PURCHASING AND CARING FOR PET BIRDS
L. LINVILLE, D.V.M.|
ALL CREATURES VETERINARY HOSPITAL
509 BENICIA ROAD,
VALLEJO, CA, 94590
Table of Contents
1. Pre Purchase Information
3. Cage Information
7. Mentality and Emotions
9. Care and grooming
11. Feather facts
12. Behavioral problems
13. Determination of Sex
15. Alertness is the Key to
16. Stress in caged birds
17. Respiratory Problems of
18. Taming Birds
19. Bird Diseases- which are
20. Emergency Treatment
21. Toxic substances in the house
1. PRE-PURCHASE INFORMATION
Owning a bird as a pet has been popular since the
Victorian era, when the parlor was not considered completely decorated unless it had a
canary in a very small brass cage residing on a table in a corner. It has been only
recently, however, that the health and management of pet birds has become a real concern
of the pet bird breeder, owner and Veterinarian. Pet birds are no longer maintained in
overly small, ornate cages that do not allow for social contact. Large bright airy cages,
along with improved dietary management, have increased the life-span and reproductive
efficiency of most of the pet bird species.
Why do you want to own a bird? There is no correct
answer to this question, but it is one you should fully examine before you purchase a
bird. Often a pet bird is the answer for apartment dwellers, people desiring animal
companionship with minimal time or money investment, or individuals wanting an
affectionate, intelligent pet. However, a bird should never be purchased on impulse. You
should approach the task of purchasing a bird already aware of the characteristics of the
species of bird you are interested in, the average price of that type of bird in your
region and with some knowledge of how to evaluate the health and breed characteristics of
the bird you are considering. This will require a bit of research and asking around before
you are ready to buy, but the investment of your time will save you much grief at a later
date. The beautiful macaws and cockatoos are not for the neophyte! Most first-time bird
owners are happier with finches, canaries, budgerigars ("parakeets") or
Birds can be purchased from a variety of sources,
such as pet shops, breeders, private dealers, or individuals. If you are buying a bird for
the first time it is almost essential that you purchase your bird from someone who is in
the bird breeding and/or selling business. These individuals usually have a reputation to
protect; ask around and find out who in your area is known to deal honestly and fairly
with buyers. Many stores today, especially those specializing in birds, have been operated
by bird fanciers who have turned their hobby into a business; they usually know and care
about their birds. They will have in stock items required for basic care and maintenance
of birds, such as play toys, cages, bird feed and general health supplies. Sales personnel
will generally offer you more information than you ever thought necessary to get you
started, so leave yourself plenty of time to shop!
Health should be a primary consideration when you
are choosing a bird. Pay close attention to the health of all birds you examine-- a free
bird, if it is sick, is not worth the long-term monetary and emotional costs. To keep it
simple, a sick bird will look sick and a healthy bird will look healthy; bright, alert,
active and in good feather. There are clues to a bird's health beyond general impressions.
A sick bird may sit with its feathers puffed up; its eyes may be dull or even closed; the
nostrils may be clogged or occluded to some degree. An additional clue, here, is to check
the feathers above the nostrils; if they appear wet or matted, then the bird has a nasal
discharge. The feathers around the bird's vent or hindquarter area may be soiled or
matted, indicating diarrhea; the bird may be listless or inactive; the seed cup may appear
not to have been touched, indicating that the bird is off-feed. Also be on the lookout for
bald spots where feathers should be, swellings or sores on the feet or toes, a protruding
breastbone, white crusts on the beak or a bird that appears to be having difficulty
You must also consider the temperament of your bird
when you are selecting. An intelligent bird with a good disposition is essential for
everyone's benefit, but most birds in the temporary condition of "being for
sale" are quite stressed and not at all themselves. Do not expect too much at first,
but do become aware of how different birds approach you as you make your choice. Intuition
and experience are the most reliable guides you can have in this area.
When you finally choose your bird, consider the
following before money changes hands: Will you be able to locate the seller next week
should there be a problem? Is there a health guarantee allowing for returns or exchanges
within a reasonable period of time? Can the seller verify the bird's age and birthplace?
(While this may not always be possible, most reputable sellers have this information
available; if not, learn how to judge the age of the bird species you would like to buy.)
Will you receive a written bill-of-sale? The purchase of a bird should always be
contingent upon the bird being examined by a Veterinarian within a few days of purchase;
you should be allowed to return the animal for a full refund should it be found not in
good health within a few days of purchase. The bill-of-sale should include the purchase
price, the guarantee and return policy, the bird's band number (if known) and a full
description of the bird (i.e. color, sex (if known), genus and species).
is a major cause of disease and death in pet birds.
This section describes general feeding
recommendations for your pet bird. Ideally you should research the species you have chosen
and learn about their specific needs. Each species has its own unique dietary and
environmental needs. By knowing their habits in the wild, where they live and what they
eat in their native habitat, you can better understand how to be more successful in
keeping them healthy and happy in your home. You can obtain information by talking with
successful reputable breeders and owners, and by reading books dealing with your type of
A. DIET- Balanced diets are only achieved by
offering a variety of foods. Remember that a bird's diet in the wild is whatever is
available. Earthworms in the spring, berries in summer, buds of flowering trees in fall.
1. SEEDS- Historically the basic diet for many pet
birds has been a variety of seeds. Some mixtures have been accepted as the more essential
seeds and are sold commercially as finch, canary, parakeet, and parrot seed. This does not
mean it is a natural food supply--only that if all of the different seeds in the mixture
are eaten, it will sustain life.
a. BASIC- Mixtures of seeds packaged commercially.
Bulk bird seed from a pet shop is likely to be much fresher and more nutritious than boxed
seed sold in the supermarket. Be careful that your bird is not selecting only one or two
types of seed out of a mixture of six to ten varieties. This will produce an unbalanced
diet and nutritional deficiencies.
- SUPPLEMENTAL- Other seed mixtures sold under names
such as: Health Food, Treat, Conditioners, Molting Foods, or Song Foods.
- Be aware the current trend is away from using seed
mixtures as the major component in most species diets. This is based on the observation
that many pet birds do not eat the entire mixture, but instead pick out only a few
varieties in the seed mix. Often the seeds they selectively eat are ones with high oil
content which can be unhealthy for the bird in the long term. Amazon parrots tend toward
obesity which is magnified by eating nuts or oil containing seeds such as sunflower or
safflower. Macaws actually require a little fat in their diet so a limited amount of nuts
or oil containing seeds is an acceptable part of their diet.
2. PELLETTED FOODS- There are a variety of
pelletted foods now available for pet birds. As our knowledge of proper pet bird nutrition
improves these diets become more nutritionally sound. Some companies have diets designed
for the various species of pet birds. Use the one that is designed for the species you
have. Often they are marketed as complete diets, however as with seed mixes, they should
be considered only part of a complete diet. Dog food, cat food, monkey chow , and other
pet foods ARE NOT the same as pelletted pet bird food and are not an appropriate part of
your pet bird's diet.
3. GREENS- Greens are a valuable and rewarding
addition to your bird's diet. The common table greens may be used, or in the summer,
backyard greens are available. Greens have the reputation of causing diarrhea, which is
not true, but they will affect the character of the stool. Greens are bulky foods that
pass through the digestive tract rapidly, causing a soft green stool. Greens are high in
water, adding fluid to the body. More urine is produced which adds to the fluidity of the
droppings. Birds at first may overeat greens, but if fed consistently, will only eat a
small amount. Sprouted bird seed is a special treat. When feeding any type of fresh food,
make sure to thoroughly wash the food before giving it to the bird. This removes any soil
bacteria or contaminants which could be harmful to your bird.
TABLE GREENS BACKYARD GREENS (must not have been treated with insecticides,
pesticides, or fertilizer)
Leaf lettuce Dandelion
Celery (chopped or the tops) Fresh branches, etc.
(Edible varieties only)
It is important that all varieties of bird receive
from 15-25 percent of their diets in the form of vegetables, fruits, and
"treats." The smaller seedeaters (finches, canaries, etc.) should be given the
lesser amount. The Conures, Amazons, and Cockatoos, somewhere in between, and the
fruit-eaters (Lories, Toucans, and many Macaws) the greater amount.
Vegetables are a great source of protein and
carbohydrate which tend to offset the higher fat content of some of the
"favorite" seeds of many birds, such as sunflower and safflower seeds. Try a
wide variety of vegetables like green and other beans, fresh or cooked corn, peas,
broccoli, peppers, squash, cauliflower, potato, carrots, cooked spinach, beets, yams,
sweet potatoes, etc.. Avoid iceberg lettuce, particularly in young birds. It has little or
no nutritive value. Also some vegetables such as tomatoes tend to be acidic and should be
Fruits are an excellent source of carbohydrate and
a moderate source of protein. They supply the bird with a readily digestible energy
source, and are a valuable source of many vitamins and minerals. Fruits such as berries,
grapes, papaya, and sometimes citrus fruits and apples tend to give birds what we call
"functional" diarrhea. These fruits and berries are said to have a
"cleansing" effect on their digestive tracts, but anything can be overdone.
Offer these items once or twice weekly. Some fruits such as pineapple and most citrus
fruits tend to be acidic, and also should only be fed in limited quantities.
Peaches, pears, and bananas have better nutritive
value for birds and are less apt to cause diarrhea.
Yogurt, the all natural type with no additives, is
an excellent source of protein and calcium.
Treats can be an excellent source of nutrition for
birds. In addition, the pleasure of both bird and owner can be greatly enhanced. Do not
hesitate to offer a variety of snacks, including cooked egg, toast or bread with peanut
butter, graham crackers, rolls, low salt cheese, noodles, cookies, etc..
Four general types of food to avoid are the
1. Foods that contain large amounts of salt; such
as saltines, potato chips, popcorn, etc.
2. Foods that contain large amounts of sugar; such
as candies, syrup, etc..
3. Foods that contain large amounts of fat or oil;
such as meat trimmings, avocado, etc..
4. Any food containing a stimulant or depressant;
like caffeinated sodas, alcohol, etc.
Furthermore, you should exercise common sense in
choosing your pet's food. As a general practice do not feed parts of food items that are
not commonly eaten by people. For example do not feed the pits of fruit such as peaches,
plums, or cherries as these contain cyanide and therefore are toxic. Another example is
the tops of carrots, these contain very large amounts of nitrates which also is toxic if
enough of them are consumed. Also, when feeding fresh foods do not leave them in the cage
so long that they spoil or grow large numbers of bacteria. If you think about whether the
food would be safe for you to eat after being left out for a period of time and apply that
same reasoning to your pet bird's food, you usually will be safe. Do not put a food that
will spoil in the cage and leave it there all day long, your bird will get sick just like
you would if you left dinner on the table all night and ate the food off the plate for
lunch the next day.
4. SOFT FOOD DIET
Some bird fanciers prefer to feed an all soft food
diet, rather than use seed as part of the diet. Many diets have been developed which work
well. One which will supply adequate nutrition is the following:
Mix equal portions of the following four groups:
1. Cooked whole grain rice
2. Cooked legumes (beans, peas, sprouts, etc.)
3. Cooked mixed vegetables
4. Dry dog or cat food
You can mix the ingredients together and cook them
like a stew, and then save small daily portions in plastic bags in the freezer. These bags
can be thawed as needed either in a microwave or by placing in hot water (make sure it is
not too hot.) The mixture can be fed to the bird twice daily. No soft food should be left
in the food dishes or cage for over 12 hours.
You can add sprouted seeds to this, and may add
small amounts of low salt cheese once a week.
B. FOOD SELECTION- These facts must be considered
when feeding. Food is selected by:
1. HABIT- which is instilled when the mother is
feeding the young in the nest box.
2. APPEARANCE- more than taste and smell. A bird is
apt to be suspicious of strange foods or other objects for a period of time or may never
accept anything new placed in his cage.
C. HANDLING FINICKY EATERS-
Birds are inherently finicky. If they get
"hooked" on sunflower seeds, and will not touch anything else, it can in time
result in a number of vitamin and mineral deficiencies as well as fatty degeneration of
the liver, thyroid problems, fatty tumors and other complications.
We believe in offering birds fresh food twice
daily, in an amount that they will consume in about six hours. Feeding in this manner
makes sure that the bird will be hungry when fed, and may be willing to try something new
when offered. Always have the favorite food available at feeding time, however. One can
sprinkle the favorite seed over a variety of vegetables (succotash) or fruit such
(unsweetened fruit cocktail) as a good way to start. Alternate this type of mixture with
the regular feed choice daily. Determine the bird's preferences of vegetables or fruits,
and use your own good judgment. Don't be afraid to try leftovers or table scraps--
including even bits of lean meat-- but do not leave it in the feed dish long enough to
Do not give up too soon!! It often takes weeks or
sometimes even months for the bird to try something new.
In addition, be sure to provide a balanced
vitamin-mineral, and amino-acid supplement over the vegetable, fruit or seed. You can use
commercial preparations such as Nekton, Chirp, Petamine, or Superpreen.
1. Your bird requires adequate sources of the fat
soluble vitamins A and D3.
2. Vitamin B Complex-- It is becoming more obvious
that vitamin B complex should be supplemented in the diet.
3. Birds being treated with antibiotics also
require a source of lactobacillus to replace the normal intestinal bacteria. This can be
supplied by yogurt.
4.If your bird is receiving a properly balanced
pelletted diet, you do not need to add extra vitamins to its food or water. Over
supplementation with vitamins can be as dangerous, or worse than no supplementation at
5. If you do need to supplement with vitamins, use
a type that goes on the food, not the water. Many vitamin supplements cause very high
levels of bacteria to grow when the supplement is placed in the water. Good on the food
supplements are Nekton and Nekton-S.
- MINERALS- Minerals are an essential part of the
daily diet. The best sources are: Cuttlebone, Mineral Blocks, Milk, Oyster Shells, Egg
Shells, or a supplement specific for birds.
African Grey parrots have a higher requirement for
Calcium in their diet which must be present in either the pelleted food, high calcium
vegetables, or supplements.
Budgerigars ("parakeets") require Iodine
supplementation to their diet to prevent thyroid dysplasia. One drop of Iodine solution
weekly in the drinking water will satisfy this requirement.
F. LIQUIDS- Besides fresh water, other liquids may
be offered. Some birds have a real fondness for nectars. Many birds like orange juice
which may be offered in limited amounts. Milk is a very excellent food and can be added to
drinking water. Remember, it must be changed the same day. We recommend using bottled
water rather than tap water as the household plumbing can harbor bacteria that are of
little concern to people, but quite dangerous to pet birds.
G. GRIT- Birds that hull their seeds do not require
grit. Although they seem to enjoy picking at it, overeating grit can irritate and even
obstruct the gastrointestinal tract. If grit is used, it should be provided in very small
amounts. A few grains of grit a week is more than enough. Do not use sand paper or gravel
paper on the bottom of your bird's cage, nor on the perches. We recommend a firm no-grit
policy (exception is passerine birds such as finches and canaries).
H. HOW TO BROADEN A BIRDS DIET- Many birds have
developed poor eating habits, and as a result have or are bordering on malnutrition. It
may be difficult to overcome these bad habits, but persistence usually pays off. Do not
try to starve your bird into eating new food. A small bird will die in 48 hours if it does
1. Begin with sweetening the water, and then after
he has developed a "sweet tooth" add other nutrients such as juices, milk, and
2. Introduce only small amounts of new food.
3. Try feeding hot foods. Try hot nuts, hot
cereals, hot cheese and hot soup.
4. Mix new foods with the regular basic seed.
5. Place new foods below a mirror or adjacent to a
6. Try feeding outside the cage.
7. Change bird from ad-lib feeding to three
15-minute feeding periods.
8. Hand or spoon feed.
Be aware that variety in food in addition to being
more nutritionally sound, also helps as it is a major source of mental stimulation for pet
A. Cages should be as long as or longer than they
are tall. Birds tend to fly lengthwise, not up and down, and we can make them feel more
comfortable with a long cage. Tall cages are fine for canaries, but certainly do not meet
the needs of budgerigars("parakeets"), cockatiels, or other hookbill birds.
B. Perches in cages are best made of natural
material. The ideal perch would be a branch from a citrus or fruit tree, oak, manzanita,
or eucalyptus tree with the bark still intact. One need not worry about mites if the perch
is first sprayed with any common mite spray available at your local pet shop. They are
easily replaced, and are excellent nutrition and excellent exercise. Never use sandpaper
covered perches as this will irritate the feet. Try to have perches of several different
diameters to avoid pressure sores from continual pressure in one part of the foot.
C. The bottom of the cage should be covered with
wax paper or newspaper or an appropriate litter material designed for birds. This makes an
excellent bottom cover, as it does not spread moisture all over the cage from a single
accident or dropping. Furthermore, the paper can be lifted out daily, allowing one to
estimate the number of droppings per day and thus monitor the bird's appetite. Do not use
sandpaper on the cage floor.
D. No gravel or mineral grit should be used in any
cage used by a pet hookbilled bird. Canaries, doves, and finches may have grit if desired
mixed in food at the rate of one teaspoon per pound.
E. Cuttlebone should be placed in all cages with
the soft side in. This means the flaky side out where the bird can get to it and the hard
shell near the outside of the cage. The cuttlebone should be placed at head height, within
easy reach for the bird.
F. Aluminum cages are more suited to today's bird
care than painted cages, and will give much longer service, well compensating for their
cost. Be careful to avoid old painted cages or imported cages that may contain lead based
paint since this is toxic to your bird. Galvanized cages may also contain lead as do many
G. SEED AND WATER CUPS-- One large cup is needed
for water. Usually one large cup and at least 3-4 other small (treat) cups are needed for
food. Wash the water and fresh food containers frequently.
H. TOYS-- These depend on the type of bird. For
some birds they are very important and may help prevent feather picking. Do not use small
weighted toys for large birds. Avoid toys that are potentially hazardous. Toes or beaks
may become caught in small holes such as those present on jingle bells.
I. CAGE COVERS-- Covers have two purposes.
1. They darken the cage in order for the bird to
2. They help to keep the cage warm if the
temperature drops at night.
- BIRD BATH--Some birds enjoy bathing in a dish or
bird bath. Others will need to be spray-misted 2-3 times a week. Moisture is an absolute
requirement for feather care.
- AVOID CLUTTER-Cages that are too large or have too
many toys and other objects in them may be every bit as stressful as a small barren cage.
Try to attain a balance that the bird enjoys.
- CLEANLINESS-Maintaining a clean environment in the
cage is essential. When you set up the cage make sure to keep this in mind, and make sure
the cage is acceptable to you. After all you are the one who will be cleaning it every
Consideration must be given to the cage, the
surroundings and all activities in that area. Many birds in this area do well if kept
outdoors as on a screened porch. The change to this type of environment must be made
slowly. Remember to cover the cage if the temperature drops below 50 degrees.
1. PEOPLE-- Birds learn to relate to people, and
actually, when living in a cage situation, need people for socialization. Talk to your
bird, whistle to him, or sing to him. They cannot live well without you.
2. PLAYING--Playing is having fun and enjoying
life. There is no rule to follow for each type of bird, but consider the following:
Bones Paper Spoons Rope (not string)
Toys Bathing Bells(large) Cardboard strips
Mirrors Swings Cork Hanging Cob Corn
Dumbbells Balls Branches Wood
Make sure all objects are clean and do not have
toxic materials on them. If obtained outside, branches should not have any pesticide
residue on them, and should be scrubbed and soaked in a solution of 1 cup of Clorox in one
gallon of water for at least 15 minutes , followed by thorough rinsing and drying before
being used for the first time. Do not use treated wood used in the building trades.
B. LOCATION OF CAGE-- Except for the first week,
when introducing your bird to a new environment, birds generally are the happiest and do
their best in areas of activity. Place the cage on the porch or in the family or living
room. Direct sunlight is stimulating and enjoyable to birds; care being taken not to
overheat them on a summer day.
C. TEMPERATURE-- A healthy bird can tolerate a
change of temperature of 10 to 15 degrees. Sick birds chill readily and need a room
temperature of 80 - 90 degrees.
D. HUMIDITY-- An ideal humidity for a bird seems to
be 30 - 50 %. Air conditioning does not come close to this ideal. A screened porch is
perfect in warmer climates.
E. DRAFTS-- A healthy bird seems to tolerate drafts
with no ill effects. Major temperature changes and continual drafts are not appreciated by
your bird and should be avoided if possible. Sick birds are adversely affected by drafts
or frequent changes in temperature.
F. PHOTOPERIOD--Birds require the same amount of
light and dark as that occurring in a natural day. Being exposed to many hours of daylight
and then electric light daily for long periods of time may stress a bird to the point of
causing problems with molting. Ideally the day should shorten each week when moving from
mid-summer to winter, and lengthen each week when moving from mid-winter to summer. Cage
covers assist in controlling the photoperiods.
G. DANGERS--Consider these seriously:
Glass Mirrors Open windows
Open pans of water Unwashed fruits and vegetables
Overeating grit Long toe nails and beak Spoiled
Paddle fans Thread Paint fumes
Leg bands Burnt Teflon Carbon monoxide
Smoke Loud noises Overheating--sunstroke
Cats & other pets Leaded glass windows
Alcohol Small amounts of insecticides or
Any volatile material including cleaning agents,
spray wax, hair spray, paint fumes, insecticides etc.
Also see the last page of this handout.
Droppings are one of the best indicators of your
bird's health and reflect the digestive and urinary systems. Observe and count the number
of droppings daily. The droppings are an instant guide to the amount eaten by the bird. If
your bird begins to eat less, the number of droppings will decrease indicating a medical
problem and he should be seen by a Veterinarian.
A. INTERNAL PARASITES
1. Include worms and protozoans.
2. A fecal specimen no more than 2 hrs. old for
examination for large parasite eggs, and an immediately passed fresh stool to examine for
protozoans are required to do a thorough parasite examination.
3. Uncommon in caged birds.
B. EXTERNAL PARASITES
1. Cnemidocoptic mange (scaly face / scaly leg ) is
common on the face and legs of budgerigars("parakeets") and on the feet of
canaries. It is confirmed by microscopic examination of a skin scraping.
2. Lice, red mites, and other forms of mites are
found less frequently.
7. MENTALITY AND EMOTIONS
Birds have a personality, definite likes and
dislikes, feelings and a surprising amount of sensitivity and emotions. Birds are very
social in the wild. We need to create a lot of stimulation for them in our homes. A
variety of toys which are placed in the cage a few at a time and rotated weekly should be
present. A variety of food should be made available. (However make sure there is a part of
their diet that is consistent -ideally the pellets. Daily interaction between you and your
pet bird should be the norm. You can use the cleaning and feeding time to your advantage.
You will be there doing it anyhow, so you should make it a fun experience. Let the bird
out while you are preparing the food. Give it some paper to shred, talk to it, or do
whatever it enjoys. Certainly the more time you spend with them the better they feel, and
the more enjoyable pet they become for you. Some species, such as finches and canaries
prefer to be kept in groups in larger cages where they may fly around and interact with
other birds. These species do not require as much stimulation or other interaction with
their human caretaker as the larger species.
It is difficult to locate any statistics on the
life span of pet birds. This is due in large part to the recent advances in diet,
husbandry, and Veterinary care available.
Finches 8 - 10 years
Canaries 10 - 15 years
Budgerigars ("parakeets") 10 - 15 years
Larger Psittacines 25 - 50 years or more
A. CARE OF BEAK-- Beaks grow continuously and are
worn off by their normal eating habits and the interaction of the beaks. A budgerigar
("parakeet") beak grows 3 inches per year. At times, beaks must be trimmed.
B. CARE OF NAILS-- It is important to keep the
nails trimmed short. Sandpaper perches are useless for this purpose and can cause disease
of the feet.
C. CARE OF FEATHERS-- When feathers molt annually,
no special care is needed. Feathers that become dirty or oily have to be bathed. This
happens from smoke, dust and greasy cooking. Ragged-looking birds are sick and are
affected with some deeper problem. Within two weeks of the loss of any feather, a few
feathers should be replacing it. If baldness begins to occur, seek Veterinary assistance.
Never use any ointment or other oily or greasy medication on your bird's feathers. This
will cause it to be unable to regulate temperature properly.
D. CARE OF FEET--Foot infections occur in spite of
many precautions. Be certain to keep perches clean, have at least one soft perch, vary the
size of the perches, and if you notice any weight shifting, sores, or lameness -
immediately seek Veterinary assistance.
E. CARE OF LEGS-- A leg band's purpose is for
identification. They should be removed to prevent problems. Large birds can now be
permanently identified using microchips without risking damage to the legs. Scales on a
bird's legs and feet may thicken and form a hard - tight crust. These can be removed by
applying a skin moisturizer and then working the scales off with the fingers or lifting
them off with a forceps. String or lint can wrap around the leg or toe of a bird and cut
off circulation. If you see discoloration of the leg or toes or a depression around the
bird's leg - seek Veterinary assistance.
F. CARE OF SKIN--Since the skin is protected by
feathers, no special care is needed. Most important though, is not to apply oil or grease
to the skin. Any oil can cause heat retention and heat prostration.
G. CARE OF EYES, EARS AND NOSE-- A discharge from
any of these areas indicates trouble. Slight crusting or wetness of the hairlike feathers
above the nasal opening is not normal. Until the bird can be seen by a Veterinarian, the
area should be kept clean. Wipe the area with a mild antiseptic solution. Do not apply
anything oily, nor give proprietary medication before a diagnosis is made.
H. CARE OF THE UROPYGIAL, EAR AND ANAL GLANDS --
These should be checked annually by your Veterinarian. If the bird is pecking excessively
at the top of the tail near the body, the uropygial gland may have to be carefully
Once a bird has become an adult, the weight should
never vary. Checking the weight occasionally, especially at the annual examination will
give valuable information about your bird's health. Birds who eat excessive amounts of oil
containing seed may become obese. Sick birds may lose weight. Learn to check your birds
pectoral muscles frequently and be aware of any noticeable change in their size.
11. FEATHER FACTS
A. Feathers serve to insulate a bird. The density
and strength of the feathers protect the bird both mechanically and thermally.
B. The structural network of the feathers serve as
a water repellent; not oils on the feathers.
C. The preen (uropygial) gland secretes an oil that
decreases wear by lubrication of the feathers. Hence, it is important that a bird preen
itself continually at some interval during the course of the day. NOTE: Stress will alter
a bird's preening habits.
D. Annual molt is a time to replace old feathers
with stronger, healthier new ones. This is a period of stress for the bird and should be
E. Feather maintenance is accomplished through
periodic baths - either by showers, splashing or walking through wet greens.
F. Complete feather care can only be achieved when
a bird is in good mental and physical health. This includes companionship, pleasant
environment, security from stress, proper sanitation, and, of course, a well - balanced
12. BEHAVIORAL PROBLEMS
A. Feather picking is a disease found primarily in
stressed birds. The insecurity of captivity frightens many a bird. These animals are
nervous and apprehensive. If left unrecognized, many begin to alter their preening habits.
Feather picking results when they substitute chewing for preening.
B. In order to minimize this vice, design a place
for the bird's concealment such as a nesting box or coffee can. Provide a companion, and
use common sense in bird husbandry.
- In short, reduce stress and have a healthier bird.
- Do not overlook the possibility of psittacine beak
and feather disease. This problem is common in Cockatoos and African Grey parrots and your
bird should be examined, and possibly specifically tested for this problem if it has
chronic feather problems.
Birds are vocal animals. The bigger the bird, the
louder the scream. The owner should realize that some screaming by your pet is just part
of owning a pet bird. Excessive screaming can be due to many things. Often it is a call
for attention. Do not go running when the bird screams. That merely reinforces the
behavior since that is what the bird wants you to do. Eventually this will result in a
persistent screamer. A more extreme situation is separation anxiety. This is a form of
anxiety attack. These birds may not only scream, but engage in destructive behavior to
either themselves or their environment. They need a comprehensive program of behavioral
conditioning, and sometimes anti-anxiety medication. If your bird is traumatizing itself,
feather picking, or destroying its environment as well as screaming, you should discuss
the problem with your Veterinarian. Other causes of screaming include stress, fright,
anger, playfulness, and excitement. Understanding the underlying cause of the screaming
helps in identifying what if anything needs to change in order to reduce the screaming.
You should also be aware of the species variation in vocalization. Some birds such as
Nanday Conures or Moluccan Cockatoos are much more vocal than others.
One of the main forms of expression for a pet bird
is using its beak. This does not mean that biting should be allowed. On the other hand,
neither does it mean that every time a bird puts its beak on you they are going to bite.
As you become more familiar with your bird and its habits, you will be able to understand
its moods. Biting is something you should deal with. If your bird is aggressively biting,
talk to your Veterinarian, breeder, or members of a bird club to learn how to deal with
13. DETERMINATION OF SEX
This can be very difficult. In most instances,
there is no need to know the sex of your bird. Some species have observable differences.
Budgerigars have different color ceres. Males have a blue cere and females a brown or pink
cere. Cockatiels have characteristic spots on the underside of the primary wing feathers
of females and solid color on males. This can be difficult to determine on some color
patterns, pearly for instance. Eclectus parrots have greatly different color patterns with
females being red and males green. Most other species of psittacine birds are more
difficult or impossible to determine sex by external appearance. In these species, sex can
be determined either by surgical examination of the internal reproductive organs, of by
chromosome analysis of newly forming feathers.
At some time or other, you may have to catch and
hold your bird. Properly done, this will do no harm. for the inexperienced or beginner,
the first step may be to lower the perches. With the obstructions removed, small birds may
be caught with your hands, but larger birds should be covered with a towel and then picked
up. Birds breathe by expanding their chest. This is why a bird cannot be held by its body,
and must be restrained primarily by holding the head and neck tightly.
15. ALERTNESS IS THE KEY TO
Birds hide their problems very effectively, and
when they begin to obviously manifest their illness, they are already seriously ill. The
bird that dies "suddenly" has probably been sick for some time and was not
recognized as being abnormal. Birds are actually very hardy and tolerate problems as well
as any other animal. If given a chance, birds live a long time. Because of this difficulty
in detecting illness early, the following is recommended:
A. Observe closely for any signs of illness.
B. Take your bird to the Veterinarian annually for
a check up. This will include a physical examination, a 24 hour dropping analysis and a
blood test (total protein, packed cell volume, and white blood cell count estimate).
C. Watch for any of these signs of sickness:
1. Change in the character of the droppings or a
decrease in the number or volume.
2. change in food or water consumption.
3. Change in attitude - generally observed as a
decreased activity ( inactivity ), talking less ( or more poorly ), singing less, or no
response to stimuli.
4. Change in bird's appearance or posture. A sick
bird generally ruffles his feathers, begins closing his eyes in a sleepy fashion, and will
be sitting low on the perch (droopy).
5. Any noticeable breathing while resting, heavy
breathing after exertion, change in character of voice, and any respiratory sounds
(sneeze, wheeze, or click).
6. Any enlargement -- even fat is abnormal in a
16. STRESS IN CAGED BIRDS
Birds experience stress from the day they are born.
Their dependence on the parents to provide them with proper diet, environment, and
protection against enemies and weather is absolute. Any accident to the parents during
this "weaning stage" would mean the certain death of the chicks. Graduating from
this stage means that it must be taught by its parents to fly, find its own food including
the killing of prey in some species.
The young bird is clumsy, usually hungry, and
always afraid of its environment. It is also the time when many of these adolescent birds
are captured and confinement begins. Confinement is always a stress to any young bird
deprived of its parents, its nest, and freedom all at the same time. This confinement
lasts until the next pickup from the native area which may be days or weeks, at which time
they are transported over rough terrain under crowded conditions and with poor food and
water supply to a holding area not much better in hygiene.
Then this impressionable bird is flown to an area
where it is stuck in quarantine for a period of thirty to sixty days. It is subjected to
great physical and emotional stress. The birds are released from quarantine and sold
either to large pet shop owners , bird wholesalers, or to jobbers, who in turn sell them
to smaller pet shops, who in turn sell them to you. Then the ultimate comes, when a bird
is sold to an individual and, here again, is another change of environment, hopefully to a
desirable one. This is the bird's first exposure to affection, good nutrition, some degree
of solitude, and a clean environment.
Is it any wonder at this point that their feathers
are broken and dull. They are fearful, defensive, and confused. They are lucky to be
Just one more thing is required, and that is a trip
to the Veterinarian for a complete physical examination, detection of disease, trimming of
nails, wings, and beak properly, removal of any leg bands, and gaining information and
literature regarding proper diet, caging, perching, vitamin and mineral supplements, and
Have patience with this very stressed, new member
of your family, he doesn't know that this is his lucky day!
The above information depicts the situation for
imported birds. Many of the undesirable steps now can be avoided by purchasing a
domestically raised bird. The cost may be higher, but your problems are likely to be much
fewer. Remember, however, that even domestically raised birds undergo many stressors
before they reach their final destination. They should also be thoroughly examined by a
Veterinarian soon after purchase.
17. RESPIRATORY PROBLEMS OF
After nutrition related diseases, respiratory
disease is the most common disease of birds. Birds have a unique respiratory system. There
is no diaphragm and so the majority of air movement results from movement of the chest and
abdominal walls. Remember this when holding your bird to give medication of any type.
Excessive pressure on the chest and abdomen may produce respiratory arrest in the bird!!
Signs of respiratory diseases may range from
ruffled feathers, failure to talk, loss of appetite, to tail bobbing. Discharges from the
cere or mouth, and sneezing, tail bobbing, or flicking the tail down indicates severe
respiratory impairment. This bird should not be picked up under any conditions by
inexperienced handlers. Most respiratory diseases in a bird are far advanced by the time
that the owner recognizes it.
Examination includes observation of breathing
habits, palpation of the sternal musculature to give an idea of the duration of the
disease, and listening with a stethoscope. Any discharge present in the opening to the
cere should be cultured to define antibiotic therapy, and the mouth thoroughly examined
for swelling or discharges. It is not uncommon to place the bird in an incubator for an
hour or two prior to handling to ease the stress and to improve the lot of the bird.
Observation of the bird after replacement in his cage is one of the Veterinarian's
greatest tools in determining its reaction to this stress, and the prognosis for
treatment. Once the bird is stabilized, it is extremely important to evaluate chest
radiographs. Many times the radiographs reveal abdominal masses pressing on the
respiratory system. A blood sample is vital to indicate the length of time the bird has
had the disease, its severity, and other organ system diseases present, and therefore aid
in determining the diagnosis and prognosis.
18. TAMING BIRDS
Make certain that you have given the bird two weeks
of quarantine during which time it has an opportunity to adjust to its new surroundings.
The bird must be eating well, and its droppings and overall appearance must be
satisfactory. The bird should have been checked for worms, and the fecal sample cultured
for disease -- causing bacteria.
The first lessons should be started after it is
dark outside and may simply consist of opening the cage door, allowing the bird to climb
to the top of its cage. Some birds jump from the cage, and others refuse to leave it. If
you have a bird that refuses to leave, do not force the issue. Simply leave the door open
ten to fifteen minutes and close it. Whatever you do, be consistent and do it each time.
When the bird comes out of the cage, offer it peanuts, corn, or banana from your hand. For
the bird that will not leave the cage, offer food while it is sitting on the perch. If it
looks at you, sits on the perch, and takes food from your hand, you are doing well.
The early lessons may be spent just standing in
front of a cage, hand-feeding the bird. Once the bird comes from the cage, it should be
taught immediately to step onto a perch and remain there. Never force a bird, and use a
training stick to direct the bird in the direction that you wish it to go. If it flies off
the cage, use a stick either to pick it up or direct it to climb back to the table where
the cage is present and let it climb back up to the cage. Block all attempts of the bird
to leave the area. If the bird refuses to return to its cage, just put out the light and
it will be much more manageable.
The early lessons are used to build trust. Teach
the bird to step onto a training stick as soon as possible. Work on teaching the bird to
come from the cage in an orderly manner, proceeding calmly to the top of the cage. It
should sit there and step on and off the training stick.
If the bird will step onto your hand, avoid the
stick for now. The more trust the bird has with you, the better it will be for the bird.
Once the bird is used to your environment, then train it to a stick. This can be useful in
stressful situations or when a stranger is taking care of your bird.
Under no circumstances should a glove be worn as it
only creates distrust of human handlers in a bird's mind. Remember that the entire goal is
to create and reinforce trust in people. Once the bird is hand tamed, try touching its
feet, back, and the top of its head.
Be consistent. Approach the cage slowly from the
same direction each time. Say the same things each time. Open the cage and present the
training stick at the same angle each time. Once the bird is comfortable and consistent
with one way, and has been for a period of time, approach it in a new way. Still keeping
up the other way as well. Not being predictable can be good mental stimulation.
Remember, there is no standard time to achieve
results. Keep the lessons short, and above all, be patient. Your reward will be the
finest, most affectionate pet that has ever shared your life.
19. BIRD DISEASES -- WHICH ARE EMERGENCIES?
Most emergencies in companion birds involve
gastro-intestinal or respiratory diseases, trauma, or bleeding. Cage birds tend to hide
signs of disease, thus making apparent sudden onset of illness common. Small birds such as
budgerigars ("parakeets") and finches should pass 40 or more droppings daily if
they are eating enough for maintenance. Decreased dropping counts indicate inadequate food
intake. Normal droppings consist about equally of urates and fecal material; abnormally
high urate levels may indicate kidney disease.
Bile causes greenish discoloration of droppings.
Bits of tissue or blood indicate severe intestinal inflammation, and undigested seeds are
a sign of gut hypermotility. Nasal or ocular discharge or conjunctivitis may indicate
localized upper respiratory inflammation or deep - seated respiratory disease. The bird's
reaction to light and heat as well as the character of respiration should be determined.
Examination of birds which can perch and are eating can usually be postponed until the
Trauma following collision with an object is seldom
immediately fatal; usually the bird's condition deteriorates as inflammation develops for
6 - 8 hours. Trauma should therefore be suspected when the bird has been in good health,
has no visible signs of respiratory or enteric disease, and is in good flesh. For trauma
involving the brain, prednisolone or dexamethasone is given to reduce shock and control
inflammation. A bird maimed by an animal is also given antibiotics and fluids since ,
wound contamination and fluid loss are almost certain.
Fractured legs and wings are usually held
abnormally, and should be examined and treated as soon as possible. Antibiotics should be
given in compound fracture cases, with steroids as needed to alleviate shock. If bleeding
occurs, apply simple compression or, if this is impractical, ice, Kwik stop, or flour.
Keep the bird warm, calm, and immobile. If much blood has been lost, the bird should be
given steroids, antibiotics, and fluids. If bleeding from a broken feather or feather
follicle cannot be controlled by compression for 10 -- 15 minutes, the bird should be
brought to the hospital while compression is maintained.
20. EMERGENCY TREATMENT --
Temporary care until the bird can be seen by a Veterinarian
If ever the bird sits with its feathers ruffled,
eyes partially closed, droopy appearance, or if there are signs of diarrhea or respiratory
problems, the bird should be treated immediately. Also any bird which has been injured,
sustained a broken leg or wing, been bitten by a cat, dog or other animal, or been burned
or chilled should likewise be started on emergency care.
Every part of the following is important:
A. INCUBATOR -- A temporary incubator can be made
by placing a heating pad along side the cage and then the entire cage is wrapped with
plastic and a cage cover. The temperature should be maintained at 80 - 85 degrees.
Should the cage temperature become too hot, the
bird will start breathing rapidly, hold his wings out from the sides of his body, and the
feathers will be held so close or tight to the body that he will appear skinny.
B. FOOD -- A bird that stops eating dies.
Therefore, every effort must be made to encourage the bird to eat. Cups of food are placed
adjacent to where the bird is perched, food is scattered on the bottom of the cage if the
bird is off his perch. The Veterinarian will immediately force feed a bird by passing a
C. REST -- Sick birds need rest, and thus, should
be in a darkened room or covered to insure 12 - 16 hours of sleep. A two-hour nap in the
morning or afternoon is advisable.
D. DROPPINGS -- Start counting droppings. The
number or volume of droppings will be of great concern to the Veterinarian. Better yet,
save the droppings for the Veterinarian to view.
1. Don't give alcohol containing drinks.
2. Don't use laxatives.
3. Don't use oil.
4. Don't stop food.
F. DO TELEPHONE YOUR VETERINARIAN
21. TOXIC SUBSTANCES IN THE HOUSE
|| Bird of paradise
|| Elephant's ear
|| Jack - in - the -
|| Jerusalem cherry
|Lily - of - the -
|| Marijuana ( not
|| Poison hemlock
|| Skunk cabbage
B. SOURCES OF LEAD
Lead frames of stained glass
Weighted items (ash trays, toy penguins made for
Weights for windows, diving, fishing
Boat supplies requiring weights
Batteries, solder, bullets, air rifle pellets
Old paint, sheetrock, galvanized wire, screens
Foil from wine or champagne bottles
Mirror backing, linoleum, zippers, jewelry, light
Dolomite and bone meal products (some)
Leaded gasoline fumes
C. OTHER TOXINS
Moldy seed or food
Molds present in the cage or other areas of the
Pesticides or rodenticides
Medications (with dosage not calculated for weight
Spray can propellants and other aerosol fumes or
Alcohol, Chlorine, Fertilizers, Salt, Tobacco,
Teflon or other non-stick products when heated dry
Baits and poisons
Excessive dust, smoke, or other particulates.
I would like to thank Meredith Wille for her
proofreading and valued suggestions in this revision.
Some of the information contained in this pamphlet
was obtained from the following sources:
1. Notes from Gerald Snyder D.V.M.
2. The Cornell Veterinary notes
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