Avian Expert Articles

Feather Trims & Other Summer Safety Info

Yellow-naped Amazon, yellow nape
By Josh Halett

Summer is a fun time to share with your bird and so I wanted to pass along some summer tips to make the time more enjoyable.

Need-To-Know Feather Info

While we all want to get out of the house this time of year, how should we do that successfully with our companion birds? Parrots have a continuous molt cycle, unlike chickens, for example. That means that the feathers of the wings tend to molt one at a time throughout the year. This molting pattern works great in the wild so that when they lose one of these large flight feathers, they can still fly. The flip side is — when you have trimmed your bird’s wings so that you can go outside and they molt and regrow one of the primary flight feathers — then they can fly off.

What do I mean by primary flight feathers? The primary flight feathers are the large feathers that originate on the bones of the carpometacarpus, or at the wrist outward. Depending on the species, there are 10 to 13 of them. The secondary flight feathers are the large feathers that take origin off the ulna, which is in the mid portion of the wing. It is important that only the outermost primary flight feathers are trimmed to control flight and that these feathers are cut just under the coverts that cover over the shaft of these feathers. When these primary flight feathers are clipped too long, the secondary flight feathers are clipped instead or the outer two primary feathers are not clipped, which means that your bird can fly off.

So grooming your bird properly is important to figuring out when your bird can or cannot fly. If you want to take your pet bird outside without having to put him or her in a cage, then you need to trim some of the primary flight feathers. The numbers trimmed and the length of the feathers trimmed are different, depending on the bird species. Make sure that you inspect both wings to make sure all of the trimmed flight feathers are still trimmed and that there are no new blood feathers growing in to allow flight across the backyard with lift to the trees. [If you have never trimmed your bird’s wing feathers, have a professional bird groomer or your avian veterinarian show you how to do a proper wing-feather trim, including safe handling techniques, until you are capable of comfortably and efficiently doing so on your own.]

Make Your Bird Feel Safe

So now that you are outside with your bird, enjoying the sunny day, what else should you know? If you plan on having your bird on your arm or hand, keep them close to your body. If they haven’t been outside before, it might be better to start the process inside a cage and let your bird get used to the sights and sounds first. While you might think that all birds would naturally love to be outside, your pet bird might be very scared. Remember that, in the wild, hawks by day and owls by night prey upon birds, so the great outdoors can be a scary place. If you take your bird outdoors you might notice that he or she often looks up into the sky scanning the sky for predators. This is a natural instinct, as birds need to be alert for predators — both in the sky and on the land — that might be lurking in their environment. While you might think that is bad, it shows that their brains are active as that is their natural behavior. So, while it is good to get your pet bird outside,  will want to start with 20 minutes to an hour and gradually build up.

There are some points to consider if you want to keep your bird in an outside enclosure  If you are going to be outside, then you can use a smaller cage, but make sure that the cage bars are small and the bird can retreat to another part of the cage if he becomes frightened. To reduce stress, put a darker colored cloth on at least part of the cage, that way, if your bird sees a hawk flying overhead he can retreat to the covered part. You need to be vigilant — I have seen hawks “come out of the sky” with talons blazing and they can slip them through the bars of the cage. That is why it is important to be in the area with your bird and to have cage bars that are close together.

If you want to construct an outside enclosure, for most birds, I recommend using ½-inch by 1-inch wire spacing, as that dramatically reduces the possibility of predator invasion from hawks to rats.  With outside enclosures, make sure the bottom of the cage is also secure so that no animal can dig under and then into the enclosure as well.

Put safety as your top priority for your bird while outside. Think about cats or dogs coming into the area and bothering your bird while he’s in the cage. That is why you need to stay outside with your bird. You don’t want the neighbor’s child letting your bird out while you go inside to answer the phone! You may need to think about putting a lock on the cage door but one that you can quickly open in case of an emergency.

An Outdoor Bath For Your Bird

An outdoor shower can be great fun for a pet bird, but remember to direct the water up and use a misting spray to wet the feathers. At first you will notice that your bird looks like a drowned rat — that occurs when the feathers are not waterproofed but as you keep those omega 3 fats up in the diet, that will improve the sheen of the feathers and improve the waterproofing as well. South American parrot species often enjoy an afternoon shower in the warm sunshine, as that mimics life in the rain forest. And that leads to the point about temperature. It should be in the upper 70s to low 90s when you have your bird outside to give him or her a spray bath. We don’t want them to get too cold and we don’t want them to have heat stroke. If the temperature escalates into the 90s it is important that your bird is in at least dappled shade. A breeze is also helpful to keep your bird cool. Showering them several times during the day may help as well. Birds that are overheating, stay still, visibly pant and some may fluff their feathers to get rid of heat.

So, while we all want to get outside and have fun with our birds, we must always remember to stay safe. I hope these tips help you enjoy a great time with your birds outside this summer. I am sure that they will enjoy the wind in their feathers and the sun on their backs!

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