NUTRITION: The precise nutritional requirements of most bird species are not entirely known, and multiple schools of thought exist regarding their dietary needs. For parrots, we recommend a diet of approximately 75% bird pellets and 25% other foods. Pellets are intended to be nutritionally complete. Common brands include Harrison’s, Roudybush, LaFaebers, Scenic, Exact, and ZuPreem. Conversion from seeds to pellets requires patience, but is worthwhile to promote your bird’s health. See our “Pellet Conversion” handout for a conversion method with which we have had success. The remaining 25% of the diet can include other foods. Dark, leafy greens and orange vegetables are highly nutritious. Other vegetables, small pieces of fruit, some nuts (i.e. almonds, walnuts, pistachios), and healthy “people food” can be offered in moderation. Seeds and peanuts are high in fat and nutritionally unbalanced, and should generally be avoided or reserved as occasional treats.
Smaller birds, such as cockatiels and budgies, have adapted to a larger seed component in their diets. We recommend they eat approximately 50%-75% pellets, with the remainder being a healthy seed mix. Because of this mixed requirement, it can be difficult to convert them to pellets, as they tend to preferentially pick out seeds. As an alternative to traditional pellets, Harrison’s High Potency Mash can be offered on seed mix and other foods to make the diet more nutritionally complete.
CAGING: The biggest cage you can afford is generally best. At a minimum, it should be at least two times the width of your bird’s extended wingspan. Be sure bar spacing is appropriate to avoid escape or injury. DO NOT USE any cage with zinc components (anything galvanized) or lead soldering. Stainless steel or powder/plastic-coated cages intended for birds are usually safe provided your bird does not chew through the protective coating. Newspaper or paper towel can be used as a cage liner. NEVER USE corncob, walnut shells, wood shavings, grit, or sand in your cage. These can predispose birds to developing fungal infections and GI tract problems.
CLEANING: Keeping your bird’s environment clean is essential to its health. Using newspaper/paper towel to line the cage allows for quick and easy cleaning. Consider removing the cage grate (be sure your bird can’t escape through this space!) or covering it with newspaper to make cleaning easier. Replace cage liners at least once a day (clean grate daily if present). Dishes should be changed or cleaned once daily, with fresh water provided. If your bird dunks food, you may need to change the water multiple times a day. A more thorough cleaning of the cage, toys, and perches should be performed at least once a week. If your bird is present while cleaning, use hot water with unscented dish soap or a bird-safe enzymatic cleaner (e.g. Poop Off). As an alternative, dishes, toys, and perches can often be washed on the top rack of the dishwasher. For more thorough cleanings, move your bird to a different location, remove all organic material, and then clean with dilute bleach (1:30 dilution with water). Allow at least 15 minutes contact time before rinsing thoroughly.
PERCHES: Promote healthy feet by choosing perches of varying diameters and materials. A variety of wooden perches is ideal and most natural. Rope perches work well, but can fray; trim loose strands, and replace if there is concern of ingesting material. AVOID sandpaper perches, as they can damage feet and don’t wear down nails well. A concrete perch can be offered, but should not be the highest perch, as this will likely be where your pet spends the most time. Inappropriate perches can lead to pododermatitis (inflammation of the feet).
TOYS: Providing a variety of toys is ideal. Birds are often happiest when destroying things, so expect to replace toys often. Store bought toys intended for birds should be inspected for safety before use. Homemade toys can be created from bird safe materials – be sure all quick links, carabineers, and bells are zinc and lead-free. Simple toys of toilet paper/paper towel rolls, Dixie cups, cardboard boxes, and paper lunch bags are great. Foraging toys, in which food or treats are hidden in a toy or safe packaging, encourage birds to mimic natural behaviors in the wild, and help keep your bird busy. Rotate some or all toys in your bird’s cage every 1-2 weeks to keep your pet’s mind occupied.
BATHING: Birds should bathe in fresh, clean water at least twice weekly to encourage normal preening behavior, promote feather health, and help prevent respiratory disease. Be sure your bird is thoroughly soaked. Some enjoy bathing in bowls, going into the shower, or playing in running water from a faucet. Most enjoy, or will tolerate, being sprayed by a spray or misting bottle.
PREVENTATIVE MEDICINE: Birds are adept at hiding signs of illness. Sitting still with feathers fluffed is a common sign. Changes in behavior or apparent personality can also indicate a health problem. Stool composition, appetite, and breathing patterns will often change when a bird is sick. Because birds can be delicate, it is better to err on the side of caution and bring your pet in for an exam as soon as signs of a problem are noticed. Annual to bi-annual physical exams and blood work can also be important to catching problems early. It is highly recommended that all new pet birds receive a complete physical exam and appropriate disease testing. New pet birds should also be quarantined from resident birds in your home for 60-90 days to help prevent disease transmission.
RESTRAINT: To make handling easier in an emergency, when medicating, or while at the vet, we recommend acclimating your pet to restraint in a towel. Wrap it around the body, and restrain the bird with your thumb and forefinger around the neck. Because birds have complete tracheal rings, their tracheas (windpipes) are sturdy, making this technique the safest for restraint. The opposite hand can be used to help support the feet or hold the towel in place. Birds do not have a diaphragm, and breathe by expanding their chests. Because of this anatomical feature, it is essential that you NEVER WRAP YOUR FINGERS AROUND THE CHEST OR OTHERWISE COMPRESS THE CHEST, as this can impede or stop your bird’s breathing. If you have any questions in regards to proper restraint with a towel, please ask us to demonstrate the technique during your bird’s exam.
GROOMING: Grooming in birds involves trimming wing feathers, toenails (talons), or both. Trimming wing feathers reduces or takes away the ability to fly, which can be safer in confined spaces of a home. Safety advantages include preventing injury (crashing into doors, windows, toilet bowls, hot stove, etc.), reducing chance of escape (through open window/door), and lessening the risk of a bird getting into something he/she should not (preventing toxin exposure, foreign body ingestion, etc.). Behavioral advantages include easier training and handling. Nails grow throughout a bird’s life, and can be trimmed/dremmeled (shaped using electric grinding tool) as needed to allow for more comfortable handling and prevent problems due to unequal weight-bearing from overlong nails. A healthy bird with good beak conformation should not require beak trims. Some birds, however, have beak malocclusion (top and bottom do not meet and wear evenly) or other medical problems (liver disease, nutritional deficiencies, etc.) requiring regular beak care. Grooming can be performed during regular appointments or scheduled with a technician.
UVB LIGHT: Some species, especially those of African origin, may benefit from safe exposure to natural sunlight and/or an avian UVB bulb over the cage. Please discuss the benefits and safety with your veterinarian to best fulfill your bird’s needs.
*Having birds as family members is rewarding, but can also be challenging and time consuming. Although this handout discusses the basics of avian husbandry, we recommend you refer to the books and publications for additional information regarding bird keeping, behavior, etc.