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Stuff Every New Bird Owner Should Know

New with pet birds, or just need a refresher? Check out these 10 things you need to know about your pet bird.

Nikki Moustaki

Senegal parrot

I received my first bird as a gift 25 years ago, and the love for that bird blossomed into a bird hobby, habit and obsession. Over the years I’ve heard hundreds of stories of avian triumphs and tragedies, and have had many of my own. Here’s a list of some of the more esoteric bird "stuff” that every new owner should know — facts that are not necessarily common knowledge, or even common sense — but stuff that can save your bird’s life and keep him healthy throughout his life. 

1) Birds hull seeds. With the exception of doves and pigeons, most other commonly kept birds crack the meat of the seed out of the shell, like the way we crack nuts to get to the goody inside. If your bird’s dish looks full, you have to make sure that it’s not just full of hulls, or your bird will starve. It may seem like common sense, but I’ve seen it happen.

2) You can’t overfeed birds. Birds are not dogs. They eat what they want and leave the rest. Yes, some birds do get chubby, but it’s mostly from lack of exercise and a seed-only or high-fat diet. If you’re feeding your bird a variety of foods along with fresh fruits and vegetables, you really can’t "overfeed.” 

3) Birds have a very sensitive respiratory system. Using any type of aerosol spray around a bird can be deadly. The same goes for heated non-stick coating of any kind, whether it’s on a kitchen pan or on the coils of a blow dryer or space heater. Never, ever compromise your bird’s respiratory system. In fact, poor indoor air quality is enough to make a bird sick, or dead. Invest in a good air purifier (one without an ionizer) and place it next to your bird’s area.

Birds are meant to fly. Flying is actually important to their respiratory systems and overall health.

4) Speaking of air purifiers... they can also help clean the air of mold spores that can damage your bird’s lungs and create fungal infections, such as aspergillosis, which can be deadly for your bird. Depending on your own health and immune system, you can tolerate a far larger amount of mold in the air than your bird can, but truth be told, you shouldn’t have to. Clean your air  if you live in a humid climate, you can pretty much be guaranteed that there’s mold in your environment.

5) One more thing about air purifiers: bird feces (from a healthy bird) is generally not dangerous to humans when cleaned up in a timely fashion, but when it dries and becomes aerosolized (i.e., turns into powder and floats into the air) you and your bird can inhale it. This can create issues ranging from an aggravation of allergies to bronchial sensitivities to "Bird Keeper’s Lung” and other respiratory diseases. Keep your bird’s housing clean.

If you have a bird with trimmed wing feathers, he might still be able to fly. When you have windows or doors open in the house, keep an eye on your bird to make sure he doesn't accidentally fly off.

6) Can I keep going on about air purifiers? I promise, this is the last one. Many of our pet birds produce a lot of dander, also called feather dust, but some species create copious amounts of feather dust created by powder down feathers. These feathers occur in pigeons, cockatoos, cockatiels, African grey parrots and some other wild bird species. These birds don’t molt their powder-down feathers; instead, the feathers keep growing, but disintegrate at the tips to create a powder that provides waterproofing for the bird’s feathers. This can cause asthma, allergies, and other health hazards in humans. One way to deal with this is to spritz or bathe your bird regularly to keep the feather dust under control.

7) Your other pets will eat your bird. Even if Fluffy the kitty is blind and deaf, or Fido the puppy is five pounds of sweetness and light, I’ve seen horrible tragedies occur when people turn their backs on other pets and their birds. Snakes can sneak into a birdcage and eat your bird whole. Rodents can kill companion birds as well. Birds of dissimilar and the same species will even kill each other. Supervision is key.

8) Birds are meant to fly. Flying is actually important to their respiratory systems and overall health. Unfortunately, it’s often not safe to keep birds flighted because they can become lost, get caught up in a ceiling fan, fly into a soup pot, or something equally as gruesome. But, if you can afford the space, keeping your bird in a flight cage, aviary, or habitat, is a healthy housing option.

9) Even if you think your bird has trimmed wing feathers, he may still be able to fly, and you can lose him. I’ve had my shoulder cried on dozens of times by people who swore that their bird had his wing feathers trimmed, only to watch their pet bird fly off into the sunset, never to be seen again. Flight feathers grow back, too, and you may not notice the new growth until it’s too late. An unauthorized take-off has even happened to me  twice! Luckily, I was able to retrieve both birds.

10) Birds grow into adulthood fairly quickly. I see so many behavioral issues brought about by owners who insist on treating their adult bird the way they did when it was a youngster  turning the bird upside-down (unless it loves that kind of thing), placing an unpredictable bird close to their face, reprimanding the bird for displaying adult behaviors, and even roughhousing with the bird. When birds reach maturity, they need the same respect that you’d give to an adult human. If the bird bites you for doing something you’ve done a million times when it was a youngster, it probably means that the bird doesn’t like what you’re doing anymore. Allow your relationship to grow organically, with both of you as individuals with your own preferences.

Want to learn more?

Tips To Clean A Pet Bird's Mess
All You Ever Wanted To Know About Bird Poop

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Posted: March 4, 2014, 4:00 p.m. PDT

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Stuff Every New Bird Owner Should Know

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Reader Comments
Great article for new bird owners. However, it should also be mentioned that many vets recommend pellet based diets for most birds, not seeds, since seeds are high in fat and low in general nutrients.
NIKOLE, Plantation, FL
Posted: 3/6/2015 5:49:19 PM
Interesting article.
Christina, Blue Springs, MO
Posted: 12/27/2014 10:33:35 AM
Hi! What exactly is an air purifier? I have never seen something like this in stores.
Izumi, International
Posted: 12/11/2014 3:09:13 PM
We have rescued 2 Cockatiels, 5 yrs ago.there cages are side by side if u put them together they fight.If you take one cage away they screeched, whistle are very upset..Its funny they're great pals in seperate cages.We love our feathered pals.
Joanne, Canastota,, NY
Posted: 3/13/2014 9:32:29 AM
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