Birds are special companion pets. To raise and to live with them happily takes effort. Their needs and requirements far exceed those of cats and dogs. Too often well meaning new bird owners don’t realize that. Here are some tips to help raise that feathered friend.
1. Thoroughly research the kind of bird you want beforehand and determine if having a bird is compatible with your lifestyle, your schedule, your family and your future. This is the most important step in selecting a bird. Some birds have very long lifespans. Amazons can live up to 80 years. Each species of bird has advantages and drawbacks. Cockatoos are wonderful birds, but they can be loud and need a lot of attention. If their needs are not met, behavorial problems will develop. For that reason, bird rescue groups often have many cockatoos. Behavior between male and female parrots can differ and there are even character differences in the subspecies. For example, Blue Front Amazons are generally calmer than Double Yellow Headed Amazons.
2. You need an avian vet or a vet experienced in bird care. In most cases, a general vet won’t have the specialized knowledge avian medicine requires. Avian medicine is a specialty, it’s expensive and certified vets in close proximity can be hard to find. Locate one or two and consult with your chosen vet before you get your bird.
3. Pay close attention to your bird, because they are masters of disguise and could be sick without you knowing it. They hide illness, and by the time you discover they are sick it may be too late for the bird to recover. Buy or compose a first aid kit and learn how to deal with injuries like a broken blood feather. A broken blood feather can be fatal if not treated immediately.
Plan long before you buy or adopt
4. Do not ever buy a bird on impulse. Preparing to get a bird involves a lot of planning, research and commitment. Don’t buy a bird because it is trendy or just because it is beautiful. Don’t get a bird for its ability to talk. Bird species such as African Greys are known to be good talkers, but not all of them talk. Although it is vital that all birds be properly socialized and raised, the very popular and larger birds, such as Cockatoos, Macaws and Amazons, can be unruly and difficult if they are not raised properly. Mistakes are easily made and can be difficult, frustrating and time consuming to correct.
5. If you like the quiet life and a very tidy house, do not get a bird. Birds will often make a lot of noise in the morning and at night. It’s normal. It’s what birds do in the wild. Birds are messy! Discarded food, messy tray paper, shed feathers, feather dust and feces are part of living with a companion bird. Some birds, like African Greys, generate a lot of feather dust. A good air filter and a HEPA vacuum are vital, especially for asthma and allergy sufferers. If you or a family member have breathing issues, a Grey is probably not the bird for you. Cockatiels can also generate a lot of feather dust, but it varies from bird to bird.
6. Birds need a balanced diet of pellets, seed, fruits, vegetables and limited quantities of nuts. Nuts are fattening but are fine to have as a treat. Eating seed alone could lead to health problems. Providing an all seed diet is a very common mistake and often leads to malnutrition, behavioral problems and health problems. Ask your vet about good quality food. An investment in good food will help ensure your bird’s good health and longevity. Not all bird food sold in pet stores is good for your bird.
7. Behavioral problems are the number one reason parrots are surrendered to bird rescues, are given away or are sold. Should screaming, biting, and lunging (the most common behavior problems) develop, are you prepared to deal with them ? Do you know how to correct the behavior while keeping your good relationship intact? Problems can develop very easily and be very difficult to correct. Boredom can lead to behavioral problems like screaming and feather chewing. That’s why bird toys are so important. A busy bird is a happy bird.
Companion parrots are a lot of work
8. A very common mistake is buying a bird cage that is far too small. Provide the parrot with a cage big enough to climb around, to exercise and to flap its wings. Be very careful selecting toys. Not all toys are safe. Many parrots are killed by unsafe toys or by accidents with toys. While the toy may look like fun, it may be dangerous. Err on the side of caution. Birds have been strangled in toys that dangle, yet those toys remain on the market because they sell. Inspect toys before you buy them, supervise your bird at play and inspect toys daily. Before you buy the toy, look for anything potenitally harmful, such as long dangling parts or loose parts. Look for anything that could possibly cause harm.
9. Foraging is fun. Birds like to work to find food. Things as simple as lifting a piece of plain newsprint off the food bowl to find the food is very basic foraging. There are many toys designed to make foraging easy or challenging. Begin with easy tasks. Concealing treats in paper cups gives the bird a fun thing to do as it looks for a reward inside. First show the bird the treat that’s going in the cup. Birds are often happy playing with and chewing the paper cup after they eat the treats. Buy paper cups without any kind of coating or color.
10. Parrots need to be socialized and to be part of the family. Place the cage against a wall for a feeling of security and where the bird can see around the room and enjoy the view. Parrots are flock creatures and they need companionship. They need much more than the ambient attention a dog or cat needs.
11. Reward positive behavior and ignore negative behavior is a rule many behaviorists endorse. Others will correct behavior with a firm “no.” Although there are different approaches, it is never productive to yell, squirt the bird with water, shut the bird away in a room or cover its cage in punishment. Parrots can be a challenge, so patience is vital. Caring for them is a continual learning process. For serious behavior problems, consult your vet. And again, have a lot of patience. Problems like screaming can be very difficult to curb or eliminate. Ask yourself if you can live with undesirable behaviors if you cannot eliminate or curtail those behaviors.
Respect is everything
12. Don’t make the bird do what it does not want to do. In an emergency, a bird that does not like being handled must be handled in order to get the bird out of danger or to the vet if it’s injured or sick. Some birds just don’t like to be handled. Honor its wishes. If you don’t, you could damage your relaionship and suffer a nasty bite.
13. Learn to handle your bird if the bird is willing. If the bird does not like to be handled, you may be able to teach the bird to step up on a perch to transport it where needed. Some people towel their birds in order to get them out of the cage if the bird will not come out on its own. Towelling a bird is a special skill that has to be carefuly learned and practised. Consult your vet. While it may be necessary in an emergency, if the bird is already afraid of towels, it reinforces that fear and will likely cause the bird to fear you. Some people play a game of peekaboo with a towel to encourage the bird to associate a towel with a fun game, but not all birds like that game.
Birds are work, but delightful work to true affectionados. Getting a bird is not a commitment to be made lightly. Avian message boards are an invaluable resource. Two excellent boards are Avian Avenue http://forums.avianavenue.com/forum.php and Avian Nation. http://www.aviannation.com/forum.php