Avian Expert Articles

Winter Prep For Your Bird

cockatiel, 'tielWe get warm and fuzzy feelings when we think of being home for the holidays. Those of us with pet birds want to provide them the same feelings of comfort and coziness. This can be the time to work on making their cage “home” a more comfortable place for the winter, as well as a time to get new gifts to outfit their “home.”

So first of all, how do you make it cozier for the winter? Our psittacines are tropical by nature but that does not mean that you need to keep your living area at 90 degrees Fahrenheit! Most birds, including our pet birds, are able to adapt to cooler environments but they cannot handle quick changes in temperature. So while you dial down your temperature to the upper 60s to low 70s, it is important to try to keep cold drafts near the cage to a minimum.

That does not mean that you should swaddle your bird’s cage with blankets — quite the contrary, for you should not use dark covers at all. Covering the cage with dark cloth suddenly makes your bird think that it has just entered the most incredible nest box of nest boxes. Combine this with the time of year (it might be December here but it’s Spring in the southern latitudes where they come from) — and voila! — it signals to them that it is time to breed. If you do need to reduce a draft, cover the cage with clear plastic sheeting, but take precautions that your bird cannot chew it. Also don’t use a plastic that gives off a chemical smell, as birds are very sensitive to a variety of airborne toxins.

Candle Lights

That leads to something that we humans love — scented candles! And there are a variety of wonderful scented products that you can purchase at this time of year. But your bird’s respiratory tract is not designed to handle those scents. Remember that a miner’s best friend was the canary. They would take them down into the mines as a sentinel for toxins that were airborne. The unique respiratory tract of birds is exquisitely sensitive to toxins and while we like the scents these products give off, for your bird’s sake, just stick to plain, old unscented candles.

And a candlelit night can be a perfect time for you while letting your bird get their sleep! We want our birds to get about 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of sleep time. That means late nights in front of the TV are not good for them as well as lights on for periods longer than 12 hours. If your household is one with lights on long at night, you should consider a smaller sleep cage in a quiet and dark room like a spare bathroom.

Food For Thought

When we think of home for the holidays, we also think about our favorite foods. While we want to treat our feathered friends to wonderful foods, we need to keep in mind that healthful is important, particularly this time of year with cold weather. We need to keep their immune systems healthy and there are plenty of foods that hit the grocery shelves this time of year to do that. Take nuts for example! If you have a smaller parrot species, you can crack the nut so that they can forage in the process. Brazil nuts and walnuts are high in Omega 3 fatty acids — important for immune health along with cardiovascular and musculoskeletal health as well. Notice that I did not mention peanuts. If stored improperly, this member of the legume family can be infected with a fungus, releasing aflatoxins that can cause liver failure. (Lafeber peanuts are tested for aflatoxins and are negative for aflatoxins.)

Pomegranates are full of antioxidants and bioflavonoids. And then there are pie pumpkins and yams and sweet potatoes — all with lots of beta-carotenes. Another heavy-hitter for the birds from South America is a mango. This is a common food source that I observed the parrots eating while in Brazil. And much to my amazement they seemed to eat them when they were unripe along with when they were ripe. I do not know why, but we did observe that with the wild parrots. Grapes, bananas, peas and corn are all foods that are high in simple sugars and should be avoided.

Parrot-Perfect Gifts

Part of the holidays is about gifts and we want to shower our pets with gifts as well. From toys to new play stands to perches and every new thing — we are in the mood to buy. But it is important for the buyer to beware. We want our birds to play with safe toys. That would include the right size toy for your bird and some that they would interact with. Sometimes toys can be pretty scary at first introduction, so you might hang a new toy outside of the cage at first and then fiddle with it a bit as if you are interested in playing with it. That might help overcome concern and spark interest.

Beware of metal from bells to wire parts on toys. Most are made with lead or zinc base unless marked that they are made of stainless steel. You can never be too careful. The solder where two pieces of metal come together can be deadly if your bird cracks off that very interesting and shiny object and ingests it. So make sure your toys do not contain metal unless it is stainless steel. It is a great time of year to check the cage for wear and exposed solder joints where the metal comes together. While many folks say to me — “Well, my bird has been in that cage for years, Doc”, that is just the time to make sure that the cage has not fatigued and that solder is not exposed. Take a look inside the cage from your bird’s perspective.  Put your head in there and give it the fine-toothed comb look! And related to that is toothbrushes — don’t use them as toys as the metal that holds the bristles together can be toxic as well!

So now, armed with some wonderful safe toys we can add a few at a time to our recently inspected cage, pull out those healthful foods and put them in our new foraging toys that we purchased or made, and when the sun sets, light our unscented candles. We can be home for the holidays and have a safe, healthful and most wonderful time with our birds.

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