Image via iStock.com/Lusyaya
By Teresa K. Traverse
Are you’re considering adopting a bird? If you are planning on making a commitment to a new pet bird, it is important to remember that they require the same level of commitment as a dog or cat. Their life expectancy is also a great deal longer than your average pet’s life span (an Amazon parrot can live up to 50 years).
Here a few things that you need to consider or do before committing to adopt a bird into your family.
Make Sure You Have Time to Spend With Your Bird
You can’t just leave a bird in his cage all day. Birds are social creatures that need to spend time with other birds and people.” Barbara Heidenreich, an animal trainer and behavior consultant based out of Austin, Texas, explains, “They are social. So, it’s nice to have them in an environment [in] which you think you’re going to be able to interact with them.”
Find an Avian Veterinarian
If you are planning on adopting a bird into your family, you also need to be ready and willing to provide them with proper veterinary care. Prior to bringing your bird home, you should make sure there is an avian veterinarian near you who you can bring your bird to for wellness visits and preventative care.
Finding a veterinarian who treats birds can be difficult, but the Association of Avian Veterinarians offers a directory of approved veterinarians that you can use for reference.
Heidenreich and Dr. Laurie Hess, DVM, owner of Veterinary Center for Birds & Exotics in Bedford Hills, New York, recommend bringing your bird to an avian veterinarian after you first bring him home.
During this visit, the vet can get a baseline for what’s healthy for your bird and also check for any potential health issues they might have. This may include assessing the bird’s normal weight and blood values. While this initial visit is essential, you will also need to commit to bringing your bird in for annual wellness visits, as well.
Dr. Hess advises heading to the vet once a year with your bird for a checkup. Older birds—based on the average lifespan of the species—should be seen twice a year.
Birds are “good at hiding their signs until they’re sick and can’t hide them anymore,” says Dr. Hess. So, it is very important that you create and establish a relationship with an avian veterinarian so they can detect any changes or developing medical issues.
If your bird becomes ill, Heidenreich says you need to anticipate spending about $200 to $500 per vet visit when you factor in total costs of X-rays and exams.
Signs your bird is sick include sleeping more than usual, eating less than normal or a change in bird droppings.
Make Sure a Bird Is the Right Fit for Your Household
If you’re considering adopting a pet bird, it’s critical that you have a strong immune system, as there’s a very small chance that a bird might make you sick if your immune system is suppressed.
“Birds can carry some diseases without showing any signs,” says Hess. If you’re in a home with a newborn, senior citizen or someone with a compromised immune system, a bird might not be a good pet for you.
Choose an Ideal Bird Cage and Location
When it comes to cage size, go big. Bird cages should be at least as wide as the bird’s wing span. Birds need both horizontal and vertical space. The more space you provide your bird in the cage, the better.
Heidenreich explains that a “cage should be as big as you can possibly manage.” This way, you’ll have room for bird cage accessories, as well as provide your bird with enough room to move around and spread their wings.
You may also need to do some furniture rearranging to make sure that your bird has an ideal location that provides them with the right amount of sunlight and limits potential stressors. Finding the right balance can be tricky, because being near a window can lead to potentially stressful noises and outside distractions.
So, you will need to be prepared to move and adjust your bird’s cage setup to find the perfect spot. Heidenreich says to watch your bird’s body language—if your bird is relaxed and comfortable in his cage, you’ve found the perfect place.
At night, you’ll want to give your bird a quiet environment where he can rest. Heidenreich advises not leaving the television on. The flickering lights from the TV can produce what a parrot might perceive as strobe light effect, which may prohibit sleep. Some birds can have night fright, where they thrash around in the cage. A night light seems to help with this, says Heidenreich.
Bird-Proof Your Home
Both our experts warned us that Teflon-coated nonstick pans, when heated to a high temperature, can emit toxic fumes that can kill your bird. If you’re adopting a bird, you may want to ditch your Teflon pans, altogether. Birds’ respiratory systems are very sensitive, says Heidenreich.
Roasting bags—like the ones you would use to cook a turkey—can contain similar materials to Teflon pans. Hair dryers, toaster ovens, heaters that are coated in oils, or candles with lead wicks can also harm your bird. Heidenreich says she avoids using chemical sprays around birds to stay on the safe side.
Be Prepared to Meet a Bird’s Exercise Requirements
Pet birds also have exercise requirements, which means you will need to make time to socialize and play with your bird. To ensure that your bird is getting enough mental and physical exercise, you need to provide them with exercise both inside and outside his cage.
“It’s about setting up your environment for your bird to move,” says Heidenreich. That means making sure that your home is bird-proof and safe, so that the bird cannot escape, and being sure that you are providing your bird with safe bird toys for him to engage with.
Dr. Hess says you can give your bird room to fly, but it’s vital that you ensure the bird won’t get out or run into other objects. Be sure to carefully monitor your bird. Dr. Hess advises wing trimming (it won’t hurt the bird unless the feathers are new and still have blood in the shafts). “Never trust them for a second unsupervised,” says Dr. Hess, or your bird might fly away for good.
Heidenreich advises placing bird perches or bird toys on opposing sides of the cage to encourage the bird to move from one spot to another. Put treats on a perch so your bird may fly there.
Keep the water bowl far from the food bowl. Purchase items that the bird can climb on. Consider buying swings and moving toys, like the Super Bird Creations flying trapeze bird toy. You can also create playstand setups for your bird outside or on top of the cage.
Understand the Nutritional Requirements for Your New Bird
Heidenreich recommends using pellets to feed a bird and supplementing with fruits, vegetables and cooked grains. One pellet diet you can try is Zupreem Natural with vitamins, minerals and amino acids medium bird food.
Check with your avian veterinarian to find the best bird food option for the species of bird you choose. Avoid giving your bird human junk food. Dr. Hess says that you can give seeds, but only as an occasional treat and not regularly.
When it comes to knowing how much bird food to dish out, Dr. Hess feels that most people overfeed their birds. Not overfeeding a bird is key and not just because you don’t want an overweight bird.
The correct amount to feed depends on the brand of pellets you are feeding and their calorie content, as well as what other foods you offer. If you have questions about how much to feed your bird, consult your avian veterinarian.
“Feed them too much, [and] they go into reproductive mode. We don’t need our parrots to be in breeding mode,” says Heidenreich. Birds who are in breeding mode can be aggressive or loud—behaviors you’ll want to avoid.
It’s also important not to share food with birds, since humans can pass diseases back and forth to their birds.
Be Ready for the Noises That Birds Make
“They can be very loud. Birds normally scream at dawn and dusk,” says Dr. Hess. “You have to think: are my neighbors going to tolerate this?” If you live in an apartment or in a home that’s physically close to your neighbors’ home, a pet bird might not be ideal.
Likewise, birds can be talkative. You have to be prepared to have a pet that will want to “chat” with you and have a lot to say. “Parrots can also learn to talk, sing and whistle. Not every bird will do that, but many can,” says Heidenreich.
Make Sure You Have Time and Money to Invest in Training
“It’s important to train birds to be comfortable,” says Heidenreich. Consider taking a bird training class or working with a trainer who can teach you how to handle your bird. She says the following tasks are important for you and your bird to master and will make a big difference for your bird’s health care.
- Administering oral prescription pet medication or other fluids from a syringe
- Training him to get on a scale
- Wrapping him in a towel
- Getting your bird comfortable enough to be in a travel cage so that you can take him to and from the vet
Heidenreich notes that travel cages—like the MidWest Poquito avian hotel bird cage or the Prevue Pet Products travel bird cage—are good options for vet visits but not ideal options for the bird to live in.
Be Prepared for Daily Cage Cleanings
A bird’s cage needs frequent cleaning, just like a cat litter box. The bottom cage liner (such as newspaper) can become soiled quite quickly, so you will need to replace it often.
Not only does waste build up on the bottom of the cage, but also little messes each bird creates from chewed-up toys, discarded food, or general feather dust and dander. Parrots will naturally rip up their toys—behavior that you want them to do, rather than destroying your furniture or other valuable objects.
Birds are also known for generating dust, so not only does their cage need to be cleaned with soap and water (avoid using aerosol chemicals near the bird), but your parrot will also require grooming. You’ll need to clean up feathers periodically and change the bird’s water dish daily.
Owning a bird is a major responsibility but can be well worth it. “That relationship you can have with such a unique kind of animal is pretty special,” says Heidenreich. “Such a huge personality—so intelligent, [who can look] at you and see something of value in you, as well.”