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How to care for your pet bird

As avian veterinarians we provide primary and emergency care for your pet bird including:

  • Primary care appointments
  • Annual exams with nutrition and husbandry consultation
  • Beak, wing, and nail trims
  • DNA sexing

To make an appointment, please call our Main Hospital Phone: 352-392-2235.  We are available for emergencies 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, please call: 352-392-2235.

Below are our general recommendations for basic care of your pet parrot.

Nutrition

An ideal diet for your parrot should be made up of 75-80% high quality bird pellets and 15-20% fruits and vegetables. Seeds and nuts should be strictly limited if not completely eliminated from your bird’s diet altogether. Although in the past seeds were thought to be suitable diets for birds, the nutritional needs of captive birds are different. A diet high in seeds can lead to obesity, strokes, high cholesterol, heart problems (including heart attack), and fatty liver disease in parrots. A variety of fruits and vegetables is ideal, including

  • Collard greens
  • Dandelion greens
  • Zucchini
  • Sweet potato
  • Peppers (bell, cayenne, jalapeno, banana, or cherry)
  • Cauliflower
  • Chard
  • Green beans
  • Bean sprouts
  • squash
  • cooked mint, parsley, and coriander leaves

Fruits can include

  • Pineapple
  • Grapes
  • Papaya
  • Mango
  • Persimmons
  • Oranges
  • Grapefruit
  • Tangerines
  • Apples
  • Star fruit
  • Passion fruit
  • Plums
  • Strawberries
  • Raspberries
 

Avocados may be toxic, so they should not be fed to your pet bird. Remove the seeds of all fruit before you offer them to your bird.

Making the transition from seed to pellets

Most birds are less than enthusiastic about switching from seeds to a pellet or formulated diet, especially if all they have known is a whole seed diet. With patience and persistence, however, nearly all birds will accept a well-balanced diet. The transition may need to take place over months to a year or more. Although this sounds like a long time, it should be remembered these birds can often live for many decades on a healthy diet.  Never try to starve your bird into eating pellets – this could be lead to the death of your bird. We recommend you use a gram scale to monitor your bird’s weight to help ensure that the diet transition is safely accomplished. Your bird should not lose more than 1-2% of its body weight per week.

The first step in transitioning to a new diet is measuring how much your bird currently eats. Using your gram scale, weigh how much your bird eats in a whole day (amount given minus the amount left at the end of 24 hours). Do this for 7 days, then add up all of those weights. Divide by 7 to get the average daily intake for your bird. The average daily intake determines the total amount of seeds and pellets (combined) to feed each day. During the switch you will gradually reduce the amount of seed fed, and make up the average daily intake by adding pellets.

Next, you need to schedule the transition. Ideally, your bird will readily accept the new pellets, and you could make the switch quickly using a schedule such as this one:

  • Week one: feed 75% of the calculated daily intake in seeds, and substitute pellets for the other 25%
  • Week two: feed 50% of the daily intake as seeds and 50% as pellets
  • Week three: feed 25% of the daily intake as seeds and 75% as pellets.
  • Week four: reduce the seed component even more for larger parrots.

For many birds, however, the switch may need to be much more gradual. For the average bird not used to eating pellets, you may need to try the following transition diet:

Offer a dish with pellets first thing in the morning. A couple of hours later, try to offer the old diet with about 10% of the pelleted diet mixed in. Try to mix the pellets with the seed so your bird has to work around the pellets to get to the seed. You may want to grind some of the pellets and sprinkle them over the seed so the bird can get accustomed to the taste of the formulated diet. Once you are sure your bird has at least tried the pellets, start to decrease the seed and increase the pellets in small increments until you get to the desired amount of seeds fed. If your bird is still reluctant to try the pellets, you can offer the seed mix for only an hour or two a couple of times a day, with a dish of the pellets available all the time. Be patient – for really stubborn birds, the gradual shift may take months to a year or longer. If your bird is on the stubborn side, keep a close eye on its weight with the gram scale.

Making the switch may be difficult, discouraging, and time consuming. There may be some wasted pellets until your bird learns to accept them. Remember, your effort is really worth it and you will be rewarded with a healthy bird on a well-balanced and nutritious diet.

Housing

The ideal location for your bird’s cage is in a corner or against a wall in the room that you and your family spend most of their time in. This enables your pet bird to be part of the family even when they’re inside their cage. The reason you want to put the cage against the wall or in a corner is because it enables your bird to feel more safe and protected. Now they only have to keep guard on two or three sides rather than all the way around. You bird still has wild instincts and the instinct to protect themselves from predators is still deeply ingrained. If you place your pet bird on a counter top or table where they’re exposed, they can become stressed and start exhibiting poor behaviors. Consider having a separate sleeping cage or get a cage with casters so you can move it at night if you plan on being in the bird’s room late at night so you do not interrupt their sleeping pattern.  Birds also feel safer when they are above you or have the ability to retreat to a high perch.

Cages

There are several specifications to keep your bird healthy and happy. The bigger the cage, the happier your bird will be. A rough guide for minimal cage width is one that allows the bird to fully stretch its wings and flap. Your bird should also be able to stand and stretch comfortably without touching the cage top. For flighted birds a rectangular cage with perches at each end are ideal. Most birds prefer to fly horizontally rather than vertically.  A stainless steel cage is best. A tall cage will allow treetop dwelling birds to climb up high. A door that opens down or to the side is the safest type of door, as a guillotine door can be extremely dangerous and may accidentally trap your bird and injure or kill it. A cage on casters makes it easy to move. Make certain the bars are close enough together so your bird cannot escape or get caught between its bars. Lastly, it is important to make sure the cage has a wire grated bottom and a pull out tray below it for easy cleanup.

Newspaper is ideal for lining bird cages. Butcher paper and paper grocery bags also work well. Avoid materials like wood chips and corn cob. These can be messy, birds may ingest them, and if not kept scrupulously clean, fungus may grow on these substrates, increasing the risk of Aspergillosis infection.

Perches

Offer an assortment of perches with different diameters, shapes, and textures. Natural wood perches from trees such as dogwood, fruit trees, or willow trees are ideal. Never offer perches made from concrete or other abrasive materials as the only perch or the highest perch. Do not offer sandpaper perches at all as they are too abrasive for your bird’s feet. Bird nails do not need an abrasive surface to wear them down; they should naturally ex-sheathe to a normal length like cat claws. Overgrown nails reflect either poor nutrition, too small perches for the size of you bird, or systemic disease.  Rope perches are gentle on the feet, but check them frequently and remove the rope when it becomes soiled or frayed. Unraveled rope strands can entangle your pet bird’s toes. Also monitor your bird to make sure it does not eat bits of rope. For large parrots untreated pine 2x4s from a hardware store can be used; your birds will enjoy chewing the wood and they are inexpensively replaced.

Bowls and Dishes

Food and water bowls are essential for your bird’s cage. Dishes should be placed high up to minimize the risk of contamination from droppings. They should be kept full at all times, many birds cannot or will not drink from poorly filled bowls. Hooded bowls are available for messy birds. An outside mounted water bottle may help conserve interior cage space. If you choose to try a water bottle, birds need to learn to drink from water bottles. Keep an eye on the sipper to make sure your bird has not stuffed it with seeds or other materials. Even a water bottle should have its contents changed daily.

Environment

The ideal temperature range for your bird is between 70 and 80 degrees F. Your pet bird’s cage should be placed away from drafts such as the direct line of an air conditioner or heating vent.

Provide daily access to unfiltered sunlight and/or full-spectrum lighting. Birds need exposure to UVA and UVB rays from direct sunlight or full-spectrum lighting to synthesize vitamin D necessary for bone health. Window glass blocks necessary UV rays. If you can provide an outside enclosure that would be optimal for the bird. They should, however, be monitored outdoors and their cages should be protected to prevent attack by predators. Outdoor cages should be inspected daily for ants and other pests as well.  Your bird should also be able to move away from direct sunlight.

Extended periods of out-of-cage activities are important for keeping your pet bird happy. Providing your bird with a play pen or parrot perch will provide a safe-out-of-cage experience, and prevent them from sitting and chewing on your furniture. A toy box for enrichment is also recommended. Plenty of toys for your bird to chew on are recommended. The toys must be kept clean and be easily disinfected. Toys should be carefully selected, toys that are too small or not strong enough can be a health hazard.

Birds enjoy trees, plants and wildlife as much as people do. Even if they are kept indoors, we can still provide them with living plants and branches with leaves still on them. You will find that your pet will enjoy it, and it will provide a pleasing way to add a natural touch to your home. Make sure to use safe, edible plants and non-toxic wood. More information is available at www.avianweb.com/safefoods and www.avianweb/com/safewoods. If your bird chews the plants up right away, you will want to choose something that is inexpensive to replace on a regular basis.

Baths and Grooming

Your pet should be given opportunities to bathe, as a regular grooming routine will promote feather and skin health. There are different ways to approach grooming. A shallow dish of water can be provided. Alternatively, you may “shower” your bird underneath the faucet or mist it with a clean spray bottle of water.

Exercise and Play

As with humans, exercise is important for your pet bird’s health and well-being. Here are some recommended exercises you can enjoy with your bird:

Chase: You can place your parrot on the bed or on a blanket on the floor and chase them around. Most birds thoroughly enjoy this game; however, excessively aggressive behavior during this time is not acceptable.

Climbing: Promote climbing by having your bird go up and down a staircase in your home if you have one. If not take a rope and attach it to the ceiling from the floor and encourage him to go up and down on command. There are also many products online like ladders and cargo nets that can be used to encourage climbing.

Step-ups: Simply encourage your bird to do multiple step-up exercises from one hand to another (laddering).

Play ball or fetch on a bed or on the floor.

Dancing: Play your bird’s favorite music and encourage dancing with you. This will get the bird excited and jumping around.

Foraging and enrichment: This is a great enrichment exercise and an excellent way to feed veggies and fruit, as these are the items most likely to be viewed as treats. The best way to start teaching how to forage is to place vegetable and fruits in foraging toys or wrapping bowls or vegetables in paper while your bird is watching. A cheap and easy way to begin foraging is to put vegetables and fruit in a small bowl and wrap it with paper. At first, puncture a small whole of top, but soon your bird will figure out that there is food under the paper. You can also hide food items up higher so climbing is necessary to reach them. Exercise and foraging toys are easily available for purchase online.