General Pet Bird Care

Choosing and Caring for a Pet Bird
Common Characteristics of Popular Pet Birds
Signs of a Potentially Sick Bird
Cage Characteristics
Grooming For Your Pet Bird
Sex Determination
Nutrition In Pet Birds

Choosing and Caring for a Pet Bird

Having owned and/or treated birds for over 10 years, I have experienced the pleasures as well as the pain of being a bird owner. In my experience, the intelligence, personality, and individuality demonstrated by parrots and the strong bond of affection that develops between a bird and its owner far outweigh any of the negative aspects of bird ownership. With this in mind, owning a pet bird can be a wonderful experience but birds are not the best pet for everyone. Depending on the species, parrots may live from 8-80 years making ownership a lifetime commitment. Birds have pleasant voices when singing or talking, but quickly become loud and obnoxious when angry or jealous. Birds are intelligent and entertaining but when deprived of attention or environmental stimulation they often become destructive of surroundings and sometimes of themselves.

Once you are ready for the commitment of owning a bird, the next step is choosing the species that has the characteristics you desire and that fit within your lifestyle.

Common Characteristics of Popular Pet Birds:

Cockatiel or BudgieGood "First bird" easily tamed, limited ability to talk.
African Grey ParrotExcellent talker, not colorful, prone to self destructive behavior.
Amazon ParrotExcellent talker, few enjoy petting, aggressive during breeding season.
CockatooLimited talking ability, very affectionate, self destructive if neglected, heavy powder production.
MacawLarge, require a lot of space, very intelligent, colorful, loud.

Now that you have selected a species, it is time to find that special individual bird. The probability of obtaining a healthy, well adjusted pet bird increases if you carefully choose the source.

A healthy bird should be bright, alert and responsive to its surroundings, feathers shinny and smooth, breast full and round vent clean and stools/urine normal.

Signs of a Potentially Sick Bird

Birds are very efficient at covering signs of illness therefore any of the above signs may indicate a very serious problem. A comprehensive pre/post purchase examination by an avian veterinarian is very important. The minimum "new bird" veterinary evaluation should include a complete visual and physical examination, complete red and white blood cell count, serum chemistry profile and gram stains of cloaca (vent area) and choana (sinus cavity). Depending on the examination findings and the species, further evaluation may be recommended such as tests for chlamydia and Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease (PBFD).

Cage Characteristics

The cage will probably be the most expensive item purchased after the cost of the bird.

Toys - Frequent rotation of toys helps maintain interest and provide environmental stimulation. Choose toys carefully. Beware of open chain links, snap type claps, bells with clapper, and small parts that are easily removed.

Grooming For Your Pet Bird

Bathing - Frequent bathing, daily to weekly, stimulates normal preening behavior and helps to remove oil build up from handling and petting the bird. Misting, a shallow bowl or in the shower are all acceptable ways to provide a bird a bath. Do not use any product other than plain water to bathe your bird.

Wing Trim - the goal is to prevent the bird from developing rapid and sustained flight, however, even a fully clipped bird can achieve flight in the right conditions. Several types of trims are both cosmetic and effective.

Nail Trim - Ideal to trim a small amount frequently to prevent overgrowth. An emery board is sufficient on a daily basis. Nails should be trimmed any time they are sharp or when they start to curve past the plane of the toe tip. Always have styptic powder available to stop any bleeding in the event that the nail is cut too close to the quick.

Beak Trim - Most birds, if provided sufficient material to chew, will keep the beak at a normal length. Chewable items include: soft wood, sugar cane, chew bars, hard biscuits, nuts, bones (steak or rib), cuttle bone, lava rock and mineral blocks. Some flaking and shelving of the beak is normal however excessive flaking, shelving or overgrowth may be a sign of internal disease.


In general, imported birds are open banded and the band number usually starts with USDA. Captive raised birds are closed banded. Due to potential legislature requiring banding of all pet birds, I do not recommend band removal at this time. Another form of permanent identification is the MICROCHIP. A small glass encased chip encoded with a number unique to your bird is inserted in the breast muscle. These are of particular use in the identification and proof of ownership in cases of lost, found or stolen birds.

Sex Determination

Most parrots are sexually monomorphic i.e. both sexes are identical in appearance. Visual sexing is possible in the few dimorphic species of parrots. For example:

Cockatiellacks barringbarring on underside of wing/tail feathers
Budgieblue cerebrown cere
Eclectusgreenred or purple
African Greyred vent and rumpgray tips on red feather or mostly gray
Cockatoobrown-black irisred-brown iris

Most of the above characteristic differences are not apparent in immature birds. Eye color in cockatoos is unreliable and varies with maturity and species. Determination by palpation of the distance between pelvic bones is unreliable especially in immature and reproductively inactive birds.

Surgical or Laproscopic Sexing - Subject to error in young birds. Major advantage-allows for direct observation of reproductive organs for signs of disease or dysfunction. Major disadvantage- an invasive procedure requiring general anesthesia.

Blood or DNA Sexing - Accurate in birds as young as 1 day old. Advantage-requires a small blood sample collected from a toe nail with minimal risk and trauma to the bird. Disadvantage-requires 2-3 weeks to receive test results.

Nutrition In Pet Birds

Birds require a nutritionally balanced diet for a long and healthy life. Our dogs and cats are fed a dry or canned diet specifically formulated for their nutritional requirements. The poultry industry feeds a pelleted diet designed for the growth and production of poultry, turkeys and waterfowl. In response to the needs of a growing ratite industry (ostrich, emu) a pelleted diet has been produced to provide for the needs of these unique birds.

Information gained through research in these industries, the parrot avicultural community, universities and years of observation of parrots in their natural environment has been combined and used to formulate nutritionally complete, pelleted diets to feed our pet birds.

It is critical to the health and longevity of our pet birds to provide a nutritionally complete diet. Psittacines (parrots) require an extensive list of essential vitamins, amino acids and minerals, many of which are lacking in a diet of primarily seed. In the wild environment, an all seed diet is considered a "survival" diet usually eaten by birds when other foods are not available. These diets are high in fat and therefore provide calories and energy to survive difficult times. Sunflower and safflower seeds contain 47%-60% fat and are grossly deficient in many essential nutrients. Because of their high energy content, if given the choice, captive birds will often eat these high fat foods to the exclusion of all other foods. On cursory examination, these birds appear healthy but in reality are obese and suffering from malnutrition. Disease typically seen in obese birds include: hardening of the arteries, fatty liver syndrome and associated liver failure and protein malnutrition.

Therefore, birds may SURVIVE on an all seed diet (like a prisoner on bread and water) but they WILL NOT THRIVE.

Birds can eat any wholesome food that humans eat including meats, pasta, rice, eggs, bread, cereals, fruits and vegetables. If seeds are fed, they should compose no more than 20% of the total diet with the remaining 80% being foods selected from all 4 food groups (meat, dairy, fruits, vegetables). It is important that all foods be washed to remove dirt and toxic substances. Allowing fresh foods to spoil in the cage can expose your bird to dangerous molds and bacteria. Moldy peanuts are a source of potent mycotoxins. These are toxic substances produced by certain molds that grow on peanuts stored in moist environments. If feeding peanuts, purchase only peanuts packaged for human consumption and store them in an air tight container.

Although feeding a wide range of foods sounds good, it is difficult to ensure that the bird will eat everything that is offered and in the appropriate amounts. Commercially pelleted diets contain all the essential vitamins, amino acids and minerals in the proper amount and balance. Since every bite is the same, you are assured that your bird is getting the best nutrition available. The initial cost of pelleted diets may be more than seed diets, but when waste from seed hulls, picky eating habits and spillage are considered, pelleted diets are the better deal. In addition, with pellets, no other supplements are necessary. The real economy and benefit to the pelleted diet is in the resulting health of your valued pet.

So now that you are convinced that seeds are OUT and pellets are IN, how do you convert a seed eater to pellets?

First, consult your avian veterinarian prior to instituting any dietary change. At SAFARI we recommend a comprehensive physical examination for your bird to determine overall condition and to obtain a baseline body weight. We recommend weekly rechecks to monitor body weight until your bird is completely converted to pellets and is maintaining a steady body weight.

There are several ways to convert a bird to a new diet. Some birds are very cooperative and immediately accept the new diet when it is offered in place of seeds. Unfortunately, most are not this simple and require close monitoring, patience and persistence. Remember, this is for the rest of your birds life.

Gradual change allows your bird to overcome their natural suspicions through a process of observation, mental adjustment and testing. I recommend the following approach:

Measure the amount of seed your bird eats in one day then reduce that amount by 1/4. Add 10 pellets and provide usual fruit, vegetables and water free choice. Do this for 7 days. If during this time the bird begins to eat the pellets great, if not, go to the next step

Reduce original amount seeds to 1/2 and do everything else the same. If during this time your bird fails to consume all the seeds but is still not eating the pellets, then you are still feed too much seed.

Next step, reduce amount seeds to 1/4 of original amount. At this point the bird should have begun eating the pellets, if not, consult with your avian veterinarian. You may need to try a different brand or form of pellet.

Again, Do not attempt to switch the diet without consultation with and weight monitoring by an avian veterinarian.

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