"You'll have a lot more respect for a bird after you try making a nest." - Cynthia Lewis

Bird care is important, and it's not difficult to keep your bird happy and healthy. When bringing a pet bird home be prepared for a little noise and occasional mess when it tosses things from the cage like food and seeds. But, most of all be ready for a long-term relationship because the lifespan of a bird is longer than a dog or cat, and they can outlive their owner.

Of course, birds have beautiful vibrant colors, but why are they so wonderful to have as pets? Because birds are very social and intelligent animals with an inquisitive nature, they love to learn new things, and some even learn to talk and sing tunes! They are easy to take care of, are gentle and loving while bonding with their owner.

Pet birds are also very active and fun to have in your home. Bird feed is relatively inexpensive, and they love fresh fruits and vegetables. It's easy to find a bird cage that fits into your living area.  Rental properties frequently don't allow dogs or cats, but pet birds are OK.

Basic bird care includes the right food, fresh water, a proper sized cage, safe bird toys, exercise, and a lot of attention. Parrots are intelligent birds who are very affectionate toward their owners when given plenty of living space, exercise, and interaction with their owners.  Pet birds also need sleep, grooming, care, attention, companionship, social interaction, and intellectual stimulation from play, toys, and training. Bird training is a great way for you and your bird to become close, and it makes caring for your pet bird easier.

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 personality changes that aren't normal. Some pet 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.

 

Bird FAQs

  • There are more than 350 different species of parrots, ranging in size from 3 inches to 40 inches or more.
  • All parrot species have a few traits in common. For example, to be classified as a parrot, the bird must have a curved beak, and its feet must be zygodactyl with 4 toes on each foot: 2 toes that point forward and 2 that point backward. This gives parrots the ability to grip, climb, and manipulate things with their feet.
  • Parrots have many different colors on their body and feathers, and a bird can contain more than 1 basic color. The 15 basic colors are red, blue, green, yellow, brown, gray, olive, pink, orange, purple, buff, rust, tan, white, and yellow.
  • Most parrots have an uncanny ability to mimic human voices and other sounds. Your pet parrot may imitate a barking dog, a mewing cat, doorbells, car alarms, cell phone ring tones, sirens, laughter, and music.
  • Parrots are omnivores and will eat both meat and plants. Their diets consist of nuts, seeds, insects, fruits, and flower buds. They crack the shells of hard nuts and fruits with their strong beaks and use their beaks to dig into the ground to find insects.
  • In general, parrots form strong bonds with each other. They will mate for life and only seek a new mate if something happens like death.

Feeding

Birds require a well-balanced diet with plenty of variety of the right kinds of food 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. Veterinarians recommend pellets because they are formulated diets that contain a blend of grains, seeds, vegetables and fruits, vitamins, minerals, proteins, fats, and other nutrients for your bird.  They also are less messy than seeds!

Clean water and food bowls every day.  Provide fresh cold water every day also.

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.

Feed your bird nutritious fruits and vegetables, supplemented with bird seeds you can buy. Like 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 food and will take some time observing the new food before they will give it a try. Bird chop (finely chopped mix of fresh and cooked healthy bird food) is a popular way to introduce new foods to fussy eaters. It can be frozen for several months. Thaw a portion overnight and then heat in the microwave for about 8 seconds.

Birds Eating Chop

Birds Eating Chop
Bird Do Not Feed List

 

Seeds do not contain sufficient amounts of 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 birdseed. Seeds and nuts contain addictive fats that can create an energy boost, similar to a sugar rush humans feel 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.

Because new food can cause a bird stress, it is important to keep your bird's diet consistent and familiar when they are ill. Introducing new food 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 are 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.

Birdfeed can be placed in the oven and baked (350℉ for 10 minutes) to sterilize the food. Food given to birds should not be placed on the floor of the cage to prevent it from becoming contaminated with bird feces and saliva. Place the food in the cage in a clean, sterile bowl.

Bird Droppings - The Scoop on Poop

Feces, urine, and urates are all combined at the cloaca, the end of the bird's digestive, urinary, and reproductive tracts. The 3 waste products are usually evacuated together as 1 dropping. Changes in any droppings can offer clues to your bird's condition. Droppings should have no odor. Feces should be firm and dark brown or green in color, depending upon the species of bird and the diet.  Bird droppings are made up of 3 parts: the feces, which is the green or brown solid matter of the dropping, the urates, which are the white to cream-colored by-product of the kidney, and the urine, which is a clear fluid, the watery waste of the kidneys. The 3 components are brought together before they are expelled by the body and come out in the form of a single dropping.

If the staple diet is seed, feces will be dark green; while if the staple diet is pelleted food, it will take on the color of the pellets. When feces dry, they often look black. Urine should be clear. Urates should be creamy-white, opaque, and almost chalky in appearance.

Reading the newspaper is the best way to observe your parrot's droppings! Change the paper on the bottom of the cage every day, so you can see the appearance of the droppings which will look about the same every day depending on what you feed your bird. If the droppings have changed, then something could be wrong and a veterinarian visit should be arranged.

Cages

Bird cages should be large enough to allow your bird some free movement so it can fly short distances, and open enough that they can see their surroundings and participate in the action around the home. Cages should be cleaned every other day.

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 example, a large parrot cage with wide bar spacing is not suitable for a budgie.

Bird Cage Size

 

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 can 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 can emit deadly gasses if overheated. Heat, smoke, and gasses produced by cooking a meal can cause extreme harm to a pet 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 you are ready to hear chirping and screeching.

Some pet owners like to place their birds on open perches and play gyms in the home to 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 cords, 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 depth perception that 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.

Paper is the best liner for the bottom of the bird cage. Newspaper, butcher paper, paper towels, or paper bags.  A way you can monitor your bird's health on a daily basis is by checking the quality and quantity of their droppings. It isn’t possible to do that effectively on a surface that is broken and uneven. Place the paper on top of the grate, and on the tray below to catch falling seeds. Change the paper every day.

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 created by their own mess, saliva, and poop. Birdcage 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. Waterborne 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.

Bird Bathing

Birds in the wild bathe themselves in streams, rivers, rain, and puddles formed by the rain. Caged birds should be given the same opportunity to bathe by providing a bowl or a birdbath, with lukewarm or room temperature water to splash in. The moisture on their wings will remove dirt, dust, and encourage preeni

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, and 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 blow 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 perfectly normal!

Treat the Feet

Birds are on their feet 24 hours a day - they even sleep standing up! Be sure to provide perches that vary in width, thickness, and texture for good foot health. Good choices are natural wood branches. Concrete perches and sand perch covers are not good choices because they can cause sore abrasions on the bottom of your bird's feet and toes.

Perches come in all shapes, sizes, and materials. Providing your bird with perches of various types and diameters is important. Your bird will spend most of his life standing, so prevent foot problems. Perches of different types and diameters help to exercise your bird's feet so he won’t get tired of standing on the same sized perches of the same material. Perches will also help your bird navigate his cage and have comfortable places to sleep and spend his time.

Should I Clip My Bird's Wings?

There are many pros and cons about clipping a bird's feathers so it cannot fly. It's really a matter of personal choice.

Cons: A bird's whole body, behavior, and lifestyle are adapted for flight. Flight is also vital to a parrot's health and well-being even when it is in captivity. A flying creature cannot get effective aerobic exercise merely by climbing around, no more than a dog can get effective exercise unless it is able to run around each day. Pet parrots who have regular daily exercise by flying are also strong, fit, and healthy birds.

Flight is as vital for a bird as running is for dogs or horses. And, badly trimmed wings can cause a bird to lose its balance both on a perch and while in flight. An unbalanced flight can cause the bird to crash and get 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.

Pros: 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 tamer and less aggressive. However, badly trimmed wings can cause a bird to lose its balance both on a perch and while in flight.  When clipping the wings take a small amount off each wing, making sure to take off the exact same amount on both sides.

Clip Bird Wings

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.

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 grinding tool or bird clippers for cutting nails. Using a grinding tool is easy - let the speed of the grinder 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 for only 3 seconds, because the pressure causes the nail to get too hot and will cause nail pain for your bird.

Beak Trimming

Most birds will wear down their beaks naturally in good condition and will never need to be trimmed.  But, if the beak looks too long or uneven, make an appointment with your avian veterinarian.

Keep a cuttlebone attached to the cage, to help your bird keep his beak trimmed up nicely! Cuttlebones provide a good source of additional dietary calcium, polishes a bird's beak, and keeps your bird busy with play and exercise.

Cuttlebones are not actually bones. They are the internal shell of the cuttlefish. Cuttlebones also are also sold with a set of clips so you can attach them to the side of the cage. Or, place it on the bottom of the cage, where the activity of pushing it around and tossing it offers great exercise - as your bird polishes its beak and ingests additional calcium.

Bird Eating Cuttlebone

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 birdcage 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.

Your bird can also benefit from being lightly spritzed with cool water from a mister bottle. Besides cooling them off, it also keeps feathers conditioned. This aids in grooming and is said to enhance coloration. Use a spray bottle with cool water. Use a gentle mist and not a stream so you don't startle your bird.

Exercise

Just like any other pet, birds need exercise, especially birds with trimmed wings that cannot fly. Your bird can get exercise by providing mirrors that attach 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 interactive playing which will help it get 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 with confidence 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! CDs are available for purchase that have simple songs and tunes which can be played to your bird even while you are not home.

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 of sight, when it is hungry, or needs attention. When you hear this, reply back with the same words as affirmations.

Bird Lifespan FAQs

Birds in captivity generally live longer than wild birds because they are not subject to the same hazards and stresses of survival that wild birds face. Here is approximately how long pet 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
  • Lorikeets:     15-20 years
  • Parrotlets:    15-20 years
  • Mini Macaws:        20-25 years
  • Pionus:                  20-25 years
  • Senegals:               25-30 years
  • Quakers:                25-30 years
  • Cockatoos:           30-40+ years
  • African Grays:      40-50+ years
  • Amazons:             40-50+ years
  • Macaws:               40-50+ years
  • Eclectus Parrots:  30-50+ years

Wild Birds

A nestling is a baby bird that has no feathers and will need your help. It cannot survive on the ground, and cannot attempt to fly. The best thing you can do is try to find the nest and place the baby back into the nest. If you cannot find the nest, leave the nestling where you found it - or move to a quiet shaded area. Your scent won't affect the parents.  This is a myth.  Parent birds do not recognize their young by smell. They will not abandon a baby if it has been touched by humans. Birds do not have a strong sense of smell.

If you see a fully feathered baby bird (fledgling) hopping on the ground, flitting, and fluttering to low shrub branches. What to do? Leave it alone!  The parents are close by.

Tiny fledglings are pushed out of the nest before they learn to fly. The parents usually continue to feed it. Baby birds are not taught how to fly. Instinct will take over in a few days and it will eventually fly away. Do not try to feed or give it water.

Wild Baby Bird