Margaret A. Wissman, DVM
I want to begin exercising my bird. How do I start?
As with humans, it is wise to seek out the advice of your avian veterinarian. Your bird should receive a physical exam and whatever lab tests your veterinarian feels are appropriate. In extreme cases, your bird may require a complete blood count, chemistry panel, whole-bird radiographs and possibly an electrocardiogram prior to starting an exercise program.
If your bird has been a perch potato for a long period of time, she will need to ease into an exercise program. Your avian vet can help set up a program tailored to your bird.
Wing-flapping is a good start. While perched on your arm or a sturdy perch that you can hold, drop your arm or perch so that your bird flaps her wings. Depending on how quickly your bird begins tiring out or wheezing, you have your bird perform a set number of repetitions of the movement. One or two short exercise periods per day are usually all that are required.
Climbing is another good exercise. Take advantage of your bird’s natural tendency to climb to the highest accessible perch. Place your bird on the floor and make the destination a perch or playgym that is high up off the floor. The pace is determined by your bird herself, so this usually requires less exertion than the wing-flapping exercise. But, again slowly build up the number of times the bird climbs to the destination to increase her stamina. Work with your avian vet, and weigh your bird on a regular schedule. Monitor caloric intake, as well.
How do you know if you have pushed your bird too far when exercising? While you want to increase the heart and respiratory rates when exercising your bird, gradually increase the length of time and intensity of each work out. If your bird is open-mouth breathing or having a hard time "catching her breath” after an exercise session, it might have been a bit too much. Other signs of overexertion are panting or holding the wings out from the body, indicating that the bird may be overheated. Make sure that you don’t exercise your bird if the ambient temperature is too high, as heat stroke or heat exhaustion may occur.