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February 20, 2013

How to Care for Your Pet Bird

Tips, resources for feeding, housing, enrichment, and more for parrots and other birds kept as pets

Parrots and other birds kept as pets (like canaries and finches) have very specialized needs.

Studying up will help ensure you're providing the best life possible for your feathered friend.

What follows are general guidelines and tips, but you'll be most successful if you grab a book or two on the subject (suggestions below) and always, always regularly consult with a board-certified avian veterinarian (see below for more on that, too), especially if you're new to birds.

 

Get to know your bird »

This might seem to go without saying, but it's foundational to creating a positive life for your animal.

Birds aren't decoration; they're highly intelligent, social, and demanding, so expect to have a close relationship with your bird. This is important so you can assess her likes and dislikes, fears and safety zones, and how to detect if she's not feeling well. Barbara Heidenreich's bird body language DVD is also helpful.

Get to know birds in general »

Parrots and other birds kept as pets are very different from any other pet you've had. Take the time to learn about how to optimize their lives with a brief introduction to captive birds in the home; then check out books, DVD's, and training classes.

Provide as much out-of-cage time as possible—this will mean bird-proofing your house »

Birds don't want to live in cages any more than we do. If you have the space, consider dedicating a room in your house as your bird's room so she has to spend as little time in her cage as possible. If a bird room isn't in your near future, commit to having the bird out of her cage, in a safe, always supervised space, whenever possible when you're at home. This is important for enrichment and the opportunity to fly. Birds will chew anything in sight: wires, cords, the wall (most paint is hazardous), furniture, etc. Remove or adequately cover any of these materials, and ensure that all windows and doors are closed. Keep your bird away from other pets in your home if you're unsure of their dynamic (cats and dogs are obvious ones). And familiarize yourself with the list of the most hazardous household materials (air fresheners, scented candles, and Teflon cookware are the biggies).

Let your bird fly—don't clip her wings

Everything about a bird's physiology is designed for flight. They have wings, hollow bones, and specialized respiratory systems that allows them to use air differently than we do. Because they're prey species, they need flight as a means to feel safe and normal.

Find a board-certified, avian veterinarian »
See her or him at least once a year; call whenever something seems off

Most dog and cat veterinarians don't treat birds. Among those who treat/see birds, very few are board-certified in avian medicine. But finding one who is can make all the difference in supporting a long, healthy life for your bird. A board-certified avian vet. knows parrots' nutritional and behavioral needs better than most, and he or she will be your partner in providing optimal care for your pet. Plus, birds are flock animals so mask their symptoms when they're sick. It's critical to know your bird so well that you can detect the most minor of shifts in his behavior, then immediately contact the vet. Often, this is the only opportunity you'll get to save his life. The basic rule with birds is that you can never be too cautious. When in doubt, call the vet.  Find an avian vet at the Association of Avian Veterinarians' website.

Consider adopting more than one bird »

Parrots and other birds kept as pets are flock animals. At a minimum they need a close relationship with you, but they'll thrive if they have a good relationship with another bird with whom they live (to understand, imagine living your life without seeing another human). Talk to your local avian rescue organization to learn about other birds who might get along with yours.

Feed your bird well »

Did you know that most parrots and birds kept as pets should eat very little seed? It's fattening and not health-supporting in high quantities. Most birds should be on a diet of a high-quality, organic pellet and a variety of fresh fruits, vegetables, and grains. Talk to your avian veterinarian about diet, check out the diet resources from Phoenix Landing ("Nourish to Flourish" book and "Feeding our Parrots Well" DVD). The two most reputable, commercial bird food companies are Harrison's Bird Foods and Roudybush.

Provide the biggest cage you can afford, and design it for fun, safety, comfort »

A cage can never be too big for an animal who has wings. As your bird will likely spend a good amount of her time in her cage, you'll want to design it for comfort (vary the perch heights; make sure food and water access is easy, etc.) and stimulation (great toys!). Check out the Bird-Safe Store for cages, toys, perches, and more. This is definitely an area in which you'll benefit from reading some good parrot primers (there are entire books, DVD's dedicated to creating a fun environment for your parrot) and attending workshops where you can swap ideas with other bird owners.

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