Birds For Dummies book cover

Birds For Dummies

By: Gina Spadafori and Brian L. Speer Published: 09-10-1999

From finches and canaries to conures and macaws, this friendly guide describes the species that make the best pets, explains how to select the bird who's best for you, offers tips on bonding with your feathered friend, and provides expert advice on feeding and grooming.

Articles From Birds For Dummies

page 1
page 2
11 results
11 results
Choosing Your Bird: The Best Birds for Beginners

Step by Step / Updated 03-25-2021

When it comes to birds, too many people get in over their heads, choosing a pet who’s too large, too loud, too expensive, and ultimately, too much to handle. If your list of must-have birds includes only the largest and most colorful parrots, expand your horizons and consider some other birds with great pet potential before you buy. The world of birds is large, with more than 300 species of parrots alone — although, of course, not all of them are commonly available as pets. Some of these species are perfect for the first-time owner, in different ways. Some are good because they don’t need — or want — to be handled, and some for the opposite reason — because they’re feathered love sponges. In this article, we present an admittedly subjective list of birds — some well-known, some not — that are reasonably priced, reasonably sized, and just plain reasonable to live with. Deal with a reputable breeder or bird store when shopping for any pet; otherwise, all those wonderful traits we attribute to birds may be nonexistent in the animals you encounter. Some pet retailers see birds as goods to be bred, shipped, and sold as quickly and efficiently as possible. Rapid stock turnover may be a great plan for merchandising widgets, but it’s not ideal for pets. Deal with people who sell healthy, well-socialized birds, and you can count on the best start possible. You may have noticed that we don’t include any of the large parrot species such as macaws and cockatoos in our suggestions for beginners. Until you really have a good sense of what it means to share your life with a bird, it may be best to hold off committing to ownership of one of these large, loud, strong, long-lived species.

View Step by Step
Birds For Dummies Cheat Sheet

Cheat Sheet / Updated 03-23-2021

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.

View Cheat Sheet
Problem-Solving Troublesome Bird Behaviors

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

You've had your bird a while now. You've perfected his cage and environment to make sure that happy. And you've trained him to make him accept your role as boss. Now, you can start to work on his individual behaviors you can't stand. Don't lose patience. Sometimes, behavior adjustments take a little time. And sometimes, what bothers you just can't be fixed. Sorry, but it's the truth. Doesn't mean you should stop learning and trying, though. Feather-picking This is the one problem that has bird-lovers, behaviorists, and veterinarians alike pulling their hair out in frustration, a bird's willful destruction of his own plumage. The first thing you need to know is that feather-picking is a symptom of something else that's wrong with your bird. The only hope you have of "curing" feather-picking is finding out and treating what's behind the behavior. Feather-picking relates to a staggering variety of problems; any one or any combination of the following scenarios can be at the bottom of your bird's plucking: Health problems: Medical conditions that cause feather-picking include allergies, infections, abnormal growths (cysts) in the feather follicle, internal health problems, vitamin deficiencies, and hormone-associated problems. And that's the short list! Low humidity: Many birds come from extremely humid environments, and our houses can't hope to duplicate the conditions of a rain forest (we'd be miserable). The dry air of most houses can be a factor in feather-picking and can also set the stage for some secondary medical problems. Boredom and pent-up energy: Birds are active and intelligent, and many don't enjoy sitting around in a cage all day. Without things to play with and stuff to destroy, and without being able to get out of the cage and exercise, birds may direct all their energy toward self-mutilation. Psychological problems: A bad wing trim — too short, with no allowance for an "easy landing" — can upset a bird so badly that she starts tearing at herself. True phobias and other obsessive-compulsive disorders do exist in parrots and can result in feather-damaging behavior. Attention-seeking: He starts tugging at feathers and you freak, imagining your beautiful bird looking like a broiler-chicken. Every time he touches his feathers — even for normal preening behavior — you rush over. See how this works? "Aha!" thinks your bird. "All I have to do to get attention is pull a feather!" So what can be done with the feather-picker? Call your veterinarian, as soon as the problem appears. You need to rule out — and possibly fix — the medical problems before you can proceed. In general, the longer your bird has been picking, the greater the probability that an unresolvable habit has formed. When the problem starts, start looking for a solution. After your bird receives a clean bill of physical health, make environmental adjustments to see whether you can ward off the picking. Prepare for this project to be a long one and make changes in small increments. A daily misting with a spray bottle and the addition of a room humidifier may be the solution. Consider different toys, a smaller cage or a larger one, a new cage location, keeping a radio playing during the day, covering the cage to ensure your bird 12 solid hours of sleep, and more interaction and play with you. The strategies that don't work include all manner of over-the-counter sprays and pesticide treatments for mites that probably don't exist on your bird. In general, you're wasting your money to try these concoctions, and you may be risking your bird's life. Be patient, work with your veterinarian, and be prepared to love your bird no matter what he looks like. Biting Any parrot can deliver a powerful munch with his sharp, strong beak, and nobody likes to be bitten. Birds bite for any number of reasons, including Fear Territorial protection Redirected aggression: They can't bite what they want to, so they bite who's at hand. Dominance: Your bird may just be showing you who's boss. Swallow your anger and remind yourself that striking back makes matters worse. Your bird just needs to understand who's the boss and what's expected of him. And even the sweetest bird can have an off day. Learn to read your bird's body language and give him space when he needs it. One simple correction for biting is the earthquake. When your bird is on your hand, watch for signs that he's going to bite — timing is everything — and wobble and drop your hand slightly (think minor earthquake). This is more distraction than punishment, but it gets the point across. Screaming A certain amount of noise goes with having a parrot. And some species are worse than others — some bird-lovers jokingly say that if you don't like someone, give him a nanday conure, a world-class screamer if there ever was one. Even relatively quiet birds pipe up at dawn and dusk — the time in nature when they'd be using their voices to "touch base" with the rest of their flock. Birds also scream for some of the reasons they feather-pick: They're bored, they're stressed, and they want attention. Avoid positive or negative reinforcement of screaming; don't rush to pick up your bird every time he pipes up, and don't go over to yell at him. You can "adjust" sunrise and sunset by covering your bird's cage, but be fair — you can't keep your bird in the dark all the time. Use the cover for those times when you just have to sleep in or when you think your head will explode if you hear one more scream. Covering your bird is not a permanent solution to screaming, however. And no, you can't have your bird devocalized surgically — the alteration doesn't work with their anatomy. Success in the screaming category comes from behavior modification, not from the surgeon's scalpel.

View Article
Bringing Your New Bird Home

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

The day you bring your bird home is the day the world changes for you both. For you, this is the grand moment when all your research and admiration of birds suddenly becomes quite real. For your new bird, this momentous day can be downright scary. The breeder's home may have been the only world he has ever known. Even if your bird came from a pet shop and is used to a constant parade of strangers, your home is something new, and so are you. If you purchased a budgie or cockatiel, his interactions with humans have been restricted to being netted out of a group of his buddies to be shipped to a pet store to wait to be netted again when purchased. Can you help these birds become confident pets? Or maybe you've taken on a real challenge, a bird that has been sold and sold again, passed from owner to owner and perhaps mistreated along the way. This character views the world with cynicism and fear, and he figures you're bound to be another disappointment. Can you really change his outlook? The trick in all cases is patience, consistency, and knowledge. Getting your bird settled in comfortably and establishing your relationship is a two-part process: You have to ensure that your bird's physical environment is satisfactory, and then start working on his attitude toward you. Setting up the cage The cage is your bird's castle, the place where he will spend much (or all, in the case of finches or budgies) of his time. A cage protects your bird and shields your stuff from your bird, who is perfectly capable (if he's a parrot) of reducing prize antiques to toothpicks with his powerful beak. Choose a location where your bird can be adjacent to family activities, but not in the center of them. Your bird will feel most comfortable if his cage is against a wall, so he can watch the goings-on without having to worry about anyone sneaking up on his backside. For the same reason, place the cage where your bird won't be surprised — for example, away from large furniture that may block his view of the room and the comings and goings of family and friends. Birds don't like to be startled any more than we do! Position the cage far enough away from a window so the sun doesn't fall on your bird and overheat him. Putting the cage near a window so your bird can see out isn't a bad idea, though. It'll keep your pet entertained. Although the kitchen may seem like an ideal place for your bird's cage, think again. The potential for your bird to breathe deadly fumes, such as those from burning nonstick cookware is too high to take a chance. Situate your bird's cage someplace else where the people in your home hang out. Don't get too enthusiastic about toys right away — two or three are fine, but more may be overwhelming. Use a variety of natural and store-bought perches, and position them so they aren't directly over food and water dishes. You don't want to encourage your bird to poop into his dishes. Line the cage bottom with newspaper or another safe product, and you're ready to introduce your bird to his new home. Traveling home Bigger parrots require a couple of accommodations, one for traveling and one to call home. That's not the case with little birds; one properly sized cage is plenty. The temptation to buy a bird, buy a cage, stuff the former into the latter, and race for home may be inviting, but let it pass. Large or small, your bird will be more comfortable in a small box or carrier, with a towel draped over it to darken the space and relax him. (Make sure to leave a couple of air holes.) Put a towel in the bottom of the box or carrier to provide the bird with secure footing and stop him from sliding around, even if a perch is available. Place the carrier where it won't move around or fall. You can put it on the passenger-side floorboard or put the seat belt through the handle to secure it in the seat. Don't put the carrier in the trunk — exhaust fumes can kill your new pet. And don't put your small bird in a small carrying box on the dashboard while you are driving home — that would be a bad experience for both you and the bird. Settling in When you get home, put your bird in the cage and let him be. He needs time to adjust to his surroundings. No matter how cute he is, how much you want to show him off, or how much the kids want to have him perch on their fingers, let your bird be. Give him three days of peace to adjust. You'll have the rest of your lives together, so laying off for a mere 72 hours really isn't asking a lot. This doesn't mean you can't talk to your bird; in fact, you should communicate with your new family member — gently, and with the utmost respect for how frightened he may be. Sing to him. Read the newspaper to him. Make eye contact and tell him he's beautiful and you love him. But as for physical contact, hands off for now. You have to change the cage liner, clean and refill food and water receptacles, and add and remove fresh foods, but do so slowly, calmly, and deliberately. Don't be insulted if he chooses to move as far away from you as possible; your day will come.

View Article
Selecting a Perch for Your Bird

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

Gravity being what it is, even a creature made for flying spends a lot of time on his feet. And considering the need to keep wings trimmed for safety, pet birds spend even more time on their feet than their wild relatives do. Which makes what's under those feet — perches — very important. Perches give our birds something to stand on, something to chew on, something to rub and groom their beaks on, a vantage point from which to survey their domain, and a secure home base to rest on. Three things to remember when it comes to perches: safety, variety, and destructibility. Safety because . . . well, that's kind of obvious. Variety because a wide array of shapes, sizes, and material can go far in keeping your bird's feet healthy as well as helping him stay busy, fit, and free of boredom. Destructibility? Perches, in particular, are appropriate targets for demolition. The need to rip the snot out of something is of paramount importance, and besides, it's only natural! An ideal perch is not too smooth, not too hard, not too soft. Excessively smooth perches may be hard to maintain balance on — and in a wing-clipped bird, that lack of traction may result in a bad fall. Perches that are too hard are difficult to chew up and have fun with, and perches that are too soft get destroyed too fast. Here's what's out there in the perch world: Wood: Plain pine perches come standard with nearly every cage, and there's nothing wrong with them per se, except . . . you can do better for your bird. One way is to harvest your own wood for perches, and another is to vary the sizes and shapes of the perches you buy. Some ready-made dowels are available in different diameters along the length of the perch, and these at least add some variation on the boring old theme. Rope: Great foot feel! Rope perches give your bird something decent to hold on to and also provide some boredom relief because rope perches are good playthings. The neat thing about rope perches is that you can just throw them in the washing machine or dishwasher when they get dirty. The downside to rope is the possibility of your pet catching a toe in a worn and frayed part of the perch. Also, your bird may chew and swallow strands of the rope, which can cause problems as well. You have to watch closely and discard the perch when the rope gets stringy. Rope perches can be really expensive if you buy them ready-made for use with birds. You don't have to, though. Check out untreated cotton rope at a boating-supply outlet and make your own perches. By exercising your creativity, you can save money, have fun, and "do right" by your bird! One kind of rope perch rates warrants endorsement: the stiff rope coil. These perches combine the best elements of rope, a swing, and a bungee cord, all of which provide exercise for your bird. Absolutely fantastic for overweight birds! Mineral: Almost every bird should have one mineral perch, also called a concrete or cement perch. The rough texture feels good underfoot, and the surface is great for helping to keep nails blunt and beaks clean and well groomed (birds like to wipe their beaks against the rough surface). Make sure the size of perch you select is large enough to allow normal weight-bearing and provide some abrasion of the nail tips at the same time. A concrete perch that is too small will not necessarily help blunt nails, unless it meets the tips of those nails. Some birds with particularly strong wills and jaws may decide to chew up, destroy, and eat the concrete, though, and those characters should not have this particular perch. Don't confuse a mineral or concrete perch with those covered with sandpaper. If you have a sandpaper-covered perch (some cages do come with them), toss it and replace it with a mineral one. Sandpaper coverings on perches can cause more problems than they're worth, giving some birds foot problems, on top of providing no real benefit for the health of the nails or feet of the birds. Would you want to stand on sandpaper in your bare feet? Neither does your bird. Plastics: Two kinds here, acrylic and PVC, both popular because of their sturdiness and relative ease of cleaning. Of the two, acrylic is a better choice because it's virtually indestructible. Remember, though, that having a perch to chew up is important to most parrots. If you use plastics, add other chewable perch options to your bird's environment. PVC too often and too easily ends up in pieces in a bird's stomach and can cause some medical problems, as well as slippery footing and boredom. Plastic perches are often too slippery to be comfortable (particularly for heavy-bodied and wing-clipped birds), although some manufacturers compensate for this problem by abrading the surface of the perch. You can do the same with a little sandpaper if you want to offer a plastic perch.

View Article
Teaching Your Bird the Step-Up Command

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

"Step up," or just plain "Up," is the most important command you teach your bird. When you ask your bird to perform this motion, he should step up onto whatever you're offering, be it your finger (for smaller birds), your fist or arm (for larger birds), or a wood dowel or perch. The step-up command establishes you as the leader and is the basis for all other training. If your new pet was hand-fed and well socialized, he may already know the step-up command, but even if he doesn't, expect him to pick it up quickly. Teach it to him by following these steps: 1. Place your hand (if he's friendly) or a T-perch or a dowel (if he's not) gently against his breast, just above the legs, and say "Step up" in a firm but friendly tone. A T-perch is just what it sounds like: a perch shaped like the letter T. Some trainers don't like using a T-perch or dowel, and recommend putting a towel over your hand instead. The pressure triggers an instinctive reaction, and the bird usually steps right onto the perch or hand. 2. Follow with lots of praise and even a seed treat or two. Make "Step up" a normal part of everyday life with your bird; you can use the command many times a day. The request and response are not only convenient in all kinds of situations, but they also constantly reinforce your gentle leadership.

View Article
Understanding Common Household Dangers for Your Bird

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

Birds are hardy creatures in many ways, survivors both in the evolution game — where they boast residency in nearly every ecological niche — and in the challenging role of sharing their lives with humans. Although life in the rain forest or jungle harbors plenty of risks, so, too, does the modern human dwelling. Some of these hazards are obvious, and others manage to sneak up on bird-owners who don't realize what's happening until it's too late. Your bird's best protection is a safe cage and an observant owner. But you need to know what to look out for to keep your pet safe. Inhalant dangers Remember the historical accounts about canaries being put to service in mine shafts? Coal-miners once used birds as an early-warning system for dangerous gases. Because birds are highly sensitive to dangerous fumes, a sick (or dead) canary meant fumes were building up to toxic levels — a clear signal that the miners had to get out to save their own lives. Although this practice has been replaced by more accurate — and certainly more humane — monitoring equipment, the fact remains that pet birds have sensitive respiratory systems. In tightly sealed homes, they can be killed quickly by aerosol products and cookware coatings. Remove your bird before using insecticides and cleaning products, even those that seem as benign as air freshener. Be especially careful about insecticides: Read the label and look for ingredients, such as pyrethrin, fenoxycarb, and precor, all of which are safe around birds after the application has dried. Perhaps the most insidious danger is from nonstick cookware, such as Teflon or Silverstone. When overheated, these products emit fumes that can kill your bird quickly — without harming humans or other mammals. You can't smell or see the gases, so the only way to protect your bird from injury is to keep your feathered friend out of the kitchen when you're using such cookware or when setting your oven's self-cleaning feature. A final inhalant caution: Don't smoke around your bird, and don't leave cigarette butts where your pet can get hold of them. Cigarette smoke is just as bad for your pets as it is for you. Foods that shouldn't be shared Cleaning products aren't the only dangerous items in your home. Although you can share healthy people-food with your bird, don't hand over even a morsel of avocado, chocolate, or anything with caffeine. Birds also are sensitive to foods that have spoiled or grown mold. Give your pet fresh food only and remove it from the cage before it has a chance to spoil. Another food caution: Because you don't know what was sprayed on any fruit or vegetable you buy, be sure to wash any produce before offering it to your pet. Metals that are, like, heavy, man Although zinc poisoning does turn up from time to time, by far the top danger of heavy metal poisoning is from lead. Lead can be found in weights for fishing and for curtains, bell clappers, solder, some types of putty or plaster, some linoleum, stained glass, costume jewelry, leaded foils from champagne and wine bottles, batteries, some ceramic glazes, the backs of some mirrors, paints, and galvanized wire. No pet owner is going to feed a fishing weight to a pet, but as always, the inquisitive nature of birds put them at risk. The energetic chewing of a parrot can even reveal lead paint many layers down on the walls of an old house. You have to keep an eye out for dangerous metals in your bird's environment, but some things you may worry about aren't a problem. Pencil leads, for example, aren't made of lead anymore, and contrary to some long-held beliefs, you have nothing to fear from regular black newspaper ink or "child-safe" paints. Maybe some medicine will help If you ever consider, even for a second, giving your bird some medication just because you think it may help — stop! Over the counter human medications, even those as seemingly benign as aspirin, acetaminophen (Tylenol), or vitamins, can poison your bird. Commonly available bird products — such as antibiotics, mite sprays, or feather-picking "remedies" — should likewise be avoided. Always check with your veterinarian before giving any health product to your bird. And don't guess on dosages for medications prescribed for your bird, or overdose with the idea that if a little is good, more must be better. Birds are small compared to people, and so the margin of error when it comes to medications is slimmer. Follow your veterinarian's directions precisely on any medication sent home with your bird. Birds are clever and exceptionally interested in exploring and tasting. Keep not only medications — those pharmacy containers are appealing to play with — but also any questionable household product out of your bird's reach. Some to watch out for: mothballs, rodent poisons, cleaning fluids, deodorants, matches, carpet fresheners, and flea products meant for dogs and cats. Don't leave your bird free to explore in areas where such products may be stored!

View Article
Potty Training Your Bird

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

One of the less pleasant aspects of sharing your life with a bird is dealing with the droppings. When the droppings land on the paper at the bottom of the cage, that's fine, but nobody likes cleaning droppings off the floor (especially if carpeted) or off your shirt if you've been holding your bird when he lets one fly. With patience and consistency, you can teach your bird to relieve himself on command, in a place of your choosing. Young birds seem to pick up the skill most quickly and reliably, but you can teach an older bird new tricks, too. Start by observing your bird — the times of day he's most likely to relieve himself and the body language he uses just before, such as tail wagging or stepping back. Pick your desired command — "Go potty" or "Hurry up" will do, as will anything, just as long as you're consistent. When you see your bird getting ready to go or you know it's the usual time he does (such as first thing in the morning), ask him onto your hand (or finger, if he's a small bird) and hold him over a wastebasket, newspaper, toilet, or other "poop zone" (some people use paper plates). Give your potty command and praise him when he obeys — even though the response is just a coincidence at first, of course. Praise and stroking are the rewards for correct behavior. The larger the bird, the longer the time he can "hold it." Budgies and cockatiels aren't good for much more than 15 to 20 minutes, tops, while large parrots can wait for several hours or more. In emergency situations, some larger birds can even hold it a day or more, but asking them to do so is hardly fair. And even so, it's a rare bird that's that reliable, so keep paper towels and other cleaning supplies at hand.

View Article
What to Buy for Your New Bird

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

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

View Article
Signs of a Healthy Pet Bird

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

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.

View Article
page 1
page 2