DIET AND NUTRITION
Many bird owners are amazed when they first learn of the potential lifespan of their bird. Budgerigars and Cockatiels can live 15 – 20 years, Galahs and Cockatoos can live 80 – 100 years. Unfortunately, only a small percentage reach old age. What causes the situation? For the majority of birds that perish early in life, the main culprit is poor nutrition. The importance of a balanced diet for pet birds is critical, as they can only eat what we offer them.
SEED EATERS (Cockatiels, Budgerigars, Cockatoos and other Parrots)
The danger of standard seed mixtures is that they are incomplete, unbalanced, and generally unhealthy. This type of diet is very high in fat, and deficient in vitamins and minerals such as calcium. Seed mixes should ideally be no more than 20 – 30% of the total diet. When feeding seed, use either small parrot or lovebird mix. The result of feeding birds a seed-only diet is malnutrition, a shorter lifespan, and often fatty liver disease. Have you noticed that pet birds pick through their seed mix and may only eat one or two of their favourite seeds? The result is severe vitamin and mineral deficiencies.
THE SOLUTION! The ideal solution is pelleted bird food. These diets come as crumbles or pellets, and are nutritionally complete. By introducing pellets into the diet gradually, your bird has time to overcome its natural suspicions and fears. Pellets can be mixed with the regular seed diet, gradually increasing amounts until, over a period of time, pellets are the exclusive diet. This is probably the easiest method of converting your bird to a pelleted diet.
NECTAR EATERS (Lorikeets)
Lorikeets do not eat seed. They have different nutritional requirements, and we can best replicate this by offering a nectar mix (wet mix) and a dry mix. Both of these products are commercially available and easy to use. Wet mix should be mixed fresh daily, and remember in hot humid weather, this soils easily. Soft foods as above should also be fed daily to lorikeets.
Did you know that human foods can be fed in moderation, and are in fact good for your bird? Soft foods you can include in your bird’s diet include fresh fruit and vegetables, cereals, bones, native nuts, berries and flowers. Examples include:
• Apples, strawberries, oranges, melons
• Celery, broccoli, silverbeet, corn, peas, beans (NOT avocado – it’s poisonous to birds!)
• Alfalfa, mung beans, peanuts, legumes, almonds
• Cereal, pasta
• Bones (including chicken bones and chop bones)
• Bottlebrush, grevilleas, gums and wattles
The cage you choose for your bird should be large enough to allow the bird to stretch its wings fully. No cage is too big! If using galvanised wire cage, you must first rub it down with undiluted vinegar and a scrubbing brush, then rinse with water. This will help to eliminate heavy metal poisoning.
Replace any dowel or plastic perches with natural tree branches. These should be wide enough to prevent the toes from wrapping around the perch. The bird’s foot should ideally be flat on top of the perch. These should be replaced regularly as they become damaged or soiled. It is a good idea to place different-sized branches to encourage foot exercise. Whenever possible, your bird should be given the opportunity to explore outside the cage.
Birds need activity. Keeping them busy is important! When in the wild, birds spend several hours using their beak to hunt, forage and tear things apart, and we should be trying to replicate this in captivity. A number of toys are available to keep birds busy for long periods, or you can supply your own chew toys with a little imagination. For example, you can use tree branches with nuts, berries or fruit, pine cones tied together with rope, pieces of wood, leather, rope, etc.
Exercise is also extremely important for pet birds, whether inside the cage or outside. Sufficient exercise can be achieved (without flight) through climbing, acrobatics and swinging. It is important to provide sufficient areas for bathing. A large flat dish is great for bathing.
Stress plays a major role in many diseases by lowering the bird’s immune system. It is important to give your new bird minimum attention in the first few weeks in his new home, unless your bird is already hand-raised or hand-tame. Cleaning and feeding should be carried out with a minimum of fuss. After 2 or 3 weeks, handling and taming can commence. Birds can be loving pets, but it depends upon mutual trust. Establishing trust with your bird is an important and ongoing process. First you must spend time with your bird, taking time to handle, touch and of course, talk to your bird. Birds are highly sensitive animals and thrive on positive feedback. Avoid punishment; instead, forcus on rewarding every accomplishment.
It is important to keep your birds living environment clean. We suggest cleaning the cage at least twice a week. Water containers, nectar containers (for lorikeets) and soft food dishes should be washed in warm soapy water every day. Also remember to wash the perches if they become soiled. Keeping your birds cage clean will help reduce the risk of him becoming ill.
SIGNS OF SICKNESS
Birds can hide the fact that they feel sick extremely well until they are very sick. This is why if your bird shows any signs of illness, you should call us immediately. With prompt treatment, your bird has a much better chance of survival than if you leave him for a couple of days. For example, a bird that doesn’t eat for 1 day is the equivalent of a human not eating for 15 days. Signs that your bird is sick include:
• Loss or change in appetite
• Change in the bird’s character
• Change in droppings (colour, firmness)
• Change in number of droppings
• Reduction in activity level (bird becomes lethargic)
• Change in attitude (suddenly becomes smoochy or grumpy)
• Fluffed up appearance (ruffled feathers)
• Breathing becomes noticeable, loud or laboured
• Sneezing, coughing or stained nostrils
• Vomiting (often shown by a wet head, accompanied by shaking the head)
• Sitting on the floor of the cage, reluctant to move
• Unusual lumps or bruising
• Any discolouration of the face, feet, beak or legs
We suggest that if you purchase a new bird, you visit an avian veterinarian for a ‘new bird’ consultation. This will enable us to detect and treat any problems early. The most common disease we see in newly acquired birds is Chlamydiosis (Psittacosis). This is very important, because it can be transmitted to humans. Quarantining new birds is essential. We suggest isolating new birds for a minimum of 4 weeks to ensure your new bird is not harbouring any contagious diseases.
Pet birds should be wormed every 6 months (twice a year). The most effective method of worming is by crop dosing. This method ensures accurate dosing. Remember that most parrots don’t drink a lot of water, so you can’s be sure they’re getting the correct dose. If you choose to use ‘in-water’ medication, be sure it is an effective, safe wormer for your bird. Please ask if you are unsure.
External parasites such as mites and lice can be treated effectively using a pyrethrin spray weekly for 3 consecutive weeks.
A final word – enjoy your pet bird! They are wonderful companions, and with a little attention to detail, they will be your friend for many happy years.