Caring for Birds

Birds are the third most popular pet today, trailing dogs and cats. Birds can be wonderful companions, but they are not easy-care pets. Even smaller birds need special care and attention to be happy and healthy.

Birds crave interaction with the family and also need quiet time. Because birds are so sensitive to air quality, they need to be protected from many household products. Spray cleaners, hairspray, even the chemicals given off by Teflon-coated pans, can harm or kill birds. You need to guard against drafts in the winter and provide dark, quiet time at night.

Finches can live 10 years, while cockatiels and parakeets can live 20 years. Because they are very different from dogs and cats, birds need a veterinarian who is an avian specialist.

Living Space and Exercise

When it comes to a cage, you will want to invest in the largest cage that you can afford. A wide cage, with room for the bird to move horizontally, improves their quality of life significantly. The cage bars should be close enough to keep your bird inside, smaller birds need closer bars. You will want a cage will be easy to clean, so avoid wood or wicker. The material and placement of perches is important, too. Some people create a safe room for their birds so that they may enjoy exercise time outside the cage. Glass, mirrors, and ceiling fans can pose dangerous hazards to birds who can be injured by flying into them.

Birds love to preen and bathe, and they enjoy a shallow water bowl for baths. Some birds like to be spritzed with a mist of water from a spray bottle. If your bird’s nails start to curve around or if they are having trouble standing on a perch, it is time to take go to a vet for a nail trim.

Birds need mental stimulation and most species of birds love toys, especially those that can be safely chewed or manipulated. Many birds need a place to hide and you can purchase hide-away tents or boxes for them. Some birds like seeing themselves in a small mirror in their cage.

Proper Diet

Food and water bowls should be within reach of a perch, and need to be thoroughly cleaned daily. As birds eat, they leave seed hulls in their food dish, so it is important that their food dish be emptied and filled fresh each day.

There are commercially available seed blends and pellet diets for seed eaters (finches, canaries) and hookbills (parakeets, cockatiels, lovebirds). Birds also enjoy apple or orange slices and greens like romaine; some species enjoy other vegetables and foods, too. Seed-eating birds may need grit to properly digest food and some birds benefit from a cuttlebone. A little research or a discussion with your avian veterinarian will help you learn about the best foods and treats to offer your birds and will help you stay away from things that may be harmful. (For example, chocolate and avocado can harm birds.)

Health and Wellbeing

Most birds prefer to have a friend; in most cases a male and female pair works well. Unlike a dog or cat, spay/neuter surgery is not recommended for birds, but your avian veterinarian can provide simple advice on how to prevent the addition of baby birds.

If your bird should begin plucking feathers, this may be a sign of stress or boredom. When birds are sick they often try to hide their illness. Watch for swollen eyes, diarrhea, stains around their vent, sitting in one place with feathers fluffed during the day, labored breathing or wheezing. If you notice any of these symptoms get your bird to an avian veterinarian immediately.

Larger birds are rewarding pets for the right person, but they have needs that are more challenging to meet than smaller birds. Their care can be expensive and they require a varied diet. They can also be noisy and messy. Large birds are very social, have a great need for attention, and can outlive us, with some parrots living 50 or more years.

Birds can be marvelous companions and there are often birds in need of adoption. For more information on bird care and adoption visit Reno Area Avian Enthusiasts at or Avian Welfare Coalition at Nevada Humane Society sometimes has birds available for adoption too.


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