Birds

pet bird

There are many books and articles that promote the virtues of birds being relatively maintenance free pet. Granted, a pair of zebra finches may not require as much time and energy that a dog might, but the maintenance that is required for keeping your bird a happy pet must not be overlooked. Some birds, such a Parrots and Cockatiels require a regular time commitment to satisfy their emotional needs. Failure to do so can result in emotional distress leading to behavioural problems, and possibly, disease. You might laugh at the prospect of a bird having emotional problems, but believe me you do not want to be the target of your angry parrot’s aggression. Imagine a two-year-old child throwing a temper tantrum to for 12 hours!

Nutrition

Man cannot live on bread alone. Likewise, bird cannot live on seed alone. While seeds are an important staple to your pet’s diet, they are relatively low in protein and some essential amino acids. Seed should make up about 60% of the diet. The other 40% should consist of protein sources such as egg, cheese, green leafy vegetables (spinach, romaine lettuce) and fruits (no more than 25%). You can supplement your bird’s seed diet with nutritionally balanced pellets and some liquid vitamin added to the water. Fresh water needs to be available for your pet at all times.

An all metal non-coated cage is the best choice for your bird. He will chew on the bars, as that is part of his play and general lifestyle. A metal cage is easier to keep clean and prohibit infestation of pests. Insects can hide underneath coatings and inside the wooden bars. Inspect the cage to make sure he cannot place his head between the bars. Size of the cage depends on how large or small the bird, and how many you plan to house in each one. Each one must have sufficient room to stretch out and move around. Some birds will need to get all their flying and exercise inside the cage, others can be let out during the day to exercise outside the cage.

A slide-out drawer bottom works better than one you have to dismantle the cage to clean out where he has messed. Cover the bottom with newspaper, sand or other similar materials to absorb urine etc. Change about every three days to insure cleanliness and prevent diseases from occurring. Make sure the cage sides have both vertical and horizontal bars. He will want to climb and needs adequate footholds.

Most cages come with perches. Replace with natural woods or branches (fruit trees, hazelnut, or willow). The more uneven and bumpy the branch, the better for the bird’s feet as it provides exercise for him, and keeps his nails trimmed. The ones with sandpaper have been linked to foot problems. Make certain the wood being used has not been treated with any chemicals before usage. Using branches also provides vitamins for your bird, as he will chew on them often. Replace as needed.

Another important part of his home furnishings must include cuttlebones. This provides him with calcium and other minerals he needs. He will also need a grit container. The grit acts as “teeth” to help grind up his food.

Determine if your bird will better benefit from a hanging feeder and water, or heavy containers placed on the cage floor bottom. If using bottom containers, place where droppings will not fall into them.

He may enjoy a small dish of water in his cage for bath time. A small flowerpot saucer works well. Depending on the size of the bird, even jar lids can be used. Place in the cage every few days for about half an hour. Do not leave in the cage all the time. Some birds like to be misted with spray. Try this a few times and see how your bird reacts. Do not mist him on cool days, as he may chill.

The cage should have places where toys can be attached for the bird’s amusement. Mirrors are more important to a solitary bird, but even a cage full will enjoy a mirror. He will enjoy singing and looking at himself. Bells, swings and ladders are other common toys you can purchase for your bird to play with. Don’t neglect this important part of his home, but don’t over-do it either. Too many toys take up his stretching area, and he may not be able to distinguish the separateness of all the items, thus not enjoying each individually as intended.

The pet shop will inform you if your bird needs nesting boxes, or “beds.” You do need to site your cage where the bird gets lots of interaction with the family. A bird that has been “sociable” all along is a better bird for training and enjoyment. Do not house his cage in a room where he will be lonely. Placement of the cage to avoid sudden appearances of anyone coming and going into the room is also recommended. Situate him where he receives some natural light to keep him healthy. Avoid drafty places and excessive heat. Some birds need to have their cages covered at night, others do not. Find out the individual needs of your bird.

You’ve taken that first step! You’ve bought your first bird. You’ve chosen one that suits your lifestyle and your family, and you’ve got a young one too, because they settle more easily. You’ve invested in a good quality cage, the right food, a few toys, tasty treats to everything!

Taming

It’s all about getting your bird accustomed to you. During these early stages it’s not a good idea to let anyone else interfere to this may cause problems with family and friends, but there will be plenty of time for introductions to them as soon as the bird is totally tame with you. It’s important that you pay your bird as much attention as possible. The more time you give it, the tamer it will become. Don’t make the mistake, though, of thinking you can spend a whole day with it and then ignore it for the rest of the week. Your bird needs regular daily attention.

Hand Feeding

Within a few days when your bird has started to relax and settle in, offer it a piece of fruit or seeds from your hand. Young birds are seldom reluctant to accept food this way, and may even beg by bobbing their heads up and down and chattering. If your bird shys away from hand feeding, don’t worry, just keep trying. After a while it’ll start grabbing the food from your hand and eventually, it will take it willingly.

Perching

A young bird will readily treat your finger, hand or arm as an extension of its perch. If it does not, then start by training it to step onto a short length of dowel. One way of doing this is to ‘bribe’ the bird by holding its favourite food item just out of reach, and giving it a helping hand to get to it to first with the dowel, then later with your hand.

Flying

Once your bird is finger or hand tame, allow it to explore the room (after taking all safety steps first, like closing windows and doors). You could place special perches in the room, and the bird will soon get to know them. Before long, your new friend will probably start landing on your shoulder or even your head!

Training

This is where you and your bird really begin to have fun, and it’s up to you what happens next! Many birds will be happy to invent their own tricks to just give them the chance by buying a few toys from your pet shop. In addition, you could try the following, Ladder climbing, Car driving, Rope climbing and Toy Pulling. Once your bird has mastered these kinds of tricks you’ll be surprised what it is capable of. The only limit will be with your imagination! Don’t forget to encourage your bird all the time. The best way to reward it is with tasty treats.

Talking

Some species are better talkers than others, and each bird differs from the next. That’s why it’s so important that you take the time to build up a close relationship with your bird, only this way can you learn its moods and abilities. Teaching your bird to talk can be an amusing and rewarding experience. It’s best to begin with an easy word or phrase, repeating it as often as possible. Try using either the bird’s name or ‘hello’, or something equally simple and say it every time you come into the room. After a while, the bird may learn from your family and friends, and may even pick things up on its own.

What to expect next?

You can discover what to do in greater detail by reading some of the many excellent books written specifically about your chosen species. Ask your pet shop owner to recommend a few titles. For both yours and the bird’s sake, do make the effort to build a good relationship right from the start. And don’t make the mistake of trying too hard, too soon. Your bird could take weeks or even months to settle into its new home, and if that’s the case, just sit by the cage and talk gently, as often as you are able.

Whatever your age, keeping a companion bird is very rewarding, but it makes sense to choose a bird which will fit in with your family and lifestyle. Many tamed cage birds are wonderful with children and unlike other household pets you don’t need to have a garden.Listed above is a brief description of the popular bird groups to help you decide, but if in doubt always ask your local pet retailer who will be more than happy to assist.

Before you buy, do make sure you select a healthy bird. It’s worth spending a few minutes watching the bird’s behaviour in the shop. Healthy birds have smooth, close feathers and are active and alert to their surroundings. Avoid birds dry which seem sleepy and sit listlessly with ruffled up feathers. Vent feathers should be clean, dry and soft, if they are discoloured and matted it could indicate intestinal problems. Check beaks, feet and claws for malformations and look for any obvious signs of disease. Damaged feathers or bald patches are not necessarily a sign of disease, but avoid parrots with missing feathers as they may be self-pluckers, a psychological condition which is very difficult to cure.

Taming

Do make the effort to tame your bird. For your own sake as much as the birds. An untamed bird without attention and human contact will suffer great stress, living its life in constant fear of you and its surroundings. Ask your retailer for a young bird, they settle down much quicker and are easier to tame than older subjects.

Taming Tips

One person only should take charge of the taming to once the bird is tame enough he can then be introduce to the rest of the family. The more attention you give your bird the tamer it will become.

Do give your budgie a mirror. Budgies of either sex will treat their reflection as a mate to but remove it at training times in order to get their full attention. A cock budgie may spend hours at the mirror chattering to his ‘friend’ but if he starts courting his reflection and excessively regurgitates food to it, remove it for a while.

Do ensure your bird has a fresh water supply daily. Don’t allow perches and gravel sheets to become heavily soiled with dropping. Your bird will be healthier in a regularly cleaned home. Change gravel sheets and wash the base of the cage every 2 or 3 days. Clean the cage and its contents, including toys, regularly with a suitable disinfectant solution that is thoroughly rinsed afterwards.

Do keep a daily check on the condition of your bird. If you spot any signs of illness don’t hesitate to consult your vet as an early diagnosis and treatment may prevent a lot of suffering.

Don’t locate food, grit or water below perches where they may become contaminated with droppings. Choose a cage where feeders are attached to the cage sides above the floor.

Cages

Bird cages come in all shapes, sizes and colours. Make sure you buy the correct cage for your type of bird. The bigger the better, too! Don’t place the cage in a window which receives direct sunlight or the bird may suffer heatstroke.

Don’t clutter the cage with too many toys restricting the bird’s movement to provide just one or two items at a time and change them occasionally to keep him interested. Never attach toys with string or cotton, use sturdy clips or hooks.

Don’t place the cage too close to TV sets or hi-fi speakers; loud noises will stress the bird.

Do provide your pet with a bird bath. All birds need to bathe and its great fun to watch too. Alternatively give him a shower! Using a plant sprayer filled with tepid water, direct the spray above the bird’s head so the mist falls down onto him. Don’t squirt directly at the bird to you’ll scare him. Regular spraying also minimises feather dust which can cause an allergic reaction, a bit like hay fever, in some people. Most birds need 10-12 hours’ sleep at night. A cover over the cage will help the bird to rest if the room is brightly lit in the evening. Cage covers also help to quieten noisy birds.

Nutrition

Do provide a varied and well balanced diet. This will give the bird all the essential vitamins, minerals, trace elements and amino acids it needs to stay in shape. Many bird ailments are caused by dietary deficiencies which are very easy to avoid if you follow the guidelines.

Do provide fresh water as recommended for the species, but remove any uneaten remains after 24 hours.

Do provide a regular source of grit. Grit can be given to all seed eating birds. The particles of grit accumulate in the bird’s gizzard where seed kernels are broken down into smaller pieces which are easier to digest.

Don’t buy loose seed unless it’s from a known reputable retailer. Loose seed may be subject to moisture, mould, mite infestation or, worse still, rodent droppings.

Delightful, endearing characters, budgies are inexpensive, highly adaptable and easy to look after. When acquired young they are easy to tame and can be trained to talk. Budgies are justifiably the most popular cage birds the world over and are ideal pets for both young and old alike.

Budgies come from Australia originally. Budgies are the smallest members of the parrot family. They have an attractive natural chatter, are good mimics and can become talented talkers. The average size is anything to 7ins (18cm). A Budgerigar’s average life span is 7 to 10 years, although some individuals may live well into their teens. Budgies are inexpensive to buy, easy to obtain, inexpensive to keep. They tame readily when young, are entertaining and intelligent, ideal for children and grown-ups alike.

Canaries and Finches

Also good subjects for children, finches are easy to keep and care for. Canaries are most popular with bird keepers for their brilliant plumage and the beautiful song of the cock bird. Like the other members of the finch family they do not become exceptionally tame and cannot be trained to talk.

Finches are found in the wild in Australia, Africa, Europe and Northern Asia. Finches are widely varied group of birds and many have brilliant plumage and coloured beaks. The cock bird of all varieties tends to be the most colourful of all. Some Finches sing, especially at breeding time. The average size varies from 10cm to 19cm. In spite of their size some finches can live up to ten years in a domestic environment.

Canaries

Canaries come from the Canary Islands off the coast of Africa. Canaries are part of the large family of finches. Renowned for their singing abilities, selective breeding has now produced a bright variety of colours as well. Size varies from about 10cm to 20cm depending on the breed. Canaries can live up to 10 years in captivity. These jaunty little birds are very sociable. Males and Females get on well together, and they will mix happily with some other birds. Cock Roller Canaries are the great songsters.

Do treat your pet. Seed treats made with honey or egg are good training rewards and also provide interest and exercise, but don’t overdo it as even budgies get fat.

Cockatiels, Parakeets and Parrots

Runners-up to the budgie in the popularity stakes, cockatiels also make ideal pets for all ages and are easy and inexpensive. About twice the size of a budgie, cockatiels are equally gregarious and hardy and they often form strong attachments to their owners. Cockatiels are naturally adept climbers too and provide hours of amusing antics both in and out of their cage.

Cockatiels originate in South America, Africa, South East Asia & Australia. Characteristic hooked bills and foot structure make them very capable climbers and selective breeding has developed a range of colours. These long-tailed slender birds reach 12ins (32 cms) in length, in captivity they can live 13 to 18 yrs. Cockatiels have gentle and affectionate natures and love to be stroked and handled. Once tame, they are excellent family birds sociable with all members of the household.

Parakeets and Parrots

Compared to the other popular cage birds, the larger members of the parrot family are a different kettle of fish altogether. With a long life expectancy (up to 30 years and more), a parrot is a long term commitment. If you are prepared to invest a lot of money, time and attention you will be well rewarded with strong bonds of affection, entertaining behaviour and a devoted friendship for life. Don’t consider buying a parrot until you’ve done some prior research.

Originating from South America, Africa, South East Asia & Australia. There are over 300 species of Parrot in the wild. With recent advances in breeding research, about 280 species have now been bred successfully in captivity. Sizes vary greatly according to the species, from small parrotlets of 8ins (20cms) to the large Macaws at up to 1 metre long! Many larger Parrots can live well into their 20's or 30's, and have been known to live much longer than that. The oldest recorded parrot was a cockatoo, which was said to reach the ripe old age of 120!

In spite of the undoubted devotion shown to their owners and their unique talent for mimicry, many of the most popular parrots are noisy, destructive and expensive. Inexperienced bird keepers should practice good bird husbandry first with a cockatiel. However, when you do get a parrot, you can be sure you’ve got an entertaining companion for life!

Wild Birds

wild bird

Making the decision to invite wild birds into your garden by offering them a healthy and abundant feeding source is one that will bring you much pleasure and satisfaction. Before you hang your feeder and await the birds’ colourful plumage and sweet songs, there are some helpful basics that every wild bird enthusiast should know.

Feeders come in an infinite variety of shapes, sizes, styles and materials. The types you choose will be based largely on personal preference as well as the types of birds you wish to attract. Some feeders are specifically for peanuts and seed and so will fall through the feeders, so be careful choosing. You will want a feeder that will hold at least a few days’ worth of food at a time, so you won’t have to constantly refill it. You’ll want to make sure seed is available at all times, because the birds will quickly come to rely on your feeder as a source of food and you don’t want to let them down.

Is the feeder easy too clean?

Feeders should be thoroughly cleaned with a solution of diluted bleach or other disinfectant at least once a month. Use a brush to scrub away any mould or mildew. In very damp climates or seasons, check the seed every few days to ensure that it stays dry. Seed that becomes too damp can cause mould to grow, and the spores can be very harmful to birds if inhaled or ingested.

Where to place the feeder

You’ll want to place the feeder where it is visible from a frequently visited vantage point inside your home. Hang it high enough (at least five feet) so the birds are safe from cats and other predators. Hanging a feeder near lush evergreens or hedges will provide birds with summer nesting sites and protection from winter winds. As your appreciation for wild birds grows, you may even choose to plant specific plants and trees known to be favoured by certain species of birds. These will vary depending on climate, location and other factors, so consult a local garden centre to find out what works best in your area.

Water

Providing fresh, clean water is an important part of any wild bird environment. In fact, a clean water source placed near your feeders may attract up to twice the birds as a feeder alone. Clean water can be provided in a birdbath, fill the birdbath daily. There are plenty made for this purpose. It is especially important to provide water in the winter, when other sources are not available.

Seasonal Feeding

Once you begin feeding wild birds, they’ll quickly come to rely on your feeders as a food source, so you’ll want to keep them filled year-round. During the spring and summer, and in warmer climates into the autumn, providing seed is adequate. During the cooler late autumn months and throughout the winter, you’ll also want to offer foods with a higher fat and energy content. These include balls of high-energy fat with seeds mixed in as well as peanuts and other seeds. These foods will help sustain birds through the long winter nights and cold days.

Small Pets

pet rabbit

Mice, Rats, Gerbils and Hamsters. These little sweeties are often chosen as pets for the first time pet owner because they are relatively low maintenance and have gentle dispositions. Commercial rodent pellets are available for Gerbils and Hamsters at pet stores. All four creatures have similar diets so if you have a rat, gerbil pellets are fine. For a more palatable diet, supplement the pellets with diced fruit and seeds, but don’t overdo it. These little guys have habit of filling up on the yummy stuff and ignoring the pellets, and eating that way will not satisfy their daily nutritional needs.

As the popularity of keeping small animals increases, more and more cages designed for them are appearing in pet stores all over. But, I recommend a glass aquarium with a screen cover. Small rodents are excellent escape artists. They can squeeze through the tiniest openings between standard cage bars if they are so inclined. Additionally, these cages usually have a slatted floor with a slide tray underneath designed for easier bedding changes. These slats (also escape routes) can be hard on the feet leading to foot problems and injuries. An all glass aquarium with a smooth floor will be more difficult to clean, but will be safer for your pet.

Line the aquarium with commercially available bedding or wood shavings and change bedding twice a week. For their amusement (and yours), furnish the aquarium with an exercise wheel. Avoid metal wheels with mice, rats and gerbils, as their long tails tend to get caught in the slats, which could lead to serious injuries. Plastic wheels are safer. (Hamsters do not have long tails so the metal wheels are okay for them if you so choose). Hide-a-way huts should be available, particularly for gerbils, as they need to have a quiet, dark place to sleep. There are a variety of connectable tunnels and tubes to make mazes for your pet’s enjoyment. These toys are fine, but are sure not to build them up too high in the aquarium that the animals will be able to climb on top of them and escape. They can easily chew through the screen cover if their hearts are set on making a break for it.

Pairing Up: Mice & Rats: Stick with all females. Males together tend to fight. Males and Females together, well you know.

Hamsters: Best to be kept an only child. They all have a propensity for fighting, but if you must, pair up males. The females of the species can be vicious towards each other.

Gerbils: Happiest in pairs, they rarely fight. Any same sex pair is fine.

A bunny rabbit can be a wonderful addition to your household if properly cared for. They are very mild mannered and enjoy being handled. Commercial rabbit pellets are available in most pet stores. Contrary to popular belief, they cannot survive on a diet of lettuce and carrots, however, these can be offered as healthy tasty treats and make your rabbit a happy pet. You can also treat your rabbit to sunflower seeds (it’s fun to watch them spit the shells out) nuts and fruits, but don’t overdo it. They might come to prefer these items and refuse their regular diet. You may be shocked, one day, to find your rabbit eating its own feces. This practice is called coprophagy. While disgusting to humans, coprophagy is a perfectly normal practice for rabbits that helps aid in digestion, and increases nutrient absorption within the body. As with any pet, fresh water should be readily available at all times.

Housing

Rabbits can allowed free run of the house if they are litter trained, but if your rabbit is to be kept in a cage, it should be housed individually in an enclosure no smaller than 5 square feet, 16 inches high and have smooth flooring. Wire mesh can be hard on the feet. If your rabbit does have free run of the house, be sure that all electrical wires are protected. They love to chew them, and could damage your appliances or worse, electrocute themselves.

Restraint: A rabbit should NEVER be picked up by the ears. When handling a rabbit, grasp the loose skin over the shoulder with one hand and support the hind legs with the other. Rabbits that are restrained with their hind legs unsupported tend to kick and struggle and they can injure, or even break their backs with such attempts.

Another great choice for the first time pet owner, These cuties are generally good natured and fairly low maintenance. The ideal temperature for the Guinea Pig is 75°C. Higher temperatures can lead to heat stroke.

Nutrition

Guinea Pigs must have adequate amounts of Vitamin C in their diets since their bodies are not capable of synthesizing the vitamin internally.Most commercial Guinea Pig food pellets satisfy this requirement, but make sure it’s fresh. The vitamin levels in this type of form begin to lose potency after just six weeks. Adding fruit and vegetables to your pet’s diet for good measure is recommended to ensure proper nutrition and will make it more tastier too). Food and water should be kept off the floor for sanitary reasons. A water bottle and hanging food tray is recommended. Change daily.

Housing

Housing should be at least 18 inches high, with 2 square feet of space for each pet. A glass aquarium with a screen cover, lined with wood chips or commercial bedding, is fine. If you choose a wire cage, provide a smooth floor surface made of metal or plastic sheeting. The wire netting can be rough on his feet. A small amount of hay for him to burrow in will make him a happypet. I also recommend installing a ramp or ledge made of plastic or metal ( wood is difficult to clean) for him to climb on, and hide under. The cage should be thoroughly cleaned and bedding changed weekly.

Pairing Up: If you plan to have more than one Guinea Pig, stick with females. Males housed together tend to fight, and males with females, well you know.

Domesticated rats make fantastic pets for children and adults. They are highly intelligent, clean and very sociable. They can have the same interaction with you as a dog or cat would. Usually a nocturnal animal, rats quickly adjust their sleeping patterns to come out and play when you get home from school or work.

Pet rats and mice require no vaccinations and carry no diseases. Males do get larger than the females and will tend to be lazier and more laid back. Females will still have the playful tendencies when they mature. Rats generally don’t smell and if they do it means you haven’t cleaned their cage enough. Rats and mice will wash themselves and constantly groom; however, you can give your rat an occasional bath. The average life span of rats is two to three years; mice one to two years. Unlike guinea pigs they are clean in their housekeeping, usually urinating in one corner of the cage. Female mice are preferred by many because they do not have the ‘musky’ odour that is natural for male mice.