By T.J. Lafeber, D.V.M.
Birds make excellent pets and thrive well in homes. Their future, though, depends upon getting a good start. The first week can be critical both for their physical health and mental well-being. An improper environment can turn a beautiful, healthy bird into a bird dying from stress and complications in a few days. Because many differences between birds and other animals exist, special instructions are needed to prevent serious problems. The guiding rules to be followed the first week are: keep stress to a minimum and have the owner's approach and attitude be cautious, gentle and loving. The bird will repay his owner for many years as a valuable pet.
Certain Things Happen
Bringing a bird into a home or moving to a strange area initiate a series of stresses - both mental and physical.
Although physically birds are hardy animals and can withstand natural tensions imposed by the outside elements, initially, unnatural forces found in the artificial environment of homes can wear heavily upon their resistance. A lowered resistance allows bacteria and viruses to cross the body's defense barriers and cause disease. In order to prevent problems, precautions need to be taken with food, water, room temperature, drafts, artificial lighting, sanitation, caging and cage location.
Mental problems and their effects on birds are much more important than ever realized. The underlying cause of feather picking, hostility, unhealthiness, fear, poor eating, and even death, often is emotional tension. Therefore, emphasis needs to be placed on the cause of mental stress and the means to prevent it. As strange as it may seem, the manner in which the bird is housed and the attitude of the people associated with the bird are the prime offenders.
People -The Greatest Blessing or the Biggest Problem
The virtues a bird seeks in his owner are inner qualities that communicate themselves through media other than sight. Looking handsome, dressing in the latest fashions, or being popular, might be impressive to your friends, but a bird needs an owner with personality attributes expressed through such characteristics as a gentle voice, persistent interest, small kindnesses, patience and loving care.
Because a bird spends his entire life avoiding predators, his natural instinct instructs him to be constantly on guard against anything that might appear hostile. Much of his life in captivity can be filled with fear unless provided with security and friendship. A new owner must prove to the bird that he is a friend.
Animals that have to survive in the wild all have excellent memories for bad things that happen to them. Not only does an elephant never forget, neither does your bird. If a bird is ever teased, hit or injured, either purposely or accidentally, he will never forget that incident.
Physical punishment will only serve to make an animal afraid and destroys the friendship bond that both the pet and owner want to establish.
Bird's Personality As a Factor
Pet birds are social animals, which means they live in a community, associate with each other, and need companionship. Fortunately, if their owner proves himself to be a friend, they can be converted to accepting people for socialization and interrelate with them. This fact permits them to become a companion animal and allows them to enjoy human beings. In fact, they have the potential of becoming very devoted to their owner.
Some birds adjust to a home and people readily, while for others it takes weeks and months. Because a bird at first acts nervous and excitable doesn't mean he won't make an excellent pet. Emotions swing in both directions, so that the bird which is the most fearful can become the most affectionate. Other factors enter into consideration - age, personality, health, environment, background and the owner's ability to relate to his pet.
Most importantly, don't add to the bird's nervousness. Provide the relaxed atmosphere that will allow him to be a bird that wants Your friendship.
Never approach a strange bird carelessly. A rapid approach, quick hand or arm movements, a loud voice or even noisy laughter , may frighten a bird and cause him to fly violently against the side of the cage - inflicting Wounds, breaking feathers, or fracturing wing or leg bones.
Other birds, especially the parrot family, may react aggressively. Offering a hand, finger or arm as a perch to a strange parrot Could be dangerous. Parrots have powerful jaws and can inflict a painful and possibly serious wound.
Survival demands that birds he concerned with avoiding their enemies, searching for sufficient food, locating livable weather conditions and finding areas to reproduce and raise their young. All these are supplied by a life in captivity through proper caging and a friendly environment.
A bird's cage should fill these requirements:
A living area large enough for the bird to extend his wings without touching the sides; perches arranged so his tail will not hit the back of the cage; and sufficient room to jump from one perch to another or to exercise by climbing.
Seed and water cups located where they will not become contaminated with droppings.
Feeding dishes that are easily removed and replaced for easy cleaning and refilling.
A tray which is removed without difficulty for daily changing of the cage papers.
An area convenient for a bird bath or for spraying or misting the bird.
Room for placement of toys or other objects which the bird could use for exercise and entertainment.
An area in the cage where the bird can go for privacy an seclusion when he desires.
A cage without such dangers as projecting wires, sharp corners, or areas where a foot or wing could become caught.
The cage door needs an adequate latch, lock or spring to prevent the bird's escape. Don't underestimate the ability of a small bird to open a cage door.
For the bird's safety, the cage needs to be built sturdily and hung or placed securely to prevent accidents which would injure the bird.
Continuously on the alert for dangers, a bird uses his keen eyesight to observe anything that might appear suspicious or unnatural. At the first hint of trouble - any unexpected motion, surprising noises, doubtful shades or hues of color, or evidence of enemies - the bird will respond with immediate flight.
Ordinary household furnishings can have the same fear stimulating effect as natural enemies. Caging prevents the bird from carrying Out his normal role in flying away from harm and forces him to wait in anxiety and fear. Built up tensions affect the bird, and thus, detrimentally influence the relationship between the bird and his owner. Distress also has the potential to affect health.
To help prevent these problems, the cage should be covered with only one side exposed. The cover serves to protect him from the surroundings, and as the bird conditions himself, the cover is gradually removed.
Darkening the cage with a cover for 10-12 hours daily provides an adequate method of compelling the bird to obtain sufficient sleep the first week. Plenty of rest helps the adjustment process and serves to protect the bird's physical health. The cover needs to be dense or thick enough to provide darkness.
Place the cage three to five feet above the floor, in an area of moderate activity during the day, and in a quiet area for his 10-12 hours of sleep at night.
Keep the cage Out of drafts.
Areas where there may be noises louder than the level of normal conversation Should be avoided.
To a new bird, fluctuation in temperature of more than 10' may be harmful. Extremes in temperature - either hot or cold - are life threatening.
Feeding -A Common Source of Problem
Changes in the feeding program which seem of no consequence, such as seeds that might have a slightly different color or texture, a feeding cup with an unusual color or shape, or a feeding dish in a location which the bird distrusts, might keep the bird from approaching his food. Proportional to their size, birds require a large volume of food. Not eating for 24 hours can be serious; inappetence for longer periods can spell death. Therefore, one of the new owner's chief concerns is that the bird eat plentifully.
Continue the same seed mixture to which he is accustomed, and observe closely that he goes to his food dish and eats heartily. Hulls left from seeds collect in the dish and must be removed. Birds will not dig through the empty hulls to find the whole seed beneath. The seed dish should he emptied and filled with new seed daily the first week. Later, interval feedings will be the method of choice to prevent the ''picky eater phenomena'' and to encourage the bird to eat a variety of foods.
The most essential food in a bird's life is water. Being so important, a person can easily understand the need to keep clean fresh water in his drinking Cup always.
Minerals (A Source of Calcium and Other Elements)
Grit and Gravel (Fine Stony Particles -Commonly Sand; or for Larger Birds-Small Pebbles)
Since there are varying opinions on the necessity of grit in a pet bird's diet and other questions on the best method of feeding it, check with your avian veterinarian.
A baggy clown suit might hide a person's weight, but not any more effectively than the feathers on a bird. For this reason, serious weight changes cannot be detected on birds by visual observation. Frequent weight checks are advisable, especially on a new pet.
Exercise and Free Flying
In only exceptional cases should birds be allowed out of their cage during the first week of ownership.
Birds adjust well to limited activity and need only to go from one perch to another or climb about the cage.
No baths or showers the first week.
Covering the Bottom of the Cage
Paper, whether newspaper, brown paper, paper towels, or other types, not only serves as a readily available disposable cover for the bottom of the cage, but also has the advantage of allowing the droppings to be easily viewed. snip, snip
Hardly an appealing chore, a bird's droppings should be checked daily both for their appearance and volume. There is no better guide to a bird's general health. As the cage papers are changed daily, the droppings are counted and evaluated. The process takes only a minute.
A scarcity of droppings or an increase in the amount of white (urine) in the droppings and a decrease in the volume of green (bowel movement), means the bird is gradually starving and needs attention. Contact the seller and/or your veterinarian quickly.
Loss of appetite
Sneezing, coughing, wheezing
Heavy or fast breathing
Weeding of any type
Excessive sleeping or keeping eyes closed
Diarrhea or vomiting
Any of these signs of sickness require rapid attention.
Drafts, rapid changes in temperature, extremes of hot or cold. Poisons such as insecticides, sprays, paint fumes, smoke.
Guarantee and Veterinary Examination
An astute bird owner understands the importance of starting with a healthy bird and also realizes that when purchasing a new bird, a complete physical examination is needed to discover obscure problems. Further, in order to protect this investment, the examination must be performed within 48 hours after purchase. As with any type of livestock - dogs, cats, horses, etc. - the purchase agreement implies that the animal was in normal health at the time of sale. If the bird does not pass as healthy, the sale is negated. At times. the excellence of a bird will cause the owner to overlook a minor problem and rather than return the bird, accept the responsibility of the problem himself.
As with any living animal, anxiety, fear, in appetence, lack of sleep, chilling and other forms of stress can make a bird susceptible to opportunist bacteria or viruses waiting to invade body tissues. In a short time, these disease producing organisms can cause diarrhea, respiratory infections and a variety of other problems. A bird or other animal could change from perfect health to being acutely ill in three days. Therefore, in fairness to the seller, a guarantee on animal health can only be made for a short time.
If a bird is perfectly healthy at the time of purchase and the precautions suggested in this text and later as mentioned in "Let's Celebrate Pet Birds" are taken, the likelihood of any problem is minimal. Birds are hardy animals,
When seeking a doctor, telephone to determine his experience in treating birds. While all veterinarians are trained in the basic skills of examination and treatment, some have a special interest in pet birds.
THESE INSTRUCTIONS ARE FOR THE FIRST SEVEN DAYS ONLY OR UNTIL THE BIRD HAS ADJUSTED TO HIS NEW HOME. After this period of transition, you will need to know the answers to the following questions:
Which human foods are wholesome for pet birds?
Why feed a bird at mealtime?
How are nutritional deficiencies best prevented?
What are the special precautions to be taken during a bird's molt?
When a bird becomes sick, what emergency treatment should I use?
Is there anything special to do to help make the cage a good place for the bird to live?
About how much does a bird's beak grow in a month? When does it need to be trimmed?
Are there early signs of sickness that can be detected in birds?
How long can a pet bird live?
Why are birds the most underrated pet?
Molting is a time when a bird is particularly susceptible to infection. What precautions should you take to prevent problems?
The answers to these questions and hundreds more are found in Dr. T. J. Lafeber's book "LET'S CELEBRATE PET BIRDS!" available on-line and at pet shops.
The excellent health of birds depends a great deal upon the directions given when the bird goes into a new home. Without complete instructions, the owner may fail to give sufficient care or even accidentally harm his new pet. If the new owner uses adequate care, the bird benefits, the owner benefits, and the seller benefits.
When the bird does well, everyone is pleased.
T.J. Lafeber D.V.M.