Birdie, Birdie-How to care for a Bird
Extremely social by nature, birds need company, nurturing and constant interaction. Birds are wonderful both as pets and as visitors to the garden. If you're considering bird ownership, the care requirements include providing good housing, nutritious food and keeping an eye on the bird's health. You'll also need to provide plenty of enrichment and interaction, to keep your pet bird happy and alert. Or, if what you're doing is encouraging birds to your yard to feed, you'll still need to know some care basics to make their visits safer and more enjoyable. This article is intended to give you an overview on general bird care and the things that it pays to think about as either a bird owner or provider of bed-and-breakfast-for-the-birds.
Choosing a bird as a pet
Choose the bird species with care. Not all bird species are appropriate as pets and not all bird temperaments or care needs will suit what you're able to provide. It is very important to learn as much as you can about the species of birds that interest you, well before deciding which bird you will choose. The bird must match your lifestyle, interests and ability to take good care of it for the time it lives (which can a very long time for some birds). You must be willing to interact with the bird and provide daily interaction, as well as supervising time outside of the cage, where possible.
- Don't buy a bird on impulse. You need the time to research the bird's needs and longevity before bringing one home. Check out books on birds or read online articles on bird species and specific bird requirements, to learn more about the different types of bird species.
2Familiarize yourself with the most common species of birds owned as pets. Parrots, cockatiels and cockatoos, or parakeets tend to be some of the most popular types of birds owned as pets. Other good pet species include: Canaries, finches, lovebirds, doves and pigeons. The more exotic or less common the bird type, the more consideration you need to give as to whether it is one you can provide appropriate care for.3Consider the bird's longevity. Some birds, such as parrots, live long lives, so this should be a consideration when purchasing a parrot. Arrangements may have to be made to care for parrot after the owner dies; in some cases, you might consider taking on the responsibility of caring for a bird in such a predicament rather than getting a young one.4If getting more than one bird, consider the appropriate housing arrangements. Some birds will be able to share housing, while others might not get along; indeed, "cage mate trauma" is commonplace and can depend on such issues as personalities, size differences, gender and species. Although it will depend on the species, you might be able to house two boys or two girls or a boy and girl. If they fight, you'll need to separate them. Do plenty of research beforehand and ask questions of the breeder or retailer; you could even talk to bird keepers at your local zoo or wildlife refuge for advice.
1Purchase the right kind of cage for housing the bird. The cage required will vary by type of bird; as such, be guided by the species you're choosing. That said, some fairly standard requirements include:
- There are often special methods needed for introducing a new bird to a cage with an existing bird. Talk to a veterinarian or bird expert for advice.
2Consider the cage shape. A simple rectangle cage is always the best. Circle cages are bad for the bird. There is hardly any space for the bird, and no corners to feel safe in. Moreover, the circle tends to cause the bird to twist its head; the bird can go insane from the constant turning and turning.
- The cage size should be sufficient for the bird to stretch its wings from side to side. For some birds, being able to fly short distances within the cage may be an important part of ensuring it has a healthy living space. At a minimum, large birds should only be housed in a cage that is one and a half times the height of the bird's wingspan (depth, width and height).
- The cage bars should not be too small; the bird's talons might get caught on or in them if the bar wires or lengths are too small. Equally, the bars should not be so large that the head of the bird could get trapped or the bird could squeeze through and escape.
- The bigger the space in the cage, the better. Although bird cages that are bigger tend to be harder to clean and are more expensive, if you are not in the house often and/or don't have time to take the bird out for exercise, space in their cage is critical. Small cages tend to lead to behavior problems.
3Ensure that the space is more than adequate if housing more than one bird. Never house more than one bird in a small cage. Birds need space to retreat, forage, fly and be apart from other birds, so the more birds being kept, the larger the cage must be. Aviaries (large cages that are akin to small sheds) are more appropriate for keeping several birds at the same time.
- Never buy guillotine-styled doors, since they are easier to escape and dangerous if the bird attempts to escape and gets its head caught under the door.
4Ensure that placement of the cage is somewhere warm and comfortable. The placement of the cage will be dependent on the climate you live in. If you have severe winters, with temperatures below zero, snow, etc., it is not appropriate to keep the birds outdoors during winter. If you live in a more temperate to warm climate, outdoor aviaries might be more appropriate than an indoor cage. Again, you'll need to research the needs of the individual birds, the temperature requirements and assess these needs against the typical climate in your area.
- If keeping different species of birds, you'll need to be sure that they're compatible when placed together.
- In some cases, a combination of an indoor/outdoor cage arrangement might provide the optimal housing arrangements for your birds. This could vary between seasons or weather patterns, or it could be a day and night arrangement.
- Birds in hanging cages can often be transported outdoors to hang under a porch or similar place for daytime fresh air. Always remember to bring the bird back in before cool evening breezes and night air arrive.
- See the "Bird hygiene and health" section below for signs of overheating or chilling in birds.
- Location of the bird's cage will also be affected by the bird's personality. While a very social bird might love being the center of attention and seeing constant human traffic, a more nervous bird might be happier kept somewhere quieter and away from hustle and bustle (but still being able to interact with the family).
- Avoid placing a cage in front of a window permanently. The bird will be on the constant lookout for "enemies", which can cause it to feel nervous. Putting a cage against a wall can give the bird a break from worrying about predators.
Housing a bird
5Place some old magazines/unneeded papers on the bottom of the cage. This makes cleaning much easier, and the papers can be disposed of with ease, then fresh ones placed straight down for the next day's use. Keep a supply handy from your junk mail and newspaper reads.
Bringing the bird home1Transport the bird in a proper carrying container. This should be a hard-sided carrier, such as a cat cage or a cage recommended by the breeder or store. Secure it well in the car, so that it will not move about during the journey home. A towel can be thrown over the cage to provide privacy but be sure there is adequate air flow for the bird to keep cool and breathe well.2When you first bring the bird home, leave it for a day to get used to its environment. This also applies when moving the cage to another part of the house if it's still relatively young. Allowing for a settling-in time will help the bird grow accustomed to its environment in its own way, without feeling threatened by looming humans. However, be sure to leave it adequate food and water.
Feeding a birdIdentify the exact foods needed by the species of bird you're caring for. Some birds thrive on specific types of food only, while other birds may be able to have a more generalized diet. Since precise dietary requirements are dependent on the species, you are advised to do careful reading on this topic in relation to the bird species you're choosing. Some general feeding observations include:
- Ensure that you have correct feed for the species of bird. You must find the correct food for your bird, as some birds are picky, while others have very strict dietary requirements. Usually the bag/can of food will have a label telling you which bird it is for. If you don't know what the best food choices are, ask the breeder, the retailer or leave a question on a specialized forum of people who care for this species of bird.
- You may need to put a bit of grit (sand or small rocks) in a bowl; some passerine birds need this to assist crushing seeds in the crop (chest area). However, not all birds need this grit, and if they eat too much, it can create a blockage. Finches and canaries tend to find a little grit necessary, but don't give it to budgies, cockatiels or parrots.
- Millet is a treat; never feed too much of it to birds. It is best used as a treat during training.
- Bird pellets, crumbles or nuggets can be a good way of ensuring adequate nutrition for your bird; since these tend to combine all manner of needed seeds, vegetables, fruits and grains, there is less likelihood of the bird being picky and favoring only one food, thus the bird is more likely to eat a nutritionally balanced diet.
- Give your feathered friends the same kinds of fresh and healthy fruit and vegetables you enjoy, minus the dressings. This adds greens and variety to their diet. A mixture or variety of foods is both healthy and fun for birds.
- Feed new seed daily; always empty out the eaten shells the same day too, as this keeps the seed fresh and clean.
- If the bird you have requires nectar, this is a highly specialized diet and you must learn as much as possible about it before obtaining the bird
- There are some foods that are not suitable for many species of birds. For example, don't feed the bird any alcohol, chocolate or avocado. Each of these contain chemical components that can be toxic for the bird.
Provide constant fresh water. There should be a water dish provided; fill this daily with average temperature water. The water feeder should be checked daily to ensure that it is working properly and you must be absolutely sure that the bird knows how to use it. Change water daily to ensure that it is always fresh.
- Have fresh dripping water if possible; it prevents fecal matter from ending up in the drinking tray.
- Dehydration can occur very quickly in birds, within 1 to 2 days without access to water.
Keep the feeding arrangements sanitary.
Water and food cups should be located up high out of the way of any branches above them since birds often drop feces into their food, which isn't sanitary.
Try feeding the bird regularly at about the same time each day.
This could be when you eat, or maybe earlier. However, choose a time and try to stick to it, so that the bird knows when to expect its food. If you want to stick to the natural feeding time of birds, feed approximately half an hour after sunrise and just before sunset. During the day, small fruit and vegetable snacks can be left in the cage.
Make feeding interesting for the bird.You can make the eating experience more enjoyable for your bird by making eating time an interactive time too. For example, encourage your bird to eat a piece of food at a time, straight from your hand. Or, encourage your talking bird sing and talk for its food.
- Once again, know your bird. Smaller birds with a higher metabolism may need to be fed more often.
Add enrichment material to the bird's cage to ensure that it is entertained and challenged.
Birds are smart and they need to do enriching things to keep themselves occupied and to stay mentally stimulated.
Start off with at least four toys that are varied and interesting.
Make sure they are bird-safe and that toes or beaks cannot get caught in any parts of the toys.
- Items that are not safe on toys used for birds include: Frayed ropes (could entangle bird feet and beaks); wire (might impale the bird); "jingle-bell" type bells (the bird's feet might get stuck in the small cracks).
Bird enrichmentDon't use the same toys over and over again. Change it up a bit! Birds can get bored with the same toys, day in and day out. Just like us, they enjoy variety and new things. By buying new toys, you increase their enjoyment and reduce the chances of feather plucking and other boredom-stimulated behaviors.
- Aim to have differently shaped and textured perches for the bird's feet. Include some wooden perches, and some natural tree branches for variety. This helps "file" the bird's beak and nails, so there is less work for you. Just be sure to scrub natural wood thoroughly before use, and do not use any cleaning products because many of these contain ingredients can be toxic to birds.
- Place food and enrichment items in multiple places around the cage on a daily basis.
- This will fulfill the bird's need to move about in search of food. You can also weave food into the bars of the cage, hide food inside a toy or an enrichment device and hang food from the top or sides of the cage. All of these will help to satisfy the bird's foraging instinct and is a form of mental stimulation.
Get the bird used to being handled.
Regularly hold and pet the bird. The more often this is done, the more excited the bird will be to see you and will likely greet you with whistles, chirps and bird talk. It also makes it easier to get your bird for health checks and for it to be reassured by your presence.Ensure that the bird gets daily exercise.Daily exercise is recommended for all birds that are tame and can be handled safely. If you have a finch or other bird that is not meant to be handled, this is not an issue. But if you have a bird that you wish to handle, is living in a small cage, or just needs more exercise, be sure to include exercise for the bird on a regular basis. Just remember not to do this in a dangerous room, such as the kitchen, where a hot pot could be on.
Give the bird lots of attention.If your bird gets lots of attention, he or she will be happier as a whole and may even prove more loving and caring as a pet than without the attention. In some cases, a good level of attention can reduce shyness in some species of birds, as familiarity breeds reassurance.
- Birds don't enjoy being cooped up all day. If you can release the bird from its cage regularly, it will be all the happier for this. This is an absolute must if you want to have a healthy relationship with your bird; birds can suffer a lot being trapped in cages all of the time, considering birds normally fly great distances in their natural environment.
- Talk to your bird as it rides around the house with you. This is especially important during the first couple of years together. Birds are fast learners and will surprise you with their range of sound effects. For example, some birds will perfectly mimic the sound of water going down the drain while you wash the dishes, perhaps even mimicking the sound of you rubbing a cleaning rag over the stove, table and counter tops. Some birds can imitate the sound of appliances, such as an electric mixer, when it sees you take it out to make cakes or a smoothie.
- Play music together. For example, your bird might learn to sing sweetly when you play the piano or other instrument. What a genius your bird is!
Bird hygiene and healthKeep the cage properly and regularly cleaned.A clean cage reduces the changes for bacterial, fungal or viral infections from occurring in your bird. Regular removal of bird droppings is very important for maintaining good bird health. Moreover, a bird living in a clean environment tends to be a more active and happy bird than one living in filth. If this is something you're not prepared to deal with on a daily basis, then a bird is not the right pet for you.
- Change the bedding regularly.
- Remove droppings from perches/toys.
- Remove uneaten food that has been sitting around on the base of the cage.
- If your bird is molting (this is common with parrots, for example), there will be a need to vacuum up the molted feathers daily; this tends to occur when there is a warmer spell, or when the temperature goes over 10ºF.
- Only clean with basic, non-toxic cleaning supplies. Birds are easily poisoned, so find out if a product is safe for birds before using it.
Find out whether your bird's wing feathers need regular trimming.
In some birds, such as parrots, this is essential to prevent serious or fatal flight accidents in the indoor or caged environment. Talk to your veterinarian about this requirement for your bird and find someone qualified to do it, should it need doing. Trimming is aimed at restricting, not preventing flight, and only the primary flight feathers are the subject of a trimming, so the trimmer must know what to do.]
Know the signs of a bird that is either too hot or too cold.Most birds exhibit similar symptoms for being overheated or too cold and you must attend to fixing either situation as quickly as possible, or there is a risk of the bird dying. The things to watch for include:
- Toenails may also need trimming, especially on larger adult birds. Usually toenails are not trimmed on baby or small birds, as they need them to stay on the perches, but adult parrots, for example, should be trimmed. Ask your veterinarian to explain how to do this safely, as if you don't know, you can damage the bird and cause bleeding.
Find a vet who is qualified to work with birds.Get your bird checked upon purchase and then regularly afterwards (at least once a year, or as advised by your veterinarian). Should the bird fall ill, this vet will be your first port of call for the best of care.
- An overheated bird: The feet will feel hot to touch, the bird may be panting (a rapid breathing rate), fluttering from the throat, red nares (nasal openings) and hot breath. All of these signs signal an emergency situation and you must contact the vet immediately.
- A freezing bird: The bird will hunch in, using its feathers to covers its feet and it will fluff out its feathers. Check for drafts, move the bird away from a cold room or area, and place the bird in a warmer spot. Windows can be a source of cold air during the winter months.
- Do not wait when a bird gets sick. Birds can get even sicker very quickly; the sooner that the vet can see the bird, the better.
Put effort into training your bird.In this way, you can teach it to come out of its cage and be sensible. This will give it much more freedom to enjoy flying around than remaining cooped up inside of its cage all day long. Training is a form of interaction and it plays a vital role in curbing abnormal behaviors.
- Without training, birds can end up biting, screaming, feather plucking and forming phobias. Hence, this is a very important part of keeping the bird happy and well-adjusted.
- If the bird is very well trained, then you might even be able to take it into your backyard or someplace else which is outdoors, to give the bird a breath of fresh air, and so that it can get to know the place better. You'll need to be absolutely certain it is willing to return to you though.
- Never train a bird to perch on your shoulder. This gives it easy access to pecking your eyes and face. Given the bird is at your height, it will be much harder to control.
When training the bird outside of its housing, check the safety of the room.
- Most birds need outside-of-cage time. This time must always be supervised and the space must always be safe.
If training a bird to talk, be sure it is a bird that will talk before trying.
Even then, birds have different personalities, so don't expect it to talk or get used to you quickly. It will learn in its own time. Be ready for a sometimes moody and sometimes fun bird; the bird doesn't see its mood changes as abnormal, but it helps for you to accept that just as with humans, the bird's level of interest in being responsive and interactive varies over time.
If you plan on getting two birds, separate them at first and hand-train alone.
After you've fully trained them both, allow them to interact.
Caring for wild birds
Encourage birds to your garden. Find ways to attract birds to the garden, including:
- Growing the appropriate food or shelter shrubs and trees in your garden. Ensure there is plenty of shrubbery in your garden. Birds find insects on plants along with shelter and nesting locations. But don't plant too much - some plain grassland can help birds find worms and provides a bit of refreshing open space.
- Keeping a water pond outside your house or on your balcony for birds to drink water from. Keep a small pot or bowl of water out on the windowsill or porch ledges. These water sources will ensure that the birds have easy access to water.
- Providing a source of food, such as birdseed containers or hangers. Use seed varieties suited to the local birds.
- Placing a hummingbird nectar feeder out to attract hummingbirds.
- Laying out different foods, as different birds warm to different things. Find out which local birds frequent your area and focus on putting out the foods they are known to prefer.
- Keeping your pets away from all the areas that the birds frequent.
- Put out nest boxes when it's nesting season, in appropriate and safe places.
- If you find a bird's nest, make sure it is secure, especially if a wind/rainstorm is approaching. If the weather is bad or is going to be bad, it might be a good idea to take the nest down carefully and put in a small box and place it back securely in the same spot it was made. In rough weather, birds' nests can easily fall; if this does happen, it will often kill all the babies.
If you find birds (especially baby birds) out of the nest, it can be helpful to know what to do. This will depend on the bird's age and health:
- If you find a baby bird, put it back in the nest if your children removed it.
- If the baby bird has feathers all over its body, except under its wing, put it near some bushes or other covered area, close to where you found it. Be careful not to put it close to a red ant hill or your neighbor's cat.
- If the bird is has few or no feathers, try to find the nest to put it back.
- If you cannot find a nest, call your local wildlife rescue. Many birds are protected species and you require a license to care for them. For example all but three species in Texas are protected. They may instruct you to feed it wet dog food for a day or two until they can pick it up. Beyond that, pet food stores have formulas for baby birds.
- Many birds put food in the infant's mouth; pigeons are an exception, in that the infants take food out of the parent's mouth. If a baby pigeon is being difficult to feed, find a syringe large enough for the baby to put its beak in after you cut off the front of it. Look online for a home made formula for pigeons; their dietary needs are slightly different.
- A bird that falls off its perch may have a condition called rickets, due a lack in dietary needs. The wildlife group, internet or a bird breeder may have suggestions.
If you have found a wild bird that is either an injured bird, or a lost young bird, you can help.
If the bird appears to be alive, bring the bird to your house, and place the bird in a container (such as a shoebox, or something similar). Keep the lid off, as you don't want to suffocate the bird. Don't worry about the bird flying away; it is probably in shock and won't move for a while. As a precaution, if the bird does move, close the windows and doors in the room that the bird is in. Call the local animal shelter or humane society, as they probably know how to take care of birds. If you can, take the bird to the shelter/humane society, and they will deal with the rest. If they cannot take care of the bird, keep it around for a few hours and see if it starts responding to you and flying around. If that happens, it has probably recovered and you should let it out into the wild again. The following articles may be of some assistance:
- Make baby bird rescue food
- Care for an injured wild bird that cannot fly
- Care for a baby bird fallen out of a nest
- Care for a bird that has hit a window
- Rescue a songbird, hawk or owl.
- If the bird dies in the hours that you keep it, tough luck; you can't really do much. Take the dead bird outside and leave it somewhere secluded. Don't bury it unless you are sure that it is legal to do so where you live.
You might like to consider covering your bird's cage at night, to make the bird feel safe, secure and warm. However, not all birds like being covered, and it actually can frighten some birds. Thus, gauge the utility of covering the cage from how your bird responds.
- Know where your bird comes from in order to determine how much sleep it needs. For example, birds from the Tropics need around 10 to 12 hours of sleep a night, to replicate the higher level of darkness all year round in this area.
- Continue to learn new ways to care for your bird; responsible pet owners never stop learning new ways to care for their pets and keep up-to-date with the latest knowledge on good bird care.It is helpful to get it a partner, so that the bird has constant company.
- However, always be considerate of the temperament of both birds, along with knowing the potential for compatibility before introducing the two. If you are not sure how to introduce the birds, ask a bird expert or your veterinarian for advice.
- Keeping grains handy indoors, such as wheat, can help you find a quick feed for the outdoor birds
- Provide any caged bird with proper nesting and appropriate cage space.
- Hanging mirrors and bells make great bird toys. Be sure that the bell does not have small gaps in it though, as this can become caught up in the bird's feet.
- Most people do not know that baby birds are kicked out of the nest by the parents and hop on the ground for about three days, learning to catch bugs. It is a myth that if you touch a baby bird, the parents will reject it. That is not the norm.
- It's recommended that you purchase a good quality book on bird health and diseases, such as the Merck/Merial Manual for Pet Health. This will allow you to read through the ailments that can afflict a bird and what to do either to prevent it from happening or how to respond if you do spot a problem.
- Avoid throwing chewing gum anywhere near the bird or outdoors. Both wild and tame birds think that chewing gum is some kind of food particle and tend to swallow it, only to be choked by it and die.
- Make sure to pay attention to your bird. If you don't intend on loving the bird and caring for it like it's your child and just see it as a pet, a bird is not for you.
- Never allow other pets around the bird. Even if they look like they won't do anything, pets are always curious and may suddenly jump.
- Take note that it is illegal to keep wild birds in the USA (and other countries will have similar laws), so you cannot keep the bird as a "pet". If the bird has still not recovered, keep looking for shelters, humane societies, and bird breeders in the area. They will most likely know how to care for the bird.
- Birds can nip and bite and in some cases, sexual maturity can cause a bird to become aggressive and challenging. Make use of towels to handle difficult birds, to prevent you from being bitten and distract a biting bird as much as possible. If the bird attempts to bite, cease interaction in relation to the activity to led to the biting and interact in a different way. Do not reward biting. If you are having severe problems with a bird behaving aggressively, talk to your veterinarian.
- Birds can be loud and bothersome. However, sometimes the bird's loud sounds can mean that something is wrong. For example, a short, loud sound repeated often could indicate that your bird is experiencing discomfort. Always listen to the sounds your bird makes and know its normal sounds, so that you can better determine whether different sounds are signs of something serious.
- Do not encourage birds to alight anywhere in your yard or garden where they might be attacked by your pets.
- Keep cords (electrical, blind, curtain, etc.) away from bird cages. Birds are naturally curious and use their beaks to explore and will chew on anything they can reach. Electrical cords can result in electrocution if chewed, while blind or curtain cords could cause strangulation or amputation.
- Birds will not drink from the same place it bathes in.
- If you really love birds, consider not keeping one as a pet. It's impossible to create a natural environment for them in a house, because even if a bird has never flown it will still have the instinct to fly. Birds are sociable creatures who get lonely and bored very easily; a cage is not ideal. If you enjoy watching birds, taking up a hobby such as birdwatching or visiting a bird sanctuary means you can see birds living happily in their natural habitat.