In This Chapter
- Making your home safe for a new bird
- Buying and building the supplies you need
- Introducing your bird to his new home and family, including kids and pets
- Recognizing adjustment and potential health problems
Before you bring your beautiful new adopted bird into your home, you have a few important jobs to do. Your home can be hazardous for a bird in ways you had not considered. You want to think about how much access you want to give your bird to your home, whether you want him to fly, and where to keep his cage. You also want to be fully stocked with the best bird supplies so your new bird has everything he needs from day one.
In this chapter, you discover how to prepare your home, including safety considerations and supply checklists. You also get a quick tutorial on how to introduce your bird to his new environment and on potential problems you may encounter along with some simple solutions. Let’s take wing!
Getting Ready for a Bird in the House
Your bird may have already been around the block, transferring from place to place as various owners haven’t been able to care for him. He may have already encountered some hazardous situations or even been injured for lackof a bird-proofed environment in the past. But that’s all over now! You’re committed to providing your bird with a safe, healthy home. Here’s what to do.
Birds are clever, acrobatic, curious, mischievous, and great climbers. They can get into places you never imagined they could. Even with clipped wings (for more on wing clipping, see the section later in the chapter, “To fly free or not to fly free?”), they sometimes fly for short distances, especially small birds like budgies and cockatiels. Whenever you let your bird out of his cage, you need to be sure the environment that your bird explores is safe for him, especially if he happens to be a large parrot. Here’s what to do:
– Block any open spaces, such as open vents, chimney flues, or holes in furniture.
– Cover or hide all electrical cords.
– Remove all zinc or lead items from the room, including galvanized metal food and water bowls. Exposure to these metals can kill your bird. Use nonreactive stainless steel instead, for your bird and for your other pets. Other common household items that can contain zinc are staples and paperclips, zippers and snaps, padlocks and keys, jewelry, hardware like nails and bolts, and coins. Some old-fashioned curtains may contain lead weights at the base. Never let your bird play with these objects, and never leave them lying around where your bird may find them.
– Trade in your nonstick cookware. When heated, nonstick chemicals release fumes that can quickly kill a bird. Switch to cast iron, stainless steel, or porcelain-coated cookware.
– Put household cleaners, medications, and personal hygiene items in a different room. Many chemicals that are harmless to humans can kill birds.
Whenever you use household cleaners, run your self-cleaning oven, or spray perfume or hairspray, or even smoke, put your bird outside for a while. The chemicals in these fumes can kill your bird, and they can travel through your air vents, so even if your bird is in a different room, he still may be exposed.
– Put all houseplants in a different room.
– Close curtains or blinds to keep your bird from banging into glass windows. Cover or put removable decals on mirrors.
– Remove all candles. Not only is a lighted candle a hazard to a bird, but scented candles — potpourri, incense, and essential oils, too — can be hazardous to your bird.
– Always keep oven and dishwasher doors closed. A curious bird can mistake those racks in the oven or dishwasher for perches and go exploring. You may not see your bird inside these appliances when you close the door and use them. Be safe! Close the doors, and always take a peek inside before turning on any appliances . . . just in case.
– Close all windows and doors and toilet lids and fish tanks, turn off ceiling fans and appliances like stoves and ovens, put away sharp objects, and place other pets in another room whenever you plan to take your bird out of his cage.
Even within his cage, your bird needs a safe environment that’s free of toxins, choking hazards, bacteria, and other dangers. Before you bring home your bird, here is what to consider when bird-proofing the location of your bird’s cage:
– Place the cage out of direct sunlight and away from the drafts of airconditioning and heating vents.
– Keep the cage in a well-lit room that never gets below about 55 to 60°F (13 to 16°C). Remember, most birds are from the tropics.
– Keep the cage away from curtains, miniblinds, household plants, or other materials your bird may be able to grab through the bars of his cage.
– Place the cage in an area where your dogs or cats cannot get to it and bother or stress your bird.
– Use newspaper or pelleted paper as a litter in the bottom of your bird’s cage, but never use corncob bedding, cat litter, hay, or anything else containing dust or that may foster the growth of mold and fungus. Dust and mold spores are dangerous for birds.
After they become acclimated to their new surroundings, birds often enjoy being in a room where people hang out, so they can watch the action; however, make sure the cage is left out of the direct path of high traffic areas to prevent your bird from frequently being startled.
To fly free or not to fly free?
Maybe you feel just a little guilty not allowing your bird to fly freely. After all, in their natural environments, isn’t that what birds are supposed to do? Sure, but in the same way that domesticated cats are safer inside, pet birds also are safer if they are not allowed to fly recklessly around your house. Birds that fly free in homes not only drop their droppings anywhere they please and scatter feathers far and wide, but they also are at greater risk for injury. One whack with a ceiling fan blade, one test bath in the toilet bowl, one collision with a window or mirror, and your bird can suffer serious injury or death.
However, birds with their wings clipped can explore more safely and can be supervise more easily when they can’t fly away from you. Do not, however, underestimate how fast your bird can flutter-hop out of sight! Like any other pet, birds need plenty of room to exercise, interesting things to stimulate them, interaction with you, and an ever-watchful eye. No substitute for supervision exists when your bird roams, flutters, or even flies free — you realize a few minutes too late that those flight feathers have grown back in. When you can’t watch your bird, let him play inside his spacious cage.
Wing clipping may sound to you like a punishment that humans exact on their pet birds to keep them in place. But in reality, it’s merely trimming back a bird’s flight feathers (they grow back), so the bird can’t take off and freely fly around the house. Birds with clipped wings don’t lose the ability to fly forever. Wing clipping thus is considered a safety measure that prevents pet birds from bashing into unseen windows, whirling ceiling fans, hot appliances, and other birdy hazards.
Some people choose not to clip their birds’ wings. As a result, some small birds — parakeets, cockatiels, lovebirds — can safely fly around a bird-proofed household; however, most larger parrots need to be clipped to prevent injury and possible escape, not to mention helping you get them back into their cages when they’d rather take off to explore the house. Some people recommend clipping only one wing, but doing so only makes a bird feel unsteady and uneven. Even minor flapping from perch to cage or floor can be off-kilter.
Clipping a bird’s wings is a delicate operation, and not being sure about it can result in a traumatized bird and an injured pet owner. To avoid injuring or traumatizing your bird (or yourself), have an experienced and knowledgeable avian veterinarian or bird hobbyist show you exactly how to clip your bird’s wing, so you’re sure you know which of your bird’s feathers are the flight feathers, and which not to trim. No matter what you decide — to trim or not to trim — keeping your bird safe is your responsibility.
The Best Bird Supplies
Your bird needs some basic supplies, such as clean water, good food, and a great big roomy cage, to be healthy and well adjusted. Be sure you’re well stocked before bringing home your bird. The sections that follow describe what you need.
When it comes to birdcages, bigger always is better, but the cage needs to be at least as wide as two full wingspans of the bird you’re housing. When you think about how much space birds use in the wild, you’ll want to go big, even for small birds. Your bird will use all the space and still be ready to come out for playtime. A large, high-quality cage is a good investment. A huge outdoor aviary — in a temperate climate or for use during nice weather — is pure bird heaven.
For small birds, a large cage may even enable them to fly a little bit, from perch to perch. For a large bird, a huge cage big enough to allow climbing exercise goes a long way toward averting bad behavior. The cage needs to be large enough for the bird to do some full-out wing flapping without hitting the sides, and preferably big enough to do some serious climbing and fluttering from perch to perch.
Other things you need to consider when selecting a cage include the following:
– Cages are expensive so you may want to consider buying a used cage. If you do, though, be sure the cage is free of rust and not made from lead or zinc, heavy metals that are poison to birds.
– Make sure the bars on any cage you select are close enough together that your bird can’t get his head stuck between them.
– Hang perches on which your bird can climb and toys to play with inside the cage, rotating them with other ones frequently to keep your bird interested. Don’t, however, fill the cage with so many toys that your bird has no room to climb around.
– Your cage needs to be equipped with secure, nontippable water and food bowls.
Food for the birds
Birds need a high-quality premium diet made specifically for them, but mere birdseed isn’t enough to keep a bird healthy. Although some birds do fine on fortified seed or pellet diets designed to provide complete nutrition, many vets think that for maximum health, birds also need fresh food, cleaned, chopped, and sometimes cooked, by you. Some adopted birds that are used to eating only seed may resist eating other fresh foods, so buy the best premium bird diet that you can find for your type of bird, and then supplement with healthy food suitable for your bird. Introduce this extra food a little at a time to help your bird adjust. For more about what your individual bird needs to thrive, see Chapter Caring for Your Adopted Bird
Birds can’t stand comfortably or easily on flat surfaces so they need perches for comfortable standing, sitting, sleeping, and climbing. Perches help exercise a bird’s feet and naturally help wear down nails and beaks. Provide your bird with a variety of perch sizes in untreated wood, and put in one cement perch to help wear down nails. Avoid slippery — although attractively natural-looking — manzanita branch perches and sandpaper perches. Your bird may have a hard time getting a good grip on the manzanita perches, and he can chew up sandpaper and ingest it. Make sure you leave plenty of space for climbing and wing flapping; you don’t need to fill up the entire cage with perches!
Bird stimulation: Toys and climbing devices
Birds get bored. They want to play, climb, ring bells, scale ropes, swing on swings, and chew, chew, chew. Birds need plenty of toys and objects on which to exercise, but their cages don’t need to be filled so full of toys that your bird has no room to stretch his wings. Instead, purchase or build a wide variety of toys, climbing implements, and things to chew, and then rotate them every few days or at least weekly so your bird always gets to discover something new.
You can purchase many bird accessories, but they can be expensive. You can make bird toys out of untreated ropes, untreated wood, and other items, but if you have a bird that pulls apart his toys, avoid anything that your bird can dismantle and end up choking on — such as a clapper on a bell. Look at the pet store and examine the toys to get an idea about toys that you can make yourself. With the right basic materials and a drill, you can get pretty creative.
Travel carrier or small travel cage
Use a travel carrier or small cage for transporting your bird to and from your home whenever you need to take your bird to the vet or elsewhere. You can buy a small crate, such as one you’d use to transport a cat or small dog to the vet, for medium and large parrots. A small cage with one secure perch and a cover also will work. Your bird’s regular cage needs to be too large to transport conveniently, so having a travel cage is very important.
Sometimes birds need downtime, and you need an occasional break from screeching. A cage cover is the answer. Although you should never keep your bird covered all the time, some birds enjoy naps under wraps or prefer to be covered at night. You can spend a large amount for a custom-fitted cage cover or just use a blanket or sheet that you already have at home.
Perch cleaner is a product that dissolves cemented-on bird waste from perches and comes with a little brush. Use it, or get a steel brush to scrub perches by hand. Cleanliness is next to birdiness! If you don’t want to buy a product, just scrub the perches with a steel brush and some soap and water, and rinse well. Spray them with a bleach/water solution (one part bleach to ten parts water) and let them dry completely before returning the perch to the cage.
Birds like to gnaw on cuttlebone (a porous crunchy fish bone), which you can buy at pet stores with a clip attached for so you can easily secure them to the side of the cage. These bones are a good source of calcium for your bird.
Nontoxic cage bedding
Newspaper or recycled paper litter make good bedding for the bottom of the bird cage. This bedding will catch the bird’s droppings and control odor, and it will also make the cage look more attractive. Avoid wood shavings made from pine or cedar.
Spray bottle, grooming spray, or a bird bath
Birds like to stay clean, and some love to splash around in a wide and shallow birdbath. Others prefer you to mist them with lukewarm (never hot!) or cool water from a spray bottle. You can also spray your bird with grooming spray that’s available at pet stores. For more about grooming your bird, see Chapter Caring for Your Adopted Bird
Nail trimmers or cement perch
Some birds keep their nails worn down nicely on a cement perch. Others occasionally need to have theirs trimmed. Ask your vet to demonstrate, so you can trim your bird’s nails at home. The more hand-tame your bird, the easier trimming its nails is. If nail trimming traumatizes your bird, have your vet do it when you have your bird’s wing feathers clipped, if necessary. For more about nail trimming and wing clipping as part of a regular grooming routine, see Chapter Caring for Your Adopted Bird
Bringing Home Birdie
Before you bring your bird home, you need to pay a visit to your avian veterinarian to make sure your bird is healthy and doesn’t need to be quarantined first from other pets. Ask the vet to show you how to clip your bird’s wings, so you can keep them safely shorn for out-of-cage explorations. Chapter Caring for Your Adopted Bird
provides pointers on choosing a good bird vet and explains what to expect during that first visit. After your bird’s health clearance is approved by the vet, you can bring your new friend home.
When you first bring your new bird home, you can imagine that he’s a little nervous and maybe even terrified. Although some birds are so used to a changing environment that they seem unphased by their new homes, many others are shy and even fearful for at least a few days. Your bird needs a little extra sensitivity during this time. In the following sections, I explain what you need to know to help make your new adopted bird feel right at home.
Introducing your new bird to its new home
By the time you bring home your bird, you should have his new cage ready to go. The cage in which you bring your bird probably is not going to be his permanent home, because travel cages usually are too small to serve as a permanent home, unless your bird is very small. Put a blanket or towel over the back half of the cage so your bird has a spot to feel safe and be sure that it’s located out of direct sunlight and drafts. Keep a blanket handy to cover the entire cage when your bird needs some down time, but never keep it covered all day just to stop your bird from squawking. Deal with the squawking instead. (See Chapter Training Your Bird
for more about dealing with bird noise.)
Try to pick up your new bird first thing in the morning, because nighttime can be scary for a new bird. When you pick up your bird in the morning, he has an entire day to get used to a new cage, new house, and new sights, sounds, and movements in your home.
When you arrive at home, your first big challenge is moving your new bird from the travel cage into his new home cage without letting him fly away, injure himself, or bite off your finger. A sensible goal, right? If your bird already is hand-tame with clipped wings, getting him into his new cage is easy. If not, you have to be ready for just about anything.
When handling your bird initially, wear thick leather gloves. If your adopted bird has had bad experiences with human hands, he may not associate gloves with those past experiences. And if your bird bites you (or the glove, that is), it won’t hurt, and you’ll be able to continue handling him without losing control or composure or scaring your bird.
Try opening the door of the travel cage and holding it against the open door of the residence cage. Make sure the opening is the largest one of the cage. Your bird may explore and climb right into the new cage. If your bird isn’t inclined to do this, reach your gloved hand in and try to coax him into the new cage. If necessary, you can gently grasp your bird around his body with both hands and put him in the new cage. Close the door.
Now you can step back and give your bird some time alone. Let him calm down. Talk to him in a soft voice. Don’t look him in the eye, like a prey animal would, and don’t make sudden movements. Leave the room for awhile, or stay nearby but don’t pay attention to your bird. Acting in this way gives your bird time to work things out on his own. If possible, leave a nightlight or other dim source of light on during the evenings for at least the first few weeks. Some birds — particularly cockatiels — are prone to night frights and flap wildly around in fear if something startles them in the darkness, even something as harmless as the beam from the headlight of a car passing outside.
For the first few weeks, spend plenty of time next to your bird’s cage talking in a low, reassuring voice. If your bird seems eager to come out, let him out — as long as his wings are clipped. If he is eager to interact with you, let him. Keep those gloves on until you’re sure that he won’t bite you, or at least not hard enough to hurt. Be patient and give your bird time to adjust.
Getting to know the family
Everyone in the family — including dogs and cats — may be very interested in seeing what the new feathered family member is all about when you first bring your bird home. Interest is good, but don’t let everyone mob the cage at once, poke fingers through the bars, or jump wildly around — the way kids often do — in front of the cage. Remember, your bird probably is extremely nervous and fearful about this new transition. Let family members approach the cage one at a time, slowly, with eyes averted. Have them talk in a soft, gentle voices and keep hands out of the birdcage.
Everyone in the family needs to feel welcome to visit the bird as often as they like during the day. This kind of interaction is good for your bird and helps him adjust and get to know everyone in the house. Just remember to take it slow and try not to startle your bird. As your bird becomes more comfortable, you can begin the process of training and hand-taming him, if he isn’t already tame. For more on how to hand-tame your bird, see Chapter Training Your Bird
Most children younger than the age of 6 never should handle a bird. Older children can learn to handle a bird responsibly, if they’re capable of staying calm and not hurting the bird — even if the bird happens to give them a nip. Small birds like cockatiels and parakeets are particularly good for small children because their bites aren’t damaging, but children always need to be supervised whenever they handle a bird, because these small birds are so easily injured or lost if they are outside of the cage and wandering around. A child can become distracted and stop paying attention, and the bird can be lost or injured.
Some children successfully handle very tame larger birds with direct adult supervision, but be aware of the risks and keep your child and your bird safe. Never put any of your dependents in a situation that can harm them! Birds are wild creatures, and they can be unpredictable. So can children. Children can get a great deal of enjoyment from a bird, even if they never are allowed to hold it.
Other pets: The Tweety and Sylvester syndrome
If you have other birds, you first and foremost want to be sure your new bird is in good health and not carrying any contagious diseases that can affect your resident birds. If you have dogs or cats, you have to be extra careful to keep your yummy bird safe. Some birds — particularly larger parrots — get along just fine with gentle dogs and those few cats that have somehow lost their natural instinct to hunt birds. However, even when you think you know how your pets will interact, mistakes happen. Many birds have been killed by other family pets.
Your bird needs to be housed well out of reach of other pets. Pets must not be able to climb up and stare at the bird, bark at the bird, or swipe a paw through the bars of the cage. Don’t put your bird through Tweety’s daily trauma with Sylvester. Your bird has enough stress adjusting to yet another home. Keep your bird well protected, and you’ll be doing all your resident pets a big favor.
by Eve Adamson