Many different kinds of birds live among us today. Many of these beautiful creatures look like our pets, but their behavior is often quite different. If you’ve ever owned an animal other than a dog or cat, then you may be surprised at just how much work goes into caring for them. Even if you own only one bird, there are still plenty of steps you should take to ensure its health and happiness.
In this article, I’ll explain some basics of bird care. I’ll also share some tips on how to recognize common problems and treat injuries and sicknesses. Finally, I’ll give advice on how to keep your bird healthy so that it will stay happy and friendly for years to come.
Basic Bird Care
Take good care of your pet bird by providing clean fresh water daily. Be aware that the amount of water needed varies according to the size of your bird and the temperature outside. Generally, though, most birds drink between 2-6 cups per day. You can see how much your bird has drunk by checking his/her droppings. A lot of droppings means he/she has drunk too much water.
Clean up after your bird each time you go out of the house. Most birds tend not to poop inside their cage. However, if your bird does defecate inside her/his home, be sure to wipe down the floor with a damp cloth. Do NOT use alcohol to clean your bird’s cage. It could kill him/her!
Keep your bird’s cage away from heaters, radiators, fireplaces, and any source of extreme cold. Heat can cause your bird’s feathers to become brittle and eventually crack. The same holds true for extremes of cold. Both heat and cold create stress for your bird which can lead to illness.
Don’t allow your bird to fly freely during warm weather. They can easily get overheated. When temperatures drop below freezing, provide adequate warmth. Warmth can be provided using electric blankets or heating pads (never leave your pet unattended near a radiator). Never put your bird directly under a heater.
Provide a variety of toys to keep your bird entertained. In addition to being fun, toys help stimulate their appetites. As well, they help prevent boredom. Keep your bird occupied by playing with him/her for short periods during the day. Don’t let your bird play with objects that are sharp or dangerous. These include wire, sticks, and string.
Birds must eat every few hours. Provide your bird with a balanced diet consisting of seeds, fruits, vegetables, grains, and protein foods. Avoid feeding your bird table scraps or leftover meats from meals prepared with your family.
These aren’t nutritionally complete diets. Good nutrition is important to keep your bird healthy. Your bird needs lots of exercise and interaction with people. Take your bird for walks, feed him/her treats, talk to your bird, play with him/her, etc. Allowing your bird to get bored leads to behavioral problems.
Make sure that the seed mix you choose contains all of the essential nutrients your bird needs. Check the ingredients list carefully. Also, check the expiration date of the package. Seeds deteriorate quickly when exposed to moisture and humidity. If you notice mold growing around your bird’s bowl, throw away the entire batch. Moldy seeds can make your bird very ill.
Never overfeed your bird. Overfeeding encourages obesity and poor digestion. Obesity can result in serious medical conditions including diabetes. Poor digestion causes diarrhea, constipation, and intestinal blockages. Blockages can even affect your bird’s ability to breathe properly.
Most importantly, never offer your bird human food, especially raw meat or bones. These items contain bacteria and parasites that can harm your bird. Offer your bird commercially packaged seeds instead. These products have been sterilized through high heat that would destroy harmful germs. Human food can also carry diseases that can infect your bird.
Feeding your bird correctly takes practice. Watch your bird closely while eating. Notice whether she/he eats slowly and thoroughly or gobbles up everything in sight without chewing. Does your bird seem lethargic? Is he/she extremely hungry? Are they drinking much water?
Do they appear weak? Are their eyes dull? These signs indicate that your bird is either too full or dehydrated. If you suspect dehydration, immediately pour cool water into your bird’s mouth until s/he drinks approximately 1 cup. Then wait 5 minutes and repeat again if necessary.
If your bird seems agitated, upset, or aggressive, do NOT try to force him/her to swallow anything. If your bird becomes violent or shows signs of distress, call the vet right away.
Cleaning Your Parrot’s Cage
Be sure to regularly clean your bird’s cage. Use lukewarm water and mild soap to wash the cage. Rinse the bottom of the cage thoroughly to remove loose debris. Dry thoroughly with a towel to avoid spreading disease organisms.
If you have a large number of birds, consider investing in a cage washer. These machines automatically wash your cages with hot water and detergent. They can also clean the droppings out of the bottom of the cage and disinfect them.
Parrots enjoy interacting with their owners. Buy several types of colorful toys for your bird. Choose toys made of soft material. Bury the toy deep within the substrate of your bird’s cage. Doing this prevents your bird from pulling the toy out of the cage.
Treats and snacks are a great way to entertain your parrot and teach him/her new tricks. Treats should be small enough to fit comfortably into your hand. Smaller treats are easier for your bird to grasp. Avoid giving hard pieces of candy. Instead, cut the treat into smaller segments. This makes it easier for your bird to swallow.
Avoid offering your bird foods containing salt or sugar. Salt and sugar contribute to obesity. Sugar is addictive to parrots because they consume large amounts of it. Their addiction to sugar can turn into a vicious cycle. They will continue to beg for sugar until they literally starve to death.
Sickness & Injury
When your bird gets sick or injured, act fast! Call your veterinarian right away. While it may not be easy to tell whether your bird is sick or injured, here are some general guidelines that can help.
If your bird appears lethargic, weak, and/or disoriented, s/he may be suffering from dehydration. S/he may also be ill. Immediately put ice cubes wrapped in towels in your bird’s mouth. Wait 5 minutes and re-check if s/he has started swallowing them. Repeat this procedure until your bird drinks sufficiently.
Call your vet if your bird displays labored breathing, rapid heart rate, ruffled feathers, excessive drooling, lack of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, etc. These symptoms usually occur due to infection, injury, poisoning, or trauma. If your bird loses consciousness, convulsions, or falls limp, s/he may be suffering from severe pain or shock. Contact your vet immediately.
Do NOT attempt to clean wounds yourself unless directed by a professional. Cleaning a wound improperly can spread bacteria that cause infections.
After cleaning the wound, wrap it tightly with gauze and tape. Place your bird on his side so that the wounded area faces downward. Cover the top of the bandage with plastic wrap to reduce irritation.
If your bird is showing signs of bleeding, stop the flow of blood by placing something heavy on top of the wound. If possible, place a small object between the wound and the weight to separate them. Once the bleeding stops, apply pressure to the wound with your fingers.
Never pull off ticks, mites, or insects. If they break free, they can transfer disease organisms to your bird. Wash your hands thoroughly after removing ticks, bugs, and fleas. If you’re unable to determine the identity of an insect attached to your bird, contact your vet.
Never use scissors or knives to cut away dead skin. These tools can spread disease organisms onto the open surfaces of the skin. After cutting away dead skin, rinse the wound with 70% alcohol to disinfect it.
Always consult a veterinarian if your bird develops persistent symptoms such as fever, swelling, red gums, discharge, discoloration of the eye or feather loss, etc. Symptoms can sometimes be caused by infectious agents rather than physical damage.
A good rule of thumb is to assume that any abnormality warrants a visit to the vet. If you think your bird might have been bitten by another bird, snake, spider, lizard, etc., contact your vet right away.
Most illnesses affecting birds can be prevented by vaccination. Ask your vet about vaccinations against avian influenza virus, West Nile virus, Marek’s disease, fowl cholera, coccidiosis, psittacine herpesvirus, etc. These vaccines vary depending upon the type of bird you wish to protect.