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Cheat Sheet

Birds For Dummies

From Birds For Dummies by Gina Spadafori, Brian L. Speer

Pet birds are intelligent, affectionate, and rewarding companions. No matter what species of bird you choose, you need to set up a happy home for him with the right stuff. You also need to keep your bird healthy by performing routine care and knowing what a healthy bird looks like and how he behaves.

What to Buy for Your New Bird

Buying a bird and setting it up in a new, happy home can be a big investment, but you don't need to purchase much of the gear some retailers suggest. Some of the products out there are more than unnecessary — they're dangerous.

No matter how much essential (and nonessential) stuff you buy for your bird, there's one thing not to cut corners on: Start with a healthy, well-socialized bird from a reputable breeder or bird shop, and have an avian veterinarian examine it (and include a baseline laboratory workup).

Here's a list of supplies that you absolutely need for your bird:

  • A well-designed, safe cage of appropriate size for the species. (A good rule: Choose one size bigger than the label suggests; for example, choose a small parrot cage for a cockatiel.)

  • A diet appropriate to the species. For most birds, a pellet diet supplemented by fresh vegetables and fruit.

  • Stainless steel or crockery (with nontoxic glaze) bowls.

  • Perches: wooden, rope, natural branches (such as manzanita or citrus), and cement.

  • Sturdy toys for amusement and exercise.

  • Squirt bottle, for misting your bird.

  • Nail trimmer (dog or cat) variety) or Dremel tool for blunting nails, plus styptic powder to halt any bleeding.

  • First aid kit (buy one ready-made or put together your own)

  • Travel cage or carrier.

  • Cleaning supplies.

Things you shouldn't buy, but may be told to get anyway:

  • Over-the-counter medications, including antibiotics, feather-picking "cures," vitamins, or parasite controls

  • Sandpaper perches

  • Seed-exclusive diets

  • Plastic toys that can be swallowed

  • Grit

  • Nesting boxes (except for a breeding bird)

And lastly, there are some things that are nice to have — for you and your bird:

  • Air filter and humidifier

  • Handheld vacuum

  • Play gym

  • Cage skirt to catch food and other messes

  • Identification, either microchip or leg band

Signs of a Healthy Pet Bird

Too often, bird-owners fail to notice early clues of illness because their pets are particularly skilled at hiding these signs. You need to know what's normal for your bird so that you can spot changes that mean illness — and call your veterinarian.

A healthy bird

  • Behaves normally, perching without problems, moving with coordination, using the full body without favoring one side or the other.

  • Bears weight evenly, all four toes present on each foot and in proper position.

  • Is alert and responsive.

  • Breathes easily, with no sign of laboring or tail-bobbing.

  • Has eyes, ears, and nostrils that are free of debris.

  • Has healthy plumage. Feathers have normal color and structure, with no signs of improper development or excessive wear. No evidence of damage from feather-picking, improper housing, or other trauma.

  • Consistently produces droppings that are normal in appearance. No pasting of waste on the fanny.

  • Has well-muscled body of appropriate weight, not obese. Skin is smooth and translucent without excessive amounts of fat showing underneath or excessive flakiness or crustiness.

Schedule of Routine Care to Ensure a Bird's Good Health

Putting yourself on a schedule is a great way to make sure your bird's basic needs are covered. While your avian veterinarian may have specific recommendations for your bird, here's a general outline of a good routine:

  • Daily (or even more frequently): Clean food and water dishes and refill them; change cage papers. Most important: Provide attention and interaction, keeping an eye out for changes in behavior, routine, or appearance.

  • Weekly: Scrub cage where feces have accumulated. Rotate toys for variety, if your bird is comfortable with changes.

  • Monthly: Blunt toenails; check wings for new feathers that need to be trimmed. Check toys; replace any worn ones. Get a feel for body mass — has your bird gained or lost weight or muscle tone? Scrub and disinfect entire cage.

  • Annually: Schedule a "well-bird" exam by an avian veterinarian, possibly including some baseline laboratory tests.

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