NUTRITION- Improper feeding is a major cause of disease and death in pet birds.
This section describes general feeding recommendations for your pet bird. Ideally you should research the species you have chosen and learn about their specific needs. Each species has its own unique dietary and environmental needs. By knowing their habits in the wild, where they live and what they eat in their native habitat, you can better understand how to be more successful in keeping them healthy and happy in your home. You can obtain information by talking with successful reputable breeders and owners, and by reading books dealing with your type of bird.
DIET- Balanced diets are only achieved by offering a variety of foods. Remember that a bird's diet in the wild is whatever is available. Earthworms in the spring, berries in summer, buds of flowering trees in fall.
SEEDS- Historically the basic diet for many pet birds has been a variety of seeds. Some mixtures have been accepted as the more essential seeds and are sold commercially as finch, canary, parakeet, and parrot seed. This does not mean it is a natural food supply--only that if all of the different seeds in the mixture are eaten, it will sustain life.
It is important that all varieties of bird receive from 15-25 percent of their diets in the form of vegetables, fruits, and "treats." The smaller seedeaters (finches, canaries, etc.) should be given the lesser amount. The Conures, Amazons, and Cockatoos, somewhere in between, and the fruit-eaters (Lories, Toucans, and many Macaws) the greater amount.
Vegetables are a great source of protein and carbohydrate which tend to offset the higher fat content of some of the "favorite" seeds of many birds, such as sunflower and safflower seeds. Try a wide variety of vegetables like green and other beans, fresh or cooked corn, peas, broccoli, peppers, squash, cauliflower, potato, carrots, cooked spinach, beets, yams, sweet potatoes, etc.. Avoid iceberg lettuce, particularly in young birds. It has little or no nutritive value. Also some vegetables such as tomatoes tend to be acidic and should be avoided.
Fruits are an excellent source of carbohydrate and a moderate source of protein. They supply the bird with a readily digestible energy source, and are a valuable source of many vitamins and minerals. Fruits such as berries, grapes, papaya, and sometimes citrus fruits and apples tend to give birds what we call "functional" diarrhea. These fruits and berries are said to have a "cleansing" effect on their digestive tracts, but anything can be overdone. Offer these items once or twice weekly. Some fruits such as pineapple and most citrus fruits tend to be acidic, and also should only be fed in limited quantities.
Peaches, pears, and bananas have better nutritive value for birds and are less apt to cause diarrhea.
Yogurt, the all natural type with no additives, is an excellent source of protein and calcium.
Treats can be an excellent source of nutrition for birds. In addition, the pleasure of both bird and owner can be greatly enhanced. Do not hesitate to offer a variety of snacks, including cooked egg, toast or bread with peanut butter, graham crackers, rolls, low salt cheese, noodles, cookies, etc..
SOFT FOOD DIET
Some bird fanciers prefer to feed an all soft food diet, rather than use seed as part of the diet. Many diets have been developed which work well. One which will supply adequate nutrition is the following:
Mix equal portions of the following four groups:
1. Cooked whole grain rice
2. Cooked legumes (beans, peas, sprouts, etc.)
3. Cooked mixed vegetables
4. Dry dog or cat food
. No soft food should be left in the food dishes or cage for over 12 hours.
FOOD SELECTION- These facts must be considered when feeding. Food is selected by:
1. HABIT- which is instilled when the mother is feeding the young in the nest box.
2. APPEARANCE- more than taste and smell. A bird is apt to be suspicious of strange foods or other objects for a period of time or may never accept anything new placed in his cage.
1. Your bird requires adequate sources of the fat soluble vitamins A and D3.
2. Vitamin B Complex-- It is becoming more obvious that vitamin B complex should be supplemented in the diet.
3. Birds being treated with antibiotics also require a source of lactobacillus to replace the normal intestinal bacteria. This can be supplied by yogurt.
4.If your bird is receiving a properly balanced pelletted diet, you do not need to add extra vitamins to its food or water. Over supplementation with vitamins can be as dangerous, or worse than no supplementation at all.
5. If you do need to supplement with vitamins, use a type that goes on the food, not the water. Many vitamin supplements cause very high levels of bacteria to grow when the supplement is placed in the water. Good on the food supplements are Nekton and Nekton-S.
Minerals are an essential part of the daily diet. The best sources are: Cuttlebone, Mineral Blocks, Milk, Oyster Shells, Egg Shells, or a supplement specific for birds.
African Grey parrots have a higher requirement for Calcium in their diet which must be present in either the pelleted food, high calcium vegetables, or supplements.
Budgerigars ("parakeets") require Iodine supplementation to their diet to prevent thyroid dysplasia. One drop of Iodine solution weekly in the drinking water will satisfy this requirement.
Besides fresh water, other liquids may be offered. Some birds have a real fondness for nectars. Many birds like orange juice which may be offered in limited amounts. Milk is a very excellent food and can be added to drinking water. Remember, it must be changed the same day. We recommend using bottled water rather than tap water as the household plumbing can harbor bacteria that are of little concern to people, but quite dangerous to pet birds.
GRIT- Birds that hull their seeds do not require grit. Although they seem to enjoy picking at it, overeating grit can irritate and even obstruct the gastrointestinal tract. If grit is used, it should be provided in very small amounts. A few grains of grit a week is more than enough. Do not use sand paper or gravel paper on the bottom of your bird's cage, nor on the perches. We recommend a firm no-grit policy (exception is passerine birds such as finches and canaries).
HOW TO BROADEN A BIRDS DIET- Many birds have developed poor eating habits, and as a result have or are bordering on malnutrition. It may be difficult to overcome these bad habits, but persistence usually pays off. Do not try to starve your bird into eating new food. A small bird will die in 48 hours if it does not eat.
1. Begin with sweetening the water, and then after he has developed a "sweet tooth" add other nutrients such as juices, milk, and honey.
2. Introduce only small amounts of new food.
3. Try feeding hot foods. Try hot nuts, hot cereals, hot cheese and hot soup.
4. Mix new foods with the regular basic seed.
5. Place new foods below a mirror or adjacent to a favorite toy.
6. Try feeding outside the cage.
7. Change bird from ad-lib feeding to three 15-minute feeding periods.
8. Hand or spoon feed.
Be aware that variety in food in addition to being more nutritionally sound, also helps as it is a major source of mental stimulation for pet birds.
A, Consideration must be given to the cage, the surroundings and all activities in that area. Many birds in this area do well if kept outdoors as on a screened porch. The change to this type of environment must be made slowly. Remember to cover the cage if the temperature drops below 50 degrees.
B. LOCATION OF CAGE-- Except for the first week, when introducing your bird to a new environment, birds generally are the happiest and do their best in areas of activity. Place the cage on the porch or in the family or living room. Direct sunlight is stimulating and enjoyable to birds; care being taken not to overheat them on a summer day.
C. TEMPERATURE-- A healthy bird can tolerate a change of temperature of 10 to 15 degrees. Sick birds chill readily and need a room temperature of 80 - 90 degrees.
D. HUMIDITY-- An ideal humidity for a bird seems to be 30 - 50 %. Air conditioning does not come close to this ideal. A screened porch is perfect in warmer climates.
DANGERS--Consider these seriously:
Glass Mirrors Open windows
Open pans of water Unwashed fruits and vegetables Tropical plants
Overeating grit Long toe nails and beak Spoiled foods--moldy grain
Paddle fans Thread Paint fumes
Leg bands Burnt Teflon Carbon monoxide
Smoke Loud noises Overheating--sunstroke
Cats & other pets Leaded glass windows Cigarette butts
Alcohol Small amounts of insecticides or poison--especially aerosols
Any volatile material including cleaning agents, spray wax, hair spray, paint fumes, insecticides etc.
Droppings are one of the best indicators of your bird's health and reflect the digestive and urinary systems. Observe and count the number of droppings daily. The droppings are an instant guide to the amount eaten by the bird. If your bird begins to eat less, the number of droppings will decrease indicating a medical problem and he should be seen by a Veterinarian.
A. INTERNAL PARASITES
1. Include worms and protozoans.
2. A fecal specimen no more than 2 hrs. old for examination for large parasite eggs, and an immediately passed fresh stool to examine for protozoans are required to do a thorough parasite examination.
3. Uncommon in caged birds.
B. EXTERNAL PARASITES
1. Cnemidocoptic mange (scaly face / scaly leg ) is common on the face and legs of budgerigars("parakeets") and on the feet of canaries. It is confirmed by microscopic examination of a skin scraping.
2. Lice, red mites, and other forms of mites are found less frequently.
MENTALITY AND EMOTIONS
Birds have a personality, definite likes and dislikes, feelings and a surprising amount of sensitivity and emotions. Birds are very social in the wild. We need to create a lot of stimulation for them in our homes. A variety of toys which are placed in the cage a few at a time and rotated weekly should be present. A variety of food should be made available. (However make sure there is a part of their diet that is consistent -ideally the pellets. Daily interaction between you and your pet bird should be the norm. You can use the cleaning and feeding time to your advantage. You will be there doing it anyhow, so you should make it a fun experience. Let the bird out while you are preparing the food. Give it some paper to shred, talk to it, or do whatever it enjoys. Certainly the more time you spend with them the better they feel, and the more enjoyable pet they become for you. Some species, such as finches and canaries prefer to be kept in groups in larger cages where they may fly around and interact with other birds. These species do not require as much stimulation or other interaction with their human caretaker as the larger species.
It is difficult to locate any statistics on the life span of pet birds. This is due in large part to the recent advances in diet, husbandry, and Veterinary care available.
Finches 8 - 10 years
Canaries 10 - 15 years
Budgerigars ("parakeets") 10 - 15 years
Larger Psittacines 25 - 50 years or more
A. CARE OF BEAK-- Beaks grow continuously and are worn off by their normal eating habits and the interaction of the beaks. A budgerigar ("parakeet") beak grows 3 inches per year. At times, beaks must be trimmed.
B. CARE OF NAILS-- It is important to keep the nails trimmed short. Sandpaper perches are useless for this purpose and can cause disease of the feet.
C. CARE OF FEATHERS-- When feathers molt annually, no special care is needed. Feathers that become dirty or oily have to be bathed. This happens from smoke, dust and greasy cooking. Ragged-looking birds are sick and are affected with some deeper problem. Within two weeks of the loss of any feather, a few feathers should be replacing it. If baldness begins to occur, seek Veterinary assistance. Never use any ointment or other oily or greasy medication on your bird's feathers. This will cause it to be unable to regulate temperature properly.
D. CARE OF FEET--Foot infections occur in spite of many precautions. Be certain to keep perches clean, have at least one soft perch, vary the size of the perches, and if you notice any weight shifting, sores, or lameness - immediately seek Veterinary assistance.
E. CARE OF LEGS-- A leg band's purpose is for identification. They should be removed to prevent problems. Large birds can now be permanently identified using microchips without risking damage to the legs. Scales on a bird's legs and feet may thicken and form a hard - tight crust. These can be removed by applying a skin moisturizer and then working the scales off with the fingers or lifting them off with a forceps. String or lint can wrap around the leg or toe of a bird and cut off circulation. If you see discoloration of the leg or toes or a depression around the bird's leg - seek Veterinary assistance.
F. CARE OF SKIN--Since the skin is protected by feathers, no special care is needed. Most important though, is not to apply oil or grease to the skin. Any oil can cause heat retention and heat prostration.
G. CARE OF EYES, EARS AND NOSE-- A discharge from any of these areas indicates trouble. Slight crusting or wetness of the hairlike feathers above the nasal opening is not normal. Until the bird can be seen by a Veterinarian, the area should be kept clean. Wipe the area with a mild antiseptic solution. Do not apply anything oily, nor give proprietary medication before a diagnosis is made.
H. CARE OF THE UROPYGIAL, EAR AND ANAL GLANDS -- These should be checked annually by your Veterinarian. If the bird is pecking excessively at the top of the tail near the body, the uropygial gland may have to be carefully examined.
Once a bird has become an adult, the weight should never vary. Checking the weight occasionally, especially at the annual examination will give valuable information about your bird's health. Birds who eat excessive amounts of oil containing seed may become obese. Sick birds may lose weight. Learn to check your birds pectoral muscles frequently and be aware of any noticeable change in their size.
One of the main forms of expression for a pet bird is using its beak. This does not mean that biting should be allowed. On the other hand, neither does it mean that every time a bird puts its beak on you they are going to bite. As you become more familiar with your bird and its habits, you will be able to understand its moods. Biting is something you should deal with. If your bird is aggressively biting, talk to your Veterinarian, breeder, or members of a bird club to learn how to deal with it.
DETERMINATION OF SEX
This can be very difficult. In most instances, there is no need to know the sex of your bird. Some species have observable differences. Budgerigars have different color ceres. Males have a blue cere and females a brown or pink cere. Cockatiels have characteristic spots on the underside of the primary wing feathers of females and solid color on males. This can be difficult to determine on some color patterns, pearly for instance. Eclectus parrots have greatly different color patterns with females being red and males green. Most other species of psittacine birds are more difficult or impossible to determine sex by external appearance. In these species, sex can be determined either by surgical examination of the internal reproductive organs, of by chromosome analysis of newly forming feathers.
At some time or other, you may have to catch and hold your bird. Properly done, this will do no harm. for the inexperienced or beginner, the first step may be to lower the perches. With the obstructions removed, small birds may be caught with your hands, but larger birds should be covered with a towel and then picked up. Birds breathe by expanding their chest. This is why a bird cannot be held by its body, and must be restrained primarily by holding the head and neck tightly.
ALERTNESS IS THE KEY TO BIRD HEALTH
Birds hide their problems very effectively, and when they begin to obviously manifest their illness, they are already seriously ill. The bird that dies "suddenly" has probably been sick for some time and was not recognized as being abnormal. Birds are actually very hardy and tolerate problems as well as any other animal. If given a chance, birds live a long time. Because of this difficulty in detecting illness early, the following is recommended:
A. Observe closely for any signs of illness.
B. Take your bird to the Veterinarian annually for a check up. This will include a physical examination, a 24 hour dropping analysis and a blood test (total protein, packed cell volume, and white blood cell count estimate).
C. Watch for any of these signs of sickness:
1. Change in the character of the droppings or a decrease in the number or volume.
2. change in food or water consumption.
3. Change in attitude - generally observed as a decreased activity ( inactivity ), talking less ( or more poorly ), singing less, or no response to stimuli.
4. Change in bird's appearance or posture. A sick bird generally ruffles his feathers, begins closing his eyes in a sleepy fashion, and will be sitting low on the perch (droopy).
5. Any noticeable breathing while resting, heavy breathing after exertion, change in character of voice, and any respiratory sounds (sneeze, wheeze, or click).
6. Any enlargement -- even fat is abnormal in a bird.
STRESS IN CAGED BIRDS
Birds experience stress from the day they are born. Their dependence on the parents to provide them with proper diet, environment, and protection against enemies and weather is absolute. Any accident to the parents during this "weaning stage" would mean the certain death of the chicks. Graduating from this stage means that it must be taught by its parents to fly, find its own food including the killing of prey in some species.
The young bird is clumsy, usually hungry, and always afraid of its environment. It is also the time when many of these adolescent birds are captured and confinement begins. Confinement is always a stress to any young bird deprived of its parents, its nest, and freedom all at the same time. This confinement lasts until the next pickup from the native area which may be days or weeks, at which time they are transported over rough terrain under crowded conditions and with poor food and water supply to a holding area not much better in hygiene.
Then this impressionable bird is flown to an area where it is stuck in quarantine for a period of thirty to sixty days. It is subjected to great physical and emotional stress. The birds are released from quarantine and sold either to large pet shop owners , bird wholesalers, or to jobbers, who in turn sell them to smaller pet shops, who in turn sell them to you. Then the ultimate comes, when a bird is sold to an individual and, here again, is another change of environment, hopefully to a desirable one. This is the bird's first exposure to affection, good nutrition, some degree of solitude, and a clean environment.
Is it any wonder at this point that their feathers are broken and dull. They are fearful, defensive, and confused. They are lucky to be alive.
Just one more thing is required, and that is a trip to the Veterinarian for a complete physical examination, detection of disease, trimming of nails, wings, and beak properly, removal of any leg bands, and gaining information and literature regarding proper diet, caging, perching, vitamin and mineral supplements, and parasite control.
Have patience with this very stressed, new member of your family, he doesn't know that this is his lucky day!
The above information depicts the situation for imported birds. Many of the undesirable steps now can be avoided by purchasing a domestically raised bird. The cost may be higher, but your problems are likely to be much fewer. Remember, however, that even domestically raised birds undergo many stressors before they reach their final destination. They should also be thoroughly examined by a Veterinarian soon after purchase.
RESPIRATORY PROBLEMS OF BIRDS
After nutrition related diseases, respiratory disease is the most common disease of birds. Birds have a unique respiratory system. There is no diaphragm and so the majority of air movement results from movement of the chest and abdominal walls. Remember this when holding your bird to give medication of any type. Excessive pressure on the chest and abdomen may produce respiratory arrest in the bird!!
Signs of respiratory diseases may range from ruffled feathers, failure to talk, loss of appetite, to tail bobbing. Discharges from the cere or mouth, and sneezing, tail bobbing, or flicking the tail down indicates severe respiratory impairment. This bird should not be picked up under any conditions by inexperienced handlers. Most respiratory diseases in a bird are far advanced by the time that the owner recognizes it.
Examination includes observation of breathing habits, palpation of the sternal musculature to give an idea of the duration of the disease, and listening with a stethoscope. Any discharge present in the opening to the cere should be cultured to define antibiotic therapy, and the mouth thoroughly examined for swelling or discharges. It is not uncommon to place the bird in an incubator for an hour or two prior to handling to ease the stress and to improve the lot of the bird. Observation of the bird after replacement in his cage is one of the Veterinarian's greatest tools in determining its reaction to this stress, and the prognosis for treatment. Once the bird is stabilized, it is extremely important to evaluate chest radiographs. Many times the radiographs reveal abdominal masses pressing on the respiratory system. A blood sample is vital to indicate the length of time the bird has had the disease, its severity, and other organ system diseases present, and therefore aid in determining the diagnosis and prognosis.
Most emergencies in companion birds involve gastro-intestinal or respiratory diseases, trauma, or bleeding. Cage birds tend to hide signs of disease, thus making apparent sudden onset of illness common. Small birds such as budgerigars ("parakeets") and finches should pass 40 or more droppings daily if they are eating enough for maintenance. Decreased dropping counts indicate inadequate food intake. Normal droppings consist about equally of urates and fecal material; abnormally high urate levels may indicate kidney disease.
Bile causes greenish discoloration of droppings. Bits of tissue or blood indicate severe intestinal inflammation, and undigested seeds are a sign of gut hypermotility. Nasal or ocular discharge or conjunctivitis may indicate localized upper respiratory inflammation or deep - seated respiratory disease. The bird's reaction to light and heat as well as the character of respiration should be determined. Examination of birds which can perch and are eating can usually be postponed until the next day.
Trauma following collision with an object is seldom immediately fatal; usually the bird's condition deteriorates as inflammation develops for 6 - 8 hours. Trauma should therefore be suspected when the bird has been in good health, has no visible signs of respiratory or enteric disease, and is in good flesh. For trauma involving the brain, prednisolone or dexamethasone is given to reduce shock and control inflammation. A bird maimed by an animal is also given antibiotics and fluids since , wound contamination and fluid loss are almost certain.
Fractured legs and wings are usually held abnormally, and should be examined and treated as soon as possible. Antibiotics should be given in compound fracture cases, with steroids as needed to alleviate shock. If bleeding occurs, apply simple compression or, if this is impractical, ice, Kwik stop, or flour. Keep the bird warm, calm, and immobile. If much blood has been lost, the bird should be given steroids, antibiotics, and fluids. If bleeding from a broken feather or feather follicle cannot be controlled by compression for 10 -- 15 minutes, the bird should be brought to the hospital while compression is maintained.
1. Foods that contain large amounts of salt; such as saltines, potato chips, popcorn, etc.
2. Foods that contain large amounts of sugar; such as candies, syrup, etc..
3. Foods that contain large amounts of fat or oil; such as meat trimmings, avocado, etc..
4. Any food containing a stimulant or depressant; like caffeinated sodas, alcohol, etc.
Furthermore, you should exercise common sense in choosing your pet's food. As a general practice do not feed parts of food items that are not commonly eaten by people. For example do not feed the pits of fruit such as peaches, plums, or cherries as these contain cyanide and therefore are toxic. Another example is the tops of carrots, these contain very large amounts of nitrates which also is toxic if enough of them are consumed. Also, when feeding fresh foods do not leave them in the cage so long that they spoil or grow large numbers of bacteria. If you think about whether the food would be safe for you to eat after being left out for a period of time and apply that same reasoning to your pet bird's food, you usually will be safe. Do not put a food that will spoil in the cage and leave it there all day long, your bird will get sick just like you would if you left dinner on the table all night and ate the food off the plate for lunch the next day.