Whether you’ve just purchased your first bird, or if you’ve been raising birds for many years, much of the information on this sheet may be new to you. In fact, some or all of it may be at odds with things you’ve heard from pet store employees, or other bird fanciers. Please take a few minutes to read through this handout and use the information in it to help keep your birds doing their very best. If you have any questions please feel free to discuss them with your veterinarian.
General Bird Care
Psitticine Birds (hook billed birds) originate in tropical or sub tropical environments. The tropics tend to be much more humid than our environment in Southern California and the temperature does not vary nearly as much throughout the day. As such, it is important that we always keep our birds in an environment that is at least 70 to 75 degrees. This is particularly important when the change in temperature within the day exceeds 15 to 20 degrees (ex. 60 degrees in the night and 90 in the day). We recommend the use of a radiator type space heater to keep the bird room comfortable year round. These heaters are thermostatically controlled and will turn off if they fall over thus reducing the risk of fire.
Most often people purchase cages that are too small for their birds to be comfortable in. Remember these animals are supposed to have the whole sky to play in. Try to get the largest cage that will fit comfortably in your home so that your pet can get plenty of exercise.
Be sure the cage is not painted with lead based paint (some antique cages or those from Mexico may have this problem).
You should have at least 2; preferably 3 different diameter perches in the cage to help prevent foot infections. Do not use sandpaper-covered perches as they tend to irritate the feet and some birds will eat the sandpaper and become obstructed.
You should have 3 different dishes in the cage. One for water, one for dry seeds and pellets and a third for fresh food. All dishes should be cleaned daily and disinfected twice weekly using a solution of one ounce liquid bleach to 1 quart of warm water. Soak the dishes in the solution for 5 minutes and then rinse thoroughly.
Birds are very intelligent creatures and need things in the cage to keep them occupied. You should place a number of different toys in the cage making sure that they are appropriate for your size of bird. Be sure to avoid anything with sharp edges or things that can shred to strings, which may get stuck around a limb or wing.
Observing Your Bird
It is important for you to get used to watching your bird and handling them daily to help detect signs of illness at their earliest, most treatable stages. Healthy birds should be alert, active and interactive when they are awake. If they are fluffed up in the daytime or sleeping most of the day they are probably cold, sick or both!
You should feel the breast muscles regularly. They should be rounded and full; jutting out in a convex manner from the chest. If they are concave, your bird is malnourished and probably sick.
Malnutrition is the MOST important factor in the development of illness in pet birds. Most bird owners are misinformed as to the nutritional needs of their feathered friends and despite their best intentions and efforts; they continue to feed their birds totally unbalanced diets.
Common Diet and Feeding Practices:
Most bird owners feed their birds a diet comprised primarily of seed mixes. Unfortunately, in almost all instances a seed based diet is lacking in several essential nutrients including vitamins (especially vitamin A and D), minerals (especially unbalanced ratios of calcium to phosphorous), and proteins. Even the best seed diet, which may be billed as a complete diet, is only complete if the bird eats all of the components of the diet. Most bird owners feed their pets on a free choice basis, leaving a mixture of food available throughout the day. Unfortunately, even if the mixture offers a balanced diet, birds to not have the instinct to select a balanced diet from a mixture of feeds. In fact, most birds tend to develop a preference for a few of the items in the mix and eat them to the exclusion of all other foods. This singular preference invariably leads to malnutrition and secondary disease.
Balanced Diet and Proper Feeding Practices:
In order to ensure your bird’s good health, it is critical to provide the proper diet for them. The diet must have the proper combinations of carbohydrates, protein, fats, fiber, vitamins and minerals. This diet can be provided through a combination of fresh foods and a balanced commercial diet.
Recently, commercial bird foods, which are nutritionally balanced, have become available in a pellet form, similar to the balanced diets available for dogs and cats. These pellets have a uniform consistency and a guaranteed analysis to make certain that every bite provides appropriate nutrients to your bird. Birds; being creatures of habit, do not convert to eating pellets readily. Various nutritional aides and techniques have been developed to assist in the conversion from a primarily seed diet to a complete pelleted feed (see additional handout “converting birds from a seed based to a pelleted feed). Often the conversion process can take weeks and even months of patient, consistent efforts on the part of the owner. The rewards for your diligent efforts will be a well nourished, thriving companion!
In the wild, Psittacine (hook-billed) birds eat a variety of fresh fruits, vegetables, insects, and seeds. It is important to give your bird approximately 20-30% of his total diet in the form of fresh food. Not all fresh food is good for your bird. The following precautions should be followed:
- Feed only fresh, or fresh frozen produce to your bird.
- Never leave the produce out during the heat of the day, as harmful organisms may grow on the food.
- Be certain that all produce is thoroughly washed (to remove any fertilizer or insecticides which can be very toxic to birds) prior to feeding them to your birds.
- Limit the amount of watery fruits (i.e. melons, grapes etc), and high water content vegetables (i.e. celery, and iceberg lettuce) as these foods may lead to indigestion and diarrhea. Moreover, this type of food is very limited in nutritional value.
Fresh foods should be a mixture of the following:
- Protein sources: boiled egg (with the shell), hard cheese, meats (chicken or turkey) or fish, beans (lima, kidney, red, white, canallini etc), bean sprouts, alfafa sprouts, dark leafy greens (spinach, kale, dark lettuces parsley)
- Carbohydrates: whole grain breads, whole grain pasta, potatoes, brown rice, millet, quinoa
- Vegetables: Broccoli, carrots, spinach, kale, parsley, corn romaine lettuce, green beans, tomatoes, bell peppers, beans and bean sprouts etc (avoid avocado and onions)
- Fruits: Raisins, banana, apples etc. Do not feed Avocados! Stay away from watery fruits like melons
Seed mixes vary in content and quality. When selecting a seed mix, consider the following:
- You should purchase a seed mix at a pet store that specializes in birds. They should be able to help you select a good mixforyour particular bird. The turnover of food in these stores is typically faster than other sources (i.e. supermarkets, drug stores) and therefore the mixtures should be fresh.
- Do not get a mix that is predominantly sunflower seeds. Theses seeds are very fattening, and unbalanced for your pet, yet many birds will become “addicted” to them and refuse the other seeds in the mix.
- Check the mix for any foul odors, which may reflect spoilage. Refuse any mix that smells bad.
- There should be a minimum of peanuts in the mix for the same reason above.
Even with the best of diets, most birds become vitamin deficient. It is advisable to add a vitamin supplement to the water or sprinkled on the food daily. The water dish MUST be thoroughly cleaned daily, and disinfected with dilute clorox (1 ounce chlorox to 1 quart of water), or lysol at least once weekly to prevent growth of dangerous organisms.
Birds use a lot of calcium in the production of feathers, bone and eggs (females, of course). The Calcium to Phosphorus ratio (which must be balanced to promote proper growth) is completely wrong in most seeds. Therefore, a mineral source is necessary for all birds. The op~ons to use include:
- Cuttle Bones, Mineral Blocks,
- Oyster Shells, Commercial supplements.
The important thing is that the birds must actually use the supplement. If you find that your bird will not touch the cuttle bone or block, then you should scrape a bit of the block onto the food every day.
If abalanced diet is being fed, there should be minimal need for feather supplements. During the molting season increased calcium may be required in the form of cuttle bones, mineral blocks or oyster shells to aid in the formation of new feathers.
Veterinary Care for Alta Loma, Rancho Cucamonga, Upland, Ontario, Claremont, Fontana, and the Inland Empire
Our veterinarians recommend bringing your bird to the veterinarian at least once a year. During that time, our veterinary team will perform a comprehensive physical examination. Generally, it is advisable to do a number of lab tests each year to help us determine the health of your pet. These might include blood chemistry and complete blood tests, culture and sensitivity, fecal exams, tests for infectious agents etc. Our veterinarian will let you know which tests would be most appropriate based on the age, and condition of your pet.
Birds do their best in the wild to hide their illnesses. By the time you see them fluffed up or sitting on the bottom of the cage, they are already very sick and should be brought into the veterinarian immediately.
These guidelines are quite general but they should work well for most of our winged friends. If you have more questions on this or any other aspect of your pet’s health care, please do not hesitate to discuss it in depth with our veterinarian by contacting us at (909) 980-3575.