Bird Care & FAQs

We have provided information that we will hope answer your commonly asked questions on birds. We know this will help build the bond between you and your animal, and we hope it will continue to be a resource for your bird’s happiness and health for years to come. Please click on the category you are interested in learning more about:

Before Getting a Bird

Canary

by: ASPCA Ani-MedIf you’ve got a song in your heart, then Serinus canaria may be the perfect bird for you. These singing sensations, some whose vocal range reaches nearly three octaves, descended from wild canaries living off the northwestern coast of Africa–on the Canary Islands, of course.Diminutive birds, canaries are a type of finch and vary in size and color, depending on the variety. The miniature Gloster fancy canary, for example, is just four inches and boasts a crested cap and contrasting darker and lighter feathers. Norwich and Yorkshire canaries are stockier and larger, about seven inches. Plumage colors include yellow, orange, red and white. The average lifespan of a canary ranges from eight to 16 years.If you’re a first-time canary caretaker, learn as much as you can before you bring your bird home. Purchase your pet from a breeder or pet store specializing in avians; you can also look into adopting a bird, too, and give a lucky tweeter a second chance at a good home. If you want a bird who’ll fill your home with sweet melodies, opt for a male. When deciding on your bird, stick around for a performance to make sure you like his singing style. And depending on the individual bird, canaries who like to sing can be taught to mimic simple musical phrases and instrumental tones.It’s also important to understand that this breed is not social and canaries do not enjoy human handling. Some females may get along, but two males will definitely fight. One canary kept alone as a pet will be quite content with love and attention from you. When selecting housing, keep in mind that canaries prefer a cage that is wider, rather than taller. A metal cage at least 25 inches wide offers your bird enough room to fly and hop back and forth.You’ll also need to make sure your new friend receives proper nutrition. Pellets or canary seed mix should be available at all times. Small amounts of chopped hard-boiled egg make a tasty daily snack, and most canaries love a little piece of whole wheat or corn bread every now and then. Supplement the menu with soft fresh foods such as shredded carrots, apple slices and romaine lettuce–just be sure to wash them first. Fresh water, calcium and mineral supplement, and a cuttlefish bone complete the requirements.As with any bird, you’ll need to be alert for symptoms of ill health in your canary. If you think your pet may be sick, consult with your veterinarian. Be sure to read our other topics on bird care–the more you know, the happier your canary will be. And he’ll probably thank you with a song or two!

Cockatiel

What’s the deal with cockatiels? These wonders from down under are rising in popularity as avian companions, and there are many reasons why. Gentle and friendly, they crave attention and affection from their human families–and they’ll get it, too, as they win you over with their silly antics and good nature.

About double the size of budgies, cockatiels are 11 to 14 inches long. The common cockatiel has a gray body, yellow head and a sunny orange cheek splotch; the male’s colors are a little brighter, while females have barring under the tails. Color-variant cockatiels have been bred with white, yellow and even scalloped-patterned plumage. Their average lifespan is 12 to 18 years.

If you’re a first-time cockatiel caretaker, learn as much as possible about the species before you bring your pet home. Two male or two female cockatiels will be happy together, but a single bird will be quite content with large doses or love and attention from the family. A hand-fed, weaned and socialized young cockatiel is the way to go if you plan to have just one. Many cockatiels are available for adoption through avian rescue groups. Find a bird in need near you by visiting www.petfinder.com or www.avianwelfare.org.

Cockatiels are very tameable, and can be taught to speak a few words and mimic musical tunes or whistles. Note that not all birds can learn this skilll, and females are generally quieter. Read our topic on Training and Taming for more information, and take into account that these active, intelligent birds need at least one hour of exercise out of the cage every day in a safe, bird-proof area.

When selecting housing, always opt for the largest you can afford. An enclosure at least 25 inches wide will work great, and keep in mind that cockatiels love tall cages so they can climb up to the highest perch. They enjoy climbing on the bars of the cage, too, so opt for one with some horizontal barring. These playful birds also love toys. Select destructible items that are appropriately sized and designed for the species.

A good-quality cockatiel pellet mix should be available at all times. Small amounts of chopped hard-boiled egg and sunflower seeds make yummy snacks, and most cockatiels love a bit of cooked pasta or whole wheat bread every now and then. Supplement the menu with fresh fruit and veggies every day. Leafy greens, grated carrot, peas, corn and apples are all good choices. Some cockatiels can be fussy eaters, so please don’t give up if your bird doesn’t eat them the first time you offer. Avoid avocado, chocolate, and the pits and seeds of apples, peaches, pears and cherries, which can be toxic.

As with any pet, be alert for symptoms of ill health in your cockatiel. Consult your veterinarian if you suspect your bird may be sick. Be sure to read our other topics on bird care. The more you know, the more you’ll enjoy the adventure with your feathered friend.

Finches

Lovely to look at and listen to, finches are fantastic for first-time bird caretakers. They are found in the wild on almost every continent, and their domestic counterparts are easy-to-care-for, gentle pets. They’re an excellent choice if you’re worried about the squawking and screeching associated with other avian species, and many owners find their soft, sweet chirping to be the ultimate background music.

Measuring in at about four inches, companion finches have been breed in a wide variety of colors. The popular zebra finch is gray, black and buff, with the males sporting black and white stripes and an orange cheek patch. Members of the stunning Gouldian species have purple-blue breasts, green backs and yellow bellies, while the elegant java rice finch is a velvety gray. The average lifespan of a finch is seven to ten years.

If you’re a first-time finch owner, learn as much as you can before you buy. It’s important to understand that finches are very social with each other, and must be kept in pairs-as a minimum. Females especially like to live together. Finches are not tameable and do not like to be held, so if you want a bird who’ll be your buddy, opt for a different species.

When selecting housing, keep in mind that finches are active birds and enjoy flapping and flying from perch to perch in their cage-so the bigger, the better. ASPCA experts recommend a cage at least 25 inches wide. If you plan to keep two males, make sure the cage is as big as possible-they’ll need their space. Pay attention to the space between the cage bars; for smaller birds like finches, it should be no greater than .4 inches. Be sure to select toys specially designed for smaller birds.

To make sure your birds receive complete nutrition, a high-quality finch seed formula should be available at all times. Pelleted foods are also available–and as an added benefit there are no seed hulls to clean up. Small amounts of hard-boiled egg make a tasty snack, and most finches love millet sprays. At least several times a week, offer vegetables and fruits; try fresh greens, grated carrots, apples and bananas. Fresh water and a cuttlebone complete the requirements.

As with any pet, be alert for symptoms of ill health in your finches. If you think one of your birds may be sick, consult with your veterinarian. Be sure to read our other topics on bird care-the more you know, the happier your finch friends will be.

Is a Bird Right For You?

by: ASPCA Ani-Med

Thinking about adding a feathered friend to the flock? Congratulations, you’re about to enter a world filled with beautiful song, brilliant plumage and sensitive, intelligent companions. There are many species out there, from four-inch finches to three-foot macaws, and your first challenge–relax, it’s a fun one–is finding the right bird for you and your family.
First-time bird caretakers can’t do much better than finches or canaries. These small, hardy birds are relatively inexpensive and low-maintenance–also good choices if you travel a lot or get home late in the evenings. Finches and canaries are not as messy as bigger birds, and if space is an issue, keep in mind that smaller species require less room. However, as they are not as social with their human caretakers, and do not take as well to handling, they may not be right for you if you’re looking for more of a buddy. They do need company of their own kind, though, so you must keep at least a pair.

If interaction’s a main attraction, consider chirpy, cheerful budgies and cockatiels. The budgie makes a gentle friend who’ll enjoy perching on your hand or shoulder, and can be taught to mimic words and household noises. They’re great first birds for children. About twice the size of budgies, cockatiels are smart, love to be doted on by their human friends, and often are willing talkers.

Amazon parrots and African grays certainly have a lot to say, if you’ve got your heart set on a talking avian. These two birds are considered the best at it, but it’s important to keep in mind that there is no guarantee that every member of the species will talk. You can be pretty sure that large parrots will be on the loud side, though; cockatoos and conures also fall into the noisy category. The raucous squawking may be music to your ears, but your neighbors may not feel the same way–best to avoid these species if noise is a potential problem.

Larger parrots also require lots of time and space, and are very expensive. With an intelligence level equal that of chimps and dolphins, they’ll need mental simulation and constant attention from you. These species are not recommended for those who travel frequently or work long hours, or for families with young children. Parrots have incredible beak strength, and some can become aggressive with children who do not understand how to behave around birds and accidentally provoke them. And did you know that some larger parrots have lifespans of more than 50 years? Will you be around for the life of your bird–and if not, can you make provisions for his care?

When you are ready to get your pet, keep in mind that newborn, unweaned birds need to be fed by hand–so if you have no prior experience hand-feeding birds, it’s best to select one who is fully fledged, has been raised with adult birds and is socialized to humans. It’s also of paramount importance that you select a domestically raised bird. Not only are wild-caught birds against the law to keep as pets, they are not easily tamed and carry more diseases than domestic birds; additionally, many populations have been decimated by the wild bird trade. It’s also good sense to obtain a written contract at the time of purchase that includes your bird’s age, breed, place of birth and medical history. Better yet, rescue a bird in need of a new home. Avian rescue groups can be found at www.petfinder.com and www.avianwelfare.org.

Got a lot to think about? Bringing a bird home is a big commitment, so take all the time you need. Read up on different species, visit breeders, check out avian welfare websites, join a bird club and talk to as many companion avian caretakers as you can. The more you know, the happier and healthier your future feathered friend will be.

Lovebirds

by: ASPCA Ani-Med

Looking for a big personality in a relatively small package? Then consider the charming, colorful lovebird. Hailing from Africa and Madagascar, these small parrots range in size from about five to eight inches. Lovebirds kept as companions live an average of ten years and come in a rainbow of varieties, from the common peach-faced lovebird, who boasts a rosy-pink forehead and throat and a bright blue rump, to the Madagascar lovebird, all soft gray and green and hazy yellow. But no matter the color, they’re active, inquisitive, fun to watch and even more fun to play with.

If you’re a first-time lovebird caretaker, learn as much as you can before you bring your bird home. It’s a common misconception, for example, that lovebirds must be kept in pairs. A single bird will be quite happy with lots of love and attention from you. It’s also important to note that some lovebirds tend to nip, and in general they can be on the loud side. Get an earful of their shrill chirping before you buy–some people (hopefully, you!) find it endearing, while others aren’t as charmed.

When it comes to housing for your lovebird, the bigger, the better. Go for a cage with a horizontal measurement of at least 36 inches, and be sure your pet has two places to perch. These birds love to play, so your little guy will need toys to keep him busy. Swings and ladders fit the bill, and scout out your pet supply stores for toys made for small parrots and cockatiels. Pass on smaller parakeet toys, which can easily be broken by strong lovebird beaks. Your feathered friend will appreciate a shallow dish of water placed on the cage floor every now and then–few things are more fun than a good bath! You can also mist your bird with a spray bottle, or purchase a special bird bath that attaches to the cage door.

You’ll also need to ensure that your feathered friend receives proper nutrition. You can feed a seed mix appropriate for cockatiels or other small parrots, just make sure it’s a complete diet that contains nutrient supplements. Pellet diets are preferred, though birds who are used to eating seed may need time to adjust. Small amounts of hard-boiled egg and bits of cooked rice or pasta make tasty snacks. You should also offer your bird fresh fruits and veggies at least four times a week; apples, broccoli and carrots seem to be lovebird faves, just be sure to wash all fresh food first. Lots of fresh water and a cuttlebone round out the requirements.

As with any pet, be alert for symptoms of ill health in your lovebird. If you think your pet may be sick, consult with your veterinarian. Be sure to read our other topics on bird care–the more you know, the happier your lovebird will be.

Parakeets

Keet, budgie, parakeet, Melopsittacus undulatus…. Whatever you want to call him, the friendly, funny budgerigar is the most popular avian companion. Hailing from Australia, this gentle bird is content to perch on his caretaker’s shoulder and will keep his human family in good humor with his budgie antics. And though skills vary from bird to bird, members of this highly social species can be taught a repertoire of words.

Commonly seen with green, yellow, blue or grey plumage, parakeets have also been bred in a rainbow of colors, including violet and turquoise. In general, you can tell a male bird by his bright blue cere, the fleshy area just above the beak. Measuring in at about seven inches, budgies have an average lifespan of four to seven years.

Purchase your bird from a breeder or pet store specializing in avians; you can also look into adopting a bird, too, and give a lucky tweeter a second chance at a good home. Keep in mind that these are social birds, and will be very happy to share cages with one or more budgie pals. One bird kept as a pet will be content, too, as long as you shower him with plenty of attention.

When it comes to selecting housing, the bigger, the better–especially if you are getting more than one bird. A typical cage should be at least 25 inches tall and 25 inches from front to back, large enough for your feathered friend to stretch and flap his wings without hitting the sides of the cage. Because budgies like to climb all over their cages and perches, they prefer slightly taller, rather than wider, cages. These birds love to play, so your little guy will need toys to keep him busy. Swings, rings, bells and wheels fit the bill, and scout out your pet supply store for toys specially designed with budgies in mind. Your feathered friend will appreciate a shallow dish of water placed on the cage floor every now and then–few things are more fun than a good bath, but be prepared to clean the cage at bathtime’s end. You can also purchase a bird bath that fits right in the cage door. But do keep in mind that the cage is your bird’s home, safe, home–you will need to work on taming exercises before giving him some freedom. For tips on taming your parakeet, please see our topic on “Training and Exercise.”

To ensure that your bird receives proper nutrition, feed him budgie pellets or seed mix, just make sure it’s a complete formula that contains nutrient supplements Small amounts of hard-boiled egg, whole wheat bread and corn bread make tasty snacks. You should also offer your bird fresh fruit or veggies every day; apples, pears, carrots and leafy greens seem to be budgie faves, but be sure to wash all fresh food first. Lots of fresh water and a cuttlebone round out the requirements.

As with any pet, be alert for symptoms of ill health in your bird. If you think your pet may be sick, consult with your veterinarian. Be sure to read our other topics on bird care–the more you know, the happier you–and your budgie–will be.

Parrots

by: ASPCA Ani-Med

They squawk, they talk. They’re smart and sensitive. They’re beautiful and they’ll be your best friend. We’re talking about the larger members of the parrot family, considered by many to be the ultimate avian companions. This group includes a variety of species, from 12- to 20-inch African greys and electus parrots, to 20- to 36-inch umbrella cockatoos and scarlet macaws. Having a parrot as a pet is a major investment in time, money and love–but if you’re up for the challenge, the returns on your investment are priceless.

In the wild, parrots live in large flocks and fly many miles each day. They also bond with a mate. All this means a companion avian will need lots of space–a cage at least four feet high and several feet across–and at least an hour of exercise in a safe, secure room every day. Do you have the time to tame and train your bird, and make sure he’s mentally stimulated? Toys may help keep him occupied, but what he really needs is lots of attention. Parrots form strong bonds with their human family members, and without enough attention, a bird can become extremely bored and stressed, and may exhibit negative behaviors such as screeching, biting and feather picking. If you travel a lot or are away from home a lot, a large parrot is not a good choice.

Got your heart set on a bird who talks? Keep in mind that abilities vary among individuals, but in general, African greys, Amazons, electus and macaws are the best talkers. And if your bird isn’t a talker, he’ll still have a lot to say. Large parrots are very vocal and can be loud. If the screeching and squawking is music to your ears, that’s great–but you must consider the ears of your neighbors, particularly if you share walls with them.

It’s also important to think about the other members of your family. Do you have any other companion animals? Unless they’ve been raised together, parrots and dogs and cats–and other smaller birds, for that matter–don’t always get along. Parrots are also not recommended if you have small children. Macaws, for example, have incredible beak strength, and could do serious harm to a child too young to understand how to behave around birds. Is anyone in the family prone to allergies? Bird dander poses problems to many allergic individuals–and the larger the bird, the more dander he’ll produce. And finally, keep in mind that some species live for more than 50 years. Can you ensure a loving home for your parrot’s lifetime?

If you’re positive that a parrot is the pet for you, research the pros, cons and care of the particular species before you bring a bird home. Visit breeders and shops specializing in companion avians; talk to bird owners and members of local bird clubs. As many wild populations of parrots have been decimated by the pet trade, it is, in fact, illegal to buy or sell a wild-caught bird. Only domestic-bred, hand-fed tame birds should be kept as pets. And don’t forget the adoption option. There are many large parrots out there waiting for a second chance at a good home; contact your local bird club or animal shelter for a referral to a bird rescue group.

What Kind of Bird Should I Get?

by: ASPCA Ani-Med

Thinking about adding a feathered friend to the flock? Congratulations, you’re about to enter a world filled with beautiful song, brilliant plumage and sensitive, intelligent companions. There are many species out there, from four-inch finches to three-foot macaws, and your first challenge–relax, it’s a fun one–is finding the right bird for you and your family.
First-time bird caretakers can’t do much better than finches or canaries. These small, hardy birds are relatively inexpensive and low-maintenance–also good choices if you travel a lot or get home late in the evenings. Finches and canaries are not as messy as bigger birds, and if space is an issue, keep in mind that smaller species require less room. However, as they are not as social with their human caretakers, and do not take as well to handling, they may not be right for you if you’re looking for more of a buddy. They do need company of their own kind, though, so you must keep at least a pair.

If interaction’s a main attraction, consider chirpy, cheerful budgies and cockatiels. The budgie makes a gentle friend who’ll enjoy perching on your hand or shoulder, and can be taught to mimic words and household noises. They’re great first birds for children. About twice the size of budgies, cockatiels are smart, love to be doted on by their human friends, and often are willing talkers.

Amazon parrots and African grays certainly have a lot to say, if you’ve got your heart set on a talking avian. These two birds are considered the best at it, but it’s important to keep in mind that there is no guarantee that every member of the species will talk. You can be pretty sure that large parrots will be on the loud side, though; cockatoos and conures also fall into the noisy category. The raucous squawking may be music to your ears, but your neighbors may not feel the same way–best to avoid these species if noise is a potential problem.

Larger parrots also require lots of time and space, and are very expensive. With an intelligence level equal that of chimps and dolphins, they’ll need mental simulation and constant attention from you. These species are not recommended for those who travel frequently or work long hours, or for families with young children. Parrots have incredible beak strength, and some can become aggressive with children who do not understand how to behave around birds and accidentally provoke them. And did you know that some larger parrots have lifespans of more than 50 years? Will you be around for the life of your bird–and if not, can you make provisions for his care?

When you are ready to get your pet, keep in mind that newborn, unweaned birds need to be fed by hand–so if you have no prior experience hand-feeding birds, it’s best to select one who is fully fledged, has been raised with adult birds and is socialized to humans. It’s also of paramount importance that you select a domestically raised bird. Not only are wild-caught birds against the law to keep as pets, they are not easily tamed and carry more diseases than domestic birds; additionally, many populations have been decimated by the wild bird trade. It’s also good sense to obtain a written contract at the time of purchase that includes your bird’s age, breed, place of birth and medical history. Better yet, rescue a bird in need of a new home. Avian rescue groups can be found at www.petfinder.com and www.avianwelfare.org.

Got a lot to think about? Bringing a bird home is a big commitment, so take all the time you need. Read up on different species, visit breeders, check out avian welfare websites, join a bird club and talk to as many companion avian caretakers as you can. The more you know, the happier and healthier your future feathered friend will be.

Bringing Your Bird Home

Bird Waterer

by: ASPCA Ani-Med

Your bird’s big on water–and getting enough of it is serious business for companion avians. Seed-eating birds in particular get very little water from their food, so you’ll need to provide a ready supply. Read on to find out how to wet your pet’s whistle–or his squawk, as the case may be!

Your feathered friend needs liquids to keep his tissues moist and transport nutrients throughout the body, as well as to remove wastes. The water in his body is evaporated through the skin and lungs, and is also expelled via his droppings. Should a bird go without water for a few days, he will quickly become dehydrated. This is a very serious condition–and, if left untreated, is fatal.

To ensure that your bird never goes thirsty, you’ll need to provide fresh, pure water at all times. The amount a bird drinks varies from species from species, and from individual to individual. But no matter how much your pet imbibes, ASPCA experts recommend that you change his water at least once a day, preferably twice.

You’ll also need to consider what kind of water receptacle is best for your bird–and where to put it. The most simple of water dishes is a sturdy ceramic crock. These are good because they are unbreakable, but may not be the best choice if your pet tends to drop pieces of food–or, in some naughty cases, toys–into his water. And finally, don’t forget to carefully consider the placement of perches in the cage so your bird cannot soil his water.

Many companion avian caretakers are singing the praises of easily affordable plastic water bottles with sipper tubes that attach to the side of the cage. Not only are they great space savers, but they’ll also solve the problem of contamination. If you go this route, we must stress again that you’ll need to rinse and refill the water bottle every day. It’s also crucial that you conduct a daily check to make sure that the tube is working properly. Saliva and food can easily clog the tube, denying your bird access to the water he needs. Sadly, it’s not uncommon for a bird to be rushed to the emergency veterinarian and treated for dehydration, only to find that his water bottle was clogged or had otherwise malfunctioned.

Increasing in popularity among avian aficionados, bird waterers are perhaps the most reliable way to provide your pet with a continuous supply of clean, fresh water. The strong plastic receptacle comes equipped with a drinking valve that birds quickly learn to operate–and the best part is, this easy-to-install system never leaks or drips and, because it doesn’t operate on a vacuum principal, can never become clogged.

Cages and Housing

by: ASPCA Ani-Med

Your bird’s cage is her home, tweet, home-and it’s up to you to make sure it is as comfortable and clean, sturdy and safe as possible. A well-made cage and accessories can be expensive-especially those for larger birds-but it’s the most important investment you’ll make for your pet.

Always buy the largest, most well-constructed cage you can afford. No matter the species, your bird should have enough room to stretch and flap her wings and fly from perch to perch. A typical cage for smaller birds should be at least 18 inches tall and 15 inches from front to back. Canaries and finches prefer a cage that’s wider, rather than taller, and parakeets like a tall cage with horizontal bars they can climb. The bars should be spaced only .4 inches apart to prevent escape or injury. Larger birds such as cockatoos need roomier accommodations-go for a cage three or four feet high and three feet across.

Ready to set up your new pet’s digs? Location is everything. Place the cage in a warm, bright part of the house, close to where the action is but away from drafts and off the floor. Avoid the kitchen at all costs-birds are extremely sensitive to fumes, and those from self-cleaning ovens and Teflon-coated cookware, if overheated, can be fatal. Do not place the cage in direct sunlight. This could cause your bird to overheat.

Once you’ve found a prime location for the cage, you may want to install several perches at differing heights-one, of course, at level with the food dishes. Opt for varying sizes so your pet can exercise her feet. Wooden perches work great, and fruit-tree branches, if you can find them, are preferred by many avian caretakers. Be sure they have not been sprayed with any chemicals, and wash and dry them before fitting them in the cage. Avoid cherry wood, which is toxic, and sandpaper perches that can be tough on tender avian feet.

Most cages are equipped with a removeable grate for easy cleaning, but you’ll need to cover the bottom of the cage with plain paper, paper bags cut to size or processed corn cobs. Newspaper is fine, as long as it’s been printed with non-toxic, soy-based inks. Change the paper daily.

To keep the cage in tip-top condition, it must be thoroughly cleaned twice a month or so. Droppings and other debris left to sit can cause bacteria to build up, which can make your bird ill. Wash the cage, perches, toys and dishes with a disinfectant solution. Rinse well, and make sure everything’s dry before you return your bird to her castle.

Household Dangers

by:ASPCA Ani-Med

As a responsible owner, it’s up to you to ensure that your pet lives in a home, safe home. This is especially important for avians, who are more sensitive to their environments than dogs and cats. Special considerations must be taken to keep them in the “sing” of things.

The greatest threats in your home are ones you unfortunately cannot always see. Birds are highly sensitive to inhalant fumes, which are rapidly absorbed by their bodies. The fumes from self-cleaning ovens and Teflon- or Silverstone-coated pans, if overheated, can be deadly to your pet. To be on
the safe side, it’s smart to stick to non-Teflon pots and pans. It’s also “good scents” to nix pine room sprays, potpourri, essential oil diffusers and spray-type room deodorizers. And please try at all costs to avoid exposing your feathered friend to automobile exhaust, tobacco smoke, glues and paints, insecticidal fumigants, perfume and hair spray.

While it’s important that many species of birds get exercise time out of the cage every day, you’ll need to bird-proof your home, paying special attention to the room in which your pet is free to fly. Make sure all electrical wires are out of beak’s reach, as well as prescription and over-the-counter drugs. Pain killers, cold medicines, anti-cancer drugs, vitamins and diet pills are all examples of human medications that can be lethal to birds, even in small doses. And keep in mind that most pesticide baits contain ingredients, such as grains and sugars, that can attract your pet. Should you need to use rat and mouse bait or ant traps, place them in areas that are inaccessible to your pet. Same goes for cleaning agents. Should your pet ingest them, he could suffer from a range of symptoms, depending on the substance, from mild stomach upset to severe burns of the tongue, mouth and crop.

You probably know how important it is to supplement your little guy’s diet with fruits and veggies, but there are some foods that should not be given to him. Check out our “Nutrition” topic for more information on acceptable fresh foods, and make a note of the following list of foods that are potentially harmful to pet birds of all species: avocado, chocolate, coffee, onions, potato leaves and stems, rhubarb leaves, salt, tea, and yeast dough.

No matter how careful you are, accidents can happen–and time is of the essence in an emergency. If you think your bird has gotten into a potentially poisonous substance, call your veterinarian or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center’s emergency hotline at 1-888-4-ANI-HELP for round-the-clock telephone assistance. There will be a charge for this service.

Perches & Stands

by: ASPCA Ani-Med

Sometimes it’s the smallest details that matter the most in maintaining your bird’s health and happiness. Take perches, for example. If your avian companion’s cage was purchased from a pet supply store, it probably came with plastic or wooden perches. These are adequate but, devoted avian caretaker that you are, you’ll no doubt want to provide the best perches possible for your bird. Here’s how to raise the bar.

The perfect perch is more than just a place for your pet to stand. For one, it can be gnawed on to satisfy a bird’s urge to chew. It also provides a surface for beak rubbing and polishing, and it allows your feathered friend to exercise his feet while doing double duty as a nail file.

Some owners prefer to replace all standard-issue plastic perches with wooden dowels. These are indeed more natural and can be easily cleaned–but if they are all of the same diameter and shape, a bird is forced to constantly hold his toes in the same position, which can lead to foot problems. To provide some variety, ASPCA experts recommend natural branches or twigs from nontoxic trees. Take care they have not been sprayed with any chemicals, and wash and dry them before fitting them in the cage. We suggest fruit trees, ash, maple, bird and willow. Avoid cherry wood, which is toxic to birds. When selecting branches for this purpose, keep in mind the size of your pet. One- to two-inch-diameter perches will accommodate larger parrots, and smaller avians will need perches that are about 1/2 inch in diameter. If you don’t have a ready supply from trees in your backyard, you can find these branches at crafts stores and floral design shops.

Please note that sandpaper perches, though popular and readily available, are not recommended. They can be too rough and tough on tender avian feet, and their use can actually cause problems. Birds who must regularly stand on these abrasive surfaces can develop sores and eventually become lame.

When it comes to arranging perches in the cage, location is everything. Place them at differing heights–one, of course, at level with the food dish. Make sure that you do not install them so that a bird can defecate in his food dish–or on a cagemate! Take care around the corners, too. If a perch is too close to the corner or end of the cage, a bird must rub his tail against the cage when turning around, resulting in frayed feathers.

If you have a larger parrot, his cage is no doubt bulky and heavy–and should be placed on a table or secure floor stand; hanging stands are not recommended. Some stands are designed like wheeled carts, which can make clean-up a lot easier. And it’s smart to invest in a large, sturdy T-shaped perch for your bigger bird. Set it up outside the cage, where it will serve as a “classroom” for training sessions and a rest area during play time out of the cage. You can also check out the many play gym perches available, complete with swings, rings, ladders and toys for climbing. These are great boredom busters–just be sure the model you purchase is sturdy and does not contain any small parts that could be broken off by strong parrot beaks.

What’s That Bird Cage Made Of?

By: Fern Van Sant, DVM

Abstract: The materials and techniques used in bird cage manufacturing vary tremendously. Most cages are constructed primarily of steel with some form of anticorrosive coating. Cages designed to house larger psittacines are typically powder coated or made of stainless steel. Cages designed for smaller birds may employ less expensive techniques such as plating, galvanizing or plastic coating the steel wire. Enclosures designed for outside use are commonly made of galvanized steel. Powder coated steel, stainless steel mesh, Zoomesh, and Phantom Mesh offer safer, more attractive, longer lasting alternatives for outdoor aviaries.

Introduction

There are currently no standards regarding construction of bird cages for pet birds. Whether the cage is intended for small or large companion birds, the materials used for construction are as different as the designs themselves. The variability of materials is more extreme in smaller bird cages where cost is more often a primary consideration, and fewer demands are placed on the structural integrity of the cage. Large psittacines require greater tensile strength in cage components due to the extreme force these birds can exert with their beaks. The need for greater tensile strength usually translates into more costly materials and a more predictable product.

Components and Manufacturing Techniques for Indoor Birdcages

One of the most common materials used to make bird cages is steel. Steel is composed of iron and carbon and, if left untreated, oxidizes very easily. Grades of steel differ primarily in purity, varying in carbon or other alloy content. Higher grades of steel are typically subjected to heating processes that result in a tempered product with a smoother finish. Wrought iron and cold rolled steel are similar types of carbon steel, with wrought iron having a less finished surface and rougher texture, and cold rolled steel having a more finished, smoother surface. Hot rolled steel is subjected to additional heating processes that result in an even smoother finish. Regardless of how the carbon steel is produced, it must be finished with an anticorrosive material to prevent oxidation.

The best way to prevent corrosion and add tensile strength to steel is to add the elements chromium and nickel, producing stainless steel (S/S). Stainless steel cages have become extremely popular in the last few years as consumers demanded safer, longer lasting, and more beautiful enclosures. Stainless steel cages are designed to last for 50 years. If designed well, they provide a safe, secure, beautiful, and easy to maintain enclosure. The high cost of these enclosures reflects the increased costs of raw materials and more labor intensive construction techniques. Stainless steel cages are most commonly used to house larger psittacine species. They are particularly well suited for large macaws and cockatoos which are capable of dismantling inferior materials. Stainless steel cages have also become popular for many medium sized birds. Even though these birds usually do not test the structural integrity of the enclosure, stainless steel cages provides a safe, lasting, easy to maintain environment for pet birds.

Powder coating is a technique commonly used to prevent corrosion of steel. It provides a durable finish that helps protect steel components. Powder coating involves the electrostatic application of a specialized paint, followed by high temperature baking. The finished product is versatile and attractive. Although originally designed for lawn furniture, this technique caught on in bird cage production. Some of the original powder coating formulas contained high levels of zinc to harden the finish and speed curing time. Most formulas currently in use have eliminated the need for zinc. Variability in paint formulas and application processes will affect the finished product and can result in chipping, peeling, and corrosion. Most cages commercially available today for medium and large psittacines species are powder coated steel. These cages, if properly manufactured, will provide decades of service and functional, safe, beautiful enclosures. Recent market trends show a rising demand for powder coated cages for smaller birds like budgerigars, cockatiels, and lovebirds. Two manufacturers, Animal Environments and California Cages, have responded to this demand with cage models for smaller birds. The Animal Environments cage designed for budgerigars, the Barcelona, utilizes materials and manufacturing techniques previously only seen in large bird cages.

While powder coated steel is the safest type of painted cage, some manufacturers sell powder coated galvanized wire cages as an inexpensive alternative. These cages pose an increased risk of zinc consumption. In many cases this is due to the fact that proper preparation for powder coating involves some roughening of the surface to be painted. This roughening can pit the galvanized surface and result in irregularities. Powder coating often adheres poorly to slick galvanized surfaces and can quickly peel and flake. The paint flakes can contain high levels of zinc, which has leached from the galvanizing into the powder coating. Pet birds intent on cage chewing can quickly ingest toxic levels of zinc and/or lead which is a common industrial contaminant of some galvanized wire (see below). Unfortunately, most owners who purchase these cages are unaware that they are buying an inferior product.

While stainless or powder coated steel cages are ideal, less expensive methods of preventing corrosion are commonly used in bird cages designed for smaller psittacines, whose owners tend to be more cost conscious. The most commonly used method involves electro-plating steel wire with an inexpensive metal to prevent oxidation and corrosion. Zinc is probably the most commonly used metal for electroplating. Some manufacturers will layer different metals over the steel to achieve the desired result. The resulting wire is usually a shiny silver color but can also be shiny gold. Most electroplated finishes contain at least some zinc. An informal survey of commercially available cages (8 randomly chosen) for smaller parrots revealed zinc levels in the plating from .5% to 42%. Electrostatically applied plating is unlikely to be consumed by a bird as long as the finish is smooth. However, once the cage shows signs of oxidation, pitting, loss of sheen, or white rust, the cage poses unacceptable risk of zinc ingestion, and should be replaced. Cage grates are likely to show degenerative changes first because of the constant exposure to droppings and food waste. Oxidation of these surfaces often result in deposits of elemental zinc. These deposits appear as white burrs or pits. These imperfections can draw the attention of birds. When removed and ingested by birds, these deposits can result in potentially dangerous zinc exposures. Birds that develop behaviors involving chewing, mouthing, or biting the cage are at increased risk and would be safer in a zinc free enclosure.

Another inexpensive method of preventing oxidation involves coating steel or galvanized wire with plastic or vinyl. While these coatings do protect wire from oxidation, they can be easily removed by busy birds. Plastic and vinyl coatings often degrade quickly and flake off the underlying wire. As lead is a common ingredient of plastic and vinyl, pieces of coating ingested by birds can expose the bird to toxic metals. In addition, ingested coating can act as a gastrointestinal irritant, regardless of its metal content. When a vinyl or plastic coating is used over galvanized wire, there is the added risk of zinc ingestion if the wire is chewed on and eaten.

Galvanizing is the process of coating steel wire with zinc by dipping it into molten zinc. This method is the least expensive way of preventing corrosion of steel wire. Galvanized wire can be distinguished from plated wire in that it is a dull gray, rather than a shiny silver. There are two primary types of galvanized wire commercially available. Wire galvanized prior to welding is commonly produced in the Unites States. Wire galvanized after welding is a process more typical of production in United Kingdom, Europe and Asia. Regardless of when the zinc is applied, the welds in most galvanized wire are electrostatic and contain no additional metals. Lead is a common manufacturing contaminant of some galvanizing processes and will obviously increase the risk of problems if consumed. Using higher grades of wire will minimize the risk of lead exposure.

Galvanized cages are the least expensive bird enclosures available, and are often manufactured in large sizes suitable for flight. They are also light and easy to move. Unfortunately the behavior characteristics of many birds include picking at, chewing, and ingesting anything available. For these birds a galvanized cage can pose a huge risk of zinc intoxication. The number of birds adversely affected by these cages is likely under-reported because thorough diagnostics are often not run. The toxic potential of zinc ingestion has been proven but much remains unknown about the impact of chronic, non lethal exposure.1,2,3 In fact, the biologic mechanisms of lethal exposures remain poorly defined.

Properly finishing galvanized wire eliminates blebs and imperfections, making the cage less inviting to chew. Excess material at welds creates easily removable pieces of elemental zinc. If ingested, these pieces can contribute to disease. Wire that is galvanized after welding usually has a smoother surface, and therefore becomes the preferred wire for aviculture. New galvanized wire is often coated with a petroleum based protective oil. If not washed off prior to use, and if ingested, this oil can pose additional health risks. Sheffield Manufacturing, producers of Tinsley Wire, requires that rolls of wire be sold with a warning label advising of the risk of zinc ingestion, of the need to prepare the wire for usage by removing any residues of oil, and of the need to use a soft brush to remove any tags of material. 4

Many aviculturists mistakenly think that treating galvanized wire with a vinegar wash will remove any risk of zinc ingestion. While vinegar will dissolve small, oxidized deposits and hasten their removal with a soft brush, vinegar will not remove the zinc coating from the wire.

Acrylic cages have appeared on the market as an alternative to traditional metal wire cages. They certainly offer the advantage of using safe, relatively inexpensive materials and many bird owners find them appealing. Certainly they have distinct advantages for debris containment. However, this same property gives rise to problems with air quality and ventilation. Some have additional built in air cleaners to address air quality problems. Whereas these cages may be suitable at moderate temperatures, the small airspace could become overheated at warmer temperatures.

Aviaries and Cages for Use Outdoors

Structural components used in aviaries and outdoor enclosures are often different from those found in indoor pet bird cages. Cages used in outdoor situations require more durable corrosion protection, as they are exposed to the effects of sun, wind, salt, and rain. Galvanized wire has been the traditional material for outdoor cages, as it is inexpensive and rust resistant. An increased awareness of the inherent risks of metal toxicity however, has lead to the development of alternative caging materials suitable for outdoor use. Powder coating non galvanized steel for the production of outdoor aviaries is a new concept that holds tremendous promise. Powder coated steel aviaries are a much safer enclosure for chewing birds than galvanized ones. The material does not require specialty welding and can be built with readily available materials. Certainly the powder coating must be applied carefully to prevent corrosion of the underlying steel. Aviaries utilizing these materials are more costly than galvanized enclosures, yet are more attractive and much safer.

The use of stainless steel mesh of varying sizes and weights has resulted in very successful aviary design and construction. S/S construction requires special welding equipment and special training, but can result in a beautiful finished product. Several sizes and weights of S/S mesh are commercially available. The least expensive and most versatile is ½”x ½” 16 gauge S/S mesh. The mesh is reasonably easy to cut and weld. The small size of the mesh allows for the housing of many large birds because the opening is too small for the birds to grasp or chew with their beaks. We have used ½” x 2″ and ½” x 3″ 16 gauge and 14 gauge very successfully. Construction of S/S cages does demand the talents of S/S specialty fabricators.

Heavy gauge (10gauge) ½”x 2″ S/S mesh, suitable for housing large macaws and cockatoos can be prohibitively expensive. In special situations however, the wire can be used to construct bird palaces. It is necessary to use this heavy a wire to house most cockatoos and macaws. The largest and most determined species could probably damage this wire.

Zoomesh is a light-weight, flexible, stainless steel mesh that has been used in zoos for many years. Although it is generally considered to not be strong enough for most psittacine enclosures, it is possible that small species could be safely maintained in it. Zoomesh comes in two weights, standard and heavy duty. It resists chewing by rodents and other pests. The mesh can be stretched tight over a rigid frame or draped over cables and poles.

Phantom Mesh is a relatively new aviary screening material that is made of inter-linking round weave coils of wire. Manufactured in a variety of sizes and materials, Phantom Mesh can be draped over cables and poles and doesn’t necessarily require a rigid frame. Phantom Mesh has the great advantage of being basically invisible from 30 feet. The lightest gauge Phantom Mesh, made of aluminized steel, appears to be well suited for psittacine aviaries.

Taking Care of Your Bird

Avian Conversion Schedule

Conversion schedule – From seed-based to pellet-based diet:

The Dublin Animal Hospital recommends these quality pellet-based diets:

Harrisons
Roudybush

Zupreen
Kaytee Exact

LaFebers
PrettyBird

Weeks 1 & 2:

Mix pellet with seed 50/50. During these initial weeks, your bird will eat almost no pellets. This is to be expected – this period just familiarizes the bird with thetexture and smell of the pellets.

Weeks 3 thru 12:

Gradually decrease seed portion by 10% per week until seed is eliminated. During this period, offer a variety of vegetables, pasta, rice, as your bird becomes open to diet diversification.

Weeks 13 thru 20:

Offer pellets, vegetables, rice, and pasta, but NO seeds. The bird needs this period to overcome the “Seed Addiction”. The presence of seed may cause the bird to revert to its’ old ways. A pellet-based diet supplemented with a variety of vegetables, pasta, and rice, should be its primary diet.

After 21 weeks:

Continue to feed your bird its primary diet, but seeds can be offered in small portions one to two times a weeks.

Remember:

As in all creatures, a good proper diet is one of the major factors in promoting good health.

Avian Weaning Schedule

Avian Weaning Schedule

{guideline only}

*key:

AGE
ROOM TEMPERATURE
FEEDINGS

Macaws and Large Cockatoos:

4 thru 8 weeks
85º
4 Times daily

NoteSome birds can go to 3 feedings per day at 6 to 7 weeks.

8 thru 12 weeks
80º
3 Times daily

12 thru 16 weeks
75º
2 Times daily

Note: Begin offering adult diet of Pellets and Vegetables.

16 thru 20 weeks
Average Room Temp
Gradually push to wean

NoteGradually decrease morning feedings when eating well on it’s own.

Most Macaws and large Cockatoos will wean in approximately 20 weeks. If the bird is slow, offer small amounts of food in the evening until 24 weeks.

Amazons, African Grays, and Small Cockatoos:

4 thru 6 weeks
85º
4 Times daily

6 thru 8 weeks
80º
3 Times daily

8 thru 10 weeks
75º
2 Times daily

Note: Begin offering adult diet of Pellets and Vegetables.

10 thru 12 weeks
Average Room Temp
Gradually push to wean

NoteGradually decrease morning feedingswhen eating well on it’s own.

You can eliminate hand feeding in most by 12 weeks, but you can offer evening feedings until 16 weeks.

Conures:

4 thru 6 weeks
85º
3 Times daily

6 thru 8 weeks
70º – 75º
2 Times daily

Note: Begin offering adult diet of Pellets and Vegetables.

8 thru 10 weeks
Average Room Temp
Gradually push to wean
NoteGradually decrease morning feedingswhen eating well on it’s own.

You can eliminate hand feeding in most by 10 weeks, but you can offer evening feedings until 12 weeks.

Remember:

  1. Feed approximately 10% of body weight per feeding.
  2. Food Temperature should always be between 101º-104ºF.
  3. Monitor weights – Most birds reach maximum weight when body feathers are in and flight/tail feathers are approximately 2/3 of full length. They can usually lose approximately 10% of their body weight as they prepare to wean and fly.
  4. A bird that refuses to eat on its own when i t is at approximately weaning age is often sick, even if it seems outwardly normal.
Avid Friend Chip

Until your pet learns to use the phone, AVID will help him find his way home. Now you can easily protect your loved ones before it’s too late. Ask Dublin Animal Hospital about the Avid Friend Chip today and visit Avid’s website for more information as well.Advanced micro-electronic technology has enabled AVID to develop a system that provides precise, secure and permanent animal identification. The AVID Animal Identification System utilizes its own unique and patented* technique, based on radiowave communications, to identify animals on demand. The AVID Animal Identification System is comprised of the following two components:

HomeAgain Microchip:

  • PASSIVE No power supply to replace or cause harm to animals.
  • SMALL About the size of a grain of rice.
  • SIMPLE Standard injection procedure implants the identity tag quickly and safely. No anesthesia is required or recommended.
  • SAFE The micro-electronic device is encapsulated within a proven bio-compatible glass.
  • RELlABLE Accident or injury to the animal will not prevent the reading of the identity tag.
  • UNIQUE Each identity tag is manufactured and programmed under computer control to insure against duplication of I.D. codes. No two animals would have the same number.
  • UNALTERABLE Once implanted, the identity tag is virtually impossible to retrieve. Surgical removal, using the most advanced radiograph techniques available, is extremely difficult. The number can never be altered.

Microchip Reader :

  • Generates a low energy radio signal that energizes the identity tag to transmit its unique number.
  • The received number is displayed on a Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) in an easy to read format.
  • Reading time is measured in “Milliseconds”.
  • Can transmit via a standard RS-232 interface to a computer supporting custom applications.*
  • Manual, Remote or Computer controlled operational capability.*
  • Battery powered. Standard 9V or rechargable.*
  • Compact and lightweight. Total unit weighs less than two pounds. AVlD’s intelligent and thoughtful design has produced an identity tag reader that is practical for use in both field and clinic environment.
Bird Poison Prevention Tips

According to statistics compiled by the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (APCC), more than 875 instances of pet birds being exposed to potentially dangerous common household items have been reported since January 2003. As the majority of companion avians have limited activity outside their cages, poisonings are not common. But birds with free household access are at potential risk of exposure to toxicants. Our experts at the APCC offer the following poison prevention tips to keep your companion avian in the “sing” of things:

  • Birds are highly sensitive to inhalant fumes, so please avoid exposing yours to fumes from self-cleaning ovens and overheated TeflonTM- or SilverstoneTM-coated pans, automobile exhaust, tobacco smoke, glues and paints, insecticidal fumigants, perfume and hair spray.
  • Keep all prescription and over-the-counter drugs out of beak’s reach, preferably in closed cabinets. Pain killers, cold medicines, anticancer drugs, vitamins and diet pills are all examples of human medications that can be lethal to birds, even in small amounts.
  • Never allow your bird access to areas in which cleaning agents are being used or stored. Should your pet ingest them, he could suffer from a range of symptoms, depending on the substance, from mild stomach upset to severe burns of the tongue, mouth and crop.
  • Foods and beverages that could be dangerous to birds include:
    avocados chocolate in any form coffee & tea moldy or spoiled foods
    onions & garlic tomato leaves and stems yeast dough

If you suspect your bird has gotten into a potentially poisonous substance, call your veterinarian or the APCC’s emergency hotline—(888) 426-4435—for round-the-clock telephone assistance. For additional bird safety tips, please visit ASPCA online.

Cage Cleaning

As a new pet parent, you’ve probably discovered that birds are, well, MESSY! They’ll fling seed hulls with downright abandon, busily shred the newspaper lining their cage and splash their bath or drinking water with untempered enthusiasm. Although you’ll just have to get used to it, there are several things you can do to make your job as a bird housekeeper a little easier. It’s smart to get a cage with a bottom tray that slides out for easy cleaning. Most companion avian housing does come equipped with this time-saving feature, but you will still need to cover the bottom of the cage with plain paper, paper bags cut to size or processed corn cobs. Newspaper is fine–as long as it’s been printed with non-toxic, soy-based inks. Some ultra-efficient owners choose to line the cage tray with multiple sheets of paper, removing just the soiled top layer when cleaning.Be sure to change this paper every day. Leaving it for even a few days can foster the growth of molds and bacteria that can make your bird sick. During your daily clean-up, you should also take care to:

  • Wipe clean any food debris or droppings that have soiled the gratings, perches and sides of the cage. A gentle soap and water will usually do the trick, just be sure to rinse well and let everything dry completely.
  • Check your bird’s food dishes and water bottles, washing and rinsing as necessary.
  • If you are using a water dish and your bird has the charming habit of dunking his food into his water, you’ll need to take extra-special care that his dishes remain clean.

To keep your bird’s home in tip-top condition, you will need to thoroughly clean and disinfect it at least once a month. While your bird is having his supervised play time out of the cage, wash the cage in the shower or, weather permitting, hose it down outside. A solution of water and bleach or gentle antibacterial soap will work great, just be sure to thoroughly scrub all cage parts–and toys, too. You can use a toothbrush to remove debris from those hard-to-reach areas, and you’ll also find many brushes specially made for cage cleaning at the pet supply store.As they’re easily soiled, the perches in your bird’s cage may need extra attention. Scrub them with soap and water or commercial perch cleaner, and rinse well. We’ve heard good things from pet parents about the new perch-scraping tools, which will readily remove large messes. If you find that the perches are especially and consistently dirty, consider their placement in the cage. If one perch is directly above another, it can quickly become covered in droppings. And always make sure that you do not install the perches so that a bird can defecate in his food dish–or on a cagemate!And finally, don’t forget to vacuum or sweep those seeds, feathers and shredded paper that accumulate around the perimeter of your bird’s cage (see, we told you they were slobs!). You can use a little soap and water to clean up any messes, but do resist the urge to use any pine-based cleaners or aerosol sprays. Birds are especially sensitive to inhalant fumes.

Daily Care Checklist

by: ASPCA Ani-Med

What does it take to keep your feathered friend feeling fine? A lot. To be a responsible owner, you’ll need to be involved in your pet’s care every day. Once you’ve got the routine down, you may find yourself enjoying these daily tasks–and, of course, there’s no better reward than a happy, healthy bird.

Whatever pellet or seed mixture your bird eats, a fresh supply should be available at all times. Once a day you should clean and refill food and water dishes. Water may need to be changed more often if it becomes soiled with droppings or food. Offer your pet fresh fruit and vegetables every day, just be sure to remove any food that goes uneaten after a few hours.

The paper lining the cage tray must also be changed daily. Leaving it for even a few days can foster the growth of molds and bacteria that can make your bird sick. Wipe clean any food debris or droppings that have soiled the sides of the cage, perches and gratings.

You’ll notice that your pet spends a lot of time preening, and you can help keep her plumage looking perfect with a bath as often as your pet likes it. You can provide a shallow dish at the bottom of the cage or spritz her gently with a plant spray bottle; just make sure the nozzle is set to “Mist.” Social, tame birds may enjoy their baths in the shower, but you will need to provide a perch. If your bird bathes in her cage, it’s a good idea to let her indulge just before you plan to change the cage tray paper and clean the food dishes.

Companion avians crave mental stimulation and attention from you, so if you have a parrot or other bird who’s been properly tamed and trained, she’ll need at least an hour of exercise out of the cage in a safe, secure room every day. Think of it as gym class, and you’re there to monitor. If you’re in the process of taming or teaching your bird to talk, regular lessons are crucial–and it helps if you commence “class” at the same time every day. If you have a smaller species or a bird who doesn’t need time out, offer her a favorite toy during daily playtime, or you can rotate toys during the week to keep her interest. Playtime is the best time to bond with your pet, and this daily ritual should not be overlooked.

A more thorough cleaning of the cage is required once a week. Remove and wash the cage tray and perches, and wash the area around the cage. Inspect all toys to make sure they are clean and damage-free, without any loose or broken parts that could hurt your pet. The entire cage should be cleaned about once a month with a disinfectant solution. Rinse well, and make sure everything’s dry before you return your bird to her home.

Spending time with your bird and maintaining her environment also gives you a chance to catch any unusual symptoms or behaviors that could signal illness. Sick birds will often fluff out their feathers in an effort to keep warm; others sit lethargically on their perch or, worse, on the cage floor with their eyes closed. Other symptoms include red, watery or dull eyes, unkempt plumage, shivering and shaking, compulsive feather picking and changes in the color and consitency of fecal matter. If you think your bird may be sick, do not wait until your yearly check-up to consult the vet. And P.S., even if your bird seems a model of avian health, it’s still important that you schedule that annual check-up with a veterinarian specializing in avian medicine!

DNA Sexing

by: ASPCA Ani-MedIf you have an Eclectus parrot, there’s no doubt about the sex of your pet–the bright red female can hardly be mistaken for a green male. No guessing with budgies, either, as a mature male’s cere, the area just above the beak, is blue. And in the case of canaries, you can hear the difference–only males sing. In some cases, though, you can’t tell just by looking–or listening!Do you know what sex your bird is? While many caretakers are content to guess, others want to know with certainty if their beloved Max is really a Maxine. And if you’re considering adding another bird to your family’s flock, knowing your pet’s gender can help you choose the most compatible cagemates.When the gender of a bird can be determined visually, he or she is a member of a DIMORPHIC species. All members of MONOMORPHIC species, however, look the same, and you cannot distinguish males from females based on their appearance. The latter group includes macaws, conures and cockatoos. Some species of lovebirds are monomorphic, while others, such as the Abyssinian, are dimorphic.If your avian companion is monomorphic, however, your pet’s identity need not remain a mystery. Many avian caretakers choose to have their birds surgically sexed. After anesthetizing the bird, a veterinarian makes a small incision in the abdomen and is thus able to view the animal’s internal sex organs. This procedure is safe and quick when executed by an experienced doctor, but is not recommended for very young birds. As they have not yet reached sexual maturity, their sex organs are much more difficult to distinguish.Up until recent years, this invasive procedure was the only reliable method available. Thanks to the advent of DNA sexing, however, birds can be accurately sexed without the possible complications of surgery and anesthesia. A blood sample is collected from a vein or toenail–a procedure that can be done easily and painlessly by the bird’s caretaker–and sent via mail to a laboratory, where it is analyzed to determine the bird’s sex. Unlike surgical sexing, DNA sexing can be accurately done on baby birds. Another advantage is that your pet will not have to leave the comfort of his environment–and that’s less stress for both you and your feathered friend! DNA sexing services are currently offered by a number of laboratories worldwide. First on the scene was Zoogen Services located in Davis, CA. Zoogen was founded in 1990, and to date has accurately sexed over 330,000 birds. In the beginning, the analysis process was somewhat cumbersome, taking about a week to complete. Today, however, results are usually available within 24 hours from the time a sample is received. Visit www.zoogen.biz or call 800-995-BIRD for more information and to request a sample submission kit. Or, bring your bird to Dublin Animal Hospital and we would be happy to do all the work for you.

Feather Picking

by: ASPCA Ani-Med

A happy, healthy bird will spend time each day grooming, or preening, to keep his plumage in tip-top condition. You’ve no doubt seen your bird draw his feathers through his beak to clean, condition and waterproof them. Preening also involves the removal of the sheaths at the base of the feathers, allowing new ones to grow in.

Companion avians who suffer from feather picking, however, take preening one step further, obsessively pulling, plucking and chewing on feathers. Plumage becomes damaged and frayed, inhibiting normal feather growth. Areas easily accessible to a bird’s beak–breast, inner thighs, and the skin under the wings–are most affected; in some cases, these areas may be completely bare. This condition, most frequently seen in larger parrots, cockatoos and conures, has both medical and non-medical causes. Either way, it’s extremely distressing to both bird and owner.

If you suspect your bird’s a feather picker, the first order of business is to bring him to the veterinarian to rule out medical problems. Hypothyroidism, though rare, can cause excessive loss of feathers and feather picking, as can parasites, hormonal changes and bacterial and fungal infections of the skin.

Most often, though, the causes are psychological, with stress and boredom most likely to contribute to this condition. In the wild, large birds live in huge flocks and fly many miles a day. They also bond with a mate. If these needs are not addressed in captivity, a companion avian will become stressed, bored, and very unhappy.

As a responsible caretaker, it’s up to you to figure out what’s stressing your bird out, and take appropriate steps to remedy the situation. Does your bird have a partner? Does he get plenty of exercise? Consider his environment. Is his cage large enough? Is it in a suitable location? This will depend on his personality. A shy bird may do better in a less heavily trafficked area, for example, while a social butterfly may need to be closer to the action.

Are you showing your bird enough attention? A little extra time with you or other favorite family members can go a long way. Toys help, too. Offer a wide variety, and make sure they’re sturdy and appropriate for the species. Avians can also redirect any destructive tendencies through toys they can rip up and chew apart. Clean, untreated, non-toxic branches, large pine cones and cardboard boxes may be the ticket. And food can be lots of fun–particularly if it’s something your bird has to work for, like non-shelled nuts, snow peas and corn on the cob. Some caretakers have had success in leaving a radio or television on, or even a tape of themselves talking–calmly and happily, of course.

In some cases, your veterinarian may recommend that your bird wear a collar while his feathers grow out. Treatment with behavior or mood modifying drugs have been helpful in certain situations, but truly effective treatment must also address the underlying causes as well. Keep in mind that feather picking is one of the most difficult conditions to treat, and you may need to work closely with your veterinarian or an avian behaviorist. Fixing the problem will take time and patience, but don’t give up. Your bird’s worth it.

Grooming

by: ASPCA Ani-Med

Birds really know how to keep up appearances. As your pet draws her beak through her plumage, she removes the sheaths at the base of her feathers, allowing for new growth. Depending on her species, she may have a gland at the base of her tail that produces oil used to condition the plumage. Your companion delights in daily grooming, but every now and then she’ll need an assistant to keep in tip-top condition.

Most birds absolutely love to take baths, and yours should indulge in this pastime at least three times a week. Soap and shampoo aren’t necessary-water’s just fine. If you have a smaller species such as a parakeet, check out the pet supply store for a covered bird bath that fits into the cage door. Alternately, you can place a bowl filled halfway with lukewarm water on the cage floor. It’s a good idea to do this right before your daily cleaning. Some larger birds enjoy taking a shower in the bathroom, or you can gently mist your pet with a spray bottle filled with warm water. Be sure to hold it about 18 inches away from your bird. If she doesn’t seem to be enjoying herself, forego this method. After a bath, let your bird preen and dry in a warm room.

A companion avian will usually keep her nails at a proper length by jumping from perch to perch, climbing and scratching. However, you may need to trim her claws periodically. For smaller species, use an emery board or fingernail clippers. For larger birds, you can snip off the sharp tips with toenail clippers or nail clippers for dogs. It’s a good idea for less-experienced owners to ask a vet for trimming lessons. Beak trimming is rarely needed. A too-long or brittle beak can be a sign of illness that should be checked by a vet.

If you have a parrot or other large social bird who requires daily exercise out of the cage, you’ll need to have her wings clipped to keep her. This procedure prevents your bird from maintaining flight, but does allow her to glide on descent, if necessary. ASPCA experts recommend that you have a veterinarian perform the first trim. Your vet can then show you how to properly execute this procedure, which may be needed every 4 to 6 months. Some experts do not support wing-clipping, but do warn that birdkeepers must be extra careful that their pets do not fly into trouble-fans, hot pans, and open windows, for example.

About once a year, your bird will lose her old feathers as new ones grow in. This is known as molting, and usually lasts several weeks. You may notice your bird vigorously preening herself, but this is perfectly normal and should not be confused with the obsessive pulling and plucking of feathers associated with feather picking, a disorder that has both behavioral and medical causes. If your bird has plucked her feathers to the point of baldness, consult your veterinarian for proper diagnosis and treatment.

Nutritional Needs

by: ASPCA Ani-Med

Know the phrase “eating like a bird?” When it comes to feeding your companion avian, forget you ever heard it. With his high metabolic rate, your pet must eat a lot–and often–to remain in optimum health. A typical budgie, for example, may eat up to 20 small meals a day. While he takes care of the quantity, you’ll need to ensure the quality–with a well-balanced, varied diet appropriate for his species.

Seed has been the traditional staple of the pet bird’s diet, but most experts recommend pelleted food as the way to go. Seed mixes may offer variety for your bird, but they do not provide optimum nutrition, and are definitely on the messy side. Pelleted diets are formulated to be complete and balanced, and birds can’t pick out their favorites. If you do plan to feed seed, you’ll have to ensure that your pet gets the vitamins and minerals not found in seed mixes. Bird seed does not contain calcium, for example, so you’ll need to provide a cuttlebone or mineral block. Ask your veterinarian about additional supplements for your bird’s species.

If your pet has been eating a seed-based diet and you’d like to switch to pellets, it may take awhile for him to get used to them. Facilitate the change by mixing the pellets in with the seed mix. Little by little, decrease the amount of seed as you increase the amount of pellets.

Be sure to offer fresh vegetables and fruits to your bird every day. Dark, leafy greens such as spinach and kale are packed with vitamins, and birds also enjoy broccoli, carrots and corn. Common fruity favorites include apples, pears, grapes, melon, mango and kiwi. Just be sure to wash everything first, and remove any uneaten foods after a couple of hours. If your bird seems resistant to any fresh food, try cutting it up in very small, seed-sized pieces. Do not give your bird avocado, cherry pits, rhubarb or apple seeds.

Don’t forget that fresh, cold water should be available at all times. Change it at least once a day, preferably twice. Carefully consider the placement of perches in the cage so your bird cannot soil his drinking water.

Snacks and treats are delicious diversions, but should never be substituted for a basic diet. Most companion avians love a taste of whole-wheat or cornbread once or twice a week, and you can also offer small bits of chopped hard-boiled egg, low-fat yogurt and cooked pasta. Some birds find mealworms and waxworms tasty; you can purchase these at pet supply stores. Avoid foods that are high in fat, sugar or salt, and never offer your pet chocolate, alcohol or anything with caffeine.

Ensuring a proper diet for your bird is one of the most important things you can do as a responsible pet owner. It’s also smart to keep an eye out for any symptoms of malnutrition. These include poor feather color, lethargy and a tendency to pull out feathers. Note any changes in your bird’s appetite and weight gain or loss, which could indicate illness. If you think that your pet is sick, do not hesitate to contact your veterinarian.

Toys For Birds

by: ASPCA Ani-Med

When it comes to companion avians, toys are serious fun. A favorite plaything can fulfill your feathered friend’s need for mental stimulation, allow him to get in some exercise, and can also aid in maintaining proper beak and nail length. And, of course, there’s the fun you’ll have just sitting back and watching him hard at play.

No matter what species your bird is, you’ll have a lot to choose from at the pet supply store. Smaller birds like budgies will enjoy ladders, swings and mirrors with bells. There are jungle gym-style toys made especially for parrots who play out of the cage. The larger species also like rope toys, as well as rawhide chews and nylabones you’ll find in the canine section of the store. Wooden chew toys are great for keeping beaks trimmed; they’re also useful in redirecting the energies of birds who chew inappropriate items.

The most important thing to remember when toy shopping, however, is to make sure that whatever you buy is the appropriate size for your bird’s species. A parrot’s strong beak can easily shatter a plastic toy designed for a cockatiel; should the bird ingest any of the small pieces, he could cause damage to his gizzard or digestive tract. A too-big toy for a smaller bird can also be a potential hazard. Chain-style toys, for example, can be dangerous if the links are large enough for the bird’s head to fit through. Pass on any toys that have sharp edges or small parts that could break off, and clips or clasps that could pierce a curious bird’s beak or eyes.

But don’t think you have to buy the most expensive toys out there. There are some simple, everyday household items your companion avian will find quite enchanting. Some budgies love nothing more than a ping pong ball to push around and try to stand on. An empty, open paper bag on the cage floor is an invitation to play, as are cardboard tubes and boxes. Food can be fun, too. Fresh corn on the cob is a rewarding challenge to eat, and dried cobs are even more enjoyable for ripping apart and shredding. A large, clean, untreated pine cone can also fulfill your bird’s need for a safe, destructible plaything.

And remember, to hold your bird’s interest and keep boredom at bay, it helps to rotate toys as often as you can. Do take care not to clutter your pet’s cage with toys. This is especially important if he’s of a smaller species that’s not tameable and doesn’t require out-of-cage exercise time–he’ll need all the room he has to flap around and fly from perch to perch. You’ll also need to clean and disinfect all toys once a week. Inspect them for any loose or broken parts, and be sure to replace them if you notice any excessive wear or damages beyond repair.

Treats For Birds

by: ASPCA Ani-Med

Polly want a cracker? Maybe. But thanks to the readily available variety of treats for companion avians, we’ll bet you can find something much more nutritious and delicious for your feathered friend.

You’ve probably got some potentially yummy bird treats in your pantry right now. Most companion avians love a taste of whole-wheat or cornbread once or twice a week, and you can also offer small bits of chopped hard-boiled egg, low-fat yogurt, cooked pasta and live food such as insects and mealworms. As a general rule, if it’s healthy for you, it’s probably healthy for your bird–though please avoid fatty, salty and sugary foods, and never give your bird avocado or chocolate. You can also try making healthy bird treats at home. Check pet bird websites and magazines for recipes.

Tasty treats can do more than just tickle your bird’s tastebuds. Many owners use them to tackle boredom. Millet sprays–the term used to describe the seeds in their natural state, still on the stem–are particularly effective for this purpose. In the wild, birds have to work for their food, and millet sprays can fulfill a bird’s desire and need to crack, pluck and husk seed. They also take a while to eat, keeping your bird physically engaged and mentally stimulated. Finches, canaries, cockatiels, and parrots large and small especially enjoy millet sprays, and you can offer your pet a three- to four-inch section a couple of times a week. Take care to remove the spray from the cage if it becomes soiled, or you can purchase a millet hanger that attaches to the side of the cage.

For more boredom busters, try seed bells and treat sticks that are especially yummy and will maintain a bird’s interest. There are many fresh foods that your bird may enjoy the challenge of tackling, such as non-shelled nuts, snow peas and corn on the cob.

Treats are regularly used as rewards during the taming and training process. Something small and relatively easy to eat will fit the bill–think air-popped unsalted popcorn, crushed nuts, and dry cereals such as oat rings and puffed rice. Pellet-style bird munchies are good, too; there’s a wide variety available, so you’ll need to make sure you get the appropriate size for your bird’s species.

Finally, keep in mind that birds do not live on treats alone! Meet your pet’s nutritional needs with a pelleted diet supplemented with fresh foods and vegetables. Treats should never be substituted for your bird’s basic diet. After all, you want him to enjoy these delectable edibles in the best of health.

Veterinary Care

by: ASPCA Ani-Med

Congratulations, you’re a proud new bird owner. Now that your little guy’s settled in, it’s a good time to have him examined by a veterinarian. Birds are experts at masking illness, so it’s important to ensure that your new friend is physically healthy.

Veterinarians specializing in pet birds aren’t always easy to find. Contact bird clubs and breeders in your area for a referral. The Association of Avian Veterinarians is also an excellent resource; visit them on the Web at www.aav.org to locate a qualified doctor near you. This is also a good time to purchase a carrier to safely transport your pet. Check out your pet supply store for a carrier that’s big enough for your bird to move around in, but will not allow him room to fly. Some owners use hard-sided plastic carriers designed for dogs and cats.

When you bring your bird for his first exam, be prepared to provide information on where and when you purchased your pet, what you’re feeding him and anything unusual you’ve noticed about him. The veterinarian will then give your bird a complete physical exam. The beak, feathers, skin and feet
will be checked for signs of disease, nutritional problems and parasites. Eyes and nostrils will be inspected for discharge and swelling. Your vet will feel the bird’s breast muscles and abdomen for any abnormalities, and will use a stethoscope to ensure that your pet’s lungs and heart are in good working order. Your bird will be weighed and, if necessary, have a nail trimming and wing clipping.

Your veterinarian may also run a complete blood count (CBC), Gram’s stain and mini-blood chemistry. These tests will help determine the true health of the bird. A CBC can be an indicator of anemia or infection; a Gram’s stain tests for the presence of bacteria. Depending on the type of bird, other tests may be recommended. Calcium tests, for example, are run on African gray parrots, who are often deficient in this mineral.

To keep your bird in good condition, ASPCA experts suggest an annual visit to the vet. Weight loss or gain, often an indicator of illness, will be checked, and any necessary tests can help the veterinarian monitor your pet’s health. Nail trimming and wing clipping, when required, can be done at this time.

If you notice any unusual symptoms in your pet, do not wait until your yearly check-up to consult the vet. Signs of illness in avians include red, watery or dull eyes, unkempt plumage, shivering and shaking, changes in the color and consistency of droppings, and compulsive feather picking. Sick birds will often fluff out their feathers in an effort to keep warm; others sit lethargically on their perch or, worse, on the cage floor with their eyes closed. If you think your bird is ill, it’s important to contact your avian veterinarian immediately.

Training Your Bird

Behavioral Problems

by: ASPCA Ani-Med

Snickers is a regular squawker, but lately she’s been really pumping up the volume…. You’re cleaning Napoleon’s cage, and he tries to take a bite out of your finger…. Every time you check on Charlie, he’s obsessively biting himself, plucking out and pulling on his feathers…. If any of the above scenarios sounds familiar, your bird may have a behavioral problem. As a responsible avian caretaker, it’s up to you to figure out what’s bugging your bird, and to determine the steps you must take to fix it.

The first order of business is to bring your pet to the veterinarian to rule out a medical problem. Compulsive feather picking and excessive loss of feathers, for example, can be caused by hypothyroidism, parasites, and bacterial and fungal infections. And a pet who’s in pain may be more apt to bite.

Raging hormones are also responsible for many negative behaviors in birds, notably increased vocalizations and unexpected biting. These problems may begin to occur when a bird approaches sexual maturity, which is about four years old for the larger species of parrots, and as early as 12 months for smaller guys like budgies. During breeding season, your pet may try to mate with one of his toys, or even your finger. Both males and females are extremely sensitive during this time, so be extra understanding and gentle with your pet. Patience is an asset here, but these phases usually pass in about several weeks.

If an animal’s negative behaviors cannot be attributed to a medical or hormonal condition, the causes are most often psychological. Stress and boredom are, in fact, the number-one reasons for bad behavior in companion birds. Remember that in the wild, birds live in huge flocks and fly many miles a day. They also bond with a mate. If these needs are not somehow addressed in captivity, a bird will become stressed, bored or very unhappy.

Are you showing your pet enough attention? Birds form strong bonds with their caretakers, and will become extremely upset if time with their favorite human is cut. We’ve also heard of instances of a bird biting his owner when another person entered the room. It may be hard to understand, but this is often the bird’s way of saying he wants his owner all to himself! Keep in mind that a little extra time with an unhappy bird can go a long way.

Does your bird have a partner? If your pet lives by himself and if you can’t give him all the attention he needs, one solution may be to get him a cage buddy. Another bird nearby, in the same room, can also fulfill this need.

Does your bird get enough exercise? Toys can really keep a companion avian mentally stimulated and physically fit, and help redirect destructive tendencies. Offer your bird a wide variety of toys, and make sure they’re appropriate for his species. Give your guy some clean, untreated non-toxic branches, large pine cones, or cardboard boxes for the sole purpose of ripping them up and chewing them apart! You may also be able to combat bird boredom by leaving on a radio or television while you’re out.

Have there been any changes in your bird’s environment? These guys are extremely sensitive to any disruption in routine, and a visitor to your home, a new cage or a new pet can bring on a bout of misbehaving.

You may have heard that some avian behavioral problems can be treated with mood-modifying drugs, but truly effective treatment must address the underlying causes. In some instances, it may be necessary to consult a professional avian behaviorist. Contact your veterinarian, breeder or bird club for a referral. Fixing the problem may take time and patience, but your bird’s worth it.

Common Problems

by: ASPCA Ani-Med

With regular veterinary care, proper nutrition and a caretaker who maintains a clean, safe environment, your fine feathered friend should remain in fine form for his lifetime. But companion avians are sensitive, often fragile animals, and can be susceptible to illness. As birds often mask their symptoms until an illness is advanced, it’s important to note any unusual signs and behaviors exhibited by your pet.

Birds can catch colds, and the symptoms are a lot like those experienced by humans-sneezing, coughing, runny nose and eyes. If you think your bird has a cold, keep him warm and contact your vet if symptoms worsen after a day or two. If these symptoms are very severe and are accompanied by labored breathing and lethargy, a bird may have pneumonia, a bacterial disease that’s potentially fatal if untreated.

Another bacterial disease seen in birds-cockatiels, cockatoos and budgies in particular-is avian chlamydiosis, also known as psittacosis or parrot fever. Especially serious because it can be passed to humans, chlamydiosis is spread through contaminated food, water and respiration. Pneumonia-like symptoms, loose stools and labored breathing are seen in affected birds. A vet can properly diagnose this illness through blood tests and radiographs; treatment includes antibiotics. This disease kills many birds but can be cured if caught early.

Parasites, both internal and external, can plague birds. Parakeets in particular are vulnerable to scaly face mites, which produce encrustations around the beak and eyes. A vet can prescribe a medication that’s absorbed through the skin. Mites are readily spread from bird to bird, so it’s important to separate infected individuals from healthy ones. Internal parasites, such as roundworms, tapeworms and protozoa, also cause problems. Weight and appetite loss and runny stools can signal a parasitic infestation.

Plumage problems can also indicate illness. French molt, for example, is a viral disease that causes extreme feather loss in young birds, especially around the tail area. The more serious, usually fatal psittacine beak and feather disease is a threat to all types of parrots. Transmitted by a virus, the disease results in thin, sparse plumage and abnormal growth of the beak and claws.

Mold and fungus can also cause avian illness. Aspergillosis and candidiasis cause the greatest concern to birdkeepers. They are especially problematic for those living in warm, humid climates and tend to affect avian respiratory systems. While anti-fungal medications exist, they do take a considerable amount of time to work. Cleanliness can help prevent problems from occurring in the first place.

Companion avians are very sensitive to their environments, and there are a few simple precautions you can take to keep your bird healthy. Inhalant fumes from hair spray, cigarettes, perfume and spray room deodorizers can make your pet sick, so it’s best to avoid their use. Note that the fumes from Teflon-coated cookware, if overheated, can be fatal to birds. For more on protecting your bird from accidental poisoning, see our topic on “Household Dangers.”

If you suspect that your bird is sick, consult your vet. Symptoms of illness include dark, runny feces; dull or watery eyes; difficulty breathing; loss of appetite and weight loss. A sick bird will also fluff out his feathers in an effort to keep warm, or sit listlessly on his perch or cage floor.

It’s also important to bring your new bird for a first veterinary check-up soon after you bring him home. The doctor will have a chance to screen the droppings for parasites and ensure that he’s healthy. If there are other birds in your household, quarantine the newcomer until your avian veterinarian gives you the go-ahead to make introductions. Ask your vet for details on how to properly quarantine before bringing another bird home.

Hand Taming Your Bird

by: ASPCA Ani-Med

Congratulations, you’re the proud new parent of a beautiful, bright-eyed bird! You probably can’t wait to get to know your pet–and he wants to know what you’re all about, too. Hand taming is one of the first steps you’ll take on your new adventure.

It’s normal for your new pet to be wary of you for the first few days. You can help him settle in by moving slowly and talking calmly as you go about your business of changing food and water and cleaning the cage. Spend time sitting quietly with him.

After the first few weeks of getting acquainted, you can begin the hand taming process. Note that finches and canaries are only social with each other, and are not tameable. Larger parrots, cockatiels, lovebirds and budgies crave attention from their human caretakers and are readily trained. In general, younger birds are easier to tame. If you’re working with a budgie or cockatiel, you may want to wear a glove. A heavy protective glove is highly recommended when hand taming large parrots, particularly in the beginning stages.

Hold your taming sessions at the same time every day, preferably twice daily, for about 10-15 minutes. Be sure to remove toys and any other distractions from the cage. The room should be quiet–no radio, TV or other people or pets. Open the cage door and insert your hand–slowly, please. Talk softly and reassuringly to your bird. For the first stages of taming, offer your pet a little treat–a piece of whole-grain cereal or air-popped popcorn, sunflower seeds and grapes are good choices. Don’t be discouraged if he heads to the corner of the cage. It may take a few sessions before he accepts the treat, but remember that gentle words and slow movements will go a long way.

Once your bird trusts you enough to take food from your hand, it’s time for step two. Pass a perch or thin stick into the cage (for larger parrots, you may need to use a wooden dowel) and use it to gently press against the bird’s chest, just where it meets the legs. With time, he should hop up onto the stick.

As your bird gets used to this, you can ease your stick-holding hand under your bird. With your free hand, offer your bird small treats as a distraction while you slide your hand over. As your bird steps on to your finger, gently drop the stick. Way to go–you’ve hand-tamed your bird! And now is time for other members of the family to begin offering him treats and gaining his trust.

Now that your bird is comfortable perching on your finger, you can try removing your hand from the cage–with him on it, of course! Secure the room first by shutting all windows and doors; cover any windows or mirrors so your bird cannot accidentally fly into them. If your bird flies straight back into his cage as soon as you take him out, don’t give up–just try again another time. If he flies off your finger, don’t panic–and please don’t lunge after him. Wait until he’s settled and offer your finger or a stick as a perch. In the event he doesn’t come back, leave the cage door open with his favorite treats inside. He’ll no doubt head back in on his own when he’s hungry enough.

Teaching Your Bird to Talk

by: ASPCA Ani-Med

No doubt about it, birds have a lot to say. They squawk, peep, cheep, screech, warble and whistle–and some species even talk. One of the biggest draws of companion avians is their ability to mimic human speech. If you’ve got time and patience–and a bird with capability and interest in learning–you just may have a chatterbox on your hands.

Which species have what it takes to talk? The best of the larger parrots are, by far and away, African greys and Amazons. Macaws, cockatoos and eclectus parrots are very capable, too, and medium-sized talkers include cockatiels, conures and chattering lories. The award for the most talented small talking bird goes to the common budgie, and some notable members of this species boast hundred-word vocabularies.

In general, younger birds are more likely to talk than older individuals, and males are more willing students who tend to learn faster than females. Avians in pairs will be quite content to chat in bird-talk with each other, so it’s smart to keep a single bird if you have dreams of a talking companion. But even if you have a young male of a species biologicallly capable of mimicry, we still can’t offer any guarantees. Some birds talk, some don’t. It ultimately depends on the individual.

As your bird’s teacher, you’ll need to be patient and consistent. To prepare for class, remove toys and other distractions from the cage and make sure the room is quiet–no TV or radio, other people or pets. It’s a good idea to hold sessions at the same time every day, ideally when your bird’s most relaxed and receptive. Two sessions a day would be preferable, if you have the time.

Start off with a simple word or two-word phrase. “Hello there” and “Pretty bird” are always good choices. Say the words slowly and clearly, allow a pause for them to sink in, and repeat. And repeat! Sessions should last about 10-15 minutes, but if your bird seems stressed or agitated at any point, cut it short and try again later. You can also say the word or phrase throughout the day, in greeting when you enter the room. Remember to be patient with your bird–it can take six months or more before he speaks his first phrase. Then it’s time to pour on the praise!

Once a bird starts talking, he’ll begin to develop his learning capacity and new words will come faster. To facilitate training, some owners record tapes of themselves repeating a new phrase to play back to the bird. This can help, but in-person lessons always work better.

Don’t be surprised if your bird does some extra-curricular work and begins mimicking sounds and phrases on his own. Many a parrot parent has been fooled by their pet’s imitation of a ringing telephone, the songs of backyard birds or the neighbor’s barking dog. Some birds may chose to focus their skills on copying sounds such as these, and may never utter a word.

Whether you’ve got a talker, a whistler or a first-class impressionist, remember that your bird’s an individual with his own special talents. Always praise him when he shows them off–we’ll bet he’ll love to bask in the spotlight!