How to Beat the Heat!

Shortly after spring, summertime commences and with it, the heat! Walk in to your local hardware or electronics store and I am sure you will see air conditioners and fans flying off the shelves. Many parrot owners believe in the myth that you must keep your birds acclimated at balmy temperatures upwards of 75 and 80 degrees!

Energy Saver/Energy Efficient mode AC Preset

Energy Saver/Energy Efficient mode AC Preset

While many tropical bird species do seem to weather such warm temps without a problem, in my personal experience they also do just fine with slightly cooler temps, anywhere from the low 60’s to mid 70’s (Fahrenheit). So, do not feel like you have to suffer this summer due to your tropical pets, but do be diligent with your safety precautions around the house.

For starters, make sure any air conditioners you own are checked out for any defects such as chewed or broken wires. Air conditioners should also be thoroughly cleaned out and air filters replaced (preferably annually). Placement of your air conditioner is also a big concern around birds; make sure not to blow cold air directly on or near any cages or bird play areas.

The air conditioners I use in my own home are the typical window kind, fairly new models with HEPA air filters and multiple controls so I can maintain a pre-set temperature. This auto button pre-set is ideal for homes with pets such as birds. You can set your AC to 70 degrees, for example, and the AC will automatically turn on and off to maintain the pre-set temperature. This is also much more energy efficient!

Ceiling Fan Pull Chain Set

Creative Ceiling Fan Pull Chain Set for easy identification

Fans also pose a large danger to birds of all sizes. Even large, inquisitive parrots can get toes, feet, wings or beaks caught in moving fan blades. Ceiling fans are also very dangerous if birds are left out of their cages. Be sure not to leave your fans on while birds are out in the same room, and be sure to label your ceiling fan pull chains!

ACs and fans are two of the biggest dangers this summer, but don’t forget about the extreme heat, either! Ice cubes in water bowls and cold fruit in moderation make a great treat and provide your bird with something cool if it’s getting too hot for them and if you do not have the luxury of an air conditioner. If you bring your bird outdoors to enjoy the weather, make sure they are safely in a travel carrier and not near any pools or deep bodies of water. Also, moving your bird from a sunny room in the house to a shady one during the worst heat of the day can also help prevent overheating.

Your bird will love this warmer, sunnier part of the year (especially us New Englanders!) but make sure they always have access to fresh water and shade. Hopefully these tips will help keep you and your birds safe and cool this summer, so enjoy the sun!

Cockatiels outdoors

Make sure your bird enjoys the outdoors in safety! Provide secure enclosures, access to shade, water, and food.

 

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Spring has sprung!

Spring has sprung and with it, lots of sunshine and warm weather we all enjoy! This time of year poses many potential dangers to our feathered friends, even those that stay strictly indoors. 

This time of year invites family, friends, and children over after spring cleaning has commenced. Many are running in and out of your house to take advantage of the weather; where is your bird amongst all this coming and going? Many birds are lost each year, and not just those that get to go outside. Doors that are opened for even a second can be an opening for your bird to fly outside. 

But my bird has clipped wings! you might say. Even birds with clipped wings can still fly to a certain extent. If a bird is spooked or is trying to follow a favorite person, they could fly right over your head and out the door. Getting them back can be nearly impossible as an indoor bird may panic once outside in the big world, and can fall victim to predators such as hawks or wind up low to the ground near traffic.

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Enjoying the view!

Windows also pose a danger this time of year. While many curtains may be drawn during the winter, open windows or those with the shades drawn up can be fatal to indoor birds. Make sure your birds are aware that clear glass is not an opening to the outside, or they could injure themselves flying in to the window.

A great way to prevent this possible accident is to have desirable perching areas in front of the windows. This way your bird has somewhere fun to sit, eat, and play while taking advantage of the great view outside! 

Despite the possible dangers, spring is an invigorating time of year. Your feathered kids will love the new found sunshine pouring in to your home. Don’t forget to give them a great view with some of this fresh air, they enjoy this as much as the rest of us!

Bird Behavior – from the wild to our homes

Recently I had the opportunity and pleasure of traveling to Australia. While there, I observed various species of birds in the wild. What I realized was that a person can not truly appreciate or understand bird behavior until you do see them in their natural environment.

Rainbow Lorikeet

Rainbow Lorikeet foraging in the wild (Cairns, Australia)

I can talk until I am blue in the face about the importance of giving your bird new and different toys every day for varied stimulation, or rotating their feeding stations and what they eat. Despite knowing this from research and learning, I still did not appreciate WHY it is so important.

In Cairns, Australia I witnessed first hand a flock of Lorikeets numbering at least in the hundreds. Hundreds of rainbow colored birds soaring through the skies over my head, foraging in trees right alongside people. As dusk fell, hundreds more began to fly overhead, screeching as they returned to the distant mountains to roost for the night.

It was this particular evening as I stood observing all these Rainbow Lorikeets, that I realized exactly how restrained captive birds are. Unable to fly the many miles per day their highly efficient, active bodies are meant to, or engage their minds in the quest for food and socialization, captive birds are missing out on the best things evolution has provided them.

Birds are not meant to be kept alone in our living rooms. The best we can do for them is hopefully have more than two to mimic a flock, as well as ample out of cage time and enrichment activities.

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Rainbow Lorikeets flying overhead in Cairns, Australia.

All creatures behave in order to act on their environment. They fly to find food. They scream to talk to each other. They swing upside down from branches to reach tasty snacks or for the sheer joy and exercise of stretching their legs.

They try to do the same at home, but with limited space and appropriate toys, captivity reduces the number of natural behaviors birds can perform. Instead, they end up practicing the same behaviors over and over again, such as screaming incessantly or pacing back and forth repeatedly. Behaviors a bird can use from inside a cage to act on its’ surrounding environment.

So what can we do? We can not free them, they are already here to stay. We can provide as many interactive activities as possible every day, and give our birds lots of space and time to exercise. As my usual mantra goes, do the best you can by your bird at home, encouraging and enjoying the many behaviors their species also perform in the wild.

Rainbow Lorikeets returning to the mountains to roost

Rainbow Lorikeets returning to the mountains to roost

Eating Bird Food: Mash it up!

I recently spent the day at another parrot enthusiast’s home, learning tips and tricks for the most nutritionally complete captive bird diet. Thank you Candie of Creature Connections for a fun and very informative day!

There are many misconceptions today about proper diet and nutrition for captive parrots. When the bird boom started thirty years ago, very little was known about what we should be feeding our birds. Many parrots have lived for years now on all-seed diets marketed by major pet brand names and pet stores. In the wild however, parrots are not living off of seeds, just like we are not living off of cereal (hopefully!). Pellets and a nutritious, varied fresh diet is the key to providing your bird everything [s]he needs to live a long, healthy life.

Veggies!

Varied dark, leafy greens and other veggies are key to a fresh diet!

Feeding your birds healthy fresh foods does not need to be time consuming on a daily basis, either. Once a month, I take half a day to cook mash for my birds, then freeze it in snack sized baggies and defrost as needed. This takes about four hours, and makes enough food to feed my flock until the next mash-up (I have five birds). The mash I make is based off of the guidelines found on Feeding Feathers Yahoo group. This online group is an invaluable resource in learning about dietary needs, including the ratios you need to feed in order to provide a healthy balance of fatty acids omega 3 and 6.

“And how am I supposed to get my finicky bird to eat their fruits and veggies?” you may be asking right about now. There are many different “methods” to converting your parrot to a healthier diet of pellets, veggies, grains/legumes, and fruit. Some of these methods include slowly introducing new foods mixed in with the old, eating with your bird to model the behavior or having other, more curious birds in your home taste test and lead by example.

Bird Mash

Making mash for a varied, healthy parrot diet.

Personally, I have had a lot of luck converting my adopted birds by introducing new foods slowly, mixed in with the old, and by modeling the behavior (eating with them and making a big deal out of it). Since most birds are going to live at least 30-80 years, I think we owe it to our feathered kids to get them eating healthy! And with all those years ahead, we have plenty of time to work on the switch to healthier foods.

The Urban Parrot – how to manage intrinsic behaviors in your home

Parrots are wild animals; I know many people do not think of them this way as they sit in our living rooms and pet stores. However, they have not been bred over centuries like dogs and cats. The intrinsic behaviors their wild counterparts have are the same behaviors your pet bird acts on in your home.

And act they do – whether it be chewing your furniture or clothing, screaming, flying, climbing and more. Many parrots are re-homed as a result, with no effort put into correcting the problem. However, these natural behaviors are to be expected with parrot ownership. The trick is getting creative about how you can better manage these behaviors at home!

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Foraging for Nutriberries with hanging buffet ball

In the wild, parrots fly miles every day in search of food. At home, we serve them food in a cup. Nothing interesting or engaging about that, is there? Humans at least get to forage at the grocery store, but birds have no choice in the matter.

When we take away choices from our pets, they will often behave in ways we wish they would not. When we give different options, however, our animals will be more engaged and productive in the activities we have provided them. Getting creative in how you serve your birds food is a great way to motivate them to engage in foraging activities just as they would in the wild.

“…motivation is generally influenced by many factors that can be intrinsic (e.g., genetic or physiological) or extrinsic (i.e., in the animal’s environment).” [Amdam & Hovland]

 

Figuring out what you can change about your bird’s environment at home can help motivate them to engage in desirable activities, replacing the undesirable (ie: your bird can not scream incessantly if [s]he is busy searching for food).

There are many foraging toys on the market to help switch up how you serve your bird’s food. Some of my favorites include stuffing pellets inside cholla wood, seeds or nutriberries inside paper bags or boxes,  and even serving food inside wiffle balls or similar products at the pet store.

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Foraging for Nutriberries with pine wood foraging toy

In addition to changing the way you serve your bird’s food, make sure they have plenty of opportunities to chew appropriate objects as well.  You can find plenty of wood bird toys at your local pet shop. My bird’s favorites are cholla wood, and bottlebrush perches they can peel the bark off of. If your bird likes to preen more than chew, you can buy toys made of sisal rope, palm leaf, or cotton. The options are endless; it is just a matter of figuring out what your bird prefers!

With such enrichment activities to mimic our bird’s natural behaviors, we can manage the excessive screaming or inappropriate chewing that can take place in our households. Giving these tips a try, and rotating the toys available to your birds to mix things up can make a world of difference in their behavior.

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Encourage appropriate shredding and chewing with boxes or paper bags you can hide your bird’s food in

If you need more ideas to get started, check out

Foraging Toys

Behavior Works – Enrichment

Foraging for Parrots 

So You Think You Want a Parrot?

I have heard parrots described as toddlers with a can opener on their face. This may make you laugh, as it still makes me chuckle, but it happens to be the truth. While birds are intelligent, some as smart as toddlers, they also share the same emotional development. Unlike toddlers, birds are another species entirely and their body language is not always easy for us to read.

So before you make an impulse purchase at Petco to save that sad looking conure who keeps crooning at you, read up on what you are in for! Most species can live 30+ years and up to 80 for larger parrots like Macaws. Many people do not put themselves in the bird’s shoes, to think about what that means.

This means the new bird you are considering adding to your flock is probably going to out live you. And it is going to scream every day for the rest of your life. And throw food. And chew things. Poop everywhere. And scream some more.

Now, this is not to say that birds can not make great pets; after all, I have birds myself! But it is a very large commitment to make, and not at all fair to the bird if we are not willing to do our research and end up rehoming them as a result.

So, if you think you have the time, patience, and interest to learn about birds and share your life with one, in sickness and in health, then by all means go to your local shelter and meet some homeless birds!

With more than 11 million birds in homes today and shelters everywhere taking them in, we owe it to this beautiful, intelligent animal to do our homework, and make sure we are ready to commit to them for a lifetime.

In the end, you will be rewarded with the coolest pet around: a feathered flying dinosaur to share your life with!