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Avian Information Package

Routine Veterinary Exam

Does my bird really need a check-up?

 It is common for people to have personal annual physical examinations, or to take the dog and cat in once or twice yearly, so why not the bird in your family?  It is most important to have any new bird examined within the first couple of days after purchase. A routine veterinary examination is recommended at least twice annually. Your veterinarian may have very important reasons to see your bird on a different schedule, so discuss it. The most important job a veterinarian has is to help ensure your pet stays as healthy as possible and hopefully never gets sick. This is called preventative medicine.

 In the wild, a bird will endeavor to display a strong appearance even when sick. This is called “survival of the fittest”. By the time a bird actually shows an owner that it is unwell, it has likely been sick for some time. During the examination, the veterinarian may pick up subtle signs of disease.

 What will the veterinarian do?

 If possible, bring the bird in its cage so the veterinarian may assess the bird’s environment, food, feeding arrangement and some of the droppings on the bottom of the cage. If this is the bird’s first visit to the veterinarian then a lot of information will be gathered initially pertaining to you and more importantly, your bird. The age, sex, species, previous background the bird may have had, diet and length of current ownership will be recorded in the bird’s permanent medical record.

 Your veterinarian may discuss or give you information regarding proper diet and care of your particular species of bird.

 From the time you walked into the exam room, your veterinarian has been observing the bird in the cage. Attitude, posture, feathering, vocalizing and physical condition are all noted before the bird is out of the cage. The bird will then be securely restrained to prevent injury to person or pet and examined in depth physically. Any abnormal changes in the eyes, ears, nose, mouth, skin, feathers, beak, wings, legs, nails, vent, chest or abdomen will be noted.

 The beak and nails may be trimmed, ground down or groomed as necessary. Wings are clipped at this time if requested by the owner.

 Finally, before the bird is released an accurate weight in grams is recorded. With all these observations documented, a complete and current database is available to reference any time in the future to monitor changes in your pet. 

Will any tests be done?

Your veterinarian will discuss the need for testing with you depending on what has been found on the examination. Wellness testing will provide further information important in assessing your pet’s condition. Some tests are performed routinely on apparently healthy birds to monitor the current state of health of the bird and keep the database up to date. Your veterinarian will discuss wellness testing with you.

Recognizing a Sick Bird

How can I tell if my bird is sick?

In the wild, a bird will endeavor to uphold a strong appearance when sick. This is called, “survival of the fittest”. By the time a bird actually shows an owner that it is unwell, it has likely been sick for some time. It is because of this that bird owners must learn to recognize the subtle signs a bird presents when unhealthy before it is too late. Many things contribute to ill health. Improper diet is the most common cause of ill health. Trauma, poor upkeep, inferior hygiene, stress, and genetics may lead to ill health. Just because the bird’s outward appearance is normal does not mean the bird is healthy. Any deviation from normal should be taken as a sign of ill health.

If you are concerned about anything, consult your veterinarian immediately. Do not wait until tomorrow!

The following is a list of signs by general category that should alert you that your bird is sick:

General

Poor general appearance (feathers "ratty")

Changes in amount of drinking

Listlessness, inactivity, depression

Bleeding

Fluffed Feathers

Weakness

Reluctance to move

Trauma

Anorexia (not eating, changes in eating habits or reduced eating)

Dropping Wings

Sleeping More

Lumps, bumps, swellings or bulges on the body

Behavior

Any change in regular attitude, behavior or personality

Unusually tame behavior Irritability, agitation, biting

Eyes

Closed eye(s)

Eye discharge

Red eye(s)

Cloudy eye(s)

Swelling around eye(s)

Swelling of the eye(s)

Respiratory

Labored breathing or open mouth breathing

Nasal discharge

Staining of the feathers around the nostrils

Wheezing or “wet” breathing

Tail “bobbing” with each breath

Blocked nostrils

Cere (the skin around the nostrils) irregularity

Sneezing (excessive)

Increase or decrease in the size of the nostrils

Coughing

Change in voice or no voice

Skin and Feathers

Abnormal feathers, dull color, texture, shape, structure, growth

Baldness or feather loss

Prolonged molt

Bleeding blood or pin feathers (new feathers)

Trauma, cuts, bruises excessive scratching

Feather changes, color, chewed, plucked, damaged

Abnormality of beak growth

Sores on skin

Abnormal nails (i.e. color, texture)

Abnormal beak texture, color

Overgrown nails

Lumps, bumps, swellings or bulges on the body

Flaky or crusty skin

Overgrown beak

Musculoskeletal

Sore feet

Paralysis

Swollen joints

Lameness or shifting of body weight

Sore wing

Weakness

Drooping wings

Not perching, sitting on bottom of cage

Digestive and urinary

Wet droppings

Diarrhea (watery feces)

Change in the color of the droppings (i.e. red, yellow, tarry, pale)

Decreased droppings

Wet feathers around face and head

Staining of the feathers around the vent (anus)

Straining to defecate

Vomiting or excessive regurgitation

Protrusions from the vent (prolapse)

Neurological

Balance problems

Head tilt

Falling

Seizures

Not perching, sitting on bottom of cage

Unconsciousness

Weakness

Paralysis

Toxic Plants

Should I be Worried?

Many birds naturally eat plants as part of their diet. Some birds will chew on and possibly consume plants in the course of curiosity and play. Birds left unsupervised out of their cage may easily encounter plants kept around the house and in the garden. It is important for owners to be aware of which plants are toxic to birds. Few actual studies are available in regard to plant toxicity and birds. Most plants will just make a bird sick but some can kill. Extrapolations from information pertaining to other species including humans concerning harmful effects must be made.

Which Plants?

The following list of indoor and outdoor plants is an attempt to catalogue the plants considered to be potentially toxic. If there is concern regarding specific plants not listed here then consult your local Poison Control Center or reputable nursery for more information. Some plants have been included on this list even if there is a remote possibility of concern.

Alderberry Buckthorn 

Aloe Vera

Amaryllis

American Yew

Andromeda japonica

Anemone

Angel’s Trumpet

Apple (seeds)

Apricot (pit)

Asparagus fern

Autumn Crocus (Meadow Saffron)

Avocado (fruits and pit)

Azalea

Babies Breath

Baby Doll Ti

Balsam Pear

Baneberry

Bean Plants

Bird of Paradise

Bittersweet

Black Elderberry (not a berry)

Black Locus

Bleeding Heart or Dutchman’s Breeches

Bloodroot

Blue-green Algae

Boxwood

Bracken Fern

Buckeye

Buckthorn

Buddhist Pine

Bulb Flowers

Burdock

Buttercup

Cadelabra Tree

Caladium

Calico Bush

Calla Lily

Cardinal Flower

Castor Bean (Castor Oil Plant)

Ceriman

Chalice Vine or Trumpet Vine

Cherry Trees (leaves, bark, seeds - Not pulp of fruit)

China Doll

Chinaberry Tree

Chinese Evergreen

Chinese Lantern

Christmas Cactus

Christmas Candle

Christmas Candle

Christmas Cherry (berries)

Christmas Rose

Chrysanthemum

Cineraria

Clematis

Coffee Plants

Coral Plant

Cordatum

Corn Plant

Cowslip

Crown of Thorns

Crown Vetch

Cyclamen

Daffodil

Daisy

Daphne

Datura (berries)

Day Lilly

Death Amanita

Death Camas

Delphinium

Devil’s Ivy

Dieffenbachia

Dracaena Palm

Dragon Tree

Egg-Plant

Elderberry

Elephant’s Ear (Taro)

Emerald Feather

English Holly

English Ivy

English Yew

Eucalyptus

Euonymus

Evergreen (most)

False Hellebore

Felt Plant

Fiddle Leaf fig

Firethorn

Flame Tree

Flamingo Plant

Fluffy Ruffles

Fly Agaric Mushrooms

Four O’clock

Foxglove

Geranium

German Ivy

Ginko

Glacier Ivy

Gladiola

Glory Lilly

Golden Chain

Ground Cherry

Hawaiian Baby

Hawaiian Ti

Heavenly Bamboo

Hemlock (Poison and Water)

Henbane

Hibiscus

Hogwort

Holly

Honey Locust

Honeysuckle

Horse Beans

Horse Chestnut

Horsetail

Hurrican Plant

Hyacinth

Hydrangea

Impatiens

Indian Laurel

Indian Rubber Plant

Indian Turnip

Iris

Ivy

Jack-In-The-Pulpit

Japanese Yew

Jasmine

Java Bean (Glorybean)

Jequirity Bean

Jerusalem Cherry

Jimson weed

Juniper

Kalanchoe

Kentucky Coffe Tree

Lantana

Larkspur

Laurels

Lilly, many species, Tiger, Easter, Oriental..etc.

Lily-Of-The-Valley

Lobelia

Locoweed

Locusts Honey

Locusts, Black

Lords-and-Ladies

Lupine or Blue Bonnets

Marble Queen

Marijuana

May Apple or Mandrake

Mescal Bean

Mexican Breadfruit

Milkweed

Miniature Croton

Mistletoe

Mock Orange

Monkshood

Moonseed

Morning Glory

Mother-In-Law’s Tongue

Mountain Laurel

Mushrooms (Amanita, other wild species)

Narcissus

Needle Point Ivy

Nephthytis

Nettles

Nightshades

Norfolk Pine

Nutmeg

Oleander

Paradice Plant

Parsnip Plant

Peace Lilly

Peach (pits and leaves)

Pencil Cactus

Pencil Tree

Peony

Periwinkle

Peyote

Philodendron

Pigweed

Plum (pit and Leaves)

Plumosa Fern

Poinsettia

Poison Hemlock

Poison Ivy

Poison Oak

Pokeweed

Poncirus

Poppies

Potato (new shoots)

Pothos

Precatory Bean

Primrose

Primula

Privet

Purple Sesbane

Rain Tree

Ranunculus Buttercup

Red Maple

Rhododendron

Rhubarb (leaves)

Ribbon Plant

Rosary Peas

Roseary Beans

Rubber Plant

Sago Palm

Sandbox Tree

Schefflera

Skunk Cabbage

Snow Flake

Snowdrop

Snow-On-The-Mountain

Solomon’s Seal

Sorrel Spurges

Spindle Tree (berries)

Star of Bethlehem

String of Pearls

Sweet Pea (plant)

Taro Vine

Tasy Ragwort

Thornapple

Tobacco

Tobacco Tree

Tomato Plant (green fruit, stem, leaves)

Tulip

Vetch

Virginia Creeper

Water Hemlock

Wattle

Weeping Fig

Western Yew

White Cedar

Wisteria

Yam Bean

Yellow Jasmine

Yesterday, today, Tomorrow Plant

Yews

Yucca

Household Dangers

General Information

Birds are naturally mischievous and will get into many predicaments. It is crucial that you “bird proof” your home. The bird’s cage is its house and the confines of your home, represents the bird’s environment. There are many dangers within these surroundings.

Temperature and Humidity

Moderate and gradual changes ranging from 10 - 20 F (2 - 5 C) in temperature are usually tolerated very well by a healthy bird. Sick birds will need a more consistently warm temperature. Humidity in the range of 40 - 50% is ideal for most birds. It is better to have too much humidity than have the environment too dry. If allowed to bathe in the hot sun, a bird must always have access to shade in the event it should become over-heated.

Drafts

Birds should always be free from drafts such as those created around windows, outside walls, hot and cold air vents and radiators.

Air Pollution

Birds have a very efficient respiratory system and are very sensitive to pollutants in the air. Birds are exceptionally susceptible to second-hand smoke. Cigarettes, cigars and pipes should not be used around your bird. Cooking fumes, gases such as carbon monoxide, volatile cleaning products, paints, varnishes, fire place fumes and dirty household air ducts may lead to respiratory problems.

Paints Varnishes, etc.

Generally, if you can smell it, then consider it unsafe for the bird. Ventilate the environment well after use of any of these products before returning the bird to the area. Contact the company that produces the product for specific safety recommendations.

Teflon

Over-heated Teflon-coated cooking appliances and self cleaning ovens release a colorless, odorless gaseous toxin that does not seem to affect mammals but will cause death to a bird within 24 hours. Your bird does NOT have to be near the kitchen for this to happen. Birds affected by Teflon fumes need immediate veterinary attention.

Kitchens

Generally speaking, it is unwise to house a bird in the kitchen, as there are too many potential hazards. Teflon as described above is a priority concern. Hot stove elements, open pots of hot soups or sauces and even a sink full of water may be possible dangers. All cleaning products present possible hazards.

Bathrooms

Open toilet bowls and full sinks or bathtubs are possible perils to a bird. Pet birds do not swim well and excessively hot water may severely burn a bird. There are often dangerous cleaning products in a bathroom as well. Various drugs that are kept around most households are potential dangers to your bird. Keep these products locked up and away from your bird. Many drugs and chemicals are stored in containers made of plastic that birds love to chew.

Oil or Grease

Whether hot or cold, oil and feathers do not mix. Do not use oil or grease based medicines on a bird for any reason. Oils will mat down feathers, decrease their insulation qualities and make a bird susceptible to chills potentially leading to other health problems. Examples of products to avoid include Vaseline, mineral oil, oil based ointments or salves (including many sold in pet stores), cooking oils, vitamin E oils, cod liver oil and certainly motor oils.

Other Pets

Cats, dogs and ferrets can be a potential danger to your bird. These animals have a natural hunting instinct and your bird may become the victim. Never leave these animals alone together unattended. In general, smaller birds are at greater risk but why take chances with any bird?

Mirrors and Windows

Birds may not ever master the concept of glass or mirrors. To the bird, there is nothing solid there. No barriers are perceived. Curtains, shears, an object in front of or something stuck to these surfaces will provide some objectivity for the bird.

Fish Bowls

Any open container of water should be considered a danger zone. If the bird should fly in it, it may drown.

Noise Pollution

Birds generally seem to enjoy a certain amount of commotion and may become vocal and playfully excited by vacuuming, the sound of an electric razor or the normal activities of people about the house. Excessively loud noise from televisions, stereos, construction or even appliances such as vacuum cleaners or food processors may cause undue stress to some birds. Remember the bird is captive in your home and cannot freely escape these sounds. Exposure to any reasonable noise should be limited to the bird’s normal waking hours.

Fans

Never allow a bird to fly while a fan of any sort is running. The bird cannot see the blades while they are in motion.

Stucco Ceilings

Although normally very skilled and graceful at flight, a bird may occasionally strike objects or surfaces while exercising. Stucco ceilings may act like sandpaper on the top of the bird’s head as it moves along at high speeds. Try to make these rooms “out of bounds”.

Electrical Cords

Birds love to chew and the soft, rubbery, chewable coating of electrical cords may be a very enticing play toy for your bird. Due to the potential danger of electrocution, facial burns and even a serious fire hazard, electrical cords must be hidden away or unplugged.

Open Windows, Doors

Either the bird’s wings are clipped or all windows and doors are kept closed all the time. Once a bird escapes and is sitting at the top of a neighbor’s tree, even the friendliest bird may have a difficult time finding reason to come home. Do not take chances.

Lead and Zinc Poisoning

If lead is around, your bird will find it! Lead is commonly found in many places around the house. Examples include curtain weights, fishing weights, solder on cages or plumbing, older paints, certain types of putty, plaster or ceramic glazes, batteries, pellets from air rifles, certain linoleum, stained glass windows, Tiffany lamps, the leaded foil from wine bottles, some costume jewelry and zipper teeth. Lead is soft, fun to chew on and easily swallowed. Also known as heavy metal toxicosis, lead and zinc poisoning is life threatening and needs immediate veterinary attention. Contrary to some beliefs, there is NO lead in today’s pencils or newspaper inks.

Toys

Most pet bird toys are considered safe for you bird. It is important that you check all toys for loose or open clasps, removable or chewable parts, peeling paint, peeling metal and sharp edges before offering them to a bird.

Chemicals

It is likely the exploration and play of the container that leads to exposure to dangerous products. Cleaning agents, insecticides, pesticides, mothballs, deodorizers, paints, solvents, makeup, personal hygiene products and chemicals, pharmaceutical products, matches, and automotive products are just some of the products that must be locked away from an inquisitive bird.

Abnormal Droppings

General Information

A common cause of illness in pet birds involves a change of droppings. While not usually specific for any one particular disease, a change in the color frequency, volume, or character of droppings indicates a problem that requires immediate veterinary attention. 

What are the components of a normal dropping?

There are three components to the droppings. The first is the fecal component.  For most pet birds, this is a green to the dark green solid part of the droppings.  The second component is the urates or the solid urine component. Unlike most pets, birds, in their attempt to conserve water, produce a solid urine dropping. The urates are usually white in color. The third component, which is not often recognized by owners, is clear liquid urine.  It is important for owners to become familiar with their bird’s normal droppings, as evaluation of the droppings is an important clue to illness in pet birds.

What is an abnormal dropping?

Simply put, once you get used to your birds’ droppings. Any deviation from what  the normal droppings look like are abnormal for your bird and should prompt a veterinary visit.  Typical abnormal droppings can include any of the following:

  • Fewer than normal amount of droppings

  • Increase in the number of droppings

  • Change in colour or texture of either the fecal component or the urate component

  • “Bubbly” looking droppings (usually indicative of diarrhea)

  • Increase in the wet or liquid component (called polyuria, or too much urine)

While most owners state that their birds have diarrhea, true diarrhea is rare in birds.  The most common sign of abnormal droppings in birds is actually polyuria.

What causes abnormal droppings?

Many diseases can cause a change in the droppings.  Diet also influences the droppings.  If for example,  you’ve decided to give your bird a few blueberries, its droppings will probably be blue or purple for a short period  of time.  Assuming that the diet has remained constant, common causes of abnormal droppings includes intestinal diseases, kidney disease, liver diseases, bacterial or viral infections, and parasite infections.  Psittacosis, a common cause of liver disease, may produce lime green droppings in some birds.  Some birds with heavy metal poisoning produce red droppings. 

How will your veterinarian know what caused the abnormal droppings?

Your veterinarian can run a variety of tests, including blood tests and radiographs (X-rays) to try to determine if any internal diseases have caused the abnormal droppings.  Most importantly, evaluation can be done on the droppings for parasites, yeast and bacteria by performing a special kind of stain called a gram stain on the droppings.  A microscopic examination of the feces is done to check for parasites, or there may be a need to culture the droppings if a bacterial or yeast infection is suspected.

Can my bird be treated?

Most birds with abnormal droppings are successfully treated once the cause of the abnormal droppings is detected.  As an owner, your cooperation in agreeing to the recommended tests is critical in allowing your veterinarian to correctly diagnose and treat your bird.

Anorexia and Lethargy in Birds

General Information

Anorexia (a loss of appetite), and lethargy (a feeling of listlessness and general inactivity), are commonly seen in sick pet birds. While not diagnostic for any specific disease, they do indicate a severely ill bird that requires immediate medical attention. Simply put, just about every illness will produce signs of anorexia and lethargy.

What are the causes of anorexia and lethargy in birds?

There are many causes of anorexia and lethargy in pet birds. These include cancer, viral or bacterial infections, fungal or yeast infections, parasites, endocrine or hormonal diseases, and organ-specific problems such as liver, heart, or kidney failure. Some diseases such as proventricular dilation do not have a known cause but can produce the signs of anorexia and lethargy. Anorexia and lethargy are not diseases themselves but indicate a serious underlying medical problem requiring diagnostic evaluation and appropriate therapy.

Do I have to take my bird to my veterinarian immediately, or can I just “wait and watch” and see if it improves?

 Unlike dogs and cats, birds are still “wild” pets. This means that they still retain their preservation response. The preservation response is something unique to wild animals. In the wild, an animal can’t “act sick,” every time it feels bad. If it did, a predator or even a member of its own group might kill it. The preservation response assures that a sick animal will not “act sick” until it is really sick, and literally dying. Birds rarely get sick overnight.  Because of their preservation response, they don’t usually act sick until they are really sick.  Therefore, a bird with anorexia and lethargy is EXTREMELY ILL and requires IMMEDIATE MEDICAL ATTENTION. Waiting and watching will only make things worse; you may actually wait and watch as your bird dies.

 How will my veterinarian determine what’s wrong with my bird?

 Because many diseases can cause the signs of anorexia and lethargy, many diagnostic tests will need to be run.  These can include blood tests, gram stains and cultures, fecal tests for parasites, yeast, and bacteria, radiographs (X-rays), and a psittacosis test among others.  There is no one test to diagnose the many causes of anorexia and lethargy.

 Hospitalization for my bird, is that really necessary?

 By the time many birds are seen by our veterinarians, they are literally dying.  If your veterinarian recommends hospitalization, it is because your bird requires the type of critical care that cannot be given at home.

 How do you treat birds with anorexia and lethargy?

 Treatment obviously varies with the cause of the anorexia and lethargy.  In general, many of these birds are extremely ill.  Hospitalization in an incubator, fluid therapy, force feeding, and broad-spectrum antibiotic therapy are usually indicated.  If the specific cause of the illness is determined, then medicated early treatment is usually easy and inexpensive.  There’s no need to wait until your bird is on death’s door before it sees your veterinarian.  Annual check-ups can detect diseases early and prolong your bird’s life.

Feather Problems

General Information

 Feather loss is as much of a concern to bird owners as hair loss is to dog and cat owners.  The feathers of a bird provide protection, insulation, flight, and visual signals to other pets.  While feather loss in birds is usually not fatal, it is nevertheless disturbing to owners.  Occasionally, feather loss can be a sign of a serious internal condition.

What causes feather loss? 

Feather loss either occurs because the bird is truly losing feathers or because the bird is picking its feathers. If the owner can tell which is occurring, it often helps narrow down the possibilities of what is causing the problem.

Feather picking is often a behavioral problem, especially in the larger species of birds that are tightly bonded to their owners (such as cockatoos, macaws, and African gray parrots).  However, feather picking can also be the result of a disease that causes irritation or pain for the bird.

Feather disease, bacteria (such as staphylococcal dermatitis), parasites (such as a Giardia infection in cockatiels), and internal diseases (liver or kidney disease).

How do you diagnose the cause of feather loss? 

Because there are many causes of feather loss, often a multitude of diagnostic tests must be run. A good history (supplied by the owner) and a thorough physical examination are critical and may help narrow down the list of possibilities.  Routine diagnostic tests include various blood tests, fecal tests for parasites, gram stains and/or cultures to check for yeast and bacteria, and radiographs (X-ray) to rule out various internal diseases. Often, a skin biopsy and skin culture are needed to get a definitive diagnosis.  Sometimes, the tests fail to reveal a diagnosis and the doctor will need to make a clinical judgment as to the best course of therapy for your bird.

How is feather loss treated?

That of course depends upon the cause of the disorder. Beak and feather disease is a fatal condition that cannot be treated. Other skin and feather infections may respond to antibiotics or antiviral medications. Parasites can be eradicated with an antiparasitic drug.  Behavioral feather picking is difficult to treat; treatment may be attempted with behavior modifications and certain types of drug therapy. Owners should be aware at the outset that even if a diagnosis is reached, it may be difficult to cure a bird with a feather disorder, especially if the cause is behavioral. 

Cage Hygiene

What do I clean my bird’s cage with? 

Birds have the misfortune of eating in their bathroom and defecating in their kitchen; therefore it is essential to keep a bird’s environment as clean as possible. The bottom of the cage should be lined with a disposable paper such as newspaper or paper towel that can be thrown away every day. Newsprint is now free of lead so should be of little concern. White birds that insist on playing in the newspaper may get gray newsprint on their white feathers but this is easily washed off. The sandpaper that is sold in the pet stores to line the bottom of the cage is of little beneficial value and more expensive. Wood chips and shavings, clay, shredded or recycled paper, and corncob bedding are not highly recommended for many reasons. The dust can be a potential respiratory irritant, especially aromatic pines and cedars. A lot of owners neglect to change the cage daily with these products (it becomes more expensive to throw out daily) leading to increased contamination of the environment. It is virtually impossible to monitor the color, consistency, and wetness of the feces that can be an important reflection of the health of the bird.

 Dirt, dust, fecal matter, bits of food, and feather dust accumulates constantly on the cage and everything in it. The entire cage should be scrubbed down at least once weekly with soap and hot water plus a good disinfectant. Most disinfectants should be allowed to sit wet for 30 minutes on the surface being cleaned. A thorough freshwater rinse is always advised after the application of any soap or disinfectant. Food and water dishes should be cleaned in the same fashion and should be washed daily.

Wood, wicker, and bamboo are porous materials that are impossible to sterilize. Dirt and bacteria can penetrate these substances very deeply; therefore it is advisable to replace these items every 6 - 12 months.

What disinfectants?

 There are many different kinds of disinfectants available that are capable of killing a variety of germs including viruses, bacteria, and fungi. For home use, most general disinfectant-deodorizer products are quite adequate. One cup of household chlorine bleach in one gallon of water is considered effective against many organisms. To be most effective, disinfectants should be applied to a washed surface. For aviary or flock situations a broader range of disinfectant may be more beneficial. Discuss your specific needs with your veterinarian. 

Many disinfectants need to be used with great care and may release toxic fumes. They must be used in the absence of the bird and with proper ventilation. Remember to rinse well!

Bathing

Does my bird need a bath?

Bathing is very important to the proper preening or maintenance of feathers. All birds do it and most really enjoy the experience. In the wild, a bird may bathe during a rain shower, find a puddle, lake, or stream to splash in, or nuzzle playfully in wet grasses and vegetation. Bathing encourages healthy preening or grooming of the feathers. It keeps feathers free of dirt and will help preserve their wonderful, natural luster. Central heating and air conditioning tend to create a dry environment. Many of our pet birds come from moist rainforest environments so bathing or dampening your bird gently with a misting bottle is very natural

How often should my bird bathe?

Birds should be offered a bath regularly. The frequency will depend on the bird. Many birds enjoy bathing every day, while others only bath occasionally. Start by offering a bath to your bird once or twice weekly. You will quickly learn the bird’s preferences. We have to respect there will be times the bird does NOT feel like a bath. Your bird may have preferences such as the time of day it likes to bathe. 

How do I bathe my bird?

The bird will actually do most of the work. You will simply supply the lukewarm water. Some birds enjoy using a dish of water. There are special bathing chambers that attach to the side of a small bird’s cage and keep water from splashing about the room. A shallow sink of water is often convenient and many birds will frolic under a gentle trickle of water from the tap while dipping their head and fluttering their wings in the water. A clean spray bottle such as that used to mist plants can be utilized gently to simulate rain. Your bird may dance about excitedly with its wings in the air, tail fanned out and turning frequently to catch as much of this light rain as possible. Often you will tire of spraying before the bird tires of being sprayed. Your pet may take pleasure with you in the shower as water splashes off you. Care should be taken as direct water pressure in the shower may frighten or even hurt the bird. Some smaller birds such as finches and canaries will wet themselves on the moisture dripping from freshly washed vegetation in the cage such as carrot tops or other greens. Please ensure you monitor a bird’s bath time to help avoid accidents such as drowning.

Commercial bathing solutions may not offer any specific benefits over regular, natural, freshwater. Do not use soap on your bird. Consult your veterinarian for specific directions if you should have occasion to actually wash something specific off your bird’s feathers.

Bathing in the morning may provide more opportunity to dry. A sunny, warm room, free of drafts provides a comfortable setting to dry out and preen while ensuring the bird does not get a chill and become sick. The bird should be completely dry before going to bed since most homes are cooler at night. Some birds seem to enjoy a gentle warm hairdryer but great care must be taken not to overheat the bird or use it forcibly against its wishes. Bathing can be as much fun for you as it is for your bird. 

Balancing Your Parrot's Lifestyle

What are the Elements of a Balanced Lifestyle?

There are three primary elements to a parrot’s daily life: nutrition, social interaction, and maintenance behaviors.  Nutrition and foraging refer to the make-up of the diet and the time and energy involved in finding, extracting, eating, and processing food. Social interaction includes time spent in a flock setting vocalizing, preening, flying, and displaying. Maintenance activities include all the things that a bird has to do to maintain its physical health outside of eating, such as sleeping, preening, and bathing. Once these areas have been satisfied, there are additional behaviors and activities that take place on an annual cycle, such as reproduction, molt, or, in some cases, migration. However, if the three basic categories occupy most of a bird’s time and energy, the annual activities, particularly reproduction, may not take place at all. It comes down to budgeting of time, nutrients, availability of mates or nests, etc. This is the first step to recognizing how we can change a pet bird’s behavior through the manipulation of the environment, diet, and social interaction with them. 

Getting Off Balance

 In a wild setting, birds work hard most of the time to find food, watch for danger, and take care of themselves. A natural equilibrium becomes established, which may or not may not allow for extra activities. In captivity, basic needs are met easily and so there is an enormous surplus of time and energy intake and a minimal amount of physical activity required. This extra time and dietary energy can be utilized for breeding even if the other required elements, such as a mate or nest site, are minimally available. For many captive parrots, this is enough to be reproductively active on a continuous basis, often without being able to ever complete the cycle and enter a phase of rest and repair. Because physiological changes for breeding are so intensive, it is believed that birds that are constantly in this condition are prone to a variety of medical and psychological illnesses.  Resulting medical conditions include osteodystrophy (loss of bone calcium), hepatic lipidosis (fatty liver), egg coelomates (inflammation of the abdomen from internally ovulating), oviductal or ovarian cancer and cysts, egg binding, cloacitis (inflammation or infection of the cloaca), cloacal prolapse, and stroke. Undesired behaviors that can result include feather or skin destructive behaviors (feather picking/plucking), obsessive-compulsive behaviors, territorially defensive behaviors, and screaming or other attention-getting behaviors (e.g. separation anxiety). Birds that do not enter the breeding condition, but still cannot satisfy their needs for activity, mental exercise, or social interaction, can also exhibit some of these problem behaviors. At the very minimum, birds that are not allowed to achieve lifestyle balance probably experience more stress and do not behave and interact with their human flock to their full potential. 

Social Interaction

 Most wild parrots are social creatures except, perhaps when they pair up and concentrate on raising young. Commonly, the birds will spend brief periods of time allopreening (preening the feathers on each others’ heads) or otherwise interacting and vocalizing with a flock. These flocks can be very noisy and active. As our birds’ surrogate flock, we need to fulfill this role without inadvertently taking on the role of a mate. Talking, dancing, training, and playing games with your bird are excellent ways to fulfill your bird’s need for social interaction. Even just having your bird nearby on a perch, stand, or travel cage, wherever you are at the time, is good quality time. To avoid the impression that you are a willing mate, avoid prolonged cuddling, allopreening, or perching on your shoulder. To a parrot, these can suggest a more intimate interest.

Nutrition and Foraging

This cornerstone of daily activity includes the search for food and the act of extracting, eating, and processing it. This can occupy as much as 6-18 hours of a wild parrot’s day.  The activity of foraging also engages the bird’s mind as it flies, takes in all of the sensory information, watches for predators, learns from its flock members, and concentrates on discovering, manipulating, and extracting food items. In contrast, a pet parrot may only spend 20-30 minutes a day simply eating out of a bowl in isolation from others. During periods when social interaction is limited, as is often the case when we, the surrogate flockmates, are away earning a living, other maintenance behaviors such as foraging and feather care should be increased to fill the time. This in turn may be very beneficial as a part of behavioral modification treatments for abnormal behavior such as feather picking, screaming, or pair-bonding behaviors.

There are three keys to successfully teaching your bird to forage: diet, starting simple, and consistency. Foraging rewards should be tiny pieces of extra special food that is not present in the regular diet. For most parrots, the basic diet should be limited to pellets and vegetables, thus freeing items like fruit, pasta, Cheerios, whole-grain crackers, or other non-fatty people foods for use (sparingly) in training and foraging.  Listed below are some basic foraging ideas. Remember to start easily if your bird has never foraged.

On a daily basis, assemble, play with, and disassemble foraging items in front of your bird at first as they may not even understand that food can be concealed.  Once they understand that rewards are involved, they will begin exploring and learning on their own.  You are the surrogate flock so your bird will be naturally interested in whatever you show interest in on a regular basis. As your bird masters a particular technique, you can begin to randomize rewards, increase difficulty, and combine techniques. For example, every foraging device may have a tasty nut piece at first but later you can hide pellets or beads or toys instead.  For combination, you could place wrapped items in a bowl that is itself wrapped with cardboard.  Interestingly, the increased difficulty and less consistent reward can actually increase your bird’s drive to forage as they search harder for that desired reward. Give these techniques a try: 

Foraging Perch – A piece of non-treated wood (e.g., pine lumber) drilled with holes into which rewards fit tightly. The reward should be visible but not accessible without chewing down through the wood. This perch material can be used with your training perch, when the bird is outside of the cage with you. The wood can also be used as a perch in the cage, or even hung in the cage to increase the challenge. 

Wrapping food bowls – Wrap the food bowls with paper or cardboard so that your bird has to spend time chewing in to get at the food. You may have to teach your bird the first time by punching a starter hole, or simulating the foraging activity yourself, acquiring your bird’s favourite food item, and not sharing it with the bird after you find it. 

Treat Wads – You can individually wrap rewards in small pieces of paper, corn husks, sno-cone cups or Dixie cups, or other materials. Not all wrappings need to contain a reward, either.

Buried Treasures - Pellets or more valued rewards can be mixed in with wood buttons, dry beans, or other items so that the bird has to dig through to find its food. Some parrot species, such as grey parrots, can be particularly stimulated into new foraging behaviors by having a “sandbox” and buried treasures provided.

Commercially-available toys – There are a variety of toys available that require birds to unscrew parts or manipulate components to get at their reward. See the Resources section at the end of this handout to learn where you can acquire the DVD “Captive Foraging,” which demonstrates how to build and train your bird to use a foraging tree.

Trick Training – By asking your bird to perform a desired behavior for a reward, you are, in essence, providing a modified foraging activity for your bird. In addition, you are also having a lot of fun, and are satisfying your bird’s need for social interaction. See the Training section later in this handout and check out the training opportunities in the Resources list at the end of this handout. 

Maintenance Activities

Maintenance activities include sleeping, preening, and bathing – the basic physical needs of a bird in addition to eating. While we do not generally need to encourage maintenance activities, we do need to provide for them. A regular allowance for quiet, dark conditions for proper sleep is important as is the provision of bathing opportunities. Although covering your bird can provide some privacy, if there is still activity and noise in the room, it is unlikely that the bird will completely rest. If possible, we recommend that you provide a small accessory cage (such as a travel cage) in a separate, darkened room, such as a bathroom or spare bedroom. The “sleeping cage” need only contain the basic essentials: a perch and water and possibly food if you may be delayed in removing the bird the next morning. As a general rule, your bird should have the opportunity for 10 to 12 hours of rest daily.  If this schedule is consistent, you may be able to diminish “hormonal” or sexual behaviors since photoperiod, or day length has some influence on the secretion of reproductive hormones. Some experts also believe that breaking up the bird’s daily environment by activity (e.g.; sleeping. socializing and feeding) could help decrease the perception of their cage as a breeding territory.

Providing for your bird’s bathing needs is usually relatively simple. Some birds will prefer to bathe in a bowl while others will enjoy showering with you. Most will accept gentle misting with water. Some like to splash in the sink under a gentle stream of water. We encourage you to experiment to find your bird’s favorite method. Frequent bathing is a good thing and the only requirement is that the temperature in your house is at least 55-60F. If they really enjoy bathing, it can be a daily activity but we recommend an opportunity of at least 1 to 2 times a week. 

Getting Back Into Balance

As mentioned earlier, an imbalanced lifestyle can lead to abnormal behaviors. For example, if a bird is picking its feathers, this could occur because of a lack of social and foraging activity. If social interaction and challenging foraging activities are introduced, there may be less time available for over preening. Of course, there are other reasons for feather picking including health problems which should be checked out by your avian veterinarian before starting treatment yourself. 

Balancing daily activities should, as closely as possible, fit the natural biology and behavior of your bird’s species as well as the lifestyle constraints of your home. Maintaining a balance of healthy social interaction, foraging and nutrition, and maintenance behaviors requires a conscious effort by the owner. In the wild, a multitude of external pressures and natural processes shape and mold the bird’s lifestyle. In the absence of that, you become the master of the bird’s environment. It’s a tall order to try to provide the stimulation and boundaries that nature provides, but it’s up to you to do your best.  I recommend that you become as much an expert as you can on your bird’s natural lifestyle.  There are some resources at the end of this packet that can help get you started.  Here are some encouraging tips to help you keep it in perspective.

Check out the resources at the end of this handout. You can never have too much information (or encouraging stories) to help you be the master of your bird’s domain.

Be the flock: Since many pet birds are hand-reared, they often have learned to recognize people as other members of their species. This recognition and the interaction that comes with it is what helps to make parrots such enjoyable companion birds in our homes.  Normally, other flock members would teach a juvenile bird what social behaviors are appropriate through a system of observational learning and trial and error. To set your bird up for lifelong success (which can be up to 100 years in some species), it is important for you to fill this role as a mentor.  Recognizing this role is key to understanding how your parrot views you and learns from you. Consider opportunities to take your bird with you to work, on trips, or even on errands occasionally. On these adventures, provide your bird with opportunities to meet other human “flock” members and expand their social experience.  Remember, most parrots are highly social and live in flocks.

Get involved with a local bird group. They can provide encouragement, support, and advice. As with any information, carefully consider the practicality and substantiation (e.g., scientific basis). In other words, take all advice with a grain of salt.

Homework is important for your bird. Consider the intellectual and social strengthening you experienced during your upbringing. A structured environment is equally important in shaping your parrot’s behavior.

Patience and consistency is a must for any behavior modification program. Everyone in the home must be on-board with the program. Results will usually come in small baby-steps.  Don’t give up!

Well-trained and adjusted pet birds are less stressed, better nourished, and less likely to develop the illness. We also gain enjoyment from our pet birds if they are well adjusted, trained, and behave well in our homes. This is your ultimate goal, and it is attainable.

Call an avian veterinarian to discuss your bird’s behavior and health any time that there is a question. Every bird and household is different so your veterinarian will do their best to help you find the solutions that fit your unique situation.

Training & Behavior Modification Concepts

Define your goal – It is essential to know what you are trying to train your bird to do, otherwise, how will the bird ever learn what you want?  Be sure to choose small, achievable goals at first.

Use small steps or approximations to reach the goal - “Rome wasn’t built in a day,” right?  Nothing complicated is learned in one great chunk-not even by humans.  However, breaking it down into small, short steps and practicing these steps over and over can provide the building blocks for a variety of complicated new behaviors. 

Use of bridges and cues – A bridge is a sound, such as a clicker, a spoken word, or a whistle, which is used in conjunction with the bird performing a desired action.  The association eventually builds so that the bridge becomes a cue – a sound used to signal to the bird it is performing the correct behavior. 

Positive reinforcement – This is the presentation of a stimulus following a behavior that serves to maintain or increase the frequency of the behavior. Positive reinforcers are items or interactions such as food rewards or moments of verbal interaction or a pat on the head.  The reward should be consumed or completed within about 10 seconds so that the training can continue smoothly. 

Negative reinforcement - The removal of a stimulus following a behavior that serves to maintain or increase the frequency of the behavior. These tend to be unpleasant stimuli that the bird avoids. Negative reinforcement can be effective but the learner generally does not continue learning beyond the minimal amount necessary to avoid the negative stimulus.  For this reason, it is NOT generally recommended.

Positive punishment – the presentation of an aversive stimulus following a behavior that decreases or suppresses the frequency of the behavior is NOT RECOMMENDED as it will tend to produce counter-aggression, escape behaviors, and finally apathy.

Negative punishment - The removal of a stimulus following a behavior that serves to decrease or suppress the frequency of the behavior. This can be used carefully to replace inadvertent positive reinforcement of undesired behaviors and is particularly helpful if acceptable replacement behaviors are positively reinforced. Example: A bird is screaming in your presence and you leave the room until it stops for a couple of minutes. Then you return and offer a treat or positive interaction for being quiet. 

Targets – A target is something used to focus a bird’s attention and direct their next step.  The bird is always rewarded when the target is touched or followed. If this rule is not violated, there is no end to the types of tasks and tricks that can be trained. A target can be as obvious as a colored stick or as basic as a raised finger. 

Station – This is where all the neuron-building takes place. The station can be a portable perch or anything that the bird is comfortable sitting on but which is not distracted by other birds, people, food, toys, etc. The bird will learn that this is where the best rewards are to be achieved and should look forward to the time spent at this special spot. 

Don’t change the rules - Once you hold out a reward, or a hand for stepping up, or a target, and the bird follows through, you must let them have their reward. If you’ve decided it’s too easy for them, reset the scenario after the reward and make them try again with a slightly harder goal. On the flip side, if it looks like too big a step, withdraws the reward, steps back for a second, then steps in with a new, easier goal to achieve.

Patience – Animal training takes time and patience! This is especially true if the bird has significant social issues to overcome. Take your time and celebrate and repeat the small achievements along the way. 

Ending on a good note: Try to end training sessions on a good note. If you see a hard-won breakthrough, give the bird a good reward and call it a day-unless it’s clear his favourite reward is continuing the training! 

Foundation Behaviors to Teach Your Bird

Step-Up – Stepping up is a foundational maneuver upon which most training and behavioral guidance relies.  If your bird is already fairly tame or even used to know how to step-up, then simply press your hand gently up against the front of your bird’s legs and say step-up (or use whatever bridge or cue you prefer). Once the bird places its foot onto the edge of your hand, hold still and provide a firm and solid perch with your hand. A shaking, hesitant, or unsure hand will not be a desirable perch for most birds to transfer their weight to. If your bird is not tame, you may have to start by bribing your bird to your hand by offering a small food reward.  If the bird does not respond immediately, then eat the reward in front of them (with obvious relish) and try again later.  When they do step onto your hand to get to the bribe, avoid the temptation to lift the bird away the first few times.  Repeat the exercise a few times before finally beginning to lift the bird away.  If they seem uncertain, offer them a reward or set them down and start again.  Remember, the priority is to build trust before building new behaviors.  

Step-Down – Stepping down is important simply to allow for you to guide your bird’s movement.  To step your bird down, with your hand positioned lower than the perch you desire to go to, gently roll your hand towards the perch, shifting the bird’s weight forward to that they step down.  In most cases, the bird should be encouraged to grasp the perch with its beak, and then climb up to the perch from there.  In this sense, the bird is actually climbing up when being stepped down most of the time.  A target or food reward can be used to encourage a bird to step onto a perch for the first several times – particularly if the bird seems unsure about a new or odd-looking perch.

Stay – Staying on a perch, where placed, is important for your bird to experience “normal” flock social interaction while outside of its cage with you.  This simple behavioral requirement will allow your bird to share time with you, but not on you, and will preclude your bird from having free-roam throughout the home.  The free-roaming pet parrot is at increased risk of traumatic injuries and household poisonings.  Behaviorally, the free-roaming pet parrot will be at risk of developing pair-bonded interactions with one person, and may be less able to be guided into general flock interactions with others in the home.  Portable tabletop perches are great for this training since they can be put anywhere and are not usually higher than people.  Set your bird on the perch and occasionally offer a stroke or reward – as long as they stay put.

If they come down and walk around, put them back without any verbal cue or other reward. Come back a few minutes later and offer a reward if they stay  put, or work to devise other positive reinforcement  methods that will help your bird decide that staying on the training perch is a desired thing – from their point of view.

Foundational Diet Recommendations

An overabundance of food, foods high in fat and calories, and too many food choices can all turn on your bird’s reproductive drive.  In addition, obesity and other nutritional complications may occur.  For most captive parrots, the most appropriate diet is a combination of formulated pellets and vegetables.  Fruit, seeds, nuts, pasta and other people foods are not present in the regular diet.  The brand or type of pellet is generally not as important as what the bird will accept.  In other words, the best pellet is the one that the bird will eat!  Talk to your avian veterinarian about the appropriate percentage of pellets, fresh vegetables, and other food for your particular parrot. 

To convert your bird to a formulated (pellet) diet:

Conversion for medium to large parrots – With the bird sharing time with you from its training perch, eat (or act like you are eating) the food in front of your bird.  Make sure that you really enjoy the food item, and show your enjoyment to your bird.  Offer some to your bird, but do not necessarily try to force the issue.  Give a limited time to accept the offer (a few seconds).  If they don’t take it, keep eating the food and make it obvious that you are enjoying it.  Do this daily as it must be seen as a regular flock behavior.  During the introduction period, offer pellets in a separate bowl from the old diet.  Once your bird is eating the pellets during these “foraging session,” you can remove the dish used for the old diet.  This will open up many opportunities for “treats” to be used as positive reinforcement and training tools in the future.  Once the birds are regularly consuming a pellet diet you will notice changes in their droppings.  The droppings may be larger and lighter in colour than when on seed.  Additionally, food colourings, if present, may be seen (orange coloration for example). 

Conversion of cockatiels or budgies  It may be important to have your bird’s wings clipped unless they are very tame, in order to maintain the bird’s focus on you.  Spread a variety of choices of pellets out on a table surface covered by a towel and set your bird amongst them.  Use your hand to simulate a scratching and pecking flock member.  Pick at the pellets, crunch them in your fingernails, and flick them about.  Do this daily as it must be seen as a regular flock behavior.  During the introduction period, offer pellets in a separate bowl from the old diet.  Once your bird begins to eat the pellets consistently, you can replace its old diet.  You may also find that using smaller pieces or varieties of pellets will be more readily accepted and you can later increase the size you feed.  You may want to simulate foraging, using your fingers, in the food bowl in the cage as a final conversion training method as well.  Since these species are ground-feeders, it may help to offer the pellets on the floor of the cage or in a flat dish instead of in a bowl.  Even then, be sure to monitor your bird’s droppings to ensure that they are eating well.  Once the birds are regularly consuming a pellet diet you will notice changes in their droppings.  The droppings will generally be larger and lighter in colour than when on seed.  If you only see scanty, dark green feces or black feces, your bird may not be eating and will need to be offered its old diet again.  

Conversion of lovebirds, parrotlets and conures - It may be important to have your bird’s wings clipped unless they are very tame, in order to maintain the bird’s focus on you.  Place a small assortment of pellets in one hand.  Holding it slightly cupped, perch your bird on this same hand and use your opposite hand to simulate a scratching and pecking flock member.  Pick at the pellets, crunch them in your fingernails, and flick them about.  Do this to simulate a scratching and pecking flock member.  During the introduction period, offer pellets in a separate bowl from the old diet.  Once your bird begins to eat the pellets consistently, you can remove its old diet.  You may also find that using smaller pieces or varieties of pellets will be more readily accepted and you can later increase the size you feed.  You may want to simulate foraging, using your fingers, in the food bowl in the cage as a final conversion training method as well.  Even then, be sure to monitor your bird’s droppings to ensure that they are eating well.  Once the birds are regularly consuming a pellet diet you will notice changes in their droppings.  The droppings will generally be larger and lighter in color than when on seed.  If you only see scanty, dark green feces or black feces, your bird may not be eating and will need to be offered its old diet again. 

Conversion of finches and canaries – For the most part, these species will self-convert if offered a dish of very small pellets or mash.  Most brands of pellets offer a finely ground mash for these birds.  Offer the old diet in a separate dish until you notice a change in dropping colour or you see the birds investigating the new diet. Once your bird begins to eat the pellets consistently, you can remove its old diet.  Monitor your birds’ droppings to ensure that they are eating well.  Once the birds are regularly consuming a pellet diet you will notice changes in their droppings.  The droppings will generally be larger and lighter in colour than when on seed.  If you only see scanty, dark green feces or black feces, your bird may not be eating and will need to be offered its old diet again.

Offer vegetables – These should be restricted to just two or three types of vegetables at a time to avoid the perception of abundance.  For smaller species, I suggest trying grated or thinly sliced fresh vegetables or offering clean sprouts or broccoli.  A frozen vegetable mix (e.g., corn, diced carrots and pears or beans) can be convenient.  Just thaw out a small amount each day. 

Restricted foods - These include fruit, seed, nuts, pasta, rice and other people foods.  These items pack lots of calories that can stimulate reproductive behavior or cause health problems.  Also, regularly offering softened or warm foods can simulate regurgitative feeding that might be offered by a mate.  Nuts and seeds are NOT recommended.  As an alternative, edamame or other favorite beans or whole grain cereal (e.g., Cheerios) can be offered.  Even then, very limited amounts of these items should be offered, preferably only as a REWARD for foraging and training.  Ideally a reward item can be consumer in a few seconds so as not to interrupt the flow of training and to stretch out foraging time.  Making your bird work for what they want will help balance their lifestyle, prolong your healthy interaction, and limit the amount of high-fat items that they actually eat. 

Inappropriate Pair Bonding

Should your pet bird view you more as a mate than a member of its flock, there is a greater risk of reproductive and behavioral problems.  There are four main control points that we can use to encourage or discourage our bird’s sex drive.

Diet – If the diet contains excess fat or simple carbohydrates or if there is a rich variety presented on a regular basis, this can support reproductive drive.  See “Foundation Diet  Recommendations.” 

Social Interaction - Normally, most birds do not give each other extensive physical pleasure unless they are pairing up.  Long petting sessions or touching your birds in a sexually-stimulating ways will reinforce the perception of you as a willing mate.  Regular amounts of shoulder time may also convey a perception of sexual intimacy with you. 

Nesting sites – Reproductive readiness starts with certain external influences but is strengthened when a bird is able to carry out nuptial actions such as next exploration or nest building.  If your bird tends to explore cabinets, closets, clothes piles, or under furniture or bed covers, this activity should be curtailed and replaced with other activities such as foraging.

Photoperiod and sleep cycle – Variations in day length may affect reproductive drive.  I recommend maintaining a consistent day length of 10 to 12 hours. You can place your bird in a small sleep cage at night if the cage is in a room where sleep may be interrupted.   A sleep cage can be a small travel cage and needs only to have a perch and some water.  Going to the sleep cage should be positively reinforced, particularly during the first uses.  

Suggested Resources

“Captive Foraging” DVD by Dr. Scott Echols.  This DVD demonstrates the concept of foraging in a captive situation using homemade foraging toys and a foraging tree.  The video can be purchased online at the Bird Brain Store. 

Good Bird is an excellent web resource and magazine dedicated to enriching the lives of captive birds.

Susan Friedman is a human and animal behaviorist in the Department of Psychology at Utah State University.  She has taught veterinarians and bird owners alike about bird behavior.  She offers online course in bird behavior and behavior modification techniques.

Kris Porter’s Parrot Enrichment website is a treasure-trove of video clips and how-to articles (including two FREE e-books that she has written) that build upon positive reinforcement concepts. 

Behavior Enrichment Modification

This handout contains important information for achieving and maintaining a happy, healthy life for your companion bird.

Bowmanville Veterinary Clinic fully supports Behaviour Enrichment for any captive bird. We encourage you to enrich your bird’s life with safe toys and foraging strategies. Not only will this stimulate your bird’s brain, but it will help prevent feather destructive behaviour, obesity & boredom.

Please visit the websites below for more up to date information. 

The Parrot Enrichment Activity Books

http://behaviorworks.org/htm/enrichment.html

Here you will find links to two books available for download

Avian Enrichment

http://avianenrichment.com/

This site has information on the emotional, instinctual & physical needs of captive birds

FeatherFu

http://featherfu.com/

This site contains general information on Foraging Behaviour and Foraging toys

Birds Just Want To Have Fun

http://birdsjustwannahavefun.com/

Here you will find a wide selection of Foraging toys

Captive Foraging on Livejournal

http://community.livejournal.com/captiveforaging/profile

This website takes you to a blog and video clips on instructions on helping you to teach your captive bird how to forage for food & how to encourage play with Foraging toys.

Good Bird Inc

www.goodbirdinc.com/ebookoffer

Free Ebook on training your bird to take oral medication.

Taming, Training & Talking

General Information

It is very desirable to have a tame, affectionate, and interactive bird as a family pet. Small birds such as finches and canaries may prove very difficult to befriend. There are many methods and opinions described by various people to tame and train birds. Discuss this with your veterinarian. This handout is designed to give some guidance to you during this process. Your patience may be strained and bites sustained but the rewards of your new relationship with your pet are fulfilling and long-lasting. The ultimate goal is to earn the bird’s trust and respect. Some larger urban centers have reputable bird trainers. Speak to your avian veterinarian for recommendations and try to get some references first. There are numerous books on the subject as well. 

Where do I start? 

When selecting a pet bird, try to choose a young bird as it will be easier to tame and train. Remember, you are trying to bond with the bird. Young birds are easier to tame and adapt readily to new environments and situations. Hand-raised babies usually make better pets as they have been completely socialized with humans and bond readily. Older, wild, colony or parent raised birds may prove difficult to tame.

After purchasing a new untamed bird it is wise not to bother or stress the bird too much for 1 - 2 weeks to allow the bird to become accustomed to its new environment. The new arrival in your house is usually very stressed. The bird has abruptly changed locations, lost its familiar cage mates and familiar handler or feeder. Remember that you and the bird are strangers and need to get to know each other. Everything is new to the bird. The activities in the house, the people, sounds, smells, and routines are all new experiences. Place the new bird in a quiet part of the house away from a lot of commotion. Do not change familiar foods for a couple of weeks. It is important not to alarm the bird with sudden movements or loud noises. Taming and training can begin when the bird appears to be settling comfortably into the new surroundings.

It may be wise to have the wings trimmed by your veterinarian. This will usually make the bird more dependent on you during the taming process.

Birds can bite and even a small bird such as a budgie or a cockatiel can break the skin. Although gloves may provide some protection from most bites, a bird may become frightened of them and may not distinguish between the 5 fingered shape of the gloves and the 5 fingers of your hand. You do not want the bird to become fearful of your hand. 

Do not stress the bird. A couple of 15 - 20 minute sessions per day are a good start. Take it very slowly. Too much attention may produce a dependant bird. Your new bird must be able to entertain itself. Ensure your bird is introduced to lots of different people over time (eg. young, old, males, and females). 

How do I hand train my bird?

Having the bird become comfortable with the presence and closeness of your hand in the cage may be accomplished by getting the bird to take food out of your hand. The next step is to work slowly and gently train your bird to step onto a stick. Move slowly, but deliberately and talk quietly to the bird as you introduce the stick into the cage toward the bird’s upper legs and lower chest area. Once the bird is comfortable perching on a stick, you can move the hand holding the stick closer to the bird until the hand replaces the stick as the perch. Remember that birds (especially larger birds) use their beak as a third hand for balance and will often reach out to hang on while stepping up. You must attempt to show confidence and try not to move. Pulling away suddenly may frighten the bird and lead to a bite. The bird may also learn to control you by simply reaching out with the beak to make you “go away”. Food may help to distract the bird as well as reward it. Friends and family should be coached and encouraged to work with the bird in the same way. You have now made great steps forward in the training process. Touching, petting, head-scratching, and snuggling will follow from here with persistence and patience.

What if my bird bites me?

If your bird tries to bite you, remember to keep your fingers together and curled inward. It is harder to bite a flat surface than individual fingers. Pull your hand a short distance out of its reach but hold your ground. If the bird does bite, try to remain calm. If the bird is on your hand and biting, some recommend a short downward shift of the bitten hand. A stern verbal “NO” is useful. NEVER hit a bird, as they do not respond to this sort of discipline. They will lose their trust in you and may learn to fear hands.

How do I get my bird to talk?

Budgies, Cockatiels, various Amazon parrots, African Gray parrots, Cockatoos, and Macaws all have the capacity to “talk” or mimic. Some species speak better than others do. Even among the same species, some individuals may never talk while others will not stop talking. Individuals may develop extensive vocabularies of words, songs, verse, whistles, sneezing, coughing and electronic noises such as telephones and microwave ovens. The bird is simply mimicking what it hears and will generally repeat sounds it hears frequently. Many words and sounds a bird learns are those that happen all the time, even though you did not sit down and “teach” the bird. Generally, males tend to be better talkers but there are wonderfully talented female talkers. Some suggest that you do not teach your bird to whistle since this is easy and may be preferred to talking. Once again, it takes time, patience and repetition to train a bird.

References

Guide to a Well-Behaved Parrot  by Mattie Sue Athan

The Pet Bird Report  by Sally Blanchard

Transporting Your Bird

General Information

At some time you may be faced with the task of transporting your bird. You may be taking the bird to the veterinarian, moving to a new residence, or traveling long distances. In general, birds are great travelers. Most tolerate cars and airplanes very well and some actually love the excitement of travel. Planning ahead will ensure a safe, enjoyable trip for you and your bird.

What sort of container should I use?

If traveling by car, then all birds can be transported in a cage as long as it fits in the car. It is not safe for you or your pet to allow the bird to roam freely in the car while driving. You may wish to buy a small cage just for travel. Special pet carriers may be purchased from the pet store or your veterinarian. These carriers are usually rugged, conveniently sized for carrying, secure, and comfortable for your pet. Small birds such as budgies, canaries, or cockatiels may be put in a small box with small holes in the lid to provide air for a short trip to the veterinarian’s office. The cover should be secured to prevent accidental escape. Remember, many birds are capable of chewing their way out of a box. Toys and swings should be removed from the cage to prevent injury to the bird during rough trips. All containers should be secured in a car seat belt to prevent movement or shifting.

What about bad weather?

You may still travel in bad weather. In cold weather, the car must be pre-warmed and the cage or carrier covered well-using towels, blankets, duvets, or jackets. In hot weather, the bird must have some ventilation or fresh air and should never be left unattended in the car. Even birds naturally from a hot climate can suffer heat stroke very quickly.

Under no circumstances should the bird be exposed to drafts.

What if I travel by airplane?

It is up to you to contact the specific airline and determine what their policies are regarding pet travel. Often a pet carrier will fit under the seat. Food and water should be available. One suggestion is to freeze the water prior to departure so the water will not spill early in the trip and will be accessible to the bird as it thaws out. Succulent fruits such as oranges should be provided for nutrition and fluids. It is not advised to use tranquilizers or sedatives on birds during travel. Certain hotels or motels will not allow pets and should be consulted ahead of time.

Can I travel out of the country with my bird?

It is essential that you contact the consulate or border authorities of the country you are planning to enter. All countries have their own rules and regulations with respect to traveling, importing, endangered species, and disease control. Record the name of the person supplying the information as a reference should you encounter problems. It is best to obtain this information well in advance of your trip and in writing. You may require specific documentation such as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (C.I.T.E.S.) certificate or a health certificate.

Foraging Toys in Five Minutes a Day

COVER. Cover the food dish with a piece of paper that the bird has to move to get food. At first, place the paper on top of the dish so it can be easily knocked off. Later, fasten the paper to the dish with a small amount of masking tape.

WRAP. Place the food in a paper cup or other safe, destructible container. Close the top by twisting or crushing the container. Use it: 1) as a foot toy (more difficult), 2) hang on a wooden skewer, or 3) punch a hole in the paper and hang it. Wraps can be hidden around the cage and placed away from food dishes.

Suggested Materials: paper cup, paper cone, coffee filter, paper cupcake liners, plain paper, dried corn husks (sold in grocery stores for making tamales), and similar items.

BURY. Place a small amount of food in the dish and cover it with polished stones, beads, or shredded paper. This works best with dry items – pellets, seed, nuts, and small toys. If you bury wet food, use washable items for cover.

Suggested Materials: polished stones (at the craft store), wood beads, plastic beads, small chunks or blocks of wood, etc.

TUBE: Stuff food or a treat in a tube. Use paper tubes or refillable foraging tubes.

Suggested Materials: Paper or card stock and fasten with masking tape or school glue.

SAFETY TIP: Don’t give birds paper towel or toilet paper rolls because they may contain lead.

Captive Foraging for Pet Birds

Wild birds spend the great majority of the day seeking food, shelter, and water. It’s understandable then, that pet birds have significantly more spare time on their hands as they can simply shuffle down a perch to one or more bowls full of plentiful food and fresh water. To combat the boredom that can stem from pet birds having so much spare time on their hands, there has been an increasing movement aimed at enriching the lives of captive birds by reintroducing the process of seeking food that is known as foraging. In the context of pet birds, this is often referred to as captive foraging. The basic idea of captive foraging is to hide food and require that pet birds work for their meals, thereby passing more time during the day with meaningful activity; forging ties in both mental and physical well-being of pet birds because the best way to encourage active foraging is to feed the bird a healthy, predominantly pelleted diet and use treats like seeds and nuts in the foraging process.

It is important to start with a basic approach when introducing foraging to pet birds. If you initially start with advanced foraging toys your bird may become frustrated and not attempt to forage at all. One of the most basic ways to begin foraging with your pet bird is to partially cover his or her food bowl with a single sheet of paper. Be sure a small area remains uncovered so your bird can still see the food. It’s also important to keep the food in its normal location within the cage when beginning this process to further ensure your bird understands that his food is under the paper. Soon your bird will learn to knock the paper out of the way, enabling him to eat the food below.

The process can be enhanced by adding an additional layer of difficulty. In the next step, a small amount of seeds or healthy nuts is placed on a single sheet of tissue paper. Initially, the paper should be partially open so the bird can see the food and learn to open the packet with his feet and beak to eat the contents. You will quickly be able to completely wrap the seed in one or more layers of tissue paper, thereby increasing the degree of difficulty required for your bird to access the treat and therefore the amount of time taken. These treats may be deposited in the bird’s normal food container. The bowl can then be covered with a sheet of paper, forcing your bird to both knock off the paper and unwrap the paper-covered seed balls to enjoy the treats. Ultimately you can distribute these paper-covered seed balls in various places throughout your bird’s cage, keeping him busy throughout the day.

Pet toy manufacturers have realized the importance of foraging and are now making different types of foraging toys that are available in a store and online. It’s important to take the time to help your bird learn how new foraging toys work because they can become frustrated with difficult tasks and soon stop attempting to forage. It is also important to monitor your bird when first using a new foraging toy to help ensure the product is safe to use.

Healthy Shopping Suggestions for Birds

The following are excellent sources of both calcium and vitamin A:

Broccoli Leaves

Mustard Greens

Turnip Greens

Collard Greens

Kale

Swiss Chard

The following are good sources of both calcium and vitamin A:

Endive

Escarole

Dandelion Greens

Beet Greens

The following are poor sources of calcium and good sources of vitamin A:

Cilantro

Parsley

Mache

Cress

Romaine

Boston

Carrot

Yam

Pumpkin

Papaya

Mango

Apricot

Red Pepper