Birds can typically be categorized into two groups; ground foragers (typically small birds i.e., cockatiels, lovebirds, and budgies) and canopy feeders (larger parrots). The ground foragers tend to eat mainly grains and greens, whereas the canopy feeders eat fruit in addition to grains and greens. Birds should be fed moist food twice daily. Moist food can spoil rapidly and should not be left in the cage for extended periods of time, especially in hot weather. Breakfast (between 7-10am) and dinner (between 3-6pm); the earlier the better. Every cage should have three bowls in it. One bowl should contain bottled water. Apple cider vinegar is a natural antibacterial; it helps to keep the water acidic, making it difficult for bacteria to grow. Another bowl should hold the moist food, and the third bowl filled with dry food, such as high-quality pellets. Sugarless, colorless cereal or seed may be given on a limited basis. A seed-based diet is not a healthy diet and can lead to problems such as liver disorders, fatty tumors, and behavioral problems. Birds also need vitamins and minerals in their diet. For small birds, a cuttle bone together with a mineral block provide for all their mineral requirements. Large birds should have a vitamin supplement added to their favorite food, possibly hidden in peanut butter or scrambled eggs. See our nutrition handout for food specifics.
Most birds are quite comfortable when kept at 60-90 degrees. Keep your birds away from drafts. You can cover the cage at night, leaving some open area for ventilation at. You can also check to see if the bird is warm or cold by feeling his feet or beak.
Birds should have direct exposure to sunlight at a minimum of 10 hours per week; preferably longer. This cannot be obtained through a window or a screen, as they filter out important UV rays. If it is not possible to take your bird outside for this amount of time, you should obtain a full spectrum light to be kept close to the bird’s cage during the day. Sunshine is important for proper plumage and for processing vitamin D. Any time your bird is outdoors, it should have access to shade at all times, which can be provided by partially covering the cage. If your bird is outside, it should be safely contained in a cage and continually supervised. Predators can easily reach inside a cage, and bye-bye birdie!
Depending on your bird’s habits, the cage should be disinfected at least monthly, and papers changed daily. A product like PetFocus is a safe disinfectant and may be used on the cage, bird bowls, and as a hand wash. By changing papers on a daily, you can inspect droppings and observe what your bird is consuming. Commercially prepared-bedding such as ground walnut shells or corn cob are unsafe for parrots because they are dusty and may cause fungal and respiratory problems.
You should spend a minimum of two hours of quality time with your bird daily. This can easily be accomplished while watching TV at night. Be sure the program is one which is appropriate for young children. Parrots become fearful very easily when exposed to loud noises or violence. They can also learn to repeat undesirable words!
Birds do bite! Your bird may be acting out of aggression or fear and there may be different remedies for each individual situation. If you are having problems, you should seek professional advice. We offer consulting services for behavior management at the Santa Barbara Bird Sanctuary.
Never hit, throw, shout at, or in any way abuse your bird. Birds have very a very long memory and may become resentful, which worsens the unwanted behavior.
Birds should be groomed every 8 weeks. At this time, both the wings and nails should be checked and clipped if necessary. A bird would not usually need her beak trimmed unless abnormal growth has occurred. Such overgrowth may result from a mineral deficiency, misalignment or injury. Make sure you take your bird to someone who knows what he or she is doing, because after a bad clip it can take years for the feathers to grow out. When a bird molts a feather, it grows back rapidly. Keep an eye out for feathers previously cut which have been shed; a new one will take its place within four weeks.
Birds should have an annual physical by a veterinarian certified in avian medicine. Your money is better spent with such a specialist than with a provider who has a general practice. Birds have very specific health concerns that the average veterinarian is unprepared to address.
Overheated Teflon, self-cleaning ovens, household cleaners, perfumes and scented candles can easily kill a bird. Many plants and human foods can also be toxic, as well as certain fruits and vegetables. Consult our handout for further details.