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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 particular needs. Studying up on them  is necessary to make sure you're providing a humane and happy life for your feathered friend.

We've pulled together general guidelines, but you'll be most successful if you grab a book or two on the subject and always, always consult a board-certified avian veterinarian (see below for more on that, too), especially if you're new to birds.

Adopt, don't shop

Small animals like birds are often mistreated and forced into deplorable conditions when they're bred for pet stores to sell — look for a local rescue first when you're considering adopting a hamster, and skip the pet stores.

Get to know your bird »

This might seem to go without saying, but developing a close relationship is the foundation for creating a positive life for your pet.

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

Learn about birds in general

Parrots and other birds kept as pets are very different from any other pet you may have 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, DVDs, and 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. Consider dedicating a room in your house as your bird's room so they have to spend as little time in their cage as possible. If a bird room isn't in your near future, you will need to have the bird out of their cage, in a safe, supervised space whenever possible for enrichment and the opportunity to fly.

Birds will chew anything in sight: wires, cords, the wall (most paint is hazardous), furniture, etc. To keep your bird safe, remove or adequately cover any of these materials, and ensure that all windows and doors are closed, and familiarize yourself with the list of the most hazardous household materials for birds »

Finally, keep your bird away from other pets in your home until you become sure of their dynamic together.

Let your bird fly—don't clip their wings

Everything about a bird's physiology is designed for flight. They have wings, hollow bones, and specialized respiratory systems that allows their bodies to process air differently than we do. Because they're prey species, birds need flight as a means to feel safe and normal. Clipping a bird’s wings is usually unnecessary and can be avoided in most cases by harness training.

Find a board-certified avian veterinarian »

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 veterinarian knows parrots' nutritional and behavioral needs better than most, and they will be your partner in providing optimal care for your pet.

Once you find a certified avian veterinarian, see them at least once a year and ; call whenever something seems off with your companion bird.

As flock animals, birds 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 their behavior, then immediately contact the vet. Often this is the only opportunity you'll get to save their life. The best rule to follow with birds is that you can never be too cautious. When in doubt, call the vet. You can 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 this, 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 and check out diet resources from Phoenix Landing: for instance, the "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 their time in their 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 books and DVDs 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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