GENERAL BIRD CARE

Birds are the third most popular pet in the United States. Even though they are small, they still require a lot of care and attention. They are complex and intelligent. If you take good care of your bird, you will have the opportunity to see what wonderful pets they make.


Location of Cage

Before bringing your bird home, you should pick out an ideal location in your home for his cage. You need to pick an area that is large enough to accommodate the cage. The cage needs to be indoors to allow for daily interaction between you and your pet. It also needs to provide appropriate temperature and light. The cage should receive natural light without exposing your bird to the full heat of the sun. You will need to guard against drafts from windows or doors during the winter. You should never keep your bird in the kitchen. Teflon-coated pans, aerosol cooking and cleaning sprays and gas stoves can pose serious health threats, even death. Keep in mind that your bird will need a quiet and undisturbed period for sleep every night.

Choosing a Cage

Once you have chosen the space, you are ready to select a cage. You should get the largest cage that you can afford to allow your bird freedom of movement. Your bird will need to move horizontally not vertically so you don't want a round cage. The width of the cage is more important than the height. The perches should be an appropriate size for your bird to sit and climb on. They should be placed in a way that encourages him to fly or hop from one to the other. Don't fill the cage with too many perches or structures because this will reduce the amount of space he has to move in. Your bird will need toys that he can manipulate or climb on, chew up or hide in. There is a wide variety of wooden and plastic bird toys available. Some birds even like to look at themselves in the mirror so you can add one to your cage if you want to. The size of your bird will help you choose the size and spacing of the cage bars. You will want bars that are close enough together that your bird won't be climbing out during the day while you are at work. Metal cages are easier to clean and can withstand scrubbing and periodic disinfection. Avoid cages made of wood or wicker. They aren't as easy to clean. Cages equipped with removable bottom trays and feed/water bowls that can be serviced from outside the cage can simplify your life as well. There should be at least one food bowl, one water bowl and one bowl for bathing. The bowls need to be durable. They should be made of materials that allow for repeated thorough cleaning and disinfecting. Be sure that your bird can reach the bowls comfortably from a perch. Do not place them directly under any perches where they can be fouled with his droppings. This is a one-time purchase so be prepared to spend a few hundred dollars. Your bird will be spending the majority of his time here so it's worth the money to give him a home in which he feels comfortable and happy. 

Feeding

An incomplete or unbalanced diet is a common problem with pet birds and is a relatively common cause of illness. The species of bird you get will determine their diet. While we will outline general terms for feeding here, it is imperative that you do more specific research to be sure that you are feeding your pet the proper diet. Be sure that they are getting all the nutrients that they need to live a long, healthy life with you. Hard Bills like finches and canaries need more than just the commercial seed mixes available. They also require leafy greens like romaine lettuce, dandelions and chicory. Slices of apples or oranges are also a favorite. The small hookbills like parakeets, lovebirds and cockatiels also eat seed. Their appropriate commercial seed mixes should include larger seeds like sunflower and safflower. It is good to offer them fruits and vegetables in addition to their seed mix. Parrots also fall into the hookbill category. However, seeds should be a very small part of their diet. They are not primarily seed eaters in the wild. You can now buy pellets for your parrot, which can comprise about half or more of his diet. These pellets have the extra nutrients in them that your parrot will need to remain healthy. Small birds enjoy cuttlebones. They provide some mineral supplementation while keeping your bird's beak occupied and in shape. Seed-eaters consume tiny bits of rocks and sand to aid in the breakdown of their food. Grit for these birds should be supplied in a small feed cup in their cage. Do not ever offer chocolate or avocado to your bird. These foods can kill them.

You will need to clean your bird's food and water bowls every day. While your bird eats, he will leave seed hulls in his food dish. This makes it appear as though he still has a full dish when he really needs more seed. For this reason, all old food or water must be discarded. The bowls should be scrubbed thoroughly and dried, then new, fresh food and water provided. It is essential that a bird's food and water sources remain as clean.

Behavior Problems

The smaller domesticated bird species like canaries, finches, cockatiels, parakeets and lovebirds are less likely to suffer from behavior problems than the wilder, exotic species. These species have long been adapted to life as companion animals. If you care for them properly, most will never exhibit any behavior problems. The more common behavior problems exhibited by pet birds include frequent egg-laying by females, or self-mutilating behaviors, such as feather-plucking. This behavior can signal boredom, dietary issues, incompatibility with cage mates or stress. These issues are less frequent to non-existent in domesticated species, but can be seen more often in larger species.

Socialization and Sterilization

While one bird will make a wonderful new addition to your family, he might be a lot happier with a friend. Most birds are much happier with a partner or small flock, even male canaries who tend to keep to themselves. Usually, male/female pairs do the best together.

Unlike dogs, cats and rabbits, you don't need to spay or neuter your birds. For birds, sterilization surgery is more invasive. Because of your bird's light weight, getting anesthesia right can be tricky and put your bird at risk. Since birds lay eggs, you can control their reproduction on your own by simply removing the eggs from the cage.

Hygiene and Physical Health

When cared for properly, canaries and finches can live 8-10 years. Cockatiels, parakeets, and lovebirds can live up to 15 years. If you want your bird to live as long as possible, it is important that you help maintain your bird's health. It's a good idea to find a vet who specializes in avian care before you get your bird. You can contact your local animal shelter for advice if you have trouble finding one.

Even though your bird will do a good job keeping himself clean, he will also need a little help from you. All birds need to take baths. They will bathe themselves vigorously when they have access to a shallow water bowl in their cages. It should be a separate bowl from their drinking water. Cockatiels and some other small birds may prefer to be spritzed by a squirt bottle, though, so you need to do the research to see which your pet would most enjoy. Preening is another part of avian hygiene. It is your bird's way of grooming and caring for his feathers. His preening makes all of his feathers nice, neat and pointing in the right directions.

It is also important to keep an eye on your pet's nails. His nails may need to be trimmed occasionally. If they start to curve around or if he is having trouble standing on a perch, it is usually time for a trim. Trimming his nails must be done carefully. It is best to take your bird to the vet or have someone with experience assist you at this time.

Birds are prey animals so when your bird is sick or injured, he will normally try to hide his illness. Here are a few things to look for to tell if he's sick:

Swollen or closed eyes
Diarrhea
Fecal stains on the feathers surrounding the anus
Sitting in one place for a long period of time during the day with feathers puffed out
Noisy or labored breathing with wheezing or clicking sounds

If your bird exhibits any of these signs, you need to call your veterinarian immediately.