Environmental, Nutritional, and Husbandry Considerations for Pet Birds
Many species of birds are kept as household pets. Even though they come in a variety of shapes and sizes, the majority have similar husbandry needs that should be met in their day to day life.
Most bird owners, especially in this climate, keep their avian friends indoors. A variety of cage sizes and shapes are available and are marketed for different species based on their size and activity level. Cages should be big enough for birds to perform natural behaviors like jumping from perch to perch, flap their wings, climb, and utilize enrichment. It is recommended to have a cage at least 1.5 times their natural wingspan and tall enough tail feathers don’t touch the bottom for larger species like parrots. Spacing of the bars shouldn’t be large enough for the inhabitants to get their head through.
A variety of perching should be provided in different diameters appropriate for the species of bird. If the perch is too large, the foot is being stretched out too far. If the perch is too small, the bird is not putting weight on the appropriate regions of the foot. Rough perching is not recommended due to its abrasive nature but can be used in spaces where the bird is not spending most of its time to help with nail care.
For cage placement within the house, avoid temperature extremes, harsh lighting, drafts, loud constant noises, and unsupervised pets and children. Positioning in a corner is ideal because it allows a sense of safety and some privacy for your bird. Also, a cover or sheet over the cage at night may provided a sense of safety for many species.
Natural sunlight or an ultraviolet light should be provided for Vitamin D metabolism. Artificial light also has the benefit of providing heat in cooler climates if the species requires a warmer environment. Temperatures should mimic your bird’s natural environment and will vary by species. The heat/light source should be placed on one end of the enclosure to allow an escape from the heat if needed. Just make sure your feathered friend is unable to reach the power cord or light fixture.
Water and food should be provided with good placement, and bowls in appropriate quantity to allow access for all birds in the enclosure.
Generally, a pelleted diet should make up 70-80% of your pet bird’s meals. Some fruits and vegetables are also great as part of a healthy diet and make great enrichment. Preparation of these items is important. All produce should be washed thoroughly to remove any chemical residue.
Seeds and nuts also are great enrichment and high reward training treats. Many species of birds are prone to obesity so seeds/nuts should be limited.
Just remember there are food items that are toxic to birds including avocado (leaves, skin and pits are toxic, and the flesh is high in fat), caffeine, chocolate, salt, fatty items (avocado, butter, and oils), fruit pits and apple seeds, onions, garlic, sugar, and xylitol (artificial sweetener).
Enrichment should encourage animals to perform natural behaviors, decrease unwanted behaviors, and provide activities to keep them busy. Bird safe toys are available in pet stores and online. These items should be free of chemicals and cleaned regularly. Keep in mind that birds may become entangled in toys including ropes, so it is important to monitor use of enrichment items
Ideas for homemade enrichment:
Bath – a bowl of water (or even a sink for larger species) can be provided for bathing.
Flight – providing supervised flight time is a great form of exercise and enrichment
Foraging – plant material (chemical free) may be provided. Parrots will enjoy ripping it to shreds. For other species treats or part of their diet can be hidden in shredded newspaper at the base of the cage. Appropriate and toxic plants https://www.petcoach.co/article/bird-safety-poisonous-and-safe-plants-for-birds/.
Ice blocks – use an ice cube tray with frozen treats in the warmer months
Misting – use a spray bottle to provide a fine mist allowing natural preening behaviors. Your pet should be able to move away if not interested.
Novel food items – different fruits and vegetables can be incorporated into their diet.
Windows – place the cage or a stand near a window to allow curious birds to look around and get natural sunlight
Placing newspaper over top of the base of the cage and metal areas your pet walks on is a great way to keep the cage clean. Ideally, paper should be replaced daily. Cage perching should be cleaned at least once a week. Time frame will be dependent on how many birds are housed in the cage. Warm water and dish soap are often enough to clean feces off perch material. Products like Rescue and Simple Green are safe disinfectants for cleaning cages. Food and water bowls should be cleaned daily.
Birds are extremely sensitive to chemicals in their environment.
Some products considered dangerous for birds:
Bleach (boric acid and chlorine)
Room deodorizers and plug in fresheners
Toxic fumes from nonstick coated cookware and utensils (as well as other Teflon coated product) are extremely dangerous and can cause death in minutes. Please do not use these items in households with birds.
Birds are great at hiding any signs of illness. It is important recognize any signs of illness or injury with your pet to prevent them from becoming too serious. Watch for reduction in food and water consumption, reduction in feces or change in quantity and appearance, lethargy, discharge from eyes and nares (nostrils), and abnormal breathing.
The following are considered emergent:
Heavy metal exposure
Open mouth breathing (contact your vet immediately)
Our Avian Services
HARI - Hagen Avicultural Research Institute: https://hari.ca/avian-care/
Veterinary Partner: https://veterinarypartner.vin.com/default.aspx?pid=19239&catId=102889&ind=1252