Basic Bird Care



Are you thinking of getting a new bird as a pet? Each species is unique and wonderful in its own way so be sure to do research on each species to find the one that fits your lifestyle. But there are some general guidelines that apply to them all.  Also remember  some species can live as long as 80 years.

If you have decided you are going to acquire a bird for a pet, be sure to check out local rescue groups first, there are many birds in need of a home.

Be sure the bird you choose is healthy.  A sick bird is no bargain no matter what the price. By the time a bird shows any symptoms of disease, illness has usually become quite advanced. If a bird appears droopy, ruffled, tired or hides his head under his wing, this is not the bird for you. If he sneezes, sits on the bottom of the cage, has a discharge above his nostrils or droppings stuck to his tail feathers, there may be big problems. If he makes clicking sounds as he breathes or if his tail bobs, the bird may have serious respiratory disease and you should choose another individual.

Signs of good health in a bird include bright eyes, clean shiny feathers, good appetite and lots of energy. Healthy birds eat often and are active. To help insure a healthy pet, obtain your bird from a reputable bird store or breeder.

Take your new bird to an avian veterinarian for a "well bird check up" immediately.  Finding an avian veterinarian can be difficult. Many vets do not treat birds, so it is important to find a specialist in avian care.  Good pet stores will allow you to return a sick bird. This insures that you get a healthy pet, and lets you meet an avian veterinarian in your area. It also helps the pet store or breeder maintain healthy birds.

Now, how about setting up your bird's new home? You want it to be safe and comfortable. Buy the largest cage you can reasonably manage in your home. Be sure he can not slip his head between the bars. It should be convenient to clean and allow easy access to food and water containers. The perches should be of varying sizes, preferably of natural branches. These can be purchased at pet stores or you can collect your own. Manzanita, madrona and eucalyptus are all safe woods for birds to chew. Rinse them off before placing them in the cage. You can find a partial list of safe woods to use HERE. If you have other birds, place your new bird in an isolated room since many birds harbor contagious, disease-causing organisms. This is very important to the well being of all of your feathered pets. The avian vet can advise you as to the safety of introducing him to your other birds when you have the exam.

Bird's diets vary greatly from one species to another, but a good rule is that no more than 30% of a bird's diet should be seed and nuts. The remaining 30% should be vegetables, leafy greens, fruits, small amount of cheese, lean cooked meats, boiled egg and other "people foods".  The last  40% should be a good quality pellet food. All need fresh water daily.  Paper towel or corn cob bedding is all fine. Clean or replace them daily.


We now know that seed is not the only food needed by pet birds, and in fact, birds on a seed only diet are very unhealthy. Only 50% of a bird's diet should be seed. Of the other 50%, fruits and vegetables are the most important. This is where he obtains vital mineralsSharyn feeding Luna. and vitamins. If your bird is reluctant to try new foods, try cutting the fruits and veggies into small, seed size pieces. Sometimes mixing them into the seed helps. It is all right to cut back on his seed a bit.  It is also okay to remove his seed for most of the day, offering it only for an hour in the morning, and an hour in the evening. During the day he will have only fruits and veggies to eat. If he is a little hungry, he will try new foods.

Out in the wild, birds eat a wide variety of nuts, small pieces of meat, even another bird's eggs occasionally. So how do we duplicate this variety? A good rule of thumb is, if a food is healthy for a human, it is healthy for your bird. Birds enjoy spaghetti or a bit of chicken. Hard boiled egg is often a big hit. Almonds, walnuts or other nuts are fine in small quantities. Many birds love cheeses and yogurt.  It is available at most pet stores. Cuttlebone and mineral blocks are a good source of calcium. If you have any questions about whether a food is good for your bird call your local avian vet.


Pet Bird Safety

Those of us who have raised puppies and kittens know how dangerous a house can be. Mischievous, exploring young pets seem to find every available risky item in the first 24 hours of arrival. Having learned to dog- and cat-proof a house, we may feel prepared to safely welcome a pet bird into our lives. There are surprises in store. Birds add a whole new dimension to pet safety worries.

Unlike dogs and cats, birds fly. Birds fly into windows or mirrors, injuring themselves in the process. Decals or curtains allow a flying bird to see them and avoid a crash. Birds fly out of windows, never to be seen again. Screens are essential for windows and doors. When a bird is out of its cage, always remain nearby.

Even a bird with properly clipped wing feathers can flutter to disaster around the house. A ceiling fan should be an obvious "no-no," but other mechanical appliances can be equally dangerous. Birds have been injured falling into electric beaters in the kitchen. They can fly and land on hot surfaces or into scalding water. Expect the unexpected with birds. If you open the hot oven, your parrot may pop right in!

If your bird is always confined to its cage, some of these precautions may seem excessive. Remember, escape is always possible, and accidents do happen. Besides, an owner of a well-trained bird will want to spend lots of quality time with the bird at his or her side (or shoulder). Most birds thrive on attention and human interaction, but wither with neglect. Plan for avian safety in all the rooms of your home.

Birds are exquisitely sensitive to toxins, especially those in the air they breathe. Remember about the canary in the mine shaft giving warning of gas accumulation? Cleaners, such as those used to degrease ovens, produce dangerous airborne contaminants and can be fatal to birds. Even strong cooking odors and smoke is a risk. Non-stick cookware is another worry. When overheated, the fumes can kill birds.

Birds can drown in small amounts of water. Upright narrow glasses are a danger as is very hot water (birds don't expect the water to be hot). The toilet bowl, uncovered, has been the source of many avian injuries. Birds do like water play, and with supervision, many even enjoy showers with their owners. Bath perfumes and hair spray must be avoided around birds.

Chewing is the next big concern with birds. Most birds chew anything they can get their beaks on. We must provide safe woods and chew toys to allow this natural, healthy exercise. It is also essential to keep the house clear of dangerous items. Anything made of lead is forbidden (fishing weights, stained glass, metal toys, costume jewelry). Electric cords should be hidden and protected. Avoid poisonous house plants.

As you get in the habit of thinking about kinds of things that poison birds, you will automatically avoid the dangers. Remember, things that smell strong to us can often kill birds.  Nail polish and remover, paint fumes, cigarette smoke, colored ink and aerosol sprays of all kinds should be avoided. Other pets, such as cats, must be kept safely away.

There are many items to remember and dangers to avoid in keeping your pet birds safe around the house. Prevention, however, is always preferable to emergency medical intervention! Keep the name and number of your trusted avian vet handy just in case.


STARescue, Inc.

Copyright 2004 [Southeast Texas Avian Rescue, Inc.]. All rights reserved. Revised: 12/10/11