Birds are intelligent, social creatures with specific needs, likes and dislikes. Contrary to popular belief, they need regular visits to a veterinarian like any other pet, starting when you first bring them home. And just like people, a nutritious diet and exercise are keys to good health.
Here’s how to make sure your bird stays happy, healthy and safe throughout his lifetime.
Get regular checkups
Like any pet, birds need to see the veterinarian on a regular basis. “Go to the vet when you first get your bird for a baseline exam and then for annual checkups,” says James K. Morrisey, DVM, chief of the Exotic Pet Service at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. Look for a vet who has a special interest in birds or find an avian specialist through the Association of Avian Veterinarians (AAV).
Focus on diet
“Seed is not adequate,” says Morrisey. “Birds should be on a balanced diet consisting of 50 to 60 percent pellets and 48 to 50 percent fruits, vegetables and grains.” Ask your vet about the right combination for your bird. Also, keep birds away from toxic substances such as chocolate, avocado, caffeine and alcohol (they might sit on your shoulder and try to sneak a sip).
Keep the cage clean
Line the birdcage with newspapers or plain newsprint instead of bark substrate or shavings, which can grow bacteria or fungus if they get wet, says Morrisey. Be prepared to change those papers daily—birds relieve themselves every 15 to 20 minutes.
Change water frequently
Your bird needs fresh water every day. Some birds like to dunk their food, leaving crumbs, which can cause bacterial growth. If that’s the case, change his water a few times a day, advises Morrisey. Place water up high, not underneath your bird’s perch, to prevent him from pooping in it.
Interact with your bird
All birds are flock creatures, so your family is your bird’s flock. This means you should keep the cage near family activities, says the AAV. To keep them stimulated, birds also need toys and food foraging puzzles that make them work to get to their food. Birds that get bored may act out by screaming and plucking or biting their feathers. “The more interaction and socialization your bird gets, the less stressed he is,” says Morrisey.
Keep the air clear
Keep your bird in areas free of pollutants. Scented candles, air fresheners and scented household cleaners, as well as smoke from both cigarettes and wood-burning fireplaces, can result in serious respiratory problems and even death in birds, according to the AAV. In addition, fumes from overheated nonstick pots and pans may release toxic chemicals that are deadly to birds, so many owners choose not to use this type of cookware.
Provide your bird with out-of-cage time
“Flying is good exercise and provides a lot of intellectual enrichment,” says Morrisey. To ensure a safe flight, supervise your bird’s cage-free time and watch for hazards: birds may chew on things including houseplants, cords, walls, furniture, zippers and anything shiny. Keep doors and windows closed; cover pots on the stove; turn off ceiling fans; and keep toilets closed. If your bird leaves droppings, spray solid surfaces with disinfectant and wipe clean. On the carpet, dab up with a cloth or paper towel, then vacuum when residue is dry.