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A Beginners Guide To Bird Keeping


General Advice


Deciding to take home a pet of any description is not a choice to make lightly! And just because a pet bird is smaller in size than a pet cat or a dog, it does not make it any less of a commitment. As even small birds like budgies can live for up to 10 years and larger parrots like can live for 50 years plus. So it is important to get a basic understanding of some of their needs such as housing, maintenance, grooming, diet and socialisation before diving in and purchasing your new feathered friend.

Choosing the right bird for you

There is a good choice of pet birds and parrots available in New Zealand. Although worldwide, the budgie is still the most favoured pet, as these birds are small, can learn to talk, are hardy, come in a range of colours and, if properly managed, can easily live for well over 10 years. Another popular small bird is the canary! These birds are available many different sizes and colours, and all male canaries sing, although none as well as a purebred German Roller!

When it comes to larger parrots such cockatoos and African Greys they are generally a lot more demanding when it comes to their care! If they get bored they can also be very destructive and they can also be very loud to try seek your attention. This means that they are not ideal pets if you live a busy lifestyle, work long hours or have intolerant neighbours! A good in between option is the cockatiel these birds make excellent pets when hand-fed as babies, as they are extremely gentle and although they rarely talk they whistle and can mimic household sounds.

Balanced nutrition for birds

Birds like all pets need balanced nutrition, a diet that is designed for them with all the necessary components to keep them fit and healthy. A healthy diet for most types of birds consists of a variety of grains, bird seed, pellets, fruits and leafy green vegetables. Although lorys and lorikeets do not eat seed, as they are nectar eaters in the wild, so in captivity they eat a mix of wet lorikeet mix, dry lorikeet mix and fruits. It is important to do your research no matter what species you are looking in though as an imbalanced or incomplete diet is one of the most common causes of illness in pet birds. But if you are worried your bird is not getting all the nutrients they need you can add extra supplements to make sure they get all the vitamins and minerals they need.

Socialising and bonding with your bird

Taking time to bond with your bird is essential to building a strong and long-lasting relationship with your new pet. As in the wild birds have a flock mentality, so forming a bond with your pet is crucial to helping him understand that you are his friend. Once you bring your bird home your family acts as the new “flock” for a pet bird, so he naturally wants to join in on your family activities. If your family is together in one room, your pet bird may scream from its enclosure to get your attention.

Keep your bird's environment stress free

When bringing a bird into your home there are a few things that you need to know to protect them and keep their life as stress free as possible. Birds have very sensitive respiratory systems, so it is vital that you don’t expose your bird to common everyday things that are toxic to birds. There is a range of toxic things in your home that you need to be aware of, from the fumes from non-stick Teflon cooking products to aerosols and plug-in air fresheners. These all are extremely toxic to a birds sensitive respiratory system. But you also need to avoid any other factors that could lead to stress, such as prowling cats or sudden loud noises that could startle your bird. It is also vital that when your pet birds are having time outside of their cage they are constantly supervised to avoid access to other pets and any other household toxins. Eliminating stress is particularly important when your bird is going through its annual moult where they shed old, worn out feathers and grows new, fresh feathers. This generally occurs shortly after the breeding season around February to April, and during this time your bird's body is under extra stress as they experience physical and emotional stress.

Selecting the right cage

A general rule of thumb for bird cages and aviaries is the bigger the better! Pet birds need room to exercise their wings and explore around. A variety of toys will provide enrichment and excitement while giving these intelligent animals something to do! Small species, such as Finches and Canaries, enjoy flying throughout a cage, so a flight cage is always preferred especially with multiple birds. A large bird, like a Parrot, requires toys for chewing. Access to natural light is preferred, but it is also good to avoid placing the cage in drafty areas. When selecting a cage the spacing of the bars need to be proportional to the size of the birds inside, for their security and safety.

Maintaining your bird's home

Your birds cage is their safe place, so it is important that you keep it clean and hygienic. As poor hygiene can also lead to a variety of health problems for your bird. A thorough cage-clean needs to be carried out at least once a week, but it is also good practice to carry out daily checks to keep up the cleanliness. You should also do a thorough cage wash with hot soapy water monthly to make sure the cage is keep in top condition. When it comes to cutting down your cleaning time, cage design can help! When looking for a cage it is important to avoid bamboo cages, which are frail and easily chewed, or those shaped like a house as they are not practical from a bird’s point of view, but they are also extremely hard to clean!. When it comes to cages the bigger the better! Also to prevent the fouling of your birds essential supplies, you need to check that the perches are not placed over your bird’s food or water bowls.

Clip your bird's nails

You need to keep an eye on your bird’s nails; as like ours, they grow! The rate in which they grow does vary from species to species, and although it can be slowed by using gravel and natural wood perches. For many birds nail clipping is something that needs to be done once or twice a year. Hold your bird firmly, but gently, under a bright light so you can see what you’re doing and to avoid accidentally cutting the red vein that runs through each nail. Use sharp nail clipper and clip one toenail at a time. If you are going to clip your birds nails at home it is always good to have a styptic powder on hand to quickly stop any bleeding that may occur. But if you do not feel confident doing it yourself Vets and some speciality pet shops offer this service for a small fee.

Bath time for birdies

Although generally healthy birds groom themselves, some birds may need a helping hand to keep their feathers in top condition. Nearly all birds love water and, unlike other pets, naturally enjoy taking baths, as bathing not only helps to remove debris but it also helps to maintains their skins moisture. Your bird’s species and size will help decide their preferred method of bathing, but it also might take some trial and error to work this out. Many smaller birds will use a heavy bottomed bath placed in the bottom of the cage or one that mounts through a cage side door, but beware they can create quite a splash. Although Often birds will take a bath in the freshwater of their water dish if not provided with a bath! If these methods fail your bird may love being misted with fresh water from a spray bottle. But it is important for owners to make sure that their bird only comes in contact with water and not soaps or shampoos.

Keeping them entertained & out of trouble!

Exercise and activities are extremely important to keep your pet bird healthy and happy. As pet birds are inquisitive and highly social creatures that like to play. Exercise is natural for them and easy to provide. It is important that if your bird is fully flighted that you give them daily out of cage time to fly and stretch their wings!

An easy way to provide entertainment is with toys as well as exercise most parrots like to chew. Perches, swings, ladders and toys all become objects of entertainment and chewing. Plastic toys are better for small birds. Small birds like budgies and cockatiels are fine with plastic toys. But when it comes to larger more destructive parrots it is safer to offer them with toys made from natural materials, woods, leathers and acrylic for your parrot to chew on.

As a rule birds make great pets! Whether they are in a cage indoors with your family or outside in an aviary situation. When loved and shown the attention and respect they deserve, they will re-pay you tenfold with loyal companionship and wonderful displays of colour and song. They come in many shapes and sizes so there is a species to fit in with almost every home environment. They are also highly intelligent and so when given adequate training and socialisation, birds can be every bit as loving and affectionate as a cat or dog. Some species of birds can be even trained to talk and do simple tricks and tasks so they make for very rewarding and entertaining companions.