About Birds / Avians

Bird Basics

Pet birds, specifically parrot species, are some of the most interactive and interesting pets available.  After all, when was the last time your dog actually spoke to you in English?  However, getting a bird as a pet can be major undertaking, and these little feathered friends can be quite high maintenance.  The reality of bird ownership, from an avian veterinarian’s perspective, is that 90% of the medical problems that I treat in pet birds are either directly or indirectly related to improper husbandry or diet.  Ninety percent!  This means that making sure your bird stays healthy means first making sure that it is cared for properly.

The first thing that you should always do with any new pet, regardless of species, is some homework.  Learn about this animal and how to care for it before you get it.  Try to resist the impulse buy, and especially the hard sell.  If you are searching for a common species, you should be able to find a quality animal from a reputable breeder when you are ready.  And before (or when) you get your new bird, make sure that you have everything that you need to care for it properly: cage, food, toys, etc.

Now that you have your new bird, schedule a trip to the vet.  Make sure that this bird is healthy before you get too attached to it.  Many vets advertise that they treat birds, but ones that are serious about it will be members of the member Association of Avian Veterinarians (AAV).  A list of members is available at www.aav.org, so you can log on to find an avian veterinarian near you.  Your vet will perform a physical exam and recommend a series of tests to assure that you new bird is healthy.  Even if your bird checks out fine, make sure that you quarantine it from any other birds that you might have in your home for at least 30 days.  Some birds can be carriers for certain diseases that may take weeks or even months to surface.  It is bad enough to lose the new bird to a deadly disease, but it’s much worse to lose all your birds to it.

So now you have your new bird and the vet says that it is healthy.  Hopefully you have bought it an appropriately-sized cage for the species (a.k.a. the largest you can afford), and lots of safe bird toys to provide environmental enrichment.  Now you need a good diet.  A good pelleted diet.  Seed mixes are not appropriate for most parrot species.  Most of these birds come from tropical climates and jungle settings.  There are not a whole lot of sunflowers found in the wilds of Africa, you know.  And offering your bird a mix or blend of anything is pretty much like taking your kid to a buffet and expecting them to eat healthy.  Birds will pick and choose their favorite foods, and ignore the rest (or throw it at you).  It doesn’t matter how well-balanced the diet is in the package.  Your bird is going to unbalance it.  Pellets offer complete nutrition in one nifty package, and even if your bird has a preference for certain shapes or colors, it will still get a complete diet.

The next most important thing that you should do to make sure your bird stays healthy is to provide it with lots of love, social interaction and environmental enrichment.  Studies of parrots in the wild showed that they spent about 50% of their waking hours foraging for food, 25% of their time interacting with their compatriots, and 25% of their time preening.  In captivity, with that big bowl of food freeing up most of their foraging time, they can become quite neurotic without some social interaction.  Birds are very intelligent creatures, and need cuddled and played with to keep them mentally healthy.  A bored or ignored bird will soon develop problem behaviors, such as screaming or feather-plucking, which will detract significantly from their pet quality.  Schedule a few minutes each day to play with your bird and maybe teach it a trick or to.  Remember, a happy bird is a healthy bird.

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