When deciding to add a feathered friend to your family, it's important to select a bird whose needs can be met in your home. Many birds, though popular and readily available, are not appropriate pets for most people. There are several species of birds with physical, behavioral, and social needs that are simply too great to be addressed in an average household. These birds should not be pets and are best left in their natural habitats.
Canaries, finches, cockatiels, parakeets, and lovebirds are birds who have a long history of selective breeding in captivity, and can be considered domesticated strains of wild species. Their basic needs are more easily met, proper supplies to care for them are readily available, and these birds can live long, happy lives in a caring home.
In comparison, birds like conures, parrots, macaws, cockatoos, and toucans are problematic because they have not undergone the same process of long captive breeding and genetic selection. These birds are still wild animals, even when bred in captivity. As such, their normal behavior can make them difficult and demanding to live with. Issues like size, noise, destructive behavior, biting, and behavioral vices, coupled with a lifespan of 50 years or more, can make these species inappropriate as pets for the average owner. Because of these humane reasons, these animals are not recommended as pets. Most people simply cannot provide for the many complex needs of such birds, causing them to suffer for their entire lives.
Another reason to choose captive-bred domestic strains of bird species is because of the wild animal trade. Despite U.S. laws that prohibit the import of many species of wild-caught birds, millions of birds are still caught every year for the pet trade and sold all over the world in pet stores or online. The commercial trade in wild animals is a multi-billion dollar business that threatens the survival of many different species, and results in the inhumane treatment of billions of animals every year. While your local pet store may be full of colorful birds, those creatures represent just a tiny fraction of the captured wild animals who did not survive the process.
If you decide that you would like to get a bird, check with your local animal shelter before getting one from a pet store, the Internet, or a classified ad in the newspaper. Many shelters today are not limited to just dogs and cats, and have plenty of birds who are looking for new homes. Go to www.Pets911.com or www.PetFinder.com to search for adoptable birds at animal shelters and bird rescue groups in your area.
Birds, after cats and dogs, are the third most popular pet in the United States. Even though they are small and caged, birds still require a great deal of care and attention. They are complex creatures, and if you take good care of your own bird, you will have the opportunity to see what unique pets they are.
Before bringing home a bird or buying supplies, find an ideal location in your home for the bird's cage. This space must be indoors, provide appropriate temperature and light, and allow for regular interaction between you and the bird. This location should be large enough to accommodate a sizable cage. Do not keep birds in the kitchen because Teflon-coated pans, aerosol cooking and cleaning sprays, hot water, and gas stoves can pose serious health threats, including death, to birds. The location should receive strong natural light, but not subject the bird to full sun through a window. Also guard against drafts from windows or doors, especially in winter. And although you want the bird to be around you and your family, be aware that birds need a quiet and undisturbed period for sleep at night.
Once you have chosen a space and are ready to select a cage, get the largest cage that you can afford to buy. This may cost hundreds of dollars, but keep in mind that this is a one-time purchase, and it is where your bird will be spending a majority of her time. Look for cages made of metal that are designed to be easy to clean, and will withstand scrubbing and periodic disinfection. Likewise, look for cages equipped with with a removable tray in the bottom and feed and water bowls that can be serviced from outside the cage. Avoid purchasing cages that are excessively fancy or have lots of decorative detail. Also, avoid cages made of wood or wicker, that are round or cylindrical, and that do not allow for freedom of movement for the bird. Keep in mind that you are looking for a wide cage with room for a bird to move horizontally, not vertically. The width of a bird's cage is significantly more important than its height. The size of the bird housed will dictate the size and spacing of the cage bars. You'll want bars that are close enough together to keep your bird from escaping.
The cage should have perches of an appropriate size for your bird to sit on and climb. Perch placement should encourage the bird to move from one to another by flying or hopping. Do not fill a cage with too many perches and structures that will only reduce the space available for movement.
There should be a minimum of one food bowl, one water bowl for drinking, and one bowl for bathing. Make sure that the bowls are durable and made of materials that will allow for thorough a cleaning and disinfecting. Also, ensure that birds can reach the bowls comfortably from a perch, and that bowls are not placed directly under perches where they will be fouled by bird droppings.
Every bird cage needs toys. Although finches and canaries are less likely to use them, objects that the birds can manipulate or climb on, or chew up or hide in, are critical for parakeets, lovebirds, and cockatiels. There is an assortment of wooden and plastic bird toys available. Some birds also enjoy seeing themselves in small mirrors.
The birds discussed here can be divided into two categories: hard-bills (seed eaters) and hookbills. Seed eaters include canaries and finches, while hookbills include parakeets, cockatiels, and lovebirds. Hookbill is also a general term for all parrots, whether small or large species. (The HSUS does not recommend parrots as pets.)
Hard Bills/Seed Eaters: Finches and canaries in their native environments eat the ripening seeds of various grasses and flowering plants. They will also, on occasion, consume insects or other creatures. Commercial seed mixes for these birds are widely available at pet supply stores. In addition to seed mixes, these birds relish leafy greens like romaine, dandelions, or chicory, as well as slices of apples or oranges.
Hookbills: The smaller hookbills (parakeets, lovebirds, and cockatiels) are also seed eaters. They additionally consume bark, leaves, and fruits and berries. For these species, there are appropriate commercial seed mixes, which generally include some larger seeds such as sunflower and safflower. You can offer these birds fruits and vegetables as well as seed mix. Their beaks allow them to do a very efficient job on a wide range of fresh items.
A bird's food and water bowls must be cleaned every single day. As birds eat, they leave seed hulls in their feed dish. What appears to you to be a full cup of seed may be all hulls; this is one reason that food and water must be changed and replenished each day. This means that all old food or water must be discarded, the bowls must be scrubbed thoroughly and dried, and new, fresh food and water must be provided. It is essential that a bird's food and water sources remain as clean as possible.
Pelleted diets are also available for all of these bird species; this food provides a nutritionally balanced diet in a uniform pellet. Both pellet and seed diets have their devoted fans. Regardless of what your bird eats, though, make sure it is fresh, stored appropriately, and of good quality.
Small birds enjoy a cuttlebone in their cage, which provides some mineral supplementation and keeps beaks occupied and in shape. Likewise, seed-eaters consume small bits of rocks and sand, which aids in the breakdown of foods in their gizzards. Grit for these birds should be supplied in a small feed cup as opposed to on the cage floor.
Do not offer chocolate and avocado to any birds; these are dangerous foods that can cause death.
While one bird can make a wonderful addition to your family, he might be a lot happier with a friend. Even though male canaries may typically be kept by themselves, all birds will be much happier with a partner or small flock. In most cases, male/female pairs will do the best together.
Unlike cats, dogs, rabbits, and other pets, you do not need to spay or neuter your birds. These surgeries for birds are much more invasive, and because of birds' extremely light weights, correct anesthesia can be tricky. Also, since birds lay eggs, their population can be controlled by simply removing the eggs.
In general, the smaller domesticated bird species (canaries, finches, cockatiels, parakeets, lovebirds) are less likely to suffer from behavior problems than their wilder, more exotic counterparts. These species have been adapted to life as companion animals through long genetic selection. If you take proper care of them, most will never exhibit any behavior problems.
For those birds who do have behavior problems, the more common ones include frequent egg-laying by the female, or self-mutilating behaviors, such as feather-plucking. Such problems can be signs of boredom, dietary issues, incompatibility with cage mates, or stress. Keep in mind that these issues are less frequent or non-existent in domesticated species, but can be seen more frequently in larger species.
As pets, canaries and finches can live 8-10 years, while cockatiels, parakeets, and lovebirds can live up to 20 years. However, if you want your bird to live as long as possible, it is important that your bird stays healthy. Before getting your bird, you will need to find an avian-certified veterinarian in your area. If you have trouble finding one, contact your local animal shelter for advice.
Birds will do a good job of keeping themselves clean, but they need a little help from you. All birds like and need to bathe. Most birds will bathe themselves vigorously if they have access to a shallow water bowl in their cages. This bowl should be separate from their drinking water. Some birds, especially cockatiels, may prefer to be spritzed by a squirt bottle.
Another part of avian hygiene is preening. Preening is a bird's way of grooming and caring for his feathers. His preening will make sure that all of his feathers are nice and neat and pointing in the right directions.
It is also important to keep an eye on your bird's nails. Nails may need to be trimmed periodically. If your bird's nails start to curve around or if he is having trouble standing on a perch, it is probably time for a trim. Because trimming a bird's nails must be done carefully, take the bird to a vet or have someone with experience assist you.
When birds are sick or injured, they will normally try to hide their illness. However, here are a few things to look for:
- Closed or swollen eyes;
- Diarrhea; or fecal stains on the feathers surrounding the vent (anus);
- Sitting in one place for extended periods of time during the daylight hours with feathers puffed out;
- Noisy or labored breathing, with wheezing or clicking sounds.
If you see any of these signs, please call your veterinarian immediately.
Continued on page 3: Ferrets