Domestic Birds 101
Avian experts say birds can be more entertaining, loyal and intelligent than dogs or cats. Certainly, birds are among the most talented pets since they are the only animals able to replicate human speech.
Some Facts on Common Breeds
The most common pet bird is the budgerigar (also known as the budgie or parakeet). It’s part of the parrot family, along with cockatiels and lovebirds.
- Seeds A very common bird feed, seeds are an easy solution but they don’t provide complete nutrition. Choose a seed mix with a wide variety of seeds to provide different nutrients. Seed-eating birds need a regular vitamin/mineral supplement. Either place the supplement in their water, (change it daily as bacteria grows quickly) or sprinkle a vitamin powder over ‘wet food’ such as fruit.
- Vitaminized seeds (sprayed seeds) Bird nutritionists are attempting to overcome the vitamin shortfalls of a seed diet by spraying the mixes with trace minerals. This potentially offers the bird more nutritional value, but considering birds leave the hull behind, they realize limited benefit with the mineral spray. Birds eating sprayed seeds also require added vitamin supplements.
- Formulated or Pelleted Diets These types of bird feeds have been developed to provide a more nutritionally complete diet than seed. The biggest problem can be switching a bird from seed to pellets. One option is to mix the pellets into the seed, and slowly increase the amount of pellets until the bird receives no seed at all. Alternatively, you can provide two separate dishes while going through this process, but monitor closely to ensure the bird realizes that the pellets are food. It may take weeks or even months to modify a bird’s diet, and you should never remove seeds entirely until you’re certain the bird is eating the formulated food.
Birds also require cuttlebone for added calcium. As well, they usually appreciate fresh fruits and vegetables, like leafy greens or apples, pears and grapes. And just like humans, birds like variety – try a carrot whole, and then sliced. Broccoli on a skewer is not only a healthy snack, it’s a toy.
Be wary of foods that are hazardous for birds, such as rice, rhubarb and avocado. Eggplant and zucchini are not recommended for birds until further research. Anything high in fat, sugar or salt is not bird-friendly, especially as less active birds, like budgies, cockatiels and lovebirds, can be prone to obesity.
Overall, many vets recommend a pellet diet, with a little seed, and a choice of fruits and vegetables daily.
Home, Sweet Home
The basic rule for purchasing a bird cage is to get the largest cage you can afford and that you can fit in your home. The more room a bird has to fly in its cage, the happier and healthier it is likely to be. All bird cages should be placed in a sunny location, not in direct heat and free of drafts.
Birds can display any array of symptoms when not feeling well. Birds instinctively hide symptoms for a long time, so by the time they are exhibiting signs of poor health, they may be quite out of sorts. Watch for:
- personality changes,
- loss of appetite,
- eye cloudiness,
- eye or nasal discharge,
- feather changes, and
- any change in droppings from fewer to diarrhea to blackened (the latter could be a symptom of starvation!).
Should your bird display any signs of illness, bring him to a veterinarian – in addition to your regular check-ups. If possible, bring the bird in her own cage, so the vet may assess the bird’s environment, food, feeding arrangement, and cage droppings.