Cockatiel Health 

1. Discourage Egg Laying

Hilary S. Stern, DVM

Egg production is stressful for birds; it depletes their nutritional stores, and predisposes them to malnutrition, osteoporosis, and life-threatening illnesses. In situations where birds are being intentionally bred, these risks are an inherent part of the breeding process. For pet birds that are not being bred, however, egg laying can pose serious health risks without the benefit of producing chicks.

Some birds have problems from the very first time they try to lay eggs. Other birds can lay for years before they run into difficulties. In either situation, however, reproductive problems can lead to egg-binding, oviductal prolapse, peritonitis, and death.

Unlike with cats and dogs, it is not a simple procedure to spay a bird. For many birds, the most effective way to stop egg laying is through environmental and behavioral changes. Some birds may also require medical intervention.

10 things you can do at home to stop your bird from laying eggs

1. Put your bird to bed early, by 5 or 6:00 p.m. A long day length is one of the most important environmental cues triggering egg laying in birds. By allowing your bird to stay up late, you are mimicking the long days of spring/summer, making your bird think it is time to breed. An early bedtime will help to turn off her breeding hormones. Note that she will need complete darkness and quiet for this to be effective (covering the cage while the radio or TV is on is not adequate!).

2. Keep your bird away from dark, enclosed spaces. Most parrots are cavity nesters, which means that instead of building a nest out in the open they look for dark, enclosed spaces in which to lay their eggs. In order to stop your bird from laying eggs it is essential that she is kept away from such areas. Nest boxes should be promptly removed. Birds can be ingenious when looking for a nesting site (under a couch, behind the microwave, even in the dryer!), so it is important that she is under close supervision when out of the cage.

3. Keep your bird away from other birds to which she is bonded. Having a mate is a strong stimulus for your bird to lay. This mate may be a member of the opposite sex, another female bird, or even a bird of a different species. Separating your bird from the other birds in your household will help turn off her hormones.

4. Discourage breeding behavior in your bird. Some birds will display breeding behaviors with their favorite person, such as vent-rubbing, tail lifting, or regurgitating food. Discourage these behaviors by putting your bird back in her cage for a “time out” whenever she displays them. Don’t pet your bird on her back or under her tail, as this can be sexually stimulating.

5. Remove your bird’s “love-toys”. Some single birds will display mating behaviors with objects in their environment, such as food cups, toys, perches, or mirrors. Mating behaviors include regurgitating food, vent rubbing, and tail lifting. If your bird engages in these behaviors with an inanimate object, that object should be permanently removed from her environment.

6. Rearrange the cage interior and change the cage location. Your bird is more likely to lay eggs in a cage that hasn’t changed in a while. Putting your bird in a different cage and/or changing the cage location can help discourage laying. Changing the arrangement or types of toys, dishes, and perches in the cage can also be very helpful.

7. Give your bird optimal nutrition and provide full spectrum light. Producing and laying eggs robs your bird of the vitamins, proteins, and calcium she needs to stay healthy. It is especially crucial during the breeding season that she is on a complete and balanced diet, which in most cases will be a pelleted diet. A seed diet supplemented with vitamins is not adequate. Ask your veterinarian to recommend a pelleted diet for your bird. Full spectrum sunlight is necessary for your bird’s calcium metabolism, and can be provided by unfiltered sunlight or by a full spectrum flourescent bulb.

8. Avoid removing the eggs which your bird has already laid. Sometimes the easiest way to turn off the egg-laying cycle is to allow your bird to sit on her eggs. If your bird lays a few eggs and then sits on them, leave the eggs in the cage for 21 days or until she loses interest. If however she does not stop at 3 – 4 eggs and continues laying, this strategy may not work, and you should call your avian veterinarian for further suggestions.

9. Ask your veterinarian about hormone injections. In certain cases of excessive egg-laying, your veterinarian may recommend hormone injections in addition to the above environmental and dietary changes. Hormone injections are relatively safe and can help reduce egg-laying in some birds. The effectiveness of hormone injections varies from bird to bird and can not be accurately predicted beforehand.

10. When in doubt, ask your avian veterinarian. If you have questions or concerns regarding your bird’s health, or if the above changes do not stop your bird from laying, please give us a call. We have helped hundreds of bird owners stop their birds from laying, and we can help you, too.

2. Avian Obesity

by Dave McCluggage, DVM

Sitting on the perch, a cockatiel could look totally normal, possibly even well formed and muscular. But, the bird is unable to exercise without significant difficulty in breathing. Why? Because the bird is markedly obese. Obesity is a major cause of disease in cockatiels. Although there are certainly many other causes for exercise intolerance, this column describes how birds become obese and the effect that this excessive fat has on their ability to breath.

The most common cause of obesity is malnutrition, specifically an improper balance of nutrients. Most significant is excessive fat in the diet. Many seeds that are fed to birds contain in excess of 30% fat, and include sunflower, safflower, rape, niger, hemp, and peanut. Birds like high fat seeds and will often select them over any other seeds in the mix. Although specific guidelines are not available, most avian veterinarians believe that the diet should be under 10% fat. Birds that are allowed to selectively eat whatever seeds they choose often will eat mostly high fat seeds, causing the total diet to be about 15-30% fat!

Heredity appears to be another significant cause of obesity. Birds that are obese often produce offspring that are obese. Many of the large birds, upon necropsy, have been shown to be obese, as have their progeny. Other causes of obesity include hormonal (e.g., thyroid deficiency, a rare disease in cockatiels), and a lack of exercise.

Cockatiels carry fat in two locations in the body. They carry large fat deposits under the skin on the sides of their body, and inside the abdominal area. Abdominal fat is not always noticeable from the outside. By parting the feathers on the side, one can observe fat deposits under the skin on the sides of the bird. Fat deposits will cause the skin to appear more yellow than the normal pinkish to white. The skin will feel roly-poly rather than firm. If there is any significant amount of fat on the sides of the bird, there will certainly be large amounts of fat inside the abdomen.

To understand why fat birds are unable to fly, one must first understand how birds breathe. Birds do not have a diaphragm to draw the air in, and their lungs do not expand and contract like mammals do. Instead they have an air sac system. When breathing in air, the air sacs expand to pull air into the body. In avian breathing, the air sacs contract, forcing air into the lungs. Abdominal fat encroaches on the air sacs, causing them to collapse or become smaller. It is common to see birds with air sacs so compressed with fat that they are unable to expand at all. At rest, these birds will breathe normally. With exercise comes an increased demand for air. The bird’s respiratory system is viable to meet this demand. There simply is no room in the air sacs for air, and thus, they cannot receive the oxygen they need.

To prevent obesity, the two major causes previously mentioned must be corrected. First, the birds shouldn’t never be allowed free access to all the seeds they desire to eat. In an aviary situation, the only way to prevent this is to feed such a small amount of seed that the birds finish the seed portion of the diet in the first hour of the day, leaving less desirable items for later. By limiting the amount of seed fed on a daily basis, the fat content of the diet can also be diminished by lowering the percent of high fat seeds in the diet, say to less than 10% of the seed mix. Feed vegetables, fruits, grains, beans, rice and bird pellets to supplement the diet to insure a balanced diet is being fed.

Birds that are always obese, even when on proper diets, should not be bred. This will pass on to the offspring the genetic tendency toward obesity. Obese hens are also more prone to become egg bound when breeding.

Adequate exercise is important for all birds, but obese birds must be exercised cautiously at first. Any significant increase in exercise could kill them. I have seen many birds that were reported by the owner to have died of a heart attack when flying, only to find out at necropsy that the real problem was obesity. Birds should be given large flight cages when not breeding to stimulate exercise.

Obesity is a common problem in cockatiels. It can only be corrected over long periods of time by monitoring weights, feeding balanced diets that are low in fat, breeding birds that do not have a tendency toward obesity, and by moderate exercise.



From Birds n Ways

Sometimes a blood feather will bleed a little and then stop. However, it is possible that the bleeding may resume, if the bird brushes the damaged feather against an object or preens it. For this reason, many people recommend pulling the broken or damaged feather. Others pull the broken feather so that a new one can begin growing. If the feather is not actively bleeding, it is not an emergency and you may feel more comfortable waiting to have your vet pull the feather.

However, a bleeding feather cannot wait. Birds have much less blood than humans and can literally bleed to death from a broken blood feather. You have to act immediately.

First towel the bird and then examine the wing, trying not to touch the broken feather. Try to pack the open end of the feather with something like corn starch or flour (Styptic powder is not recommended. It is fine for nails but not live tissue). You can also try a tissue glue or even Krazy Glue. Put pressure on the end of the feather, being careful not to break the portion of the shaft which is left. A hemostat, tweezer or even a pad or folded cloth can be used. The pressure may help the blood to clot.

If nothing works, then the remaining portion of the feather must be removed. If there is enough of the shaft left for you to grip the feather with , then you may be able to remove it yourself.

Use a needle nosed pliers or a hemostat or even a tweezer for a smaller feather. Place the pliers on the feather shaft some distance away from the skin, if possible. Get a firm grip on the feather and hold the bird so it won’t move when you pull on the feather. Pull firmly, smoothly and quickly. Jerking or wiggling can result in another break closer to the skin. Once removed, the bleeding should stop.

If the feather has broken at the skin level or the feather follicle continues to bleed after the feather is removed, apply corn starch or flour to try to stem the bleeding. Also put pressure on the area with your finger or a clean cloth. If the bleeding still continues, get to a vet immediately, keeping pressure on the area till you get there.

4. Cockatiel Night Frights

Cockatiel Night Frights

by former NCS Pet Consultant – Mary-Kaye Buchtel

As wonderful as cockatiels are to live with, they do have one drawback, NIGHT FRIGHTS! From our experience, I don’t believe they waken due to a nightmare. I’m convinced most are caused by something in the environment startling a sleeping bird. The bird awakens in a panic, trying to flee. It becomes more frightened as it bangs into toys and perches. It is unable to see well enough in the dark to realize it is safe. Night frights are more frequent with more bird.

Since we hate them to thrash about in panic and pain, we’ve done our best to eliminate or at least shorten night-frights. First we installed a Radio Shack monitor. The transmitter is close to the birds’ cages, the receiver is in our bedroom, turned to low volume. The sounds of a night-fright wakes us to rush in to calm the birds and apply any necessary first aid. We originally bought units that would send and receive both ways, but they produced too much static for us to sleep. The units that are quiet enough but let us hear the birds thrashing only cost about $13. Then the birds were waking us at sun-up with their cheery celebrations. Since we’re not really morning people, we solved that by putting the receiver on a time. The transmitter is always on, but the timer has the receiver on only between 10:00 p.m. and 5:00 a.m. Besides stopping panics, we also do our best to PREVENT them. One thing we found causing night-frights were gaping curtains, allowing flashes of light to startle the birds. Passing car lights and lightening have both frightened them. My “expensive” cure for this problem is to clip the curtains tightly closed with a clothespin when I shut them at night. This one solution eliminated most of our night-frights.

5. Feather Picking/Plucking

A happy, healthy bird will spend time each day grooming, or preening, to keep his plumage in tip-top condition. You’ve no doubt seen your bird draw his feathers through his beak to clean, condition and waterproof them. Preening also involves the removal of the sheaths at the base of the feathers, allowing new ones to grow in.

Companion avians who suffer from feather picking, however, take preening one step further, obsessively pulling, plucking and chewing on feathers. Plumage becomes damaged and frayed, inhibiting normal feather growth. Areas easily accessible to a bird’s beak -breast, inner thighs, and the skin under the wings–are most affected; in some cases, these areas may be completely bare. This condition, most frequently seen in larger parrots, cockatoos and conures, has both medical and non-medical causes. Either way, it’s extremely distressing to both bird and owner.

If you suspect your bird’s a feather picker/ plucker, the first order of business is to bring him to the veterinarian to rule out medical problems. Hypothyroidism, though rare, can cause excessive loss of feathers and feather picking, as can parasites, hormonal changes and bacterial and fungal infections of the skin.

Most often, though, the causes are psychological, with stress and boredom most likely to contribute to this condition. In the wild, large birds live in huge flocks and fly many miles a day. They also bond with a mate. If these needs are not addressed in captivity, a companion avian will become stressed, bored, and very unhappy.

Another effective method of healing your feather plucker is with a new water-based,

all natural solution called PLUCK NO MORE.

As a responsible caretaker, it’s up to you to figure out what’s stressing your bird out, and take appropriate steps to remedy the situation. Does your bird have a partner? Does he get plenty of exercise? Consider his environment. Is his cage large enough? Is it in a suitable location? This will depend on his personality. A shy bird may do better in a less heavily trafficked area, for example, while a social butterfly may need to be closer to the action.

Are you showing your bird enough attention? A little extra time with you or other favorite family members can go a long way. Toys help, too. Offer a wide variety, and make sure they’re sturdy and appropriate for the species. Avians can also redirect any destructive tendencies through toys they can rip up and chew apart. Clean, untreated, non-toxic branches, large pine cones and cardboard boxes may be the ticket. And food can be lots of fun–particularly if it’s something your bird has to work for, like non-shelled nuts, snow peas and corn on the cob.

Some caretakers have had success in leaving a radio or television on, or even a tape of themselves talking –calmly and happily, of course.

In some cases, your veterinarian may recommend that your bird wear a collar while his feathers grow out. Treatment with behavior or mood modifying drugs have been helpful in certain situations, but truly effective treatment must also address the underlying causes as well. Keep in mind that feather picking is one of the most difficult conditions to treat, and you may need to work closely with your veterinarian or an avian behaviorist.

Fixing the problem will take time and patience, but don’t give up. Your bird’s worth it.

6. All About Cockatiel Feathers

written for NCS Magazine

By Dr. Jerry LaBonde, MS, DVM

Denver, CO

Feather disorders (especially feather picking) can be one of the most frustrating and disconcerting conditions of caged birds to owners as well as their veterinarians. The list of factors contributing to feather problems or feather picking is long and extensive.

For example, poor feather condition can be related to improper environment or diet, trauma, hormonal and reproductive diseases, psychological, metabolic diseases, genetic, viruses, bacteria, fungi, as well as internal and external parasites. The frustrating part of feather disorders is that many of the conditions look identical. This makes the diagnostic workup by the veterinarian difficult. Contrary to popular opinion, external parasites (mites, in particular), are extremely rare among caged birds.

Close observation of the feathers and skin can sometimes give insight to the cause of poor feather appearance. For example, broken and ragged feathers could be due to improper housing, mate trauma, or delayed molt. Brittle and frazzled feathers with scaly skin is often a sign of poor nutrition. Stress marks (horizontal lines of improper feather growth) are a sign that when the feather was in the “pin” stage, the bird was ill or stressed. Retarded feather growth and retention of pin feather sheaths in young birds can be due to a dry environment. Abnormal coloration can be genetic, diet, or internal illness. This can be a common problem in cockatiels. The replacement of a white feather by a golden yellow one may indicate a problem. A low grade psittacosis infection can be one of the causes of this condition. Abnormal molts can be expressed by dark areas or fringes of feathers that appear bronzed and frayed. This is often a sign of illness, poor nutrition, or an imported bird to northern latitudes. If this is accompanied by puritis (itchy skin), it can indicate extreme environmental temperature fluctuations, low thyroid function or internal parasites such as giardia.

Some birds have poor feather condition because they are unable to preen. This condition can be the result of a neck or back injury. Some hand raised babies may have never learned the finer details of preening and therefore, have an unkempt appearance.

Feather cysts are ingrown feathers that can occur in cockatiels as well as other species. This is thought to be related to trauma to the follicle (the base of the feather) and in cannaries it is a genetic problem. Surgical removal is the only way to correct the problem. Baldness is a genetic problem in lutino cockatiels and hormonal in canaries. Papovavirus has been implicated in delayed feather replacement after a birds first mold of wing and contour feathers. In budgies they’re call “creepers” but it has been reported in cockatiels as well.

7. Clipping Nails

Written by Nancy Kizuka for the NCS Magazine and © 1997 by NCS

Nails need to be clipped when they are becoming snagged on toys, cage covers or clothes. I use a human nail clipper or baby nail scissors, and take off just the tippy-tips.

All nails have a blood supply. If you nick into this blood supply or quick, have some Quik-Stop or Stay on hand. If you do not have these commercial products on hand, flour or corn starch will work. Apply this with gentle pressure until the bleeding stops. Occasionally the nail gets cut too short and these products don’t work. I like to use silver nitrate sticks to stop any bleeding. They are available from your avian veterinarian.

The proper size perch can help keep nails at the correct length. The tips of the nails should touch the perch. You can also use concrete perches, pedi-perches, sandy perches, hard wood perches or any of the other conditioning perches available today. Using a variety of perches also helps the bird stay comfortable since they are on their feet 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It also helps to prevent early onset arthritis.

8. Keeping Beaks Trimmed

Beaks do not need to be trimmed under normal circumstances. Birds that are have a chronic illness, a previously injury to the beak or a nutritional deficiency may occasionally need their beak trimmed by an avian veterinarian.

I had only one cockatiel that ever needed her beak trimmed on a regular basis. She was an older bird with liver disease. Her upper beak was trimmed every other week or so.

Keeping a cuttlebone, a mineral block or small bird lava stone in the cage will assist in keeping the cockatiel’s beak at the proper size and shape. Toys and other bird-safe objects to chew on also help with this condition as well as prevents boredom.

If you think your bird’s beak may need to be trimmed, please check with your avian veterinarian. I’m sure they will be happy to do this for you and teach you how to keep your bird’s beak in shape.

Editor’s Note: A bird’s beak contains a blood supply as well as a sensory organ at the tip. This tells the bird whether what he has in his beak is hot or cold, and basically whether it is food or not. To damage this sensory organ would mean that the beak will not regrow normally and could pose a threat to the bird’s ability to eat normally. Please do not ever try trimming your bird’s beak yourself. Take it to your trusted avian vet first for an evaluation.

9. Feathers, Molting, and “Dandruff”

Feathers, Molting, and “Dandruff”

Copyright © July, 1998 by Mary Beth Voelker

NCS Online Pet Consultant

All Rights Reserved

There are feathers all over the cage. What’s going on?

Despite knowing in theory that their birds will molt new owners are often shocked and startled by suddenly finding the cage floor covered in feathers. The fact that their cockatiel may be lethargic, grumpy, and out of sorts during the molt may either worry the owner into thinking that the bird is ill or cover up an actual illness. A molting bird is not ill, though it needs a bit of supportive care. You will want to mist it a bit more frequently, add some extra protein to its diet (feathers are almost pure protein), and respect its need for extra rest. Bean mix and hard cooked egg are both good sources of protein. You should watch a molting bird carefully though. The stress of the molt can cause a latent illness to flare up. Don’t hesitate to call the vet if you think you have reason to suspect illness.

A young cockatiel molts at about 6 month, at about a year, and then about once a year thereafter. The molt usually lasts between 4 and 6 weeks. Sometimes environmental conditions cause variations in the pattern of molting. Tiels kept in warm climates with little seasonal variation may have a subtle molt where they drop a few feathers at a time throughout the year. Birds in more temperate areas with more pronounced seasons usually have a more pronounced molt. Sometimes a molt doesn’t seem to go right. There are several diseases that affect feather growth and birds experiencing an abnormal molt should see the vet.

The quality and condition of the feathers is strongly influenced by several factors. Diet is probably paramount. My rescued tiel, Rocky, came to me pale-colored, ratty-looking, with feathers that were crossed with stress bars (improperly developed areas due to stress, malnutrition, etc.), and broke easily. After three years of a good diet with plenty of protein during molts and lots of vitamin A sources he wouldn’t be recognized as the same bird. His grey is dark and velvety, the pale top of his central tail feathers is a lovely silver, the yellow of his face and the underlying yellows beneath the grey elsewhere are rich and bright, and the orange cheek patches are deep pumpkin orange (in fact the high levels of carotene in his diet are betrayed by the bleeding of his cheek patch feathers into other parts of his face — a bit too much of a good thing which will be corrected next molt). The feathers are strong and flexible, he hasn’t broken a single feather in 2 years.

Another critical factor for feathers is access to either natural sunlight or full spectrum lighting. Birds kept only under ordinary artificial lights become dull-feathered and pale. This may be due to the production of vitamin D by the interaction of sunlight and the preening oil on the surface of the feathers. Since birds inevitably ingest some of this oil as they preen they supply their own Vitamin D in exactly the correct form and amount. (Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin that can build up to toxic levels in the body when supplements are overused. I would NOT recommend giving a bird vitamin D supplements unless proscribed by a vet).

Finally, bird need regular baths to keep their feathers at their best. I mist my birds daily with plain water and often offer a bath dish in the cage. Tiels have definite preferences about there baths. Some like misting (use a clean plant sprayer that has never held any chemical), either a soft fall from above or a firmer spray from the sides or below while others only enjoy still water. A soaking from the dish sprayer will delight some and terrify others. Many enjoy a lukewarm shower with their human friends. Water temperature is a matter of individual preferences. Some like lukewarm, others like quite warm. Never use truly hot water — even if it doesn’t actually burn the bird will strip the natural oils from the feathers. My Dandi actually prefers truly cold water (not ice water, but as cold as a New England well will run in early summer. I either have to give her mate his own warm dish or he will wait until the water warms up. Bath dishes run the gamut from glass loaf pans to metal pie plates to terra cotta plant saucers (disinfect carefully since they are porous), to Dandi’s favorite — a crisp outer cabbage leaf set concave side up with about a quarter cup puddle of water in it. Anything big enough, safe, and not too slippery or hard to clean will do.

Help! My bird has dandruff!

There are 2 things that new cockatiel owners may mistake for dandruff. One is the feather sheathes that cover the growing pinfeathers and flake off as the feather matures. Tame birds appreciate it if their humans gently preen these away in areas the bird can’t reach such as the back of the head and neck. Be gentle, a pinfeather that is still growing is sensitive. Your bird will let you know in no uncertain terms that you’ve done something wrong in you hit one of these. Don’t be intimidated though — paired birds scold their mates just as violently when they make a preening error then immediately beg for more preening.

The other “dandruff” in cockatiels is the powder down. Powder down comes from special feathers that are designed to disintegrate into a fine dust which cockatiels, cockatoos, and African greys use to waterproof and condition their feathers. These birds are always rather dusty and the powder will get all over your belongings. Daily misting with plain water will help keep this at a bearable level. In extreme cases an air cleaner is helpful. Don’t use the feather conditioning sprays — nature never intended a cockatiel to have oil on its feathers. A cockatiel in good feather condition will have a soft gloss, not a hard shine.

10. Safe Plants and Trees


copyright © 1997 by Amy Patria.

These indoor and outdoor plants and trees

are considered non-toxic and safe for your birds according to my sources.

If you find out otherwise, please let me know.



* Acacia

* African violet

* Aloe

* American bittersweet

* Autunm olive


* Baby’s tears

* Bamboo

* Barberry

* Bayberry

* Beech (American, European)

* Begonia

* Bladdernum

* Blueberry

* Bougainvillea


* Chickweed

* Christmas cactus

* Cissus (kangaroo vine)

* Coffee plant (NOT coffee bean, rattle bush,

rattlebox or coffeeweed)

* Coleus

* Comfrey

* Coralberry (NOT Coral plant)

* Corn plant

* Cotoneaster firethorn

* Crabapple


* Dandelion

* Dogwood

* Donkey tail

* Dracaena varieties


* Elderberry (common, European, red)


* Ferns (asparagus, bird’s nest, Boston – and related, maidenhair)

* Figs (creaping, rubber, fiddle leaf, laurel leaf, weeping)

* Fir (balsam, Douglas, subalpine, white)


* Gardenia

* Grape ivy (vine)


* Hen andchicken

* Herbs (such as oregano, rosemary or thyme – NOT parsley)

* Huckleberry


* Ivy (ONLY grape & Swedish)


* Jade plant


* Kalanchoe


* Magnolia

* Marigolds

* Monkey plant

* Mother-in-law’s tongue


* Nasturtium

* Natal plum

* Norfolk Island pine


* Palms (areca, date, fan, lady, parlour, howeia, kentia, Phoenix, sago)

* Pepperomia

* Petunia

* Pine (ponderosa, spruce, Virginia, white)

* Pittosporum

* Pothos

* Prayer plant

* Purple passion (velvet nettle)


* Raspberry

* Rose


* Schefflera (umbrella)

* Sensitive plant

* Snowberry

* Spider plant

* Spruce (black, Norway, red, white)

* Swedish ivy


* Thistle


* Umbrella plant


* Velvet nettle

* Viburnum


* Wandering Jew

* Wax plant

* White clover

* White poplar

* Willow


* Zebra p

11. Communities


Safe natural wood branches for birds include the following:










Elm Fir









Sequoia (redwood)

DO NOT USE: Apricot, Cherry, Peach, Prune, Plum, or Nectarine. They contain cyanogenic glycosides which release cyanide if ingested.


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