Old World Aviaries
Things to consider before buying your first bird
The Shop Out Back Aviary
Moores Hill, IN. 47032
(812) 744-3886 or (812) 744-5095
Copyright John M. Stuedle Nov8, 1997 U.S.A.
How much time will my new pet demand? To answer this question, one must consider the type of prospective bird and that bird's needs. Some birds, such as Canaries, are relatively low maintenance and will need a minimal investment of time on your part. Other species will require increasing amounts of time and attention. Exotic birds require daily playtime, and like any pet, the time and love you give this creature will be repaid many times over in love returned. The time required might be as little as letting the bird out in its play area daily when you are home and can progress to a constant shoulder companion with a large vocabulary and repertoire of tricks. You must consider the time investment involved from the first day of ownership until the end of its long life. Look before you leap.
How long a commitment are we talking about? Most of our larger exotic birds have a life comparable to humans. Even parakeets, lovebirds, and cockatiels can outlive our pet dogs. We know of a cocktail that is over 18, and a breeding Scarlet Macaw over 60 that still produces beautiful babies! Please consider this purchase as a possible lifetime investment.
What expenses can I look forward to? The purchase price of your new bird will only be the start of the cost of responsible bird ownership. You should take your new bird to an experienced avian vet as soon as possible for a new bird check-up and annually for checkups.
Why an avian vet? Birds are unique creatures and require specialized care in every aspect of their ownership. Most general-practice vets do not have avian experience or have not invested the time in research to care for your bird competently. Most bird vets specialize in birds and/or exotic animals only. Please take the time to get to know your vet, ask questions, and be an informed bird owner. Your birdís doctor is as important to it as your medical specialist is to your health and well being. Avian medicine has progressed a long way in recent years. Ensure that sure your vet stays current with the latest in avian research.
What should I expect from my bird's first vet visit? Look for an experienced avian vet.
This cannot be stressed enough. After entering the exam room, your vet should
talk to you about your birdís history. Where did it come from, breeder, pet
shop, private owner? Was it handfed, or wild caught? About how old is your
bird? Your vet should be talking to you in a soft voice in an effort to calm
your bird, all the while observing the bird. Your vet will probably look at
the bird from head to tail. How is it acting? Is it breathing normally, or
is it breathing labored with its beak open? Is the beak formed properly? Any
nasal discharge? Any swelling behind the eyes? Is the eye color consistent
with the stated age of the bird? What is the feather condition? How do its
feet look? Are the birdís droppings of normal color and composition? Maybe
a Gramís stain taken from a fecal sample and a swabbing of its oral cavity.
This and many other things can be determined prior to picking up the bird.
Your vet should already have a good idea of what to look for and what tests
and/or treatments might be needed prior to picking up the bird. We donít like
to see a bird picked up with gloves. Gloves mask the touch and feel and might
result in your bird being clutched too tightly, and that strange looking "hand" might
frighten your bird. For birds bigger than parakeets, a towel is appropriate.
An aggressive gloved hand might be a sign of an inexperienced vet. After picking
the bird up, your vet will complete a physical exam. He/she will start by checking
inside the beak, then by feeling for muscle tone, excessive fat, enlarged or
distended organs, observe the condition of the vent, and numerous other observations.
At this time your vet will have already determined from you and your bird what
tests and/or treatments might be necessary. As a minimum, we like to see a
good physical exam and Gram stains. If extra tests are in order, blood should
be drawn from the leg for most blood tests. Other draw sites are only appropriate
in special circumstances. [Ed: Some experienced avian vets prefer to draw
blood from the jugular vein.] Normally the leg is preferred, and is the
least traumatic. From the same blood sample, DNA sexing, Chlamydia, Polyoma,
PBFD, CBC, and other blood chemistries may be taken. A word of warning here,
a vet that wishes to do all this without substantial cause probably lacks experience,
has or wants a new BMW, and/or takes too many Caribbean vacations. Just our
opinion! Generally, only Gramís stains and maybe one or two other blood tests
are typical unless your vet sees a serious problem with your bird. Ask your
vet for an explanation of any and all additional testing. Your vet might try
to talk you into one of the currently popular fad vaccines. Despite what is
currently stated by those that stand to make lots of money on them, these vaccines
are still not proven to be totally safe and effective. We donít vaccinate our
children annually, or get tetanus shots every year, and we are learning that
in cats, some vaccines might lead to a type of cancer. Even our annual dog
shots are good for years, but are recommended annually as a form of revenue
generation. Please investigate both sides of the bird vaccine debate
prior to letting your bird be injected with a foreign material.
What else will by bird need? You will need to supply your bird with an appropriate home. A cage must be large enough for good exercise to maintain muscle tone when in its cage. Your bird must have room to spread and flap its wings without harming itself. It must also have bar spacing narrow enough to not permit the birdís head to pass through. Food and water dishes must be of a safe material. Do not use the cast pot metal dishes that are supplied with some cages. These dishes might have a high heavy metal content and could prove fatal to your bird. We recommend stainless steel or hard plastic. Your bird must have good perches, safe toys, clean food and water dishes, and a well-lit but temperate location. Adequate diet is a must! We recommend that your birdís cage be in a central location to the rest of your family. Your bird is a member of the family and should not be just a room decoration. The kitchen is not a good place as it is filled with hazards that can claim your bird in a heartbeat.
What is an adequate diet? Just as you can not survive on a diet of only one staple, your bird must have a varied and balanced diet. Although we supply our birds with a blend of seed and pellets, we give them a variety of people foods. These include fresh or thawed frozen veggies every day, rice, pasta, beans, fruit, small quantities of cooked lean meat, fish or chicken, and about anything else we eat that is low in fat and sugar. There is nothing wrong with letting your pet sit on your shoulder while at the TV or computer, and letting them eat off of one side of your plate while you eat off of the other. Just pull a small portion over to the side of the plate for your bird. Donít let your food mix, or let your bird eat from your mouth. Human saliva can make your bird sick. The birds are much more likely to get a bug from us than we are from them. Remember in the wild, an exotic birdís diet changes with the availability of what food is in its environment. This ranges from seed, nuts and fruit that may be seasonal, to grasses, snails, and insects. We have heard it said that in the wild a bird lives on a steady diet of scenery with a few things foraged in for variety. And remember there is no pellet tree in the wild. We use pellets as a supplement; just as we use Nutrition Plus vitamin and mineral supplements, the primary diet should be a variety of foods. Some foods to avoid include avocados, coffee, chocolate, head lettuce (no nutritional value), kiwi, spinach (feed in moderation) and any foods that are greasy, fatty, or salty. [Ed. We're not sure what is wrong with kiwi or spinach.] Generally, most foods that are considered healthful for you, are OK for your bird. Some species of exotic birds will have a restriction of one type of food or another. For example, the big Macaws need more fat in their diet than African Greyís, Amazons, or Cockatoos. Talk to your avian vet about your birdís type, itís physical condition and recommended diet.
What are some of the things to avoid with my new bird? The kitchen is a good place to avoid as it is filled with hazards for your bird. Teflon cookware if overheated gives off a toxic gas that is almost instantly fatal to our feathered friends. The hot frying pan, pot of boiling water, sink of soapy dishwater, open refrigerator, open dishwasher all can be highly dangerous. With most of these, common sense will be your guide. Be very cautious of most household products. Many things like scented candles, carpet cleaner, aerosol cleaners, paint, solvents, etc, should be steered clear of. Your birdís respiratory system is very efficient and sensitive to a wide variety of toxic chemicals and airborne fumes. If you are a smoker, avoid smoking in direct contact with your bird. Also, donít let your bird eat any tobacco products. Be very cautious of what toys your bird has access to. Donít let it have stained, varnished, or treated wood to chew on. Choose species-appropriate toys. All of your birdís playthings should be sized for the type of bird you have. A bell for a parakeet is not appropriate for your cockatoo, and the Green-wing Macawís "Liberty Bell" might intimidate your finch.
With all these warnings, is it safe to have an exotic bird in my home? We have tried to give you a brief and admittedly incomplete list of doís and doníts. Please, donít let this little list scare you out of owning what we are convinced is one of Godís greatest creations. We hope this guide will help you and your new pet have a long and happy life together. After you form an understanding of the special needs associated with your bird, most of bird ownership is common sense. The greatest thing that you can do for your bird is find a good avian vet and ask informed questions. Enjoy your new bird!!
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