Bird is the wordBirds, birds, birds. They come in all sizes and colors. They can sing, whistle, and even speak. They've provided us companionship through the ages--pirates and emperors have valued their friendship--and you might be next. They do, however, require a little research, planning, and a particular kind of care. If you're interested in sharing your home with one of these delightful creatures, we'll show you how to get your plans off the ground.
The responsibility involved in keeping a bird is significant--on par with keeping an active dog, if not more so. You'll be caring for a highly intelligent animal with emotional needs equivalent to a two to three years old child's, and with a potential life span sometimes as long as your own. They need play time and regular interaction, or they're likely to grow unhappy, stressed, and generally unhealthy.
In other words, if you're looking for a low-maintenance pet, try a goldfish. However, if you want a lively companion and are willing to put up with a little noise and mess, a bird might be right for you. Then you just have to decide what kind.
Choose the bird
The world is full of different beautiful birds. Need to do some ground work to have one for your own. Here are some information for you :
Size. This is probably the most important choice, because the bird's size relates proportionately to many of its needs. The bigger the bird, the bigger the cage, the more time (and money) you're likely to spend on care and feeding, and usually, the longer it will live.
Cost. Prices can range from $9-10 (U.S.) for a small finch to thousands for certain exotic birds like macaws. You also must factor in equipment, food, and visits to the vet.
Personality. Some birds are more social, aggressive, or solitary than others. When considering personality, think about what kind of home you'll be bringing the bird into. Will children have access to it? If so, will they be able to exercise responsibility? If the bird is shy, do you have enough room to keep it in a private space? Do you have other pets? (Some birds will not get along with other animals, and vice versa.) Will the bird want a mate?
Intelligence. Certain breeds of parrots can actually understand and communicate basic levels of human speech. A smarter bird will definitely give you more interesting interactions, but don't forget it can also cause a lot more mischief, and require more attention and discipline.
Life span. While some species ( like finches and budgies ) have an average life of four to seven years, others can live up to 30, 60, or even 100 years!
Song. Depending on the species, you may get a squawk, a chirp, a warble, a caw, a whistle, a natural or mimicked song, some mimicked speech, or an honest-to-goodness basic conversation. Remember your eardrums (as well as your neighbor's) when you make your choice.
Choose the cage
It's critical to give birds the right home (and home furnishings) to satisfy their sensitive needs. Cage and accessories choosing will deal with these items, starting with the cage.
The larger the cage, the more room the bird will have to exercise, and the happier it will be, so buy the biggest you can afford (space and money-wise). At the bare minimum, the cage should be large enough for the bird to perch with its tail and outspread wings not touching the sides.
The material the cage is made of is also important, since birds tend to gnaw on cage bars. Buy sturdy, metal cages (or Plexiglas) without any sharp edges. Be sure the metals don't contain toxins--avoid brass, chrome, galvanized metals and solder, plus lead-based or anti-rust paints. Also make sure the cage bars are spaced so the bird can't squeeze through or get caught in them. Avoid cages with fancy metalwork, like wrought iron shapes, since the bird can injure itself on them.
Inside the cage, a bird needs at least two perches, so it can hop and climb to different areas. These should have rough surfaces and very in diameter to allow for a good grip. If they don't vary, the bird's feet can get fatigued and develop sores and arthritis. Most cages come with two perches, but you can add more if you want.
Make sure that any door to the cage has a secure lock. Birds are very wily in their escape plans.
Choose the accessories
Accessories, like the cage, depend on the type of bird. Here are the basics:
Toys - A bored bird is an unhealthy bird, so provide a variety of playtime items. Make your choices according to your bird's size. Some may like bells, chewable rawhide, or a piece of carpet they can methodically pluck apart. Avoid toys with parts that might entangle the bird, such as long strands of cotton or nylon, or hooks. There shouldn't be more than two or three items in a cage at once. Rotate them every week or so.
Food. Provide a variety of packaged food and home cooked recipes. Ask a pet store merchant, a breeder, or a vet for options.
Seed tray and water bottle. The cage usually comes with these items, but if it doesn't, you can buy attachable models.
Cage cover. You can buy a fitted cover, but a blanket or sheet will work fine. Shy birds often like part of their cage covered for a better sense of security. Covers also help birds sleep more soundly, and provide extra warmth.
Tray lining. Birds are not too discriminating in their bathroom habits--if it's below them, it's fair game. You can line the tray with gravel paper, wood shavings, processed corn cobs, or (probably the cheapest option) newspaper. If you do use newspaper, make sure the print is soy-based ink, which is non-toxic (90 percent of U.S. papers use soy-based ink).
Beak conditioners. Birds like to keep their beaks sharp and clean. You can buy conditioners (like a hanging cuttlebone) to help them out.
Optional accessories include:
Bird baths. You can find versions that fill with water and attach to the side of the cage, or use a conditioning bath spray that you apply.
Seed guards. These are usually a fine net that wraps around the bottom half of the cage, so seeds and other debris can't be kicked out.
Claw clippers. Larger birds will usually need their claws clipped to keep their feet healthy, and to keep their grip friendly. A vet can do this if you don't want to.
Pest repellent. Pet stores sell hanging repellents or sprays to keep mites and lice away.
Vitamin supplements. Add these to your bird's water or food.
Nesting material. Certain smaller species, like canaries and finches, like to build themselves nests. You can buy packaged stands and materials, or find out what they like and provide it on your own.
Treats. These are particularly helpful if you want to train your bird.
Travel cage. This is useful not just for long trips, but also for vet checkups and cage cleanings.
Assess the bird
Once you've chosen your species and gathered the equipment, it's time to buy the bird. Since you'll usually be buying for a long-term commitment, you want to choose a healthy, well-socialized animal. Find a reputable pet store or breeder and then interact a little with various birds. Most stores and breeders will provide a grace period during which you can have the bird checked by an avian vet. Definitely take advantage of this (and insist on it if it's not offered). Many birds are very talented at hiding signs of illness, so even an expert breeder may not know of potential problems.
The bird should look clean and well groomed, with a clean beak, bright eyes (no discharge), and a steady balance. It should be alert, curious, and come to you without apprehension. If it was raised hand-fed, it will be comfortable with human contact. Imported birds, however, are sometimes caught in the wild, and it can take a long time before they're trained to accept you.
Most commercially sold birds will have a small band attached to one leg with numbers and letters identifying the birth date and breeder, or if it's an imported bird, the quarantine station. Different states have different banding laws, so be familiar with yours.
Also, ask the merchant or vet for any care recommendations, including grooming, feeding, handling, training, stress signs, adding new birds, discipline problems, and so on. They may suggest books or pamphlets. The more informed you are about your species, the more success you'll have with your new companion.
Set up the cage
Where you put the cage depends on the type of bird, so follow any instructions particular to the species or breed. Most birds will want to be in a social area (but not the kitchen--the fumes can be harmful). Shy birds may need a more private space. Avoid direct sunlight, which can overheat the bird. If the bird can mimic noises, be careful about putting it near your television or stereo (you may start hearing your favorite show's theme song).
When you do find a resting spot, set up the cage so the bird can perch at your standing eye level. If it's a hanging cage without its own post, make sure you attach the hanging hook securely into a ceiling joist. Once the cage is in place, slide in extra perches if necessary, attach the filled water bottle and food tray so the bird can reach it from a perch, and line the tray. Add a toy or two.
Now it's ready for you to put in your bird(s). Pet stores will usually provide a temporary carrier cage for transport. Butt the open carrier cage door against the open cage door, and let the bird hop out on its own. It'll be a little skittish, so leave it alone in its new home for at least 12 hours before approaching it.
Tend the bird
Caring for your bird properly will ensure a long and lasting relationship. One of the most important aspects of doing so is cleaning the cage regularly (at least once every two weeks). Use cold, soapy water with a mild bleach solution to disinfect it. Rinse thoroughly and let it dry before putting in the new tray lining and the bird. Wash the food dish at least twice a week with hot soapy water and rinse thoroughly. How often you'll need to add food will depend on your bird(s), but keep in mind its food dish may look full even when empty, because it will be filled with empty shells. Change the water daily.
Always be on the lookout for stress signs, such as feather plucking, loss of appetite or excessive shyness or aggression. It may be caused by the bird's external environment, bad health, or both. Never punish a bird for stressed behavior--this will only make it worse.
If you're going to let your bird out of the cage, make sure all windows and doors are closed, and that there's no access to toxic or dangerous objects such as glues, paints, stovetops, fans, wire mesh, and so on. You should also be in the room with the bird at all times when it's out.
If you want to train your bird, the rules are the same as training any animal: be patient but firm, use positive reinforcement, and keep a regular, repetitive training schedule.
Also remember that although the bird will become very attached to you, it may not extend that courtesy to every visitor (and might get downright hostile to a roomful of visitors).
Finally, if you want to introduce a new bird, ask your vet, pet store merchant, or breeder about the best way to do so.
The companionship of a bird can be an extraordinary thing that will only deepen over time. You'll get to know all the facets of its personality, quirks, and moods, and it will get to know yours. So get ready--it's time to take off on an avian adventure.
Some Helpful Tips
- If you buy a used cage, ask the owner if the previous occupant had or died of any contagious disease. It could spread to your bird even if the cage is thoroughly washed. (But even if this isn't the case, wash the cage with disinfectant, like a mild bleach solution.)
- You can also buy un-assembled cages, called "knock down" cages, which you bolt together. Be careful though--if your bird is mechanically inclined, it may be able to loosen the screws, damage the cage, or even escape.
- You can make your own perches by fitting cut, hardwood tree branches between the bars. Before putting them in, "cure" the wood by drying it for a few weeks. You can leave the bark on--birds like to pull it off. You can also use plastic plumbing pipe (PVC) as long as it's small enough for the bird to grip. Roughen it with sandpaper for a better gripping surface.
- Many household items make great bird toys, as long as they aren't toxic, are washed thoroughly, and have no sharp edges or parts that can be broken off and swallowed. Try paper towel tubes, plastic bottle caps, un-shelled nuts, ping pong balls, or even teething rings.
- Get familiar with the average cost of the bird you're interested in. If you find a bird being sold for less, find out why. It could be illegally smuggled into the country or have health problems.