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Keeping Your Bird Safe in the Summer

By: Dr. Karin Szust

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Summer is just around the corner. It's a time for vacation trips, sending our children to summer camp and weekends at the beach. With this busy schedule, we shouldn't forget about our pet birds. What can we do to shelter them from the hot summer days?

Fortunately, birds can handle heat better than mammals. Their normal body temperature ranges from 104 to 105 degrees Fahrenheit (40 to 41 degrees Celsius). But any increase over the basic body temperature could cause heat exhaustion (overheating) in your pet bird. Birds do not regulate temperature the same way we do. They lack sweat glands. To regulate their temperature, birds lose heat through the evaporation of water by:

  • Panting: Birds increase their respiratory rate by fast, open mouth breathing. This results in water loss from the surfaces of the mouth, nasal passages and lungs.

  • Cutaneous evaporation: Birds lose water through the skin surface and feet.

  • Vibration of the throat structures.

    Summers can be harsh and special precautions could save you a lot of grief. Birds like a lot of light and sunshine, and in summer adequate protection is required from direct sun except at the early hours of the day and at dusk.

    Housing and Shelter

    Proper housing is necessary in the summer time to provide protection from the sun and heat. You can choose one of several options: an outdoor cage, an outdoor aviary or both. Some people prefer to have their pet on a perch, giving them free roam of the enclosure, such as an outdoor screened patio. Whatever your situation, your bird needs to have a shaded, cool place to escape from burning sunrays and high temperatures. Ceiling fans can be provided as well as misters in an aviary enclosure. Keeping the enclosure clean will avoid insects and undesired odors. Proper ventilation must also be provided for indoor aviaries with at least 16 air exchanges per hour. Indoor air conditioning is a great help in keeping the environment cool and comfortable for your bird. If your pet bird is kept under an air-conditioned environment, however, don't take him permanently outdoors without prior acclimatization. Birds do very well indoors and a sudden change of temperature could cause problems.

    If you own a breeding pair, always place the nesting box in a cool and shaded area of the cage and check the youngsters daily for signs of overheating.

    Misters can be installed and set on a timer or birds can be hand misted with a fine spray daily. Creating a fine mist can help your bird lose some of the heat when in contact with his skin; it also keeps the feathers in condition, helps grooming and enhances coloration. Ceiling fans or movable fans can be of great help to circulate air in tropical areas, although they should be turned off when birds are loose. These fans must be strategically placed and always with a protective cover. Your bird should not be in direct strong airflow or drafts.

    Birdbaths are an excellent option as long as the water is changed frequently. All water should be cool and potable. Some bird owners like a circulatory fountain in their aviary giving the birds a chance to use it as a bath when it pleases them.

    Feeding

    Birds do not need as much energy in the summer as they do in winter. You should continue to offer pellets as a base diet. You can also add greens and fruits in small amounts. Many birds like Romaine lettuce, broccoli, carrots, apples, and oranges. Reduce the amounts of treats, breads and wheat cookies. Egg-based foods should be avoided since they are high-energy foods not necessary unless breeding at this time.

    Provide fresh drinking water in separate containers than their bath water and check once or twice a day to be sure they have an adequate amount.

    Health Concerns

    Careful monitoring is necessary to detect illness early. One of the first signs that your pet is not feeling well is the lack of preening or grooming, usually followed by fluffing up in a ball and being very quiet, or sitting on the bottom of the enclosure. Lack of appetite or poor water consumption will aggravate the situation. Excessive heat will probably have your pet panting with an open beak, wings spread away from the body and probably sitting on the bottom of the cage.

    Mosquitoes can also bite your pet, causing great discomfort and anemia if the exposure is great. Protect your outdoor bird with screen enclosures, especially at dusk.

    Garden chores like fertilizing and fumigating with pesticides must be done with extreme caution away from your bird. Bring your bird indoors while you treat your lawn. If you own an outdoor aviary be sure to protect your birds from potential intoxication.

    Veterinary Care

    At the first signs of illness, or if there is a change in your bird's behavior you should contact your veterinarian right away. When birds start showing signs of illness they are already sick and time is of the essence.

    Regular physical examinations are helpful to determine the condition of your pet. Your bird will be examined, checked for parasites and treated if necessary. At the same time you can have their nails and beaks trimmed.

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