Adopting a bird should not be taken lightly. Even if it’s kept in a cage, your bird will require a lot of care and attention. You should first ask yourself what type of bird you’re interested in, based on its appearance, behaviour, life expectancy and purchase price. There is a lot of information to know in order to keep your bird happy and healthy. Here, you will find the basic information you need to know about feeding and caring for your bird. And above all, don't hesitate to ask your veterinarian for advice!
In this section, you’ll find information on caring for your bird and different aspects you should know, to provide an adequate environment.
Your bird’s diet should consist mainly of bird feed. The advantage of feed, unlike seed mix, is that each piece contains all the nutrients your bird needs, including those less tasty. When the bird is fed a seed mix, it will pick out the most delicious seeds (and unfortunately the fattiest and least nutritious), and leave the ones that provide the most vitamins. Thus, birds only fed seed mix develop a vitamin deficiency resulting in a powder-free beak, dull plumage, increased susceptibility to respiratory infections and liver disease. Like all good things, feed also has a downside: a diet based solely on feed may promote kidney problems. Therefore, a diet consisting of 50% feed, 30% cereals and sprouts, completed by a variety of fruits/vegetables and nuts. High-quality feeds include Lafeber and Harrison, among others. For cereals and legumes, a type of cereal will be mixed with a type of legume. The recipe can be prepared and frozen in individual portions, with a source of protein added upon serving. Here are a few examples:
- Grains: Whole-grain brown rice (cooked for 1 hour); cooked whole-grain pasta, wheat germ, oat bran, hulled barley (soaked overnight then cooked).
- Legumes: Chickpeas, lentils, green peas, split yellow peas (soaked overnight and cooked al dente).
- Vegetables: Peppers, broccoli, carrots, spinach, etc.
- Protein: Low-fat cheese, low-fat yogurt, eggs (cooked thoroughly), meat (well done), tofu, nuts.
You can give your bird a cereal/legume recipe once a day, taking care to leave it available for a maximum of one hour (risk of bacterial/fungal growth). Take the opportunity to offer it at mealtimes in your company. Eating is a social act and an integral part of the interactions that Coco can enjoy, so involve her (see Behaviour)!
The key to success in feeding your bird is diversity. You must vary the food offered to your bird as much as possible from a young age. This will allow you to break the boring routine of his caged days by hiding different fruits and vegetables (see the "Foraging" section) each day, while providing it with a variety of essential nutrients! Nuts should only be offered as treats or hidden in the cage (see "Foraging"). Be careful, some foods are TOXIC to your bird:
- Tea, coffee
- Parsley (possible, unconfirmed)
- Allium family: garlic, onion, chives, shallot, leek (possible, unconfirmed)
- Raw potato
It goes without saying that any particularly salty or fatty food (chips, chips, cold meats, rich cheeses, soft drinks, fruit juices with added sugar) is to be avoided. Tip: Birds generally love citrus fruits!
Your bird must take a bath at least once a week. It can bathe in a sink (with or without running water) or in the shower with you! Ideally, it should be washed in the morning or afternoon. Avoid the end of the day, as it is usually cooler and your bird will have less time to dry before going to sleep for the night. If it is cold (winter), you can dry it loosely in the dryer at the lowest temperature and intensity levels. Get your bird used to being dried with a towel - bundle it up like a baby and dry it by talking softly to it. This will make the towel an enjoyable activity and make it easier for the vet to examine your bird in the towel without frightening it.
Clipping wings should be avoided as much as possible in our birds. Clipping your bird's wings, although not painful, is equivalent to amputating both legs in humans, since it greatly reduces their mobility. Flying is your bird's way of moving around, of getting in contact with you when it loses sight of you, of escaping in case of danger. Depriving it of all this encourages the onset of behavioural disorders such as pecking, incessant vocalizations, biting, etc. On the other hand, there are situations where wing clipping is safe. For example, if you have children at home who come in and out often and you are worried that the bird might escape from the house. Or, if your bird has the unfortunate habit of flying close to the stove and you are concerned for burns, wing clipping may be considered. However, do so only as a last resort. The presence of other animals in the house should not be a factor in your decision; it is possible to get your pets accustomed to one another. A cat can very well live with a bird without constantly trying to catch it!
If you do decide to clip your bird’s wings, have your veterinarian do it – or at least receive specific instructions before proceeding, as some mistakes may prove fatal and should be avoided at all costs. If you cut a growing feather (blood feather), the bird will bleed constantly and you will have to pluck that feather without breaking your bird's bones. Excessive feather clipping can even prevent your bird from gliding and, in case of high falls, it won’t be able to cushion its fall and may fracture a wing or leg. It is therefore advisable to consult your veterinarian, who can clip the wings for you or show you how to do it properly.
Nail trimming should be done approximately every two weeks. It is preferable to file down your bird’s nails rather than cutting them. The bird uses the length of its nails to stabilize itself in its environment and to hold on, to prevent it from falling. You can use a nail file for small birds or a Dremel for larger birds. It is preferable to trim the bird’s nails with 2 people: one person files the nails, the other holds the bird and distracts it.
Beak trimming is not a routine procedure. Normally, the bird uses its beak while eating or foraging. However, certain birth defects can affect our birds and distort their beaks, preventing each part from wearing out on contact with the other. In this situation, it would be necessary to consult a veterinarian to restore the normal shape of the beak. The frequency varies according to each case, you are the best judge of your bird’s needs.
It is essential to weigh your bird at least once a week, using a digital food scale. Your bird's weight is the best indicator of its health. If it loses weight, you must pay attention to its diet and consult your veterinarian as soon as possible for a complete health check. As mentioned earlier, birds are very good at hiding disease and the only detectable variation in your bird at the onset of illness may be weight loss.
Keep a journal for your bird in which you will note its weight each week, its moulting period, any change in its health, and in case of disease, when and how it received treatment. Add a front and side photo of your bird taken every 6 months (sometimes you can see changes just by comparing with photos!)
Finally, don't forget to have a good time with your bird! The more efforts you’ll make to make it happy, more it will make you happy!
In the wild, the parrot mainly engages in three activities: looking for food, socializing with its group and grooming.
Unfortunately, the reality at home is quite different. In most cases, the parrot will live without other companions of its species, making social interactions unfortunately very rare. Therefore, your bird will rely on the other two above-mentioned activities. We have the unfortunate habit of preparing everything for our bird to ensure that everything will be within reach, including its food. We’ll cut fruit into small pieces, remove the banana peel and place it in a bowl, ready to swallow. But these good intentions are not the best way to proceed! How about foraging? There’s no need to look for food, it’s readily available! So all that Buddy will have to do during the day, while you are away (eight hours on average, according to the typical workday) is grooming. As a result, the bird may groom itself excessively, damaging or tearing off its feathers, and PECKING itself! Unfortunately, this is the most common problem encountered by parrots living in captivity – when putting their schedule into perspective, once can easily understand why! Here are a few tricks to prevent this catastrophe.
1. Social Interactions:
- Maximize interaction with your bird; you are its only friend, involve it in your daily life. Bring it out with you at mealtimes, take it in the shower with you (it will use the opportunity to wash itself too!) or take it out running errands (always with a HARNESS!) Watch television with it, you can even swap your action films for home movies on occasion: he'll love it! If your work allows, why not setting up a cage near your desk so it can keep you company during the day?
- Play with your bird: you'd be amazed at what you'll get out of it, and for your bird as well! You can play hide and seek; many birds also like to dance or imitate particular sounds. You can buy Fisher Price toys designed for children under a year old, which are colourful and musical and will keep them busy for a long time while developing their learning skills.
- Introduce it to as many people as possible. The more familiar your bird will be interacting with strangers, the more confident it will be and the less likely you will have difficulty receiving visitors at home. However, make sure that the person is comfortable before introducing your bird to them; they may feel fear from people and be afraid in turn, which is often a dangerous combination.
- Teach it commands: "hop" to climb on your hand, "good night" at bedtime, "eat" at meals, "no" while SPECIFYING what it must not touch – or "no" won’t mean anything! This way, you’ll be able to implement a certain consistency in your mutual exchanges, as well as firmness and rules in your interactions.
- Leave the television or radio on before going to work.
This term refers to the search for food, any activity with the objective of getting something to eat ... just like in nature! Several options exist:
- Hide pieces of fruit/vegetables/nuts in paper balls and tie them up everywhere in the cage, even in hard-to-reach places.
- Offer whole fruit: banana with its peel, quarter watermelon or pumpkin, bunch of grapes. The messier the food, the more fun it is ... for the bird!
- Place a clean cardboard box (e.g., shoe box) in its cage and place scraps of paper in the bottom. Then hide nuts in the box!
- Once your bird has understood the concept, increase the level of difficulty: cover its food bowl with paper and close it up with Scotch tape! Hide snacks in a small cardboard box. Present small, closed boxes of Rice Krispies or Frosted Flakes whole-grain cereal (shake the box in front of your bird so it understands there's something inside).
- Place pieces of food in cardboard tubes, make it work for a surprise!
Your bird's cage must be made of stainless steel and free of galvanized metal, zinc, lead or copper. The ideal size varies according to the bird species; although the size of the bird is used to determine the minimum acceptable cage size, Buddy’s activity level should be the main indicator of its ideal cage size. For example, some birds (conure, parakeet, quaker) require a cage that is at least 60-70 cm wide, even though they are small. As a general rule, the width of the cage should be twice the distance between each wingtip when the wings are spread; its height should be twice the distance between the bird's head and tail.
It is important to vary the size and nature of its perches.
- Flexible cords
- Different types of wood
Make sure to clean and disinfect the branches you will take from the wild before installing them in your bird's cage. Avoid rough cement perches, they cause excessive foot wear and promote pododermatitis (infection of the skin under the paws).
Pay attention to the perch location in the cage; birds spend most of their time high up in the cage, so place their favourite perch higher up! Arrange the perches so that the bird cannot defecate in its feeders. You can put newspaper in the bottom of the cage, this will reduce the cost of your bird's cage and you will be able to view its droppings and detect any abnormalities. Wood shavings, cat litter and corn litter are to be avoided as they prevent a good viewing of the droppings and produce a lot of dust, which can irritate your bird's respiratory tract.
It is essential to diversify the toys in your bird's cage. Imagine being restricted for eight hours a day in a room with three toys and having these same toys for a month! This is exactly your bird’s reality. You should place two or three toys in its cage without taking up all the space, which would prevent it from moving around. Rotate toys in and out every week, the toys from two weeks ago will become as much fun as they were then! In addition, change the toys’ location to keep the boredom at bay!
Several materials are available and appropriate for your bird:
- Rope (avoid longer lengths which could get wrapped around its neck)
- Leather straps
- White paper
- Paper towel roll (avoid toilet paper rolls which can be full of bacteria)
Use your imagination! The most appreciated toys are often the ones that we've created for them and that cost the least! Beware of chains sold in department stores, most of them contain zinc which is toxic for your bird. Just ask them for a chain that does not contain lead, copper or zinc. Here is a list of dangerous objects for your bird:
- “Tiffany”-style lamps
- Certain plants
- Stained glass
- Bread ties (twist type)
- Curtain weights
- Hair dye (stop your bird from grooming your dyed hair!)
Finally, the location of the cage is very important. It should not be near windows, doors or in a breeze. Ideally, the cage should be placed high up and in a way that one side of the cage is against the wall, to limit stress on your bird. The cage should also be placed in a spot where it will be possible to let your bird sleep in the evening (like a child, it should not go to bed late and should get a minimum of 10 hours of sleep per night!), without ANY noise (no television!) and without light (opaque sheet to cover the entire cage).
The ideal temperature for your bird is between 18 and 22 degrees Celcius. Don’t expose your bird to full sunlight and avoid leaving it near windows, even if it’s not cold – your bird is fragile!
Good to Know
Avoid stimulating your bird sexually. Certain gestures that seem innocent may send the wrong message to your bird – such as petting its lower back, its beak or its lower belly. A bird that chooses you as a romantic partner can become very possessive, even dangerous, for those who approach you! Females will also be more stimulated to lay eggs.
If your bird has laid eggs, do not remove them! The bird would simply start laying again and could become exhausted and suffer chronic egg laying.
Your bird starts to screech in the evening, all by itself, for no reason at all? These are probably location calls. At bedtime, each member of a group of birds must signal that it is present and well before going to sleep. It is only letting you know that it wants to sleep and checking that you’re there and you’re fine. Tell your bird good night and put it in its cage with its sheet.
Here are a few signs that you should pay attention to, as they may indicate that your bird is ill:
- Always stands at the bottom of the cage
- Feathers ruffled all the time
- Eyes half-closed after a good night's sleep
- Breathing with its beak open and/or neck stretched out
- Gusseting movements made with its tail with each breath
- Keeping its wings spread continuously
- Kepping its head under the wing continuously
- Bird that no longer sings/speaks suddenly
If your bird shows any of these signs, consult a veterinarian immediately! Birds are very secretive! In the wild, when a member of the group is sick or injured, he hides it from the others because they are likely to abandon ut, since he will slow them down and could attract predators if injured. Birds always hide any sign of illness; when you notice that something is wrong, it means that something has been wrong for a long time and your bird no longer has the strength to hide its illness! Consult immediately!
This document provides a summary of the basic knowledge needed to take care of a bird, but there is still a lot more information you check out. Here are some interesting sites:
- La volière, bird breeder: parrot advice, toys, and food: www.oisellerielavoliere.com (in French)
- Johanne Vaillancourt, bird behaviourist: Information on parrot behaviour, games, understanding your bird, etc.: www.perroquet-perroquets.com (in French)