Pet Bird Husbandry II
Once you’ve reviewed our first bird husbandry article and chosen the appropriate species of bird for your lifestyle and household, your next steps include acquiring appropriate housing and planning for diet, exercise, enrichment, and medical care.
A Balanced Bird Diet
A balanced diet is key to your bird’s general health, immune system, lifespan, and joint health. Wild birds eat a variety of foods including fruits, seeds, flowers, and insects, which change with the seasons. On the other hand, captive birds have differences in exercise and caloric intake, and require a balanced diet including whole foods. It is important to introduce your bird to a variety of whole foods, including fruits and vegetables, as early as possible.
If you adopt an adult bird, encourage them to transition their diet to fresh foods by offering them frequently and in lieu of other meals. Fresh foods should only be offered for a few hours at a time, then removed prior to spoiling. Seeds are commonly fed to pet birds, but they have low nutritional content and are high in fat, meaning that they should be avoided or only used as an infrequent treat. Many brands make balanced diets for birds for those pet parents without the time to make fresh food daily. In general, be aware of the contents of your pet’s diet and avoid salt, fat, and sugary foods.
Housing Your Bird
Finding the right spot in your home to house your bird is extremely important. Hazards such as electrical cords, other pets, and a hot stove can pose a danger to your pet, and a bird’s enclosure should be kept in a safe place. Alternatively, an outdoor aviary or bird room can be considered if space is available. Flighted birds need to avoid ceiling fans, open toilet bowls, and unmarked windows to avoid injury. Your bird should be supervised at all times when out of its enclosure to ensure its safety. If a door or window is opened to the outside, flighted birds should be contained safely.
Your bird should have a homebase where they can sleep at night and return to when nervous or hungry. This space is also a great place to encourage enrichment, with a rotation of toys to keep them interested.
There are different types of perches available for bird enclosures and you should vary the diameter, shape, and material of the perches in your bird’s area to promote exercise and foot health. Avoid perches made of coarse materials that can irritate the bottom of your bird’s feet or metals that can crack their beak.
Different substrates can be used in the enclosure. Knowing the natural behavior of your bird’s species is valuable to determine toys, enrichment, and housing. For example, some birds are natural shredders and others are ground foragers.
Bird Toy Tips
Birds, especially parrots, are highly intelligent animals and require enrichment to prevent boredom, behavioral problems, and self-trauma (like feather plucking). If your bird is flighted, they can enjoy supervised flight throughout the house or, if harnessed, outside. If your bird is not flighted, an outside aviary or indoor jungle gym can be used to allow your bird to climb and play outside of its enclosure. Household items, such as paper towel cardboard rolls, phone books, and tissue paper, can be used as shreddable toys. Companies also sell a variety of toys for different sized birds with varying play styles. Always avoid coated materials, painted items, soft metals, sharp objects, or small objects that can be easily ingested.
Keeping Your Bird Healthy and Happy
Having a happy and healthy pet bird includes diet and enrichment at home, as well as monitoring for signs of illness. Birds have high metabolisms and are often eating diets low in fat, necessitating numerous small meals throughout the day. If you notice your pet bird is not eating frequently or is eating less, this should be a cause for concern.
Monitoring your bird’s droppings is also an important parameter for their health. Bird anatomy includes a connected urinary and gastrointestinal tract. Therefore, a bird’s droppings contain feces, urine, and urates (a breakdown of proteins that is typically white). All three components should be present in most droppings and if any components are missing, discolored, or of an abnormal consistency, a veterinarian should be consulted. Other common signs of illness in birds include heavy or loud breathing, spending time at the bottom of the cage, weakness or imbalance, vomiting, and lethargy.
Avian medicine requires specialized training and equipment. For that reason, not every veterinarian can evaluate, diagnose, and treat your bird. It is important to find a veterinarian in your area that can do both wellness and emergency care for birds. This can be done by visiting the Association of Avian Veterinarians or researching online. Similar to all companion animals, pet birds require annual wellness exams with a veterinarian. Emergency care should be sought out when any of the above listed symptoms are observed.