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General Care of your Bird




     There are many varieties and species of birds, or Aves.  Each species can have its own individual requirements that may vary from the normal advice given for most birds.  This is especially true with feeding; the actual dietary requirements are still in the infancy stages.  The more we are finding about the actual needs of our birds, the more their life expectancy has increased.  This information mostly relates to caged birds.

     The care of a bird can be simple; a clean cage, fresh water and food daily and careful attention to the pet for its other occasional needs.  The minimum cage should be large enough for the bird to spread it’s wings and not touch the sides; 3x the width of the wing span is the recommended cage size if the bird is to live within this cage; the larger the cage the better.  Each species has its own density, but on the average if you have more than 2 birds per perch (i.e. finches), then you have too many birds per cage.  Usually we recommend only 1?2 birds per cage. If you want companionship more than visual appreciation, we recommend only 1 bird so that his bird will become more dependable on you for affection.  Flight cages or aviaries can vary with size and number of birds required.  The size of the perch depends on the bird’s foot size, but 2 different sizes, one the right size and another a little larger are the best.   Round perches are preferred.  We don’t recommend sandpaper perches; they do not work.  A flat perch can be fine, but be sure to also include round perches.  With any bird periodically examine the bottom of the feet for swelling, cracks, etc.

     Birds like to be in warm, but not hot, areas of the house. A temperature range of 60-75 degrees is adequate, as long as there is not a sudden change in temperature.  A room where people can visit the bird is ideal, but make sure that the bird can still receive 8 hours of darkness for their sleeping period.  Placing the cage near an area where there are drafts can result in stress and sickness.  The kitchen is not ideal, especially if you have a habit of burning the pan; Teflon fumes can be fatal.  Birds are so sensitive that self cleaning ovens, disinfectants and other aerosol chemicals can be toxic.  There is a reason why canaries were kept by the underground miners.

     Water needs to be fresh daily.  Some owners may desire the nipple watering devices, such as those sold for pet rodents in order to reduce fecal contamination in the water bowl; a bowl is very adequate.  The best foods are the pelleted forms that contain the necessary vitamins, minerals and other nutritional necessities in their proper amount.  We also advise treats of healthy foods during the day.  A diet of 80% pelleted feed and 20% vegetables and treats is adequate; fruits should be limited to less than 5-10%.  We realize some birds, such as the lories and lorikeets, are nectar eating birds.  These birds do not digest seeds very well, and should be provided a pelleted food, fruits and special nectars commercially available.  Feed your bird twice a day what they can eat in 20 minutes.  When a bird is allowed to run out of food for a couple of hours each day, they learn to “appreciate the cook” and will bond closer to people.  It is very important to note that when changing food or adding items to the water, this may cause a bird to not eat or drink anything unfamiliar; do it slowly if possible. We don’t recommend rhubarb, rape or kale leaves, iceberg lettuce (romaine is okay), “junk foods” or sugar.  Good foods are spinach, celery leaves, sprouted seeds, carrot tops, apples, bananas, grapes & berries, carrots, corn, sweet potatoes, cooked lean meats, cheeses, cooked egg yolk, peanut butter, toast, dog food, etc.  Sunflower and peanut seeds contain too much oil, and should never be over 10% of the diet.  Seeds can be of a variety of millet, milo, grass seeds, oats, rape seed, flax, sunflower, peanut, etc.  Do not feed the avocados, the pits of fruit like cherries and peach, chocolate, caffeine products or parsley.  Ingestion of polyacrylamide soil gel can also be toxic; we have a separate handout on poisons in and around the household and also poisonous plants.  The most common medical problems that we see in birds are related to malnutrition and improper feeding practices.  If your bird is not on a pelleted diet, we advise a vitamin/mineral supplement incorporated within a treat periodically.  Applesauce, oatmeal, bananas and other foods can have the vitamins sprinkled on them.

     We recommend that you clean the cage daily and notice the amount and consistency of the feces.  Using newspapers, without printed colors, is ideal for this by stacking them and removing the top paper daily.  Any change in the stool, not related to a diet change, should require closer observation of the bird. 

     Any bird that has diarrhea for 24 hours, continually fluffed up, sleepy, not eating for 24?48 hours, or staying in the bottom of the cage requires veterinary attention.  Nature has taught birds to not show any signs of sickness until they are very sick.  Predators instinctively will attack any bird that seems sick.  If a truly sick bird is not treated promptly they may easily die; in comparison to pet dogs and cats which can go days longer when they seem sick.  If in doubt that the bird is sick, it’s advisable to turn up the temperature for the bird’s room to 85 degrees, which is the temperature where we place a sick bird. (Temperature alone will not heal a sick bird).

     A lot of questions cannot be answered in this information sheet, and should be directed to a knowledgeable source when in doubt.  For an outing outside the cage to be safe, then this can be done daily with observation by the owner to prevent the bird from getting into trouble.  Allowing a bird out of the cage and providing human interaction or feeding during this period is beneficial for the bird, if possible.  Usually we don’t recommend the bird being loose in the house if you have cats, or dogs that chase birds.  Normally the hookbill species, from parakeets to parrots, are the only birds let out of the cage to be free in the house.  A single bite wound from a cat can cause a systemic Pasteurella infection;  a medical emergency for any bird bitten by a cat.   More birds are hurt by being “free” than by any other reason, so be careful.  Clip the bird’s wings and keep the drapes closed on your clear glass windows.  If you decide to have your bird’s wings clipped, be forewarned that clipping helps keep the bird from flying but it is no guarantee that it’ll keep the bird grounded.  Doors and windows to the outside should be kept close.  If a feather should ever appear to be bleeding, remove the feather by pulling it out, and this will shortly stop the bleeding. 

     We recommend daily attention, handling of the bird, and other forms of interaction.  Gravel can be provided only occasionally for a limited period each week or two, yet birds do not require gravel at all!  Cuttlebones are advised for hookbills and other species.  We routinely recommend placing branches in a hookbill’s cage, so the bird can have fun tearing up the stick, and exercising its jaws & beak.  Bands on the bird are very controversial, and should be removed by a veterinarian if not shown for competition, if the bird is bothering the band and/or there is any possibility that the band can catch in the cage’s bars.  If the band is not bothering the bird, and there is no danger of getting it caught, then it may be okay to leave it on.  Trimming the bird’s beak, toenails, clipping the wings, etc. can all be discussed with the veterinarian with the periodic physical.  Giving your bird an area to bath, or even occasionally spraying the bird with a mister is recommended.  Toys are fun for you and your bird.  As with children’s toys, use discretion as to the type that may harm the bird.  Do not ever place any oily medications on your bird, as these products will interfere with a bird’s feather ability to keep warm.

     We recommend that you take the time to come in and read some of the books in our library regarding training your bird, plants that can be poisonous (if you let your bird fly loose), nutrition, etc.  Most species of birds cannot be sexed visually, blood tests are usually required to sex many species.  If the bird was sexed, the males may have a black ink dot under their right wing, while the females are marked on the left wing web.  There are no routine vaccinations for pet birds at this time.  For the parrot birds, there are vaccines for Pacheco’s disease, and pox available, but they are not routinely given.  It’s very important to remember that a sick bird needs to be treated promptly in order to be successful.

     When bringing your bird into the clinic for a veterinary exam, please cover the cage or carrier, and warm up the car if it is cold outside.  We prefer that you bring the bird in its own cage, if possible.  Remove the water first.  If the cage is too large to bring in, then bring in some stool (feces) samples and the food which you are feeding.


The Staff at the Nelson Road Veterinary Clinic