Pet Bird Husbandry

Owning a pet bird is a big responsibility, since birds require care and structure.Owning a pet bird is a big responsibility, since birds require care and structure.
Owning a pet bird is a big responsibility, since birds require care and structure.Owning a pet bird is a big responsibility, since birds require care and structure.

Table of Contents:

  1. Know Your Pet Bird
  2. To Clip or Not to Clip
  3. Pet Bird Guide

Pet birds can make great companion animals. Although they are small, owning a bird should not be taken lightly. Birds, depending on the species, can live over 10 years and require a lot of care and attention when living in captivity. Pet birds come in a variety of species, sizes, handling allowances, and volumes. They should not be gifted to people or purchased for young children, as they require structure and focused care and can be simultaneously strong and fragile.

Know Your Pet Bird

The importance of knowing where your bird was born and raised cannot be stressed enough. Although birds are often pets, they are not domesticated. Therefore, they will always have natural tendencies and behaviors. Wild-caught birds should never be kept as pets. A pet bird should be purchased from a reputable breeder that can show you the living conditions of the parent birds, and who hand-fed the bird since it hatched, to ensure that it is comfortable with human interaction and bonding. Alternatively, birds can be adopted from local rescue groups. All hand-raised birds are required by law to have a metal leg band, which should be observed prior to purchasing or adopting the bird. Hand-raised birds have complete, solid leg bands placed on them when they are babies, which they grow into as adults, making them impossible to remove. Wild-caught birds will often have incomplete leg bands.

Lifespan

Another factor to consider when getting a pet bird is its lifespan. Pet birds can be rewarding companions, but this includes making arrangements for their care in unforeseen circumstances or if they outlive you. Pet birds should never be released into the wild, as they cannot fend for themselves and will be subject to starvation, injury, and predators. The social structure of the species should also be considered, as some pet birds require avian companionship, while others do better being solo pets and will bond closely with a human.

Cage and Diet

Care for birds includes an appropriately sized and shaped cage for the specific species. In addition, daily cage cleanings, fresh food like fruits and vegetables, and frequent interaction and enrichment (including toys, games, and affection) are required in addition to a regimented schedule. A bird’s cage should include toys, perches, cleanable surfaces, and access to fresh water, as well as a surface or area to eat frequent meals. In addition to a main cage, birds should also have designated surfaces throughout the house in order to interact with their people. This includes perches in other rooms and even the shower. Birds should be kept away from the kitchen to avoid hot surfaces and aerosolized scents or candles. Burning Teflon from non-stick pans can cause respiratory distress and death.

To Clip or Not to Clip

Pet birds need attention, care, and a healthy diet.
Dr. Silberstang’s pet bird, Doobie.

 

An important decision for bird parents is deciding whether to keep them flighted or clipping their wings. Flighted birds can lead fulfilling lives in outdoor aviaries or if trained for a harness and leash. They can also fly within a house or room. However, flying in small spaces can lead to life-threatening injuries, such as broken wings or legs, or cracked beaks and bleeding. Flighted birds can also easily escape or get loose outside, as well as attract predators including dogs, cats, or outdoor animals. If choosing to clip your bird’s wings, this should initially be performed by a veterinarian or avian professional. Clipping a bird’s wings the right way is not painful to the bird and should be done every 4 – 6 months. A bird’s wings should also be clipped to allow gliding to prevent hard landings and injuries.

Like other pets, birds require annual wellness visits with a veterinarian to ensure their health, as well as further testing like blood work and fecal tests. This should be pursued with a board-certified avian veterinarian or a veterinarian trained specifically in bird handling and medicine.

Pet Bird Guide

  • Budgerigar (aka Budgie or Parakeet)
    • Size: 6 to 8 inches
    • Cage Recommendations: long cage for flight and hopping
    • Lifespan: 10 – 12 years
    • Info: Considered a “beginner bird.” They are small parrots.
  • Canary
    • Size: 5 to 7 inches
    • Cage Recommendations: cage skirt to avoid messes
    • Lifespan: up to 10 years
    • Info: This is a hands-off pet. They come in over 200 breeds and numerous colors.
  • Cockatiel
    • Size: 10 to 12 inches
    • Cage Recommendations: Since they’re ground foragers, they’ll need a cage that allows them to search the bottom or floor for snacks.
    • Lifespan: up to 20 years
    • Info: They are very friendly parrots that can often learn to mimic whistles or speech.
  • Lovebird
    • Size: 6 to 8 inches
    • Cage Recommendations: They prefer living in bonded pairs, but can be solo with lots of human attention.
    • Lifespan: up to 20 years
    • Info: Lovebirds are very active, like most parrots.
  • Finch
    • Size: 4 inches
    • Cage Recommendations: They need a large cage, since a typical living arrangement is in groups of 3 – 5.
    • Lifespan: up to 10 years
    • Info: Finches are not typically handleable and should live in groups.

Large parrots such as cockatoos, Amazon parrots, African greys, and macaws should only be kept by professionals or committed enthusiasts as they have incredibly long lifespans (30+ years), require hours of attention a day, and can develop serious medical and behavioral issues if their needs are not appropriately met. These birds are highly intelligent and strong.

Owning a pet bird is a huge commitment. It’s important to consider the daily care, routine, diet, health, socialization, and lifespan of a pet bird before purchasing one. If owning a bird is too much to handle, consider purchasing a bird feeder or joining a bird-watching group to enjoy the local wild bird species in your neighborhood.

For more bird care tips, check out our follow-up article.

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