Pet Bird Maintenance



Q. Do I really need to clip my bird's wings?
Wing clipping is painless, like getting a haircut. Clipping is an aid in the taming and basic training process. The bird won't end up injured due to flying in the house.  By the time the feathers grow back you will have had time to hand and flight train your new pet. If you are not thinking
of training your bird very much and therefore will want the wings clipped, maybe your should look into getting a different species of pet.

Q. If I clip my bird's wings, how soon will they grow back? What if I pull the feathers out instead? Do they come back quicker that way?
A feather that is cut, clipped, broken or bent will be replaced during the next molt, no matter how awful, raggedy or good it looks. However, if a feather is pulled out (ouch!) and as long as there is no damage to the follicle (the area that the feather grows from, like our hair follicles) the bird's body will immediately begin replacing the feather. This new feather, until it is mature, will have a blood supply to it.  It is called a blood feather. Some people prefer to pull out wing feathers, rather than cutting them, because it looks nicer. This not only hurts (imagine someone 'trimming' your hair by yanking out bunches), it also puts stress on the bird's body. Feathers are all protein, and having to replace many, large wing feathers at once depletes bodily resources.

Q. My bird's nails are overgrown. Can they be trimmed?
Yes. Use either a pair of nail clippers or special bird claw scissors. Look for the "quick", the vein that is in the claw. You can see in it light colored claws as a pinkish stripe. In dark claws, you can turn the bird over to see the underside of the claw and the quick. You may want to have someone show you how to clip them first. Provide different perches and surfaces to keep claws in trim naturally. If you do hit the quick, dip the claw into some styptic powder to staunch the bleeding.

Q. My bird's beak is overgrown. What do I do?
An overgrown beak usually means that the bird doesn't have enough to gnaw on, which is how the bird keeps the beak trimmed in the wild. A vet or experienced breeder must trim the beak, as it is full of blood vessels, and a mishap could be very serious. Offer the bird toys to chew on or lava blocks or such to help keep the beak trimmed.

Q. Does my bird need a bath?
Yes! Most birds love baths, and will bathe in a dish or in the shower with you or like to be spirited with a plant mister set to fine. It's excellent for the bird's plumage and with "dusty" birds, like Cockatiels and Cockatoos, helps keep down the dust. Some birds may have to be gradually introduced to misting, but it's a good move. You can let the bird dry by itself (as long as the ambient temperature in your house is at least 60 degrees Fahrenheit (16 Celsius) or use a hairdryer set on medium heat. Never put a wet bird to bed for the night.

Q. Do I need to install full-spectrum lighting?
It's a good idea, especially since birds really don't get enough sunlight in an apartment or some homes. You can get the bulbs at pet stores or order them directly. These bulbs are called "R" bulbs meaning that they cannot be used with a covered fixture. This includes track lighting and recessed lighting--anything with a "shade" even if the "shade" is made of metal. Check with the manufacturer, or get in touch with the local electrician. The lighting should be placed 4 to 8 feet away from the cage, in an ordinary light socket (no shade!) The light should only be hitting a portion of the cage. The bulbs should be used a minimum of 10 (ten) hours a week.

Q. What about an air-filtration system?
Maybe. If you find you're sensitive to the dust from your birds. They help reduce the dust load greatly. If you have a lot of birds, this is a good idea.

Q. What about stress in my bird?
The best cure for stress is prevention! Make sure the bird is healthy, has a good diet and isn't bored. But if this all checks out, think about the bird's surroundings: Did it recently get a new cage or was the cage moved? Did you rearrange the furniture? Change the diet? Remember, birds are usually suspicious of any new thing. Stress is serious, it's a physical reaction to mental and physical strain. A bird can become stressed when you go away for a long period of time, like a vacation. Infections can be a cause of stress--the bird is fighting to maintain homeostasis. Even strong perfume or even smoke can be a stress. Natural processes, such as breeding or molting can cause stress. Of course, what may stress one bird may be of no consequence to another.

Q. Why does my bird pluck it's feathers?
A.  This behavior is most common in African Greys. Plucking is usually brought on by stress, but sometimes skin problems can cause it. Parakeets sometimes will pluck their older babies, in order to get them out of the nest, so that they can clutch again. Cockatiels might do it as well. A bird may denude itself because it wants to breed, but cannot, as it's a pet. Sometimes, plucking is acceptable, as when a hen may pluck her brooding area to transfer her body heat better. Boredom can cause plucking. A diet that is poor can cause this behavior, too. Once started, it usually is a very hard habit to break, and even if "cured" the bird may regress back to plucking if it gets upset. Even a minor change may trigger plucking.

Q. How do I stop the bird from plucking?
First, take it to the vet to rule out any medical causes. Consider any changes in the bird's environment. Even little things. A plucker may be dissuaded from its habit by giving the bird a toy with rope or fabric or anything the bird can tear up. There are bitter apple sprays available, but they usually don't work. Collars can be used, but don't ever try to do this without a vet's help, or the bird could get hurt.

Q. Do I need to vaccinate my birds?
There are pros and cons to vaccinations. The biggest drawback is that every bird will react differently to the same vaccination. Some birds become paralyzed, others blind, some die, some aren't even bothered. I would think that one or two domestic birds kept as pets wouldn't need it. Birds in a large, mixed, business aviary, maybe. I don't feel qualified to give advice on this one. Ask your vet. They'll be able to explain it to you, correctly and in depth.

Q. What's a hospital cage?
It's a small, enclosed cage that has a heater in it, and usually a humidifier. A hospital cage can be warmed up, which makes it easier for the sick bird to maintain its normally high body temperature. The humidifier helps ease respiratory problems. You can make such a cage by using a small aquarium, and placing a heating pad under it. Put a thermometer in the bottom corner where the bird will be. Put some bedding in there, along with food and water, and cover with towels. Place in a dim room. The temperature should be about 85 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit (27 to 32 degrees Celsius). If you're really in a pinch, place the cage, wrapped in towels, near a light bulb.



STARescue, Inc.

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