Basic Care for Birds
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 off any one of several formulated diets, which are especially prepared for birds by commercial companies. Birds’ dietary needs vary somewhat with species. Ask your avian veterinarian for recommendations on feeding your bird.
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).
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 expected to be confined most of the time. The cage must be strong enough to resist bending or dismantling by the bird, made of nontoxic 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. northern hardwoods, citrus, eucalyptus, Australian pine), are clean, easily replaceable, and inexpensive. A single, well-placed perch may be adequate for agile climbers like psittacines, because they tend to prefer the highest perch even if more are provided. Two perches, one on each end of the cage, should be available for species such as finches or toucans, which prefer flying or jumping. More perches may be provided in larger cages so 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 bowls rather than deep cups displays the food attractively and may encourage the bird to eat new items. Healthy psittacines with normal ambulatory skills can easily approach the food and water bowls; therefore, it is not necessary in most cases to place blows 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. It is recommended to have two sets of dishes so one set can be cleaned while the other is being used.
Hygiene – A daily cleaning of the cage floor and blows helps to prevent problems with food spoilage and permits the owner to inspect the cage floor. Blood on the floor or unusual condition of droppings can alert the owner to potential signs of illness. A weekly thorough cleaning of the cage is suggested.
Cage liners – Newspapers, paper towels or other cage liner paper may be preferred over wood chips, chopped corn cobs, kitty litter , or sand as cage substrate under the grating, so that the appearance and number of the droppings can be monitored on a daily bases. 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 retreat inside the cage for a sense of privacy (e.g., paper bag, towel, next box).
Most pet birds are intelligent, active animals whose psychological needs must be identified and addressed. Locate the cage near family activity in the home. For some species, opportunities may be provided for exercise in the form of supervised freedom from the cage or flying in the home. If the bird is permitted to fly, be aware of ceiling fans, large windows, not pans on the stove, sticky fly strips, and open doors.
Toys – Toys are useful as mental diversions and tend to encourage physical exercise and beak wear; however, they must be selected with safety of the bird in mind. “Chewable” items include branches, pinecones, rawhide chews, natural fiber rope, and soft white pine.
Many enhancements can be provided to occupy the bird’s attention. Some birds like to tear paper and enjoy a cardboard roller from toilet paper. A piece of corn on the cob or pomegranate is entertaining for birds. Even branches with leaves placed on or against the outside of the cage for the bird to 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 attention to the care of the 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 be desired to prevent escape or injury, and for taming or training. Your veterinarian can advise you on wing clipping. Opinions differ as to whether or not leg bands need to be removed. If a closed band is left on the leg for identification purposes, check under the band 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 bath water.
An annual visit to an avian veterinarian for routine health examination is advised in order to detect potential problems early.