General Care of Pet Birds
by Terry Beaudoin
Once again it is time to update our day-to-day care article. As several avian experts have stated: our knowledge of the 'proper' routine care (veterinary or in-home) seems to double about every two years. As we hear of these changes in the understanding of bird care we will update this article to reflect the most up to date information available to us.
The most commonly asked question about bird care we receive is "What do you use on the bottom of the cage?" We recommend using the high-grade pleated paper we sell at Parrot Island, white paper towels ('Bounty' works very well and is readily available), newspaper that only has black ink on it (NO colored inks) or any other paper that is completely non-toxic. This paper should be changed at least once per day and the tray area under it should also be cleaned then. At Parrot Island we place a layer of paper that has been cut to fit the tray down first. On top of this paper we place a layer or two of overlapping paper towels - this allows us to remove a paper towel or two during the day thereby keeping the bottom area very clean until the daily full scale cleaning. The bottom or tray area of your bird's cage should be cleaned thoroughly (top and bottom of tray as well as underneath it) twice weekly, the rest of the cage should be cleaned thoroughly every two to four weeks - this applies to both acrylic and metal cages. Because of the further information available on Aspergillus Mold infections in birds' -we NO LONGER recommend the usage of ANY bedding materials (including aspen flakes) on the bottom of birdcages. (freezing these foods leads to nutritional loss after approximately two weeks). Formulated diets (i.e.: Harrison's, Scenic or Roudybush) can be either frozen or refrigerated. These foods will stay at least six months when stored this way.
Along with some of the most respected bird specialists (most notably Sally Blanchard of The Pet Bird Information Council) in the country we recommend AGAINST using a grate on the bottom of your birds cage. The primary reasons for this are: it is virtually impossible to keep a grate clean - repeated scrubbing (unfortunately most people do not clean their birds grate regularly) also tends to wear the finish off of these grates. Many grates have been found to contain enough zinc (zinc toxicity is covered in depth in an article titled "There's Something About Zinc" by Dr. Tammy Jenkins in our March 1999 Newsletter) to be unsafe for your bird. Keeping this in mind as well as the fact that grates rarely keep birds off the bottom of the cage, one can see the health reasons for not using a grate. The ONLY exception to this rule would be in dealing with a bird that is an excessive egg-layer (speak to someone at Parrot Island or one of the avian veterinarians we recommend if your bird has this problem). The behavioral reasoning against grates has to do with the relatively new understanding of the value to our birds of being able to go down to the bottom of the cage to play and forage. Almost all parrot species in the wild spend considerable time on the ground each day. By allowing them the opportunity to do this in their cage as well as spending some time each day on the floor with our birds we are fulfilling an instinctual need within them - they are then happier and naturally better behaved.
Change your bird's dry foods (pellets, seed, etc.) daily. Refrigerate (do not freeze) all of your bird's food that contains seeds or nuts (freezing these foods leads to nutritional loss after approximately two weeks). Formulated diets (i.e.: Harrisons, Scenic - Cheese or Corn Flavors ONLY, Roudybush, ZuPreem - Natural ONLY or Foundation Formula) can be either frozen or refrigerated. These foods will stay at least six months when stored this way.
Change your bird's water at least twice daily - or sooner if you notice it is dirty - bacteria grow rapidly in water. Do not add vitamins to the water this will cause more rapid bacterial growth. Ask us about how to use vitamins without placing them in the water. We also now strongly recommend that you use purified water for your birds drinking and bathing. Ammonia, chlorine and lead are only some of the commonly found toxic substances found in tap water. Please see our article by Sally Blanchard entitled 'Giving Your Parrot A Bath' that goes in-depth into the specifics of the importance of bathing our birds safely and often enough.
Moist foods (i.e.: fruit, vegetables, etc.) should be removed no longer than two to three hours after being given. These foods should be organically grown whenever possible (see our third 'Recommended Foods' article for a thorough discussion of these foods).
We most highly recommend Oxyfresh as the best product to clean your bird's cage, food bowls, perches and toys with. Oxyfresh kills many avian viruses and bacteria at a one-tablespoon to thirty-two ounces of water dilution rate. It is available for sale at Parrot Island or on our website. Dove or Palmolive antibacterial dishwashing liquids are a decent second choice - dilute at two tablespoons to thirty-two ounces of water rate. These products are safe to use with either an acrylic or metal cage.
Keep your bird's cage and cups as clean as anything that you would eat or drink out of. It is then easy to know when to clean. Remember: birds are at least as likely to get sick from exposure to their waste as we are from exposure to ours. Cleaning thoroughly is one of the most important ways we can insure our birds' health for years to come. Contact us for information on safe products to use for cleaning.
The most important thing you purchase for your bird is a large enough, well-built, safe, non-toxic cage. Please ask anyone at Parrot Island for our exact recommendations on cages for the species of bird that you have.
We believe that the second most important thing you ever purchase for your bird is some type of play gym or trees that they can spend time on when they are out of the cage. This should be located away from the cage, NOT ON TOP of the cage - this helps in the avoidance of territorial behaviors (Sally Blanchard has an excellent article on Cage Dominance in our newsletter packet) as well as being a great way to get your bird it's crucial out of the cage time and teach it independence.
Always supervise your bird when it is out of its cage. There are many things in your home that are dangerous to your bird. Common things like pencils, paint or varnishes, and many household or outdoor plants can quickly kill a bird. As Scott Stork stated in an earlier article on safety 'these birds are like a toddler with a pliers who can use it very well'. We also have copies of past newsletters that have great articles on safety issues dealing with your bird as well as a safe and harmful plants list that is available on request.
We are as enthusiastic as ever about the benefits we have seen and read about with the usage of full spectrum lighting with pet birds. Customers, veterinarians, breeders and writers for The African Parrot Society newsletter have all related their observations of the benefits they have seen with their birds - everything from general health improvement to aiding in the stopping of feather plucking to the stopping of phobic behaviors. We have an article that explains in depth the specifics of how full spectrum lighting affects your bird as well as how to properly use it. At Parrot Island we recommend only the full spectrum lighting designed by Duro-Test specifically for bird usage - the most current upgrade of these bulbs is available at Parrot Island and on our website. These are the best lighting products we know of specifically designed with birds in mind. They are available in standard 'screw-in' fluorescents; we also have an acrylic light fixture, which works, on any cage to hold the full spectrum bulb at the proper distance from your birds cage in a safe manner.
Preventative medical care is just as important for your pet bird's health as it is for a pet dog or cat, or for us for that matter. Be sure to bring your bird in yearly for a health checkup. Knowledgeable avian veterinarians are few and far between. If you are not already bringing your bird to a veterinarian that you are satisfied with we have several that we highly recommend.
Read as much as you can about the type of bird that you have. Although much of the literature out there on birds is upwards of ten years outdated, each year brings more high quality, accurate books produced by the best avicultural and veterinary sources. Whether we are talking about diet, housing, behavior or veterinary care - great advances in the understanding of birds are made each year. In our opinion, the Companion Parrot Quarterly (fka -- Pet Bird Report) is still the best publication out there - they now have a internet web page that ties into some of the best information on the web, you can reach them at www.petbirdreport.com. After a long wait we now have Sally Blanchard's The Companion Parrot Handbook available. We at Parrot Island feel that this book will be the benchmark work on companion parrot behavior for years to come. As such we will make it a mandatory purchase with any of our baby birds. Please feel free to ask us about recommendations on other excellent sources of information.
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