Basic Husbandry and Medical Care of Birds
1. Sandpaper perches should be avoided. They do not keep nails filed short as previously thought but instead can abrade the bottoms of the feet rendering the bird susceptible to foot infections (bumblefoot). Natural tree branches of variable sizes make the best perches. Safe trees include most fruit trees, dogwood and willow; cherry trees should be avoided however. Stone or ceramic perches may help to keep the nails from having sharp points but should not replace wooden perches. If natural tree branches are not available then dowel rods of varying sizes can be used as perches.
2. Cage size should allow adequate room for lateral extension of the wings (i.e., width is more important than height). Cages must be made of nontoxic materials such as stainless steel. Zinc coated metal (galvanized metal, hardware cloth) is dangerous to birds and should be avoided.
3. Food and water dishes should be placed in such a way that fecal contamination cannot occur. If this cannot be done, then covered dishes will protect against contamination. Dishes and the cage floor should be cleaned daily and the entire cage and its contents should be cleaned and disinfected weekly.
4. Wood chips and corncobs as cage liners may be dangerous to birds. Paper cage liners are ideal as they are safe and allow droppings to be monitored. Cutting paper cage liners to the size of the cage and stacking them several layers thick allows an owner to remove the top layer of paper daily leaving clean paper underneath.
5. Cages must be secured to prevent escape or traumatization by other family pets.
6. Exercise is essential for proper health. If possible, supervised flight in a safe indoor environment is recommended. Birds should not be allowed to fly in rooms with mirrors, running ceiling fans, open doors, or windows without the shades drawn. Ingestion of lead drapery weights or other foreign objects should not be permitted.
7. The kitchen is not a safe place for birds. Fumes from overheated non-stick pans are toxic to birds (as are many other airborne chemicals or pollutants) plus birds have also been known to fly into pots on top of a stove.
8. Ultraviolet full spectrum lighting is essential to good health and can be purchased at most pet stores. These lights should be placed above the cage and turned on daily, regardless of what other lighting, (artificial or natural), is available. Full spectrum lighting fixtures should not be covered by glass or plastic as the covers filter out some beneficial wavelengths of light. A sunny room is insufficient as a source of full spectrum lighting because the glass windows filter out some of the necessary wavelengths of light. Poster black lights (BLB lights) and incandescent lights are also not acceptable.
9. All tropical birds, such as Amazons and Macaws, thrive if bathed or misted frequently (preferable daily). Canaries like to bathe daily in a shallow bowl of clean water whereas Budgies may prefer to bathe in wet lettuce leaves. Oil-based substances should never be used on feathers or skin.
10. Never take a bird outdoors unless it is in a cage. Trimming a bird’s flight feathers does not guarantee that the bird cannot fly, especially outdoors where air currents may aid in flying. Reasonable exposure to the outdoors is ideal with appropriate supervision (i.e. good weather, secure flight cage, available shade, and adequate water supply).
11. Bird cages should be covered during the night period to allow for sleep and rest. A light/dark cycle that mimics the normal sunrise/sunset cycle outdoors is best for a bird and helps to promote normal molting cycles.
1. Seeds, especially sunflower seeds, are high in fat and deficient in Vitamin A making them inadequate as a total diet. Seeds may safely comprise up to 15-20% of the total diet as long as the rest of the diet is balanced and nutritionally complete.
2. Seeds can be a common source of pathogenic (disease causing) bacteria.
3. A variety of table foods including vegetables (except avocados), cereal products, and eggs should be offered daily. A small amount of fruits (without the seeds or pits) and meats help complete a balanced diet. Chocolate should be avoided at all times.
4. A pelleted ration is the preferred food for a bird and should be the mainstay of the diet. If pellets are fed, vitamins are not necessary and should be avoided. Some experts think that African Grey parrots do not thrive on an exclusively pelleted ration and recommend supplementing their diet with skim yogurt, white cheeses, papaya, almonds, hazelnuts, Brazil nuts, beans, and green leafy vegetables.
5. Peanuts are particularly high in fat and should be offered as treats only. Peanuts in the shell can be a significant source of fungus and should be avoided (especially for African Grey parrots).
6. It is often difficult to convert a seed-eating bird to pellets or table food. These suggestions may ease the transition:
a. Try a highly palatable pelleted ration such as Harrison’s Bird diets.
b. Offer the desired foods during the day, while making seeds available only during the evening.
c. Measure the bird’s daily seed intake, and then provide half of this amount of seed each day along with the pellets.
d. Make eating a social occasion shared by you and your bird.
e. Place the pellets near a favorite toy.
f. Coat the pellets with peanut butter, safflower oil, or sunflower oil, or try sweetening them with molasses or brown sugar.
g. Make pellet cakes by moistening one pound of pellets and grinding in a blender. Mix moistened pellets with any flavor cake mix and add three cups of water. Bake in muffin pans at 375 degrees for 30 to 45 minutes or until done.
h. Try feeding a combination pellet/seed preparation such as Avicakes or Nutriberries.
i. Try Kray’s diet. Mix equal parts canned corn (drained), ground dry dog kibble, canned kidney beans (with liquid), and cooked brown rice. This diet may be prepared in advance and frozen.
j. Try alternative diets such as Crazy Corn.
7. A vitamin supplement should be added to the food or water daily if the diet consists of mostly seeds.
8. Tap water can be a source of disease causing bacteria; therefore only boiled or bottled water should be offered.
9. Grit may be offered once every six months. It is unnecessary and possibly detrimental to offer it continuously.
10. Calcium is necessary for all birds and is particularly important in African Greys and in egg-laying hens. Cuttlebones and oyster shells may serve as a calcium source provided the bird uses them. Some birds may benefit from calcium supplementation added to the food or water.
11. A weekly source of Lactobacillus (normal gastrointestinal bacteria), such as Bene Bac powder or gel, is helpful at preventing yeast and bacterial infections.
C. MEDICAL CARE
1. A pre- or post-purchase examination by an avian veterinarian is highly advisable. Birds are very good at hiding signs of illness and therefore many underlying illnesses are not detectable by visual examination alone. Further testing (gram stains, cultures, bloodwork, Chlamydophilla testing and viral tests) is often necessary to better evaluate a bird’s health. Annual examinations and gram stains are highly recommended to insure a bird’s continued good health.
2. Wing, beak and nail trimming are services provided by avian veterinarians as needed.
3. New avian additions to a household should be quarantined in a separate part of the house for 45 days and examined by a veterinarian to prevent the introduction of disease to other birds.
4. Illness progresses rapidly in birds, hence a veterinarian should be consulted if any of the following signs occur:
a. nasal or eye discharge
b. sneezing or difficulty breathing (often manifested by the tail bobbing up and down with each breath)
c. ruffled, fluffed feathers
d. weight loss
e. weakness (often manifested by sitting on the cage bottom)
h. swelling or growths
i. lameness or sore feet
j. significant change in droppings (Droppings should be monitored daily for odor, consistency, number and amount).
k. significant change in food or water consumption
l. feather picking or loss beyond normal preening or molt
m. overgrowth of beak or nails
5. Birds should not be exposed to drafts at any time. Most healthy birds prefer warmer temperatures (75 to 85 degrees F) to maintain optimal health. The ideal environment temperature for a sick bird is even higher at 85 to 90 degrees F.
6. Over-the-counter water medications should be avoided at all times. Most disease causing organisms are not susceptible to these products and their use interferes with diagnostic tests.
7. Smoking in the house often induces respiratory and skin problems in birds and should be avoided.
8. Bands should ideally be removed to prevent leg damage from hanging up in the cage. Larger birds may be microchipped for identification purposes.
1. Interaction with family members on a daily basis is desirable for social development.
2. All family members should teach the bird the “up” command, which tells the bird that it should step from its perch or the human hand. The “up” commands can be used to control the bird and helps prevent territorial or cage aggression.
3. Birds are intelligent by nature and greatly benefit from auditory and visual stimulation. Bright colors, changing scenery, music, conversation and radios may contribute to a bird’s well being.
4. Toys are a necessary diversion, but they must be carefully selected for safety and durability. Pine cones, natural fiber rope, rawhide chews and soft white pine bark make good toys.
5. Pet birds, like any other pet, can develop problem behaviors such as aggression, cage dominance, and handling problems. With the help of a qualified pet behavior consultant, owners can be taught how to manage their pet’s undesirable behavior.
6. Care should be exercised when taking any advice from written material on avian behavior problems. No one should ever recommend shouting or striking a bird in discipline.