By Dr. Becker
If you're planning to add a pet to the family, you may have decided after careful research that a bird is a good fit for your lifestyle.
As with any new addition to the household, it's important to prepare ahead of time to insure your new bird – who will be stressed by the change in environment – makes a smooth transition.
Top Tips for Welcoming Your New Bird Home
- Preparing your new bird's cage.
Select an appropriately sized cage that is cozy and located in a safe, low stress but social area of your home. It should be placed away from heating and cooling vents, radiators, fireplaces, and windows, since fluctuating temperatures and humidity levels are stressful for birds.
The cage should be at least twice the size of the bird's outstretched wings. I recommend buying the biggest cage you can afford and installing a variety of all natural, wood perches (not dowels) throughout the cage. I don't advocate sand or cement perches because they can cause bumblefoot, an irritating inflammatory condition of the feet. If you choose to use these rough perches, they should be the lowest perches in the cage.
The cage should have a roof perch (if your bird will have his wings clipped) and contain several toys, bells, colored blocks, and ropes for chewing. The more natural foraging options and toys at his disposal, the happier your bird will be. Replace or rotate toys several times a month to keep him interested in his environment. Keep toys to a minimum the first several days or weeks to reduce your bird's stress response to her new surroundings. Once you see your bird begin to engage with toys you can add more toys for environmental enrichment.
You'll need to clean the cage daily, and you may want to purchase a supply of surgical masks and gloves to wear to reduce the chance of inhaling feather dander or fecal-borne pathogens. The cage floor should be lined with newspaper that is discarded daily.
All loose material (feathers, leftover feed, bird poop) should be carefully disposed of before disinfecting cage surfaces. Birds should be removed from the area during the disinfecting process. Make sure to pick a non-toxic, bird friendly disinfectant. I recommend diluted vinegar to clean the cage and stands.
- Navigating your bird's first few days home.
It's a good idea to welcome your bird home on a day that will be peaceful and quiet. He won't be ready to meet anyone new yet, so give him some time to adapt to his new surroundings and get comfortable. Offer him the food he's used to (you can make gradual changes to his diet after he's settled in).
Your bird will need to be placed in a bright room during the day, and requires 8 to 10 hours of darkness at night. I prefer to create a dark room, rather than covering the birdcage at night.
To provide him with the companionship he needs, speak softly to him (you can even read to him if you like), watch television (low or medium volume), or listen to relaxing music nearby. Let him get used to your presence before you handle him.
Make the area around the cage a quiet zone initially, and resist the urge to clean the floor below the cage with a vacuum.
- Introducing your bird to two- and four-legged friends and family.
Once your bird has been in your home long enough to feel at ease in her new environment, you can begin allowing other people and pets near her cage. Children should be reminded to move quietly and talk in low tones. You can encourage them to sing softly or read to her. You can also bring other pets around the cage, but never leave them unsupervised near your bird.
If you have other birds, the new one should see an avian veterinarian before she meets them. Ideally you should isolate the new bird for 60 to 90 days to protect your other birds from any disease she might be carrying, store her cage supplies separately, and be sure to wash your hands after handling her.
If you have small birds, including the new addition, trying placing their cages side by side for several weeks so they can get to know each other. If they seem to get along, try placing them in the same cage for a few hours under close supervision. If they continue to do well together, you can consider leaving them in the same cage as a permanent arrangement. Remember that if you place different sexes of the same species together you risk becoming a grandparent, so determining the sex of your bird will be necessary prior to a cohabitating experience.
Introducing larger birds is often trickier. After several weeks spending time in the same general vicinity but in separate cages, open the cage doors and let them see each other outside of their cages. If it goes well, try placing them together in a neutral play area. Keep in mind that large birds can inflict injury on one another very quickly, so be prepared with a towel nearby in case you need to drop it over one of the birds in a hurry.
If your larger birds seem to be hitting it off, they can try sharing a cage, but only under your supervision for the first few weeks until you're confident they aren't likely to get into a dustup.
If your birds can't co-exist peacefully, there's no need to try to force a friendship.
- Feeding your new bird.
Once your new bird has settled in, you can begin to improve his diet as necessary. But be sure to make changes gradually – never abruptly.
Feed your bird a high quality diet of species-specific commercial pelleted food (not a sunflower seed mix) that is organic, and free of toxic chemicals and dye. These diets come in the form of organic pellets, crumbles, or nuggets. You can find them at pet stores, vet offices, and online. The formulations differ depending on what type of bird you have, so you'll want to choose a blend suitable for your pet. If you're not sure which formulation is best for your bird, check with your avian veterinarian.
To round out the pelleted diet and balance your bird's nutritional intake, I recommend you add the following items:
- Fresh fruits and veggies, preferably organic
- Legumes and whole grain pasta
- Whole, unsalted raw nuts
- Seeds, but they should account for no more than 30 percent of the diet, and sprouted seeds provide significantly more nutrition than regular seeds
If you're a first-time bird owner, your new bird is a species you're unfamiliar with, or you're having trouble feeding him, consult an avian veterinarian or another exotic bird specialist. Providing adequate, appropriate nutrition for an individual bird can be challenging, so it's best to seek the advice of an expert.
Providing for your new bird's sunshine and vitamin D needs.
Birds require exposure to direct sunlight for many hours a day. Sunlight is important for your bird's emotional, mental, and nutritional wellbeing. The correct spectrum of ultraviolet (UV) light birds require for health is filtered out by window glass and screens. I recommend providing all birds access to UV light via a special UV "bird bulb" over their cage for several hours a day.
However, if you happen to live in a warm climate and have the time to supervise your bird outside, I highly recommend allowing her to spend several hours outdoors. Nothing man-made can ever completely replace the health benefits nature provides in clean, fresh air, and sunlight.
Providing your new bird with a toxin-free living space.
Birds are especially sensitive to toxins because they have airsacs, not lungs like mammals. Make sure to provide your bird a smoke free environment and consider getting an air purifier to reduce the dust and other airborne contaminants in your bird's living environment.
Do not use toxic cleaning products in your home. Air fresheners, plug ins, candles, and chemical disinfectants can all negatively affect your feathered friend, so switch to all natural cleaning products before your bird arrives home.
Provide a source of purified water. Birds accumulate heavy metals in their bodies faster than mammals so providing filtered water is essential. Fluoride and chlorine are also toxic to birds, so don't use city water that has not been filtered.