New Birds

Congratulations of the new addition to your family. Now that you have welcomed your feathered small friend into your family, let us help you with some basic information on their healthcare and general day to day needs.

How big does my bird cage need to be and where should I keep it?
The exact location, type and size of your birds’ housing depends on the species, your preferences (indoor cage or outdoor aviary) as well as your birds’ needs.  Only the most general principles are discussed here. For more housing information specific to your small friend, it is advisable that you talk to one of our vets at Small Friends Veterinary Hospital.

Housing for your feathered friends should meet several basic needs:

  • Protection from the extremes of heat, cold, wind, rain and prolonged sun exposure. In Australia, North and East facing aviaries are superior. Solid roofing is essential.
  • Adequate room for feeding, foraging, playing and nesting.
  • Good ventilation without been draughty
  • Protection from predators and vermin
  • Easy access to food and water bowls, and for cleaning floor.

As a rough rule of thumb, provide as big a cage/enclosure as you can afford. Ideally, the cage should be big enough to allow some flight inside. Also, birds prefer a longer and wider rather than higher cage as they fly horizontally.

It is better to keep chicken, ducks, quails, pigeons, finches, canaries, and other small seed eating birds in outside aviaries. You may want to keep your parrots inside the house as part of your family. If you are going to keep your birds indoors, it is recommended to keep them in a smoke free area and also away from potentially toxic cooking fumes from the kitchen. It is also better to keep your birds in a busy part of the house e.g. living room/lounge. Birds are very curious and enjoy keeping an eye on the goings-on of the day.

Perches must always be provided as most pet birds have a psychological need to perch. The usual wooden/plastic perches provided are often too smooth and too small in diameter for the birds to perch or wear down their nails properly. Branches from natives and fruit trees are a much better alternative.  Avoid putting perches directly over food and water bowls so your small friend’s food and water are not contaminated with their own droppings.

What should I feed my bird?
No bird should survive on a single food item. Just because your bird is a seed eater doesn’t mean it has to live on a diet of seeds and cuttlefish bone alone. Just like us, birds need a variety of food to be healthy, active and long-lived.

Providing the right diet is the biggest difference you can make to your bird’s health by preventing a number of malnutrition-related diseases. Most birds appreciate some leafy greens (salad greens, Asian greens, broccoli leaves etc) daily. Some birds also like a daily supply of fresh fruits and/or mealworms/beetle grubs. Fresh food daily provides important vitamins and micronutrients but also encourages natural foraging behaviour and reduces boredom. Always talk to one of our vets about the kind of food you can offer to your bird as some human foods are detrimental or toxic to birds. Be careful when picking edible weeds for your birds. Don’t offer anything unless you are absolutely sure that it is non-toxic.

I worm my dog and cat regularly. Does my bird need to be wormed?
Birds, like dogs and cats, can suffer from gastrointestinal worms such as roundworms, threadworms, and tape worms. People frequently wonder if there is a need to worm captive-bred birds confined to aviaries or indoors cages as it is generally believed that a captive bird is unlikely to have worms because it has little chance to pick up worms. The reality is that any bird that has contact, however oblique, with other birds that have gastrointestinal worms, can become infested. This is because the route of transmission for gastrointestinal worms is via worm egg contaminated bird faeces. The initial host of worms is usually a wild bird or it can also be from unwormed aviary birds. Most birds are visited by their wild cousins at some point in their life and the potential for infection is always there. Therefore it is recommended that you worm your birds regularly as a part of a preventative health regime.

The frequency of worming depends on the number of birds you keep, your birds’ housing system, the climate of your area, the purpose of your set-up (e.g. breeding vs recreational) and if there is frequent new additions to your aviary. It is recommended that you talk to one of our vets about a worming product and regime that suits your small friend. In general, it is more important to worm your birds strategically rather than frequently throughout the year. As a rough rule of thumb, all new birds should be quarantined for about a month to monitor for signs of illness (puffed up feathers, loss of appetite, diarrhoea, closed eyes). New birds should be wormed at least twice before joining your existing flock. It is also advisable to worm your birds when the weather is warm and moist and just before their breeding season. New chicks should also be wormed at least twice one month apart.

Birds are best wormed using an oral liquid wormer. This is available at most good pet suppliers.

Does my bird need a friend?
Most pet birds prefer to live with at least one companion. This is especially true for finches, other seed-eating passerines, pigeons, quails, chickens and some smaller parrots such as budgerigars.  These birds live in large flocks in the wild and need friends (sometimes more than one) to feel secure and happy. Keeping one of these flock birds all by itself is like you or me living in a large house with no one to talk to or interact with, certainly not a fun experience! Larger breeds of parrots usually do quite well with just a mate.  Alternatively, if you plan to bond with your parrot, you may want to assume the role of your parrot’s mate.  This is only recommended if you are able to spend a large proportion of your time hanging out with your parrot as would their mates in the wild.  Parrots are like small children in their behaviour and needs. And unless you are prepared to spend a similar amount of time with your parrot as you would with your children, it is highly recommended that you keep more than one parrot to prevent boredom, loneliness, separation anxiety and antisocial behaviour.

How can I keep my bird entertained?
Wild birds fly long distances daily and spend a large proportion of their time foraging for food and interacting with their flock members. By comparison, a pet bird only has a couple of square metres of space, needs to hop a few steps to a never-ending buffet of food and has very limited interaction with other birds. Without an enriching environment pet birds can quickly resort to antisocial behaviour.

One of the best ways to eliminate boredom in pet birds is to encourage natural foraging behaviour. Foraging provides mental stimulation and promotes exercise.  You may want to scatter some seeds on the ground instead of placing them all in a food bowl. You may also want to place some leafy greens/ treats in various parts of the cage to encourage your bird moving about during the day. Home-made cardboard boxes with holes cut into them and hidden treats make excellent ‘food puzzles’ so your birds can spend many hours ‘working’ for their treats. You may also want to supply fresh branches of fruit trees or non-toxic native trees for your birds to explore, nibble and play with.

Birds, especially parrots, are curious and playful by nature. They are like small children when it comes to toys and playtime: the more the better! There are many bird toys on the market ranging from simple ladders, bells and mirrors to complex wooden puzzles and fancy bird gyms. While store bought toys are great, there are also many home-made toys that can provide hours of fun to your feathered friend: paper bags and cardboard boxes to shred or play hide and seek with, rolled up pieces of paper to chew or to chase, plastic piping as home made maze, cloth ropes to nibble or to be hung up as a swing. Most birds appreciate you joining in their game and daily gaming sessions help to improve the bonding between you and your small friend.

Birds are fastidious animals and enjoy washing and preening. Most birds appreciate having a bath at least once a week. A ‘bathtub’ is easily supplied in the form of a large heavy bottomed shallow plate with some water poured into it.  Regular baths promotes mental stimulation as well as better feather integrity.

If you have any other queries about raising your new bird, our staff at Small Friends Veterinary Hospital will be able to assist you. Please call Small Friends Veterinary Hospital on 02 6262 2233.