Congratulations on your feathered family member! Birds provide humans with excellent companionship. Owning a bird can be so rewarding but it is important to take key steps to ensure they live a long, happy, healthy life. Many birds have a lifespan that can extend several decades; a vital factor in owning a bird is having a plan in place to care for them for the duration of their life. Below is a brief overview of some key tips to care for your bird including enclosures and enrichment, diet, and veterinary care. For more extensive information on caring for your bird, please ask your veterinarian or visit the website of The Association of Avian Veterinarians’ website.
Enclosures and Enrichment
The minimum acceptable size as noted by the AAV is one that allows your bird to fully expand its wings; however, since they will be spending extended amounts of time in their enclosure, more is better when it comes to space. Placement of your bird's enclosure is another important factor to consider. Birds require 10-12 hours of sleep, so their enclosures should be kept in an area of your home where it will be quiet and dark at night without artificial light or noise, such as a television. Also, birds are sensitive to particles in the air. The location of your bird's enclosure should be in an area where they may avoid candles, air freshener, perfume, cleaning products, and cooking fumes. An enclosure should also have a few key items within it: At least one perch, food and water, a lining at the bottom to collect droppings and other materials, and enrichment such as toys.
Perches: A perch is a multi-functional asset for your bird's cage. A perch not only provides your bird with a place to stand, but can provide enrichment and exercise when there are multiple perches for your bird to hop between. The perch you select should be appropriate for the size of your bird's feet. Perches can also be fun chew toys for birds! Please ensure that the perches you provide for your bird are created from a non-toxic material that will not become a choking hazard.
Food and Water: While this may seem obvious, all birds require fresh food and water daily. You bird should have a diet that is specific to their breed, more info on this is detailed in the following section. Your bird's water bowls should be cleaned and refreshed with new water daily. It is necessary to deep clean your bird's water bowl regularly to prevent the build-up of bacteria that could lead to health issues for your bird.
Lining: All bird enclosures should be equipped with a grate over a tray at the bottom to collect droppings and dropped food. The tray at the bottom should be lined with a non-toxic material such as newspaper or another disposable liner that can be cleaned daily. Daily cleaning is essential to your bird's health as they should not be living in their own filth and so you can monitor their feces for signs of possible illness.
Enrichment: Like other animals, birds require both physical and mental enrichment. Physical enrichment, or exercise, is vital to the health of your bird. While some birds are trustworthy and can be allowed supervised flying time within your home or an outdoor enclosure, many are not. If your bird is not one that can have flying time, please discuss wing trimming with your veterinarian. Wing trimming is not painful nor harmful to your bird; it will merely limit your birds ability to fly. This will allow you to have your bird outside of its enclosure without fear of them surveying your home from the ceiling. Non-flight exercise can include allowing your bird to have more than one perch to hop between and training your bird to do tricks that involve movement.
Mental enrichment is essential and has several avenues for success. Training your bird can double as a form of mental enrichment as well. Birds are highly intelligent creatures, allowing them to exercise their brains by learning new tricks can be incredible for their well-being. Here at YVH, we encourage all bird owners to use reward-based training methods rather than punishment-based as we have seen a higher success rate as well as happier birds. One of the best and most common forms of mental enrichment is toys! There are a vast variety of toys that are acceptable for birds. Birds enjoy opportunities for both chewing and problem solving. Provide your bird with non-toxic toys they may chew including ropes and branches or foraging toys to challenge their minds. Please use caution to avoid toys that may present a hazard of being ingested or choked on.
Social enrichment is also a necessity for all birds and social enrichment can take many forms as well. Some species of birds do well being housed with others, allowing for socialization. Other birds like their personal space and need to be housed alone, although they can be near others. The AAV recommends allowing your bird time to socialize with you, as they will often adopt you as their ‘flock’. Allowing your bird to spend time with you doing household tasks, being handled a moderate amount, and engaging play time will greatly improve your bird's quality of life. Handling your bird has the added benefit of desensitizing them to human contact and making vet visits less stressful.
Like all living things, birds need a balanced diet specific to their nutritional needs. The most effective way to ensure your bird is eating a balanced diet is to purchase a pellet food that is created to meet their specific nutritional needs. Your veterinarian can guide you on what the best pellet for your specific bird will be. Some commonly recommended pellet diet brands include Roudybush, Harrison, Zupreem, and Lafeber-- please note this is not an inclusive list. Additionally, your bird may benefit from the addition of a measured amount of seeds as recommended by your veterinarian. Treats are great for birds too! You bird can enjoy many healthy fruits and veggies. Foods you should avoid feeding to your bird include items that are high in fat and/or salt, chocolate, caffeine, alcohol, and avocado. Feeding cooked food can be tricky so it is best to avoid unless under the guidance of your veterinarian. Aside from cooked food, a general rule of thumb to follow is that if it is healthy for you, it's likely healthy for your bird too.
Your bird needs specialized veterinary care and we are pleased to be able to cater to our feathered friends! When you first purchase or adopt your bird, it is best to get a check up right away to ensure there are no apparent health issues. At your first appointment, your veterinarian can advise you on what care will be needed for your specific bird. At a minimum, it is recommended all birds receive an annual exam to track their progression over their lives and to screen for any early signs of illness.
Some birds require regular trimming of their nails, beaks, and wings. A trip to the veterinarian every few months for trimming is manageable for most bird owners, and typically is not too expensive. The best way to treat an issue is to prevent it.
When at the veterinarian, your bird will need to be handled. If you are able to do so, it is recommended you work with your bird on being handled so vet visits are less stressful for you both. Practice moving your bird to different perches, teaching them to “step up” and being wrapped in a towel. Working at home with your bird on things that will happen at the veterinarian's office at home will greatly improve their experience and level of cooperation when medical care is needed.
We understand some birds will not cooperate, no matter how much we try to soothe them. If you have a bird that just does not want to be our friend, we are able to offer sedated exams and treatments to help make vet visits less stressful.
Call us or schedule an appointment online for your exotic pet today!