pet birds than 10-20 years ago.

In the 1990’s there was this massive surge in interest and research from the veterinary community in pet birds. At the time, everything was new and there was a lot of information coming in on an almost daily basis. Now the new and hot topics are coming in slower, but that is only because the groundwork has already been laid.”

This is just one example of some of strides we have made in the past years. Hopefully, we’ll be making new discoveries and learning more as we move on.