CHOOSING YOUR BIRD
Special birds have special needs. There is a vast number of species of cage birds, many of which must be treated specifically. For example, some birds eat only seeds, others only fruit and nectar. Some eat meat, others need live food such as maggots – and even the seed-eaters have special requirements for certain types of seeds.
Another difference is in their bathing habits. Whilst some love to bathe in water, others, such as quail, like a dust bath.
Before you acquire your bird(s) it is important that you learn about their special needs. Your local bird society and your library will be the best sources of information.
A healthy bird should be alert and observant, with a good appetite and bright, watchful eyes. Its feathers should be luxuriant, with a good sheen and held close to the body. Beak and claws should not be overgrown and there should be no encrustations on the body. A sick bird will droop on its perch, be silent, fluff out its feathers and will sleep most of the time with its head tucked under its wing. Breathing may be difficult and its motions loose. Observe your bird carefully and seek veterinary advice when necessary.
The Aviary: If you are able to keep your birds in an outside aviary, they will have more freedom of movement and will be far happier. A suitable size would be 12ft to 18 ft long, 6 ft high and 5 ft wide. Your local library will probably have books on aviary design, which you could adapt to suit your circumstances and your pocket, and of course incorporate your own ideas.
The cage: If you are unable to provide an aviary then choose your cage with care. It is to be your birds home and its selection is of prime importance. Ensure that both cage and contents are easy to keep clean.
To fly is a basic right of any bird, so the cage must be as large as possible. Horizontal space is more important than height as although birds jump up and down on to perches they do not fly up and down. Aminimum sized cage would be 2-ft long x 2-ft high x 21 inches wide. Wooden cages are suitable for most birds, but not for the psittachines (or parrot-type birds, such as budgerigars) who love to chew and will easily destroy woodwork.
A cage with a wire front but with solid back and sides will give your bird some privacy and protection from draughts, while still permitting plenty of light and fresh air. Never paint the wire as parrot-type birds crawl around the wire with their feet and beaks and can easily get poisoned from painted wire.
SITING THE CAGE
Position the cage in a well lit, sunny room where the birds will have frequent human contact. Should the cage be placed outside on a fine day, care must be taken to provide adequate shade and protection from predators. Avoid draughty situations at all times. Remember birds are daytime creatures and need to sleep at night, so during the day give them company but ensure they have peace and quiet at night. Cover the cage – and do not leave it next to the television or stereo!
Cage Floors must be covered. – Special sanded paper can be bought from pet shops, or you can use grit, clean sand or newspaper. If using newspaper, keep grit in a little dish in the cage as it is a necessary and important part of a birds diet.
Perches – Perches in various shapes and sizes will keep the birds feet well toned. One round, one oval and one natural tree branch is ideal. Perches must be taken out once a month, scrubbed clean and then dipped in boiling water. This keeps away mites (which are almost invisible) that annoy birds and can be dangerous to their health.
Stress affects birds, who thrive on a regular routine of eating and sleeping. Being creatures of habit they may take time to adapt to changes of any sort whether it be a new home, new food or a new toy on their cage. Bear this in mind when you first bring your bird home. Allow it to settle in quietly, and if necessary, cover part of the cage to give added privacy.
All birds should be allowed to exercise out of the cage on a regular basis, but close supervision is vital. Before releasing your bird, cover windows and mirrors, close the doors and screen off the fireplace. Keep other pets out of the room. Most birds will return to their cage after a while to rest on their perch.
Accustom your bird to being handled so that you can look for signs of ill health. Begin by handling it gently in the cage. Extend your ïindex finger alongside a perch, raising it under the birds breast until he hops on. Move your hand slowly around the cage, transferring your pet from perch to perch, making soft encouraging noises. Soon it will become tame enough to be removed from the cage in this way. It is a good idea to train your bird to accept handling before letting it out of its cage.
All birds have a high metabolic rate and must never run short of food and water, both of which should be renewed every day and empty seed husks (or ïfluff) removed. Birds drop the empty husks back into the dish so although it may appear to be full, there is no whole seed left. Greens are an important part of a birds diet and if living wild they would have a choice of many greens and know instinctively what they should eat. Wash greens well to remove any sprays or pesticides.
Birdseed may be ïsprouted and fed to your birds. To do this soak seed overnight, rinse well and leave to germinate in a warm dark place. Good seed will sprout in three or four days. You can also feed fresh spinach, celery, lettuce, chickweed and any seeding grass. Pip or stone fruits may be fed and millet sprays are always appreciated. Remove greens or fruit as soon as it has lost its freshness.
Boredom can be a problem for birds who spend much of their time in cages. Give your bird adequate attention, talk to it often. Provide some entertainment such as mirrors, bells, ladders and so on, but leave enough room for the bird to move around.
If necessary, give your bird variety by changing its toys from time to time. Do not worry if your bird does not use a new item immediately. Budgies, particularly, are very conservative and it may take them several weeks to ïeye off a new thing in the cage before they touch it.
SOMETHING TO CHEW ON
Allowing a bird to chew on wood or bark has several benefits. It helps keep its beak in trim; it can sometimes be a source of trace minerals and it helps relieve boredom.
Diarrhoea or scouring may be caused by an excess of greens or through contaminated or mouldy food. Another common cause is starvation caused by owners failing to remove the husks off top of the seed container. Mites are small parasites that feed on the birds skin and blood, causing great irritation. Your bird may rub, scratch or pull out its feathers. If you suspect mite infestation, consult your veterinarian. Growths on or under the skin are common.
Seek veterinary advice at the first signs of illness. Also if your birds beak or claws become overgrown and require trimming.