FROM DR. SPIRA, CSAH EMERITUS VETERINARIAN WITH SPECIAL INTEREST IN AVIAN CARE, AND DECADES OF EXPERIENCE DISCUSSES BIRD CARE BASICS. WITH NEW INFORMATION FROM DEBBIE OLIVER, D.V.M. DR. OLIVER ALSO HAS A SPECIAL INTEREST AND YEARS OF EXPERIENCE IN AVIAN CARE.
While birds differ by breed in terms of specific needs, there are some basics that apply to taking good care of all pet birds:
- Be sure food and water are clean. Pay attention especially to parrots. They are very messy and tend to dunk their food in their water bowl, which then needs to be changed frequently.
- Bird Droppings: In the wild, droppings fall down from the tree to the ground, but in cages you have take care to be sure that food and water bowls are not placed under perches, so that droppings do not fall into them.
- Clean the bottom of the cage every day, making sure that you use fresh paper each time. Clean the entire cage once a week.
- Provide cuttle bone to supply calcium to small birds such as finches, canaries, parakeets. The cuttle bones have a hard side and soft side. The hard side needs to be facing the bird.
- Mineral blocks to supply calcium are more appropriate for larger birds such as parrots, who tend to ignore the smaller cuttle bones.
- Nighttime: Bird cages do not necessarily have to be covered at night. If your bird is used to it, it’s OK to cover half to three quarters of the cage. Birds do need nighttime – both darkness and quiet. If they are in a room with lights on, they could benefit by having this partial covering at night. They also need to have time with no TV or radio on so that they, just like humans, can get much needed sleep. Some birds, especially cockatiels, can freak out at night; a night light, which is soft, low and non-glaring can be comforting for them.
- Beaks: While birds in domestic settings preen and groom their feathers, they cannot take care of wearing down their beaks the way living in the wild — where they are much more active — does. In a home environment, birds need things to chew on, such as wood toys and other playthings with rough surfaces. The cuttle bones and mineral blocks mentioned above for calcium help, but neither these nor chew toys completely takes care of wearing down beaks properly. Therefore, regular beak trimming by your qualified vet or other avian professional is also needed 2-3 times a year, depending on the type of bird and its activity level.
- Overgrown beaks: These can be a sign of an internal disease. Usually it’s the upper beak that is involved, and often your avian professional can treat the problem in a painless and healthful way with the proper trimming. A misshapen beak, for example, where the upper and lower beaks do not come together, or grow to the side rather than the front, can also be a symptom of an internal disorder, but again, can be a relatively easily treated problem. Such a beak may need shaping, filing and trimming by your veterinarian.
- Nails: Like beaks, domestic birds’ nails do not get the natural trimming that life in the wild provides. It is important to check your bird’s feet and nails, making sure the nails are not hindering the bird’s ability to perch, walk, etc. Regular trimming when you get your bird’s beaks attended to is recommended, again 2-3 times a year depending upon the bird.
- Bird baths: Baths for canaries are almost a must. Other birds like parrots can be happy with a heavy shallow container to splash around in. When it’s warm, parrots also like to be misted.
- Yearly check ups: are recommended for birds, just as they are with dogs and cats.
- As soon as a bird owner sees a problem: increasing the temperature of the environment is vital. The owner should get the bird out of any drafts. The perch , food, and water should be moved to the bottom of the cage so the bird does not need to make any effort to get to it’s perch or food or water.
- If your bird appears to be ill, you should go to the veterinarian immediately as an emergency. Do not bother with making an appointment, as often bird illnesses do not appear clearly until they require urgent care.