Basic Care for Your Pet Bird
by Bob Doneley BVSc FANZCVS (Avian Medicine) CMAV
Your bird's diet is critical to its overall care. Adequate feeding plans may be developed from a wide variety of commonly available foods, or you may offer any one of several formulated diets that are especially prepared for birds by commercial companies. Dietary needs vary somewhat with the species. Ask us, your avian veterinarian, for feeding recommendations.
The bird should be on the best possible diet all of the time. It is a mistake to improve the diet only during moult or breeding. The bird may need more food during certain times, but the bird should not be on a diet that "needs improving."
Temperature: A healthy bird can tolerate temperatures that are comfortable to its owner. Sudden changes in temperature may be a potential threat to a sick bird.
Humidity: Pet birds can adapt to a wide range of humidity levels, although birds native to subtropical climates may benefit from occasional increased humidity in the home e.g., in the bathroom with a running shower or frequent misting of the feathers with water (don't spray the bird directly spray above it so the water comes down like mist).
Light and fresh air: Opportunities for supervised access to fresh air and direct sunlight (not filtered through glass or plastic) appear to be beneficial, as long as shade is available.
The largest cage that can be accommodated in the home is recommended for birds that are confined most of the time. The cage must be strong enough to resist bending or dismantling by the bird, made of non-toxic material, and designed for safety and ease of cleaning. In most cases, the cage would need to be wider than it is tall to accommodate stretched wings; however, ample height should be provided as well for long-tailed birds.
Perches: Natural wood branches, appropriately sized, from pesticide-free and non-toxic trees (e.g. hardwoods, citrus, eucalyptus, Australian pine), are clean, easily replaceable, and inexpensive. Some well-placed perches may be adequate for agile climbers like parrots because they tend to prefer the highest perch if multiple perches are provided. A minimum of two perches, one at each end of the cage, should be available for species such as finches, which prefer flying or jumping. More perches may be placed in larger cages as long as they do not overcrowd the cage. Perches should be placed to prevent droppings from contaminating the bird's food or water, and to prevent the bird's tail from contacting food, water, or the floor of the cage.
Food and water bowls: The use of wide food bowls or deep cups will depend on the type of bird. Healthy parrots with normal balance can easily approach food and water bowls; therefore, it is not necessary in most cases to place bowls directly beside the perch. Birds often overeat or chew on food dishes out of boredom. Placing the food at the opposite end of the cage from the water will ensure that the bird gets some exercise between eating and drinking. Two sets of dishes are recommended so one set can be cleaned while the other is being used.
Hygiene: A daily cleaning of the cage floor and bowls helps to prevent problems with food spoilage and permits the owner to inspect the cage floor. Blood on the floor or abnormal droppings can alert the owner to signs of potential illness. It is important to thoroughly clean the cage each week.
Cage liners: The appearance and number of droppings can be better monitored if newspapers, paper towels, or other plain cage liner paper is used as a cage substrate rather than wood chips, shell grit, kitty litter, or sand. Birds should not be allowed direct contact with the substrate as it tends to grow bacteria and fungus.
Security: Many birds benefit from the availability of a retreat (e.g., paper bag, towel, nest box) inside the cage for a sense of privacy.
Most pet birds are intelligent, active animals whose psychological needs must be identified and addressed. Place the cage near family activity in the home. For some species, opportunities for exercise may include supervised freedom from the cage so the bird can fly in the home. If the bird is permitted to fly, be aware of other pets, ceiling fans, large windows, hot pans on the stove, and open doors.
Toys are useful as mental diversions and tend to encourage physical exercise and beak wear; however, they must be selected with the safety of the bird in mind. "Chewable" items include branches, pinecones, rawhide chews, and soft white pine. Many enhancements to the cage and home can occupy the bird's attention. Some birds like to tear paper and enjoy the cardboard from a toilet paper roll; others may like a piece of corn on the cob or a passionfruit. Even branches with leaves placed on or against the outside of the cage, that the bird can pull through the wires, is "occupational therapy."
Minimal care is required for the healthy, well-fed pet bird. Confined, indoor pet birds that eat an all-seed diet usually require more care for their beak, nails, feet, and feathers.
As a new feather develops, the bird may pick at the pin feather cover to open it. This should not be interpreted as "feather picking" or reaction to the presence of mites.
Pure water is the most appropriate feather spray. Keep feathers free of oily substances. Soiled feathers may be gently cleaned with a mild detergent solution (e.g., baby shampoo) followed by a thorough rinsing and drying.
A wing clip may prevent escape or injury, and may be desired for taming or training. Our staff can advise you about wing clipping.
Opinions differ as to whether or not leg rings need to be removed. If a closed ring is left on the leg for identification purposes, check under the ring occasionally for signs of dirt accumulation, swelling, or constriction of the leg.
Most birds enjoy daily bathing. Some will bathe in a dish or bowl; others prefer a large handful of wet lettuce leaves. If the bird resists any form of bathing, a daily misting with clean water will encourage it to groom itself and will keep the bird clean. Do not add anything to the bath water.
An annual visit to the West Toowoomba Vet Surgery for a routine health examination is advised for early detection of potential problems.