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There are thousands of different species of birds, but pet birds can be divided into psittacines, also called parrots and passerines, or the soft-billed birds such as doves and canaries. The vast majority of parrots live in tropical and subtropical areas. Passerines can live in many different climates. The problems we have in recommending how to keep these pets healthy is that we don't really know much about their natural diet in many cases. And keeping birds at "room" temperature and out of sunlight is a problem. We have general recommendations that work for most birds and will be presented here. The three most important things for a healthy bird are diet, lighting, and stimulation. In some situations, birds may need vaccinations. Twice yearly examinations are very important. The first noticeable symptom of a sick bird is often death. |
Grooming is an important part of caring for your bird. Bathing needs to be done several times a week. This can be accomplished several ways. Spritzing with warm water or putting in a gentle shower helps keep your bird clean. Also offering a bowl or pan of water is appreciated by many species of birds. Most birds need to have their wings kept trimmed so they cannot fly away or high into a tree if they get outside. Once outside hawks, owls, cats and dogs can kill them. Many birds are lost this way. This will also prevent problems such as flying into ceiling fans, boiling water, frying pans, and toilets. It is instinct for cats and dogs to take down a flying or flapping bird. Wing trimming also keeps the bird a part of the human flock by helping keep them tamer. Nail trims are important and keep nails from snagging on the cage or in cage toys or furniture. Overly long nails can break off and bleed or snag on fabric or ropes and lead to limb fractures.
Birds should always be strictly supervised when out of the cage. They are very curious and will taste and chew on things that are toxic. They can get blockages from foreign substances such as screws, gravel, Christmas tree icicles, curtain weights, carpeting, wall hangings, wood trim or any other interesting chewable items. As mentioned previously, boiling water, ceiling fans, open doors and toilets are all common hazards. In addition, overheated non-stick cookware, kitchen utensils, and convection ovens release gases deadly to birds. Also, cigarette smoke and fireplace smoke causes problems.
Unfortunately, for many years all birds were fed seeds and most pet birds are still fed seeds. This results in a life span that is half of what it should be. In the past 20 years a lot of information has been gathered about avian nutrition. Seeds are high in fat and low in protein and vitamins and can be contaminated with fungus, insecticides and other agricultural chemicals. However, birds become addicted to them similar to some humans' addiction to fatty or sweet foods. Birds should be fed a complete pelleted diet, just like cats are fed cat food and dogs are fed dog food. All the vitamins, minerals and protein they need are in there. We like the Harrison's formula because it is also organic. Lafebers and Roudybush are good also. If a pelleted avian diet has pretty colors and tastes like fruit candy then it has artificial chemical additives and is not recommended. We also recommend that 20% of the diet should be finely chopped fresh vegetables and a limited amount of fruits. These fresh foods should ONLY be those that are high in vitamin A since other valuable nutrients also tend to be high in these foods as well. Do not bother feeding bananas, apples, cucumbers, and other foods low in vitamin A. For a list see http://www.ars.usda.gov/Main/docs.htm?docid=15869 under Vitamin A. Never feed a bird chips, cookies, french fries or other "junk" foods. This can cause obesity and malnutrition as the bird fills up on junk and doesn't eat any vitamin and protein containing foods. To change a bird from seeds to pellets can be difficult and may take as long as 3 months. The most common conversion method is to mix 90% seeds and 10% pellets the first week and then continue changing the percentage by 10% a week until only pellets are being fed. Do not try to starve your bird into eating the new food. Some birds will actually starve to death. Most illnesses in birds begin with malnutrition. Birds are animals that are preyed upon, so they do not show any weaknesses until it is too late.
For more information on many bird topics see www.harrisonsbirdfoods.com
Lighting needs to be appropriate for each bird and change with the season. In general, 12 hours of dark and 12 hours of light are recommended. The 12 hours of dark should be truly dark and as quiet as possible. Covering the cage is helpful if the cage cover is dark enough. Birds that only get 8 hours of dark each night may be cranky and stressed and have reproductive problems. There are just now some studies showing that birds need some type of sunlight or at least artificial-light that mimics sunlight to be healthy. However, because of their excellent eyesight, some of the lighting systems can cause eye problems. Allowing direct sunlight exposure is helpful, however mosquitoes pose a threat to birds' health by passing on deadly viruses and birds should never go outside when there are mosquitoes present. Alternatively, supplying a few hours a day of light with balanced UV-A and UV-B may be beneficial. The best lights can be found at www.reptileuv.com. The bulb must be replaced at least every 12 months, every 6 months is better. It will still work, but no longer produces the correct UV spectrum. Birds do appreciate the temperature a little warmer than humans, preferring a temperature of about 80 degrees. In the winter a non-drying space heater can be placed near their cage. In the summer, they can be placed in a room with the vent partially closed.
Stimulation is using your imagination and your bird's curiosity as a guide to tell you how you can keep your bird from going stir-crazy. Keeping a bird's active mind stimulated is a challenge. The best entertainment is home-made. Many purchased toys are dangerous. Some of the hazards include lead paint or lead weights, metal clips that can snag a toe or a wing, metal parts that come off, rope made of artificial fibers long enough to cause obstruction, beads that can be swallowed and rawhide contaminated with salmonella or e. coli. Some favorite home-made toys include pecan wood branches for perches and sticks for twirling, paper bags for climbing into and tearing up, pine cones with a little peanut butter rubbed on the edges and tightly braided natural fiber ropes. Birds should be encourage to explore their environment by hiding things, including food items inside small boxes and paper sacks and under shredded paper. Having the TV or radio on all day is not the kind of stimulation they need. They enjoy hearing other birds' sounds instead. You can buy natural sounds CDs and play those for several hours a day. Or you can record your voice or make your own nature recordings out in natural settings for your bird.
Birds of different species should generally not be kept in the same household. Some birds can be carriers of diseases that do not make them sick, but can give the disease to other species of birds that can be fatal. Testing for many diseases can be a problem since they can be positive on one kind of test and negative on another kind of test. Also birds can be positive one month and negative another month. This makes it impossible to ever say that a bird is "safe" around others. It is best to buy birds of the same kind at the same time from the same place. The kinds of tests necessary differs for each species of birds. If you plan on buying birds for breeding, testing is mandatory. However, a quarantine period must be done followed by another round of testing. Quarantining must be done in a completely separate air space-it can not be done in a separate room in your house since the vents still connect and viruses circulate in dust.