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Bird Care


Pet birds require food, water, shelter, sleep, grooming, care, attention, companionship, social interaction, and intellectual stimulation -- the kind that can only be derived from play and training. When bringing a pet bird home be prepared for a little noise, an occasional mess, and a long term relationship. Birds don't just sing beautiful songs and talk, they also screech and holler. Expect to clean up after your birds as they toss things from their cage and scatter food and seeds around their cage. Regular cleaning of the cage is extremely important to your bird's health. Pet birds should be examined by an avian veterinarian whenever you notice behavior or personalities changes that aren't normal.

Many birds can become extremely attached to their owners and lose all zest for life if abandoned or sold.

Caged birds need sunlight and rarely get enough ultraviolet radiation from the windows in the home. Birds require ultraviolet (UV-W) light through their skin to facilitate the absorption of calcium as food passes through the intestinal tract. Without enough calcium, birds will develop weak bones, and lose muscle tone. Be sure to get your bird outside as often as possible, especially on sunny days. Place the bird in its cage in a well ventilated sunny spot that is well out of the reach of neighborhood cats and other predators. On hot summer days, partially cover the cage with some shade so your bird can move in and out of the sun to stay cool. Be extra careful not to let your bird become overheated as this can quickly become a dangerous situation. Where direct sunlight is not always available, artificial light can be used to create the needed ultraviolet light birds need.

Hygiene
Keeping birds clean and healthy requires a daily effort. Because pet birds are confined to a cage with limited mobility, they are continually exposed to bacteria that is created by their own mess, saliva, and poop. Bird cage floors, perches, food, and water dishes should be cleaned daily.

To clean a bird cage, remove the newspaper at the bottom of the cage and wipe the bottom surface down with hot soapy water. Perches should also be treated with a disinfectant such as diluted bleach (1/2 cup bleach to 1 gallon of water). Keep several food bowls on hand so that the bowls can be rotated in and out of the cage each day. Bowls should be soaked in hot soapy water, rinsed well, and completely dried. Uneaten food should be discarded as it is most likely contaminated with droppings or saliva. Water bottles should also be changed daily, soaked with disinfectant, and rinsed before being refilled. If you decide to give your bird tap water, be sure to let the water run for a few minutes before filling the water bottle to allow unwanted contaminants to flush through the pipes, and not end up in your bird's water supply. Water borne pathogens that normally do not affect people, can cause devastating results to birds.

Keeping your bird's cage and food supply free from contaminants requires a constant vigilant effort. By following these cleanliness requirements, you can reduce the chance that your bird will contract a disease and increase the chance of having a healthy bird to brighten your home for many years.

Feeding
Birds require a well balance diet with plenty of variety of the right kinds of foods that contain essential vitamins and minerals. When feeding birds offer foods that are high in nutritional value and not mixed with nuts or seeds. Birds are picky eaters and will consume the nuts and seeds and ignore the nutritional foods.

Vitamin A is critical to your pet bird's health. This vitamin helps maintain healthy feathers, skin, eyes, intestinal tract, respiratory system, and reproduction organs. To ensure your bird gets an ample supply of Vitamin A, provide a variety of vitamin A rich foods such as sweet potatoes, squash, carrots, spinach, corn, apricots, eggs, and fish oils. Seeds do not contain sufficient Vitamin A. Birds that prefer to eat nothing but seeds (seed junkies) eventually become sickly due to the lack of Vitamin A. This can shorten the bird's life span.

Seed junkies refuse to eat anything but sunflower seeds, pine nuts, peanuts, and other types of bird seed. Seeds and nuts contain addictive fats that can create an energy boost, similar to a sugar rush humans feels when consuming sugary products. This boost from fats creates a preference for high-fat foods. When birds become hooked and then are deprived of the fatty nuts and seeds that they prefer, they become lethargic and depressed. Recent research shows that not only are sunflower seeds common in pet bird's diets, but also can be particularly addictive.

Feed your bird nutritious fruits and vegetables, supplemented with common bird feed. As most pets, birds are creatures of habit and like to see familiar foods at regular intervals. It is common for birds to shy away from new or unfamiliar foods, and will take some time observing the new food before they will give it a try. As new foods can cause the bird stress, it is important to keep your bird's diet consistent and familiar when they are ill. Introducing new foods during times of sickness will cause the bird to eat less and not recover as quickly. During sicknesses, any change from the normal routine (feeding times, cage location, etc.) will cause the bird additional stress.

Bird cages and food dispensers should be cleaned regularly to prevent bacterial diseases from causing sickness. Birds are highly sensitive to bacteria that is not considered harmful to humans. To prevent contamination, wash your hands each time you prepare bird food, and wash all fresh fruits and vegetables before feeding them to your bird. Bird feed can be placed in the oven and baked (350 degrees F for 10 minutes) to sterilize the food. Food given to birds should not be placed on the floor of the cage in order to prevent it from become contaminated with bird feces and saliva. Place the food in the cage in a clean, sterile bowl.

Water dispensers should be cleaned regularly with a disinfectant soap and hot water. Because dishwashers run at hot temperatures, they are a great place to further sterilize food bowls and water dispensers. When filling up your bird's water dispenser use clean bottled water. If you use tap water, let the tap water run for 4 - 5 minutes before filling the water container to allow for impurities to pass through the pipes.

A healthy bird preens himself and keeps himself clean, but he needs additional grooming from you for his wings, nails, and beak.

Wing Trimming
If you trim your pet bird's wings, he will be protected from injuring himself because he will be unable to fly into mirrors, windows, and ceiling fans. Trimming can cause a bird to be more tame and less aggressive.

However, badly trimmed wings can cause a bird to lose its balance both on a perch and while in flight. Unbalanced flight can cause the bird to crash and become injured. The bird will be unable to escape predators like cats, or he could get caught behind furniture or doors, and not be able to get out. Incorrect clipping can cause wing damage. When clipping the wings take a small amount off each wing, making sure to take off the exact same amount on both sides.

trim bird wings

Pet bird owners who choose to clip their birds wings should trim the wings every 6 - 9 weeks after the start of the molt cycle as new feathers grow back. Regular wing trimming is important to prevent your bird from injuring itself by trying to fly around its cage. Before trimming your bird's wings the first time, find an experienced person or veterinarian to assist you. Cut about 4 flight feathers from each side and then do a test flight in the house to see if your bird has a nice downward glide without dropping hard to the floor. If the bird can still fly or gain lift, then take another feather from each side until you get the desired downward glide. The first trimming should not take off a lot feathers in order to give the bird a chance to adjust to its lifestyle with limited flight capabilities. Each time you trim you can take off a bit more, but never cut so much that the feathers bleed. Do not clip the blood feathers (also known as pin feathers).

Nail Trimming
Have styptic powder within reach to stop bleeding should you cut into the sensitive quick (the living portion of the nail that contains blood and nerves). If the quick is cut, the nail will bleed profusely and cause the bird pain. The bleeding must be stopped immediately with the styptic powder. In white, light colored nails, the quick appears as a pinkish stripe that grows partway down the center of the nail. To find the quick in dark nails, turn your bird over to examine the underside of the nail. If you can see the quick, snip off the nail just below it. If you can't see the quick, begin by cutting only a tiny amount from the nail, and continue until you've trimmed the nails to their proper length.


trim bird nails

Wrap your bird in a towel to prevent your bird from moving and causing an injury. Trim only the tip of the nail. You can use a Dremel grinding tool or bird clippers for cutting nails. Using a Dremel tool is easy -- let the speed of the rotary tool do the work. Never apply pressure to the nail with the spinning sanding drum. Allow the speed of the sanding drum to remove the nail. Pressure causes the nail to get too hot causing discomfort for your bird. Keep the sanding drum NO longer than 3 seconds at a time. Grind only a small portion, and alternate between all the nails so the nails cool before they are ground a second time.

Beak Trimming
Most birds will wear down their beaks naturally and will never need you to trim them. Keep a cuttlebone attached to the cage, to help your bird keep his beak trimmed up nicely!


Bird Bathing
Birds in the wild bathe themselves in streams, rivers, rain and in puddles formed by the rain. Caged birds should be given the same opportunity to bathe by providing a bowl or bird bath with slightly warm to cool tap water to splash in. The moisture on their wings will remove dirt and dust and encourage preening. You can use a spray bottle to mist the bird and the moisture will also encourage preening. There is no hard and fast rule about how often a bird should bathe. Some birds enjoy bathing once a week and look forward to bath time.

Thoroughly wet your bird to get rid of heavy feather dust. If not washed off, the wet dust can cake on the feathers as they dry. Give the bath during the day when temperatures are warmer, away from drafts. After a bath, allow your bird to dry in his cage in a warm area. You can also help dry your bird by wrapping him in a towel and stroking the body in the same direction the feathers lay. Do not use a hair dryer on a bird because it can burn the bird, and also many blow dryers contain nonstick Teflon coatings, which emit toxic fumes.

Don't worry if your bird looks like it is shivering and really cold after a bath. Birds will contract their chest muscles rapidly and repeatedly after bathing to create body heat. This is a perfectly normal!

Feather Molting
Throughout a bird's life, feathers will grow old, fall out and be replaced with new colorful feathers. This natural process of feather replacement is called molting. Molting occurs at regular intervals that vary between different bird types. Environmental conditions such as climate and location also will influence the molting cycle. Molting is a busy and stressful time for birds because it takes a lot of energy for a bird to grow new feathers. Proper nutrition is essential during molting to prevent thin or poorly formed feathers. When feathers molt normally, an equal number are lost on both sides of the body with no bald patches, and new pinfeathers appear quickly. That allows the bird to fly in balance. Old feathers protect the new blood-filled pinfeathers from damage and the bird can maintain its body temperature. The sequence of molting generally starts when the inner primary flight wing feathers fall out and are replaced, then the secondary flight feathers and tail feathers start being lost and replaced, and finally the contour feathers.

Feather Preening
Feather preening is the process a bird goes through to groom itself. The preening consists of the bird using its beak and nails to straighten, adjust, and care for its feathers. As feathers are cared for, the bird naturally beautifies its feathers while taking care of the practical needs of waterproofing and conditioning its feathers. Additionally, preening allows for new flight and contour feathers to form and grow out to their natural lengths. Companion birds that share a bird cage or living space will preen each other, as a bird picks at the feathers of its cage mate. Birds will also rub up against objects to aid them in preening their feathers.

Cages
Bird cages should be large enough to allow your bird some free movement, and open enough that they can see their surroundings and participate in the action around the home. When choosing a location for your bird cage, find a spot that is in the common area of the home, but out of the way of foot traffic so that the cage doesn't get bumped. Your pet bird is part of the family, so put the cage in an area where your pet can observe household activity without being in the middle of a lot of commotion.

Purchase the largest bird cage you can afford, as long as the cage bar spacing dimensions are appropriate for the bird. For ex., a large parrot cage with wide bar spacing is not suitable for a budgie.

There are various reasons why a round or oval shaped bird cage is not ideal for a bird. It is believed that birds are uncomfortable without a side or corner to perch next to, and spend a lot of time going in circles around the cage searching for a hiding or resting place. Birds like a corner they can go into so they can hide to feel safe. Also, birds can get their heads, beaks, wings, neck, leg, toe, or foot trapped as the bars at the top have smaller gaps. Round cages have bars that are wide at the bottom and narrow at the top. If the bird got its neck stuck in the narrow bars, it could die.

A well ventilated area away from heating and air conditioning vents will provide your bird ample circulation without the extreme temperature changes that come from the air conditioning and heating. While birds are able to use their feathers to insulate themselves from an occasional draft, rapid temperature changes can cause the bird to become ill. Locate the cage out of direct sunlight, which can be too hot, and away from exterior doors for protection from cold blasts of air, and to prevent escape.

Keep the cage away from toddlers, cats, dogs, window blind cords, electrical cords, and fish tanks.

Additionally, birds should be kept away from the cooking area as oils and non-stick cooking sprays that can emit deadly gasses if overheated. Heat, smoke, and gasses produced by cooking a meal can cause extreme harm to the bird.

During the colder seasons of the year, it may be necessary to cover your bird's cage to keep it warm. While birds do have the ability to adequately insulate themselves through mild temperature changes, a lightweight cage cover can help the bird to conserve additional heat. Pay attention to your bird's communication patterns when the cover is placed on the cage, because some birds react adversely and begin to panic when the cage is covered. If your bird becomes stressed because of the cover, consider not covering the cage. Bird cage covers also limit light entering into the cage in the morning. This will delay the bird's active state in the morning until the owner is ready to hear the chirping and screeching.

Some pet owners like to place their birds on open perches and play gyms in the home and allow their birds to roam the house freely. Free roaming birds should be closely supervised and placed in their cage while the pet owner is away. Birds are quite skilled at getting into trouble around the home. They can peck at and ruin clothing, furniture, drapes, electrical chords, and many other things that can damage the home and potentially be life threatening to the bird. In addition to causing harm to your home, birds lack of depth perception often times will cause them to fly into walls, mirrors, windows, and doors. Birds that are allowed to roam the house often can become territorial and become aggressive about certain areas of the home that they consider to be theirs. This territorial nature can be dangerous to children and visitors to the home.

Exercise
Just like any other pet, birds need exercise, especially birds with trimmed wings that cannot fly as they would like to. Your bird can get exercise by providing toys. Rotate toys frequently to maintain interest. Pet birds also like to have a mirrors attached to the bars of the cage. Birds that do not get enough exercise will seem withdrawn, depressed, and become overweight. This reaction will cause birds to pick at their feathers and exhibit other negative behavioral problems.

Bird Talk
Do not buy a bird because it is capable of speech. Love a bird because of its personality. If it learns to speak that's terrific, but if not you still have a nice companion.

Some species of birds learn to be great talkers. Cockatiels, Lovebirds, Lorikeets, and Parakeets are capable of speech. African Greys are said to be the best of the parrot family for speech. Yellow Napes, Blue Fronts, Red Loreds, and Double Yellowheads in the Amazon family also make excellent talkers.

A young, hand raised bird between the ages of 2 - 6 months is the ideal time to start training. An adult bird can learn to speak, but it will take much longer, and males tend to be better talkers than females. Talk to them nicely all the time like a member of the family.

Work on taming your bird first and build its confidence in you as its master. Develop a bond with your bird by playing with it and getting it used to you and your home. Always speak quietly and clearly. Most of all -- be patient. Developing a bond with you will make your bird happier and more receptive to your efforts.

You will know that the bird is ready to be trained to talk if it is calm and looks at you confidently when you approach it.

While you are playing with him and each time you go near him say his name clearly or just say hello. Whatever you decide to say, keep it simple, and say it clearly. This is all part of the process of teaching a bird to mimic you. Whatever you choose to say should be something he will hear over and over again. The repetition is the key to your bird being able to mimic the words. Many birds learn to mimic a phone ringing, an alarm clock beep, or the sound of a microwave beep. Birds can even be trained to sing a song!

CD's are also available for purchase that contain simple songs and tunes that can be played to your bird even while you are out.

Train your bird to talk in the morning before you take off the cage cover. Repeat a word or phrase over and over again, and make it a ritual. Your bird will be able to concentrate on the sounds in the dark and will try to respond to you with the same sound it hears. Do this at different times of the day, during feeding time, treat time, and at night before covering the cage.

When your bird gets used to this, it will use the same sounds to get your attention while you are out sight when it is hungry or needs attention. When you hear this, reply back with the same words as affirmations.

Bird Lifespan Fast Facts
While birds can live for a long time in the wild, their lifespan in captivity is actually much shorter. Here is approximately how long birds can live if they receive superior care and a proper diet.

  • Finches: 5-10 years
  • Canaries: 7-10 years
  • Parakeets: 8-10 years
  • Lovebirds: 10-12 years
  • Doves: 10-15 years
  • Cockatiels: 15-20 years
  • Conures: 15-20 years
  • Lories and Lorikeets: 15+ years
  • Parrotlets: 15-20 years
  • Mini Macaws: 20-25 years
  • Pionus: 20-25 years
  • Senegals: 25-30 years
  • Quaker Parakeets: 25-30
  • Cockatoos: 30-40+ years
  • African Grays: 40-50+ years
  • Amazons: 40-50+ years
  • Macaws: 40-50+ years
  • Eclectus Parrots: 30-50+ years