SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

April 4, 2014

Vet Connection: Thinking about a pet bird?

Vet Connection
Dr. Elizabeth Bradt

---- — Have you ever entertained the idea of acquiring a bird? Have you watched their antics at a zoo or pet store and wondered what it would be like to have an exotic creature with a big beak and iridescent plumage amazing guests with its vocalizations and imitations?

If you are considering having a bird join your family, it is important to know the nature of birds. They are flock animals. They are very social and prefer to be with other birds. It is much better to have two birds than one because they can keep each other company and are generally more comfortable when in sight of another bird of its species.

Birds will relate to their humans as members of their flock. They like to preen beside other members of the flock and eat together. If your bird sees you eat a new food it is much more likely to sample it. If you leave the room, they may call to you and expect a response just as they would expect a response from another bird. It is best to call back softly. That way your bird knows you are still in the vicinity.

Birds are prey species and have very good eyesight. Nothing makes a bird more nervous than the steady direct “eagle eye” stare of another human or bird. Birds are quite observant and will watch every move you make. Yes, they see in color!

Birds have a huge number of sensory cells in their beak and mouth. They explore their world through their sense of taste and touch everything with their beaks. Birds respond to all types of materials — wood, leafy greens and foods of all textures and flavors. They need a huge variety of food. A 100-percent pellet diet or all-seed diet is terribly unhealthy for a bird. Add cooked egg, cooked brown rice, tofu, beans, fruits and vegetables to the diet. Limit seeds to between one and eight teaspoons daily, depending on the size of the bird. If your bird is on a large number of seeds, gradually decrease the seeds over a period of weeks. Birds like to solve puzzles with their agile minds and dexterous beaks. Sitting alone in the cage with no toys, no TV and no interaction is bird jail. Provide two or three bird toys and rotate a new one in every three weeks or so. Spend time with your bird out of the cage and on a separate play gym area every day.

Setting up puzzles such as hiding their food makes your avian friend work to find the food just as it would in the wild. A simple puzzle is to put an index card over the food bowl. For a more complex puzzle, hide treats under the folds of a towel so your bird has to “search.” It is completely normal for a bird to tear apart its food and leave a lot of it on the bottom of the cage. Food at the bottom of the cage does not mean that the bird does not like the food. Destruction is just a normal part of their repertoire. You can give your bird items to tear apart, such as cardboard rolls from paper towels or branches from nontoxic trees.

Birds will pick up on the emotional tenor of the household. As a rule, if it is calm and peaceful, birds will also be peaceful. When pandemonium breaks out, they will join the fray with loud and sometimes very appropriate vocalizations. Our Goffin cockatoo, April, could do a perfect rendition of me calling our daughter Rebecca, “Beccaaaaaaa” with a kind of insane lilt to it. Any additional noise will take place during breeding season. April would begin screaming about 4 a.m. from February through April each year. Let’s just say it was a happy day when the practice was built and he could be housed in a location where we were not trying to sleep on a daily basis. There may be some screaming at sunrise and sunset, but positive reinforcement for being quiet and ignoring the obnoxious screams may help diminish this behavior. Not all birds make as much noise as a Goffin cockatoo. It’s wise to do your homework.

If you want a bird as part of your family, it is best if you are an extremely patient person who is willing to learn as much as possible about bird behavior and about how to train your bird. A great website on bird behavior is goodbirdinc.com. You must be committed to having the bird for as many as 40 to 55 years, sometimes longer if it is a larger bird.

If you are thinking about adopting a bird, consider your own personality. A good sense of humor, patience and willingness to cook and clean for your bird every day are necessary traits in a good bird owner. Interacting with your bird every day and providing a changing array of toys to enrich the environment takes time. Consider whether you have the time in your life to provide these services for your pet before you adopt. Please do adopt from a bird rescue society. Nevins Farm in Methuen has birds and exotic pets. Foster Parrots in Rhode Island (http://fosterparrots.com/about/history/) encourages potential adopters to volunteer at the sanctuary so you learn which birds you bond with before you adopt. Once you do adopt, please make sure you establish a relationship with an avian veterinarian.

Dr. Elizabeth Bradt is a 1986 graduate of Tufts University’s Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine and the owner of All Creatures Veterinary Hospital in Salem. Email your pet questions to docliz@creaturehealth.com. Please title your email “Vet Connection.”