The Best Enrichment: A Flock

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One of the things I typically ask potential customers is “do you have any birds now?” If they do not, I try to convince them to get two. Wild psittacines live together in large flocks or small family groups. They are not mentally designed to live alone and when you have a single bird, even if you spend a lot of time with it, there are going to be times when you’re not around- work, school, weddings, vacations, running errands. When you make yourself your parrot’s only source of social interaction, you unintentionally set it up to have a stressful life. Toys can keep birds busy, but they only do so much and they don’t satisfy any of the bird’s social needs. When a bird has to rely on humans to be its only flock, it will scream when they are out of the room (contact calling, a bird version of “where are you?!”) and can develop stereotypies (purposeless, repetitive behaviors like pacing or plucking). Stereotypies are an indicator of poor animal welfare.

I have kept birds for 27 years. In my professional opinion, a bird housed in a large aviary with a flock of its own kind is far more psychologically healthy than a single bird kept in a pet cage with a zillion toys. Aviary birds have the benefit of exercise, flight, and socialization. The research agrees with me. A UC Davis study found that: “Paired parrots used their enrichments more, and spent less time screaming, less time preening, and less time inactive than singly housed parrots. . . . Isosexual pair housing resulted in a more active and diverse behavioral repertoire, eliminated the development of stereotypy and reduced fear responses to novel objects without imparting significant risk of illness and injury or jeopardizing the ability of parrots to relate positively with humans. Thus, it appears that pair housing can significantly improve environmental quality and positively affect the welfare of captive parrots.”

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Access to conspecifics, flight, and foraging are all excellent methods of enrichment.

Many people are concerned that if they have more than one bird their bird won’t love them anymore, or that they won’t have as deep a bond. The latter is true, but context is important. When humans speak of bonding to their parrots or being chosen by their parrots, they think of their parrot as their “baby” and themselves as a parent or caretaker. That is not how the parrot sees it. When a parrot bonds to a person they see the human as a mate. This can lead to all kinds of behavior problems when the parrot’s sexual advances are rebuffed or intentionally squashed. It can lead to aggression when the human prefers their spouse, or shows affection to their child. It definitely leads to stress, as mates are typically not apart during the day unless one is incubating eggs. It’s not a psychologically healthy relationship and it’s unfair to the bird. However, if the bird has a mate (same sex is fine!) you won’t see the same issues. (Please note: a mirror is NOT a substitute for a real bird and can be detrimental).

Will the bird still be tame once it has a companion? Yes! Birds still enjoy interacting with humans even if they have a buddy. You can see evidence of this every time I walk into my aviary:

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Vita and her mate.

The relationship won’t be less, it will just be different. You will be someone they enjoy spending time with. Do people stop loving their parents or siblings every time they enter a romantic relationship? Do they love their spouse less because they had a child? Their child less because they had another? No. Love is not a finite resource. People (and birds) can have multiple healthy, loving relationships that are all somewhat different. Each relationship has its own dynamic and fulfills various needs.

To me the ideal is that birds be raised and housed with their own kind from the start- if you’re buying a baby bird, get two. If you do not wish to breed I recommend a same sex pair. Even a mature solo bird that prefers humans can benefit from having a buddy. They don’t have to be housed together, be the same species, or even particularly like one another. They just have to be kept in the same room within sight of one another. My pets ten years ago were my Goffin cockatoo, Loki, and a mitred conure, Verde. They disliked one another. When I first started having children I had little time for my birds. I’m sure Loki and Verde missed me, but they never developed any psychological issues from lack of human contact. In fact, over time I saw their poop piles move towards each other’s cages. When Verde passed away Loki immediately began to scream more. I gave her as much attention as I could but it didn’t really die down until I got her a replacement buddy (my pionus, Lando).

This is something very serious to consider: Birds are long-lived and regardless of how much time you have now, there will always be a point (or more likely, many points) in your life when you just won’t have as much time as you’d like to spend with your birds. These periods are temporary, yet many people rehome their birds anyway, mistakenly believing it is the best interest of their bird. A bird with a companion is easily able to weather these patches of reduced attention, where a solo bird will feel isolated and forgotten and start to show it by screaming, plucking, or otherwise acting out.

If you are on the fence about getting a second bird, know that your concern is quite common, but the best thing for birds in the long run is to have access to other feathered friends. It will reduce their stress, frustration, contact calls, and help alleviate boredom. It will also reduce your urge to rehome unnecessarily when you find you suddenly have a life event that takes a majority of your time.

Copyright 2018 by Karen Trinkaus. May not be reprinted without author’s permission.

Bringing Home Baby

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Congratulations on your new baby bird!

Things to do before bringing a bird home:

  • research the species to ensure that it will be a good fit for your home
  • set up cage with food, water, and toys
  • research local avian veterinarians
  • have a talk with other family members about what to expect, and any changes that need to be made to accommodate a bird regarding smoking, other pets, etc.

Handling

One of the things I see touted a lot is that you should leave birds alone for a few days to let them adjust. If a bird is a handfed baby, this is terrible advice. Think of it this way. You adopt a young child. You show them to their room. Then you spend the next few days ignoring them so they can “adjust.” No! Birds, like humans, need to feel like part of the family. Your baby is already used to humans. That’s the whole point of handfeeding. Talk to it frequently.  Make it feel welcome!

You can start handling your bird on the second day, or the first day if it seems open to the idea. Keep in mind that while the baby is tame, it doesn’t know YOU. Cockatiels are usually accepting of petting immediately, but other species may want you to earn their trust first. If you go in right away for a head scratch you may be rebuffed or even nipped. It’s like meeting someone right away and asking to hug them, hold their hand, or kiss them. Listen to your bird’s body language and respect its body autonomy. Go slowly and work up to it. Your goal is to create a solid relationship built on trust, not to bully your bird into submission.

Set Boundaries

Set boundaries and use commands to help your bird know what to expect. If you don’t want a bird constantly sitting on your head and pooping in your hair, then don’t allow it to do that. If you want your bird to stay on a play stand while out, return it to the stand whenever it flies out of bounds. Say “step up” whenever you want the bird to step up. Be consistent.

Babies explore with their mouths. They use their beak like a hand and will apply pressure to get a feel for things. Some species, like green cheek conures, will play fight and nip during play. It is important that you do not allow them to mouth fingers, hands, earlobes, moles, etc. Move the target item out of their way, cover it, or distract them with something else (though be careful not to reward inappropriate nibbling). I like to have a bird-friendly snack available when I sit with my birds. It helps with flock bonding because we are sharing a food, and it gives the birds a more appropriate thing to nibble.

Routine, Routine, Routine!

Set up routines as quickly as possible. Birds, like children, love routine as it lets them know what to expect and when. Feed at the time you normally plan on feeding. Let them out when you normally plan on it. This is especially important to reduce the odds of screaming/contact calls. Birds who know when they are normally let out are less likely to scream to be let out at other times.

If your bird has a sleep cage or if you plan on covering the cage at night, you can start doing that from the first day. Birds need 10-12 hours of sleep. If their cage is in a high traffic area like the living room, a sleep cage in a quieter area is a good idea. They can’t sleep well if you’re up late watching television loudly, even if the cage is covered.

Noise

Parrots do not normally live alone. They are always with their flock, family, or mate. When isolated, it is very common for birds to do a contact call. This call basically means “Where are you? I can’t see you!” Some people rapidly get irritated with contact calls and do things that can easily slip into animal abuse, like screaming at the bird or covering it during the day. My pet pionus spent years covered and under a back porch, probably because its former owner was frustrated with the noise and kept escalating “solutions.” Contact calls are NORMAL and birds should not be punished for them.

There are a few things you can do to help mitigate contact calls:

The easiest is to have two or more birds. That way part of the flock is always there and they feel less alone. This is best done when the birds are young so that they grow up together and you don’t have to worry about introductions later.

You can make a noise back. Especially if your bird makes an annoying call (like my pionus), you can try to get them to make a different noise. When my pionus yells I either ignore it or answer back with a whistle, which starts him whistling instead.

Ignore it. This takes far more mental strength. If you have a set routine, your bird will eventually learn when you are around and when you are not, and when it can reasonably expect to have time out of the cage with you. When we first moved to this house my Goffin was calling ALL THE TIME. It took maybe two months for her to get used to the new routine, but eventually she stopped calling all the time. Now she only calls periodically when she knows I’m around and should be available.

Give them plenty to do while they’re in the cage. They do need to learn to play by themselves. It won’t solve the problem completely, because the point is that they want to be able to see/hear you. Having them out on a play stand in a common area is another solution.

If You Have Other Birds

Introductions should be slow. Time outside the cage should always be supervised, especially if either species is known for aggression. It is generally recommended that all new birds be quarantined for 30-45 days to ensure they do not bring any diseases into your flock. If you purchase a bird from a breeder with a closed aviary system then you’re probably okay, but quarantine is never a bad idea.

Health

If you can find a good avian veterinarian in your area, I recommend making an appointment. This allows the vet to see your bird when it is healthy and get a baseline for things like weight. It gives the vet something to compare to if/when the bird ever gets sick. The vet can also answer any further questions you have about avian health.

Here are some external links you may find helpful:

 

© 2017 by Karen Trinkaus. May not be reprinted or used in any way without the author’s permission.

Handfeeding Crash Course

For the accidental breeder or the person who got suckered in to doing the breeder’s job for them.

This is intended to be an emergency guide. It is not comprehensive! If you plan on handfeeding routinely you need to get a copy of Parrots: Hand Feeding & Nursery Management by Howard Voren and Rick Jordan. In Australia they prefer Incubation & Handraising Parrots by Phil Digney.

What does your baby look like?

  1. Naked
  2. Down feathers (fluffy feathers, but no proper feathers)
  3. Pinfeathers
  4. Mostly feathered

chick development

Feather development varies from species to species. Some, like Indian ringnecks, move from naked alien babies to pinfeathers with no real down stage. LOOK at your baby and see what level it is at. #1-3 NEED SUPPLEMENTAL HEAT.

Temperature for baby

  1. Naked- 93-97.5°F. Exact temperature depends on the age and size of the chick.
  2. Down- 85°F
  3. Pinfeathers- 78-82°F
  4. Feathered- Room temperature, so long as it’s not too chilly

You MUST have a way to accurately measure temperature! Make sure your thermometer (or the probe reading the temperature) is placed in the same location as the chicks, otherwise your reading will be off.

WATCH your baby

  • Shivering = too cold
  • Panting = too hot
  • Adjust accordingly!

How to Keep Baby Warm

Ideally you would have a proper brooder like this:

brooders

You can also make low budget versions with fish tanks/critter keepers and a heating pad or lamp:

brooder

Here are some links on how to make a brooder:

Feeding

Supplies needed:

  • thermometer
  • handfeeding formula
  • syringe or spoon with sides bent up
  • kleenex or other item for wiping off baby

How to Feed

  1. Heat water separately.
  2. Add hot water to formula until desired consistency is achieved.
    • Very young chicks take thinner formula
    • Consistency should be similar to applesauce- thick, but drips easily from spoon
  3. Stir well to eliminate lumps and hot spots
  4. CHECK TEMPERATURE with a candy thermometer or digital kind.
  5. The safe window is 100-110°F. Any hotter and the crop will be burned, which can lead to death. Any cooler and the chick will refuse the formula. Ideally you want to be around 106°F.
  6. Do NOT heat formula in the microwave. This causes hot spots.
  7. Add hot water to formula, check temp, add cool water if necessary, or wait until formula cools. It may take some trial and error until you get the hang of it.
  8. Hold the chick steady.
  9. If using a syringe, aim it from the bird’s left to the bird’s right. The esophagus is on the right. If you shoot toward the left you may unintentionally aspirate the bird. Aim toward the right.
  10. Chicks, especially older chicks, may pump vigorously and make a huge mess.
  11. Do not overfeed. Doing so can stretch out the crop, preventing it from emptying properly. Crop should be a nice bulge but not sag.
  12. Chicks may cry for a brief period after feeding, as it can take time to register that they are full. Crying all day is a sign that something is wrong.

Feeding Schedule:

The table below is not mine, and it is made with cockatiels in mind. Larger species will eat more and develop at a different rate. Adjust accordingly!

handfeeding chart

This is for COCKATIELS.

I personally listen to the chicks. If they’re crying a lot and the crop is empty then they need to be fed. If they’re refusing food (and it’s at the right temperature) it may be time to bump back the feeding time. Listen to your chicks!

Please visit my YouTube channel for videos on brooding and handfeeding, or watch the playlist below:

Fledging & Weaning

Once the chick is fully feathered it begins the fledging and weaning process. Chicks may start to refuse feeds and drop a bit of weight prior to fledging. This is normal, as slimmer birds have an easier time flying. At this point you can move them to a cage and start offering foods. I begin with soft, warm foods or things that are easy to manipulate. You want to offer a large variety of foods and textures- vegetables, pellets, and seed. Initially food will get picked at and stepped on but eventually the chicks will learn to eat it.

It is important that all birds learn to fly properly. If you plan to clip your bird’s wings, give it time to learn to fly well before clipping. It should be able to take off, land, and fly with purpose and accuracy. Once it can do this for some time you can clip.

© 2017 by Karen Trinkaus. May not be reprinted or used in any way without the author’s permission.

Armchair Warriors

I’ve seen several people upset lately that they can’t post anything fun online without being criticized. Here’s the thing: misinformation kills.

Last weekend I picked up two cockatiels from a woman. When I asked if she had any other birds, she told me that she had a blue & gold macaw, but it had died.

“What happened?”
“We poisoned it.”

Turns out they painted their house and left the bird inside. After a while the bird went into respiratory distress. She moved it outside for a bit and “tried to comfort” it, but then brought it back inside, at which point “she got so scared of going back into the house that she had a heart attack.” The bird didn’t have a heart attack out of fright, but died of respiratory problems caused by exposure to fumes.

A third cockatiel I picked up last weekend was in good condition. However, the seller also had an eclectus kept in a carrier barely big enough for the bird to turn around in. It was also on an all-seed diet (not great for any bird, but eclectus have specialized digestive systems and need a different diet). It had stress bars and black feathers all over its body from unintentional abuse.

DAILY I see posts about birds that flew away.

If you make a post and someone mentions something you’re doing that could potentially be harmful, please swallow your pride and think about why. Many people post fun things and DON’T know that what they’re doing is harmful. We don’t know if you know, and those of us with more experience have a duty to educate. But it’s not all about the OP. There are newbies everywhere reading these posts and THEY need to be educated. If nothing is said, if the risks aren’t brought up, then they will think everything is 100% okay and perfectly normal. This is why I try to add disclaimers to my own posts that could be taken the wrong way (eg. “this is a travel cage, not their actual cage”). Those of us with more experience can do better risk analysis when it comes to our actions, newbies cannot.

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Fry was on a safflower diet for years.

I know people can takes these criticisms personally, but it is anything but personal. The sad fact is that there are still so many uneducated pet owners out there. Those of us who work in the industry, be we breeders, rescues, veterinarians, or pet store owners, deal with the fallout when a bird has been cared for incorrectly. You may not see that side of it, but we do, and we try our best to prevent it through the dissemination of accurate information. We’re not trying to be killjoys.

© 2017 by Karen Trinkaus. May not be reprinted or used in any way without the author’s permission.

The Misuse of Antibiotics

This article was originally published in 1999 and has been my most frequently requested article for reprint. Most human physicians have woken up to the fact that over-prescribing antibiotics is a bad thing. Antibiotic resistance is a huge global problem. Sadly, some aviculturists have not yet caught on and continue to broadly apply antibiotics where none are needed. Please read and share to spread awareness. 

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E. coli bacteria. Photo by NIAID

It has been brought to my attention that most people are ignorant as to what exactly antibiotics are, what they do, and what the consequences will be if they are continued to be misused. This article seeks to educate aviculturists on antibiotics and their effects.

What are antibiotics? Antibiotics are chemical substances which kill or stop bacterial growth. The first antibiotic, Penicillin, was discovered in 1928 by Alexander Fleming. Since then many other antibiotics have been found and used to save millions of lives (human and animal) all over the globe. Antibiotics have become one of the best weapons we have against disease. Tetracycline is the antibiotic which most aviculturists use to treat their birds.

What do antibiotics do? Antibiotics get rid of bacteria. Some are targeted toward most kinds of bacteria while others only attack one particular variety. Antibiotics have no effect on viruses and they promote the growth of fungi. This is why veterinarians often use antifungal drugs along with antibiotics.

Inside every organism’s gut live millions of bacteria. Most of these “friendly” bacteria aid in the digestion of food and even produce certain vitamins. Along with the immune system, these “friendly” bacteria keep bad bacteria, called pathogens, from spreading out of control. This natural harmony is severely thrown out of balance by antibiotics. Antibiotics such as tetracycline wipe out both good and bad bacteria, allowing fungi to grow like crazy and letting potentially bad species of bacteria gain a foothold. Because so much damage can be done by antibiotics, they should only be used under the supervision of a qualified avian veterinarian.

What are the consequences of overusing antibiotics? Many aviculturists use antibiotics without the guidance of an avian veterinarian. They treat their entire flock with tetracycline (or another antibiotic) to clear up any small infections before and after the breeding season. This is a very dangerous practice which needs to brought to a halt. A bird which has a fungal infection can die when treated with antibiotics. Healthy birds may become ill when their natural flora and fauna are wiped out. When antibiotics are used uncontrollably in this fashion, certain bacteria become resistant. Every time an antibiotic is used, a few bacteria will survive. These bacteria are not affected by the drug and will multiply rapidly (one bacterium can multiply into 600,000 in only four hours). The next time the bird is treated with the antibiotic, no bacteria will die. Already we are starting to see the effects of the overuse of antibiotics in human medicine. Children with simple infections remain ill because the antibiotics used to treat the infections no longer work. So why are so many breeders trying to ruin the effects of antibiotics on birds as well? Most people just don’t realize that they are doing more harm than good.

How does one prevent bacterial resistance to antibiotics? Never use antibiotics unless instructed to do so by your veterinarian. Instead of routinely treating all your birds, have them each cultured to detect any infections and then treat according to your veterinarian’s instructions. Most birds remain quite healthy if provided with a nutritious diet, lots of exercise, and a good rest after the breeding season. In six years I have only had one bird become ill because of a bacterial infection. He was taken to my vet, treated, and is now raising four healthy chicks. Let’s use our antibiotics wisely and not ruin avian medicine forever.

© 1999 by Karen Trinkaus. May not be reprinted without permission from author.

Avian Anatomy

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Parrot skeleton. Taken from “Parrots of the World” by Forshaw.

Skeletal System
The avian skeleton is very unique, having been adapted for flight in most species. It is lightweight and delicate yet very strong. Most of the long bones are hollow to make them lighter. The inside is reinforced with a honeycombed substructure. The main thing you need to know about is the sternum. Flying species have a pronounced keel, the place on the sternum that the flight muscles attach to. Birds that are clipped too severely can crash land and easily injure their keel. See the Respiratory System below for more information on the sternum and its function.

Respiratory System
The avian respiratory system differs from mammals in many ways. Bird respiration is much more efficient. Birds do not have a diaphram. In mammals, this muscle moves up and down to expand and contract the chest cavity. This is what causes the lungs to expand and air to rush in or out. Birds push the sternum in and out to the same effect. Owners therefore must be careful when holding their birds about the waist. If held too tightly the sternum will not be able to expand and the bird will suffocate.

The flow of air enters through the nostrils, down the trachea and into the lungs and air sacs. The trachea, or windpipe, is what breeders have to be careful of while handfeeding. Syringes should be aimed from the bird’s left to right (over the trachea and into the esophagus) to avoid aspirating the chick. Bird lungs are very compact and take up much less space than mammal lungs. With the help of thin-walled air sacs which extend through the body cavity and even into the bones, birds can keep a continuous flow of air through the lungs. If your bird ever starts to inflate like a little balloon, they may have punctured an air sac.

Breathing rate varies depending on size of birds. A hummingbird breathes 143 times per minute while a turkey breathes 7 times per minute. This rate increases during flight. 

Click here to learn more about avian respiration.

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Avian anatomy. Taken from “Parrots of the World” by Forshaw.

Digestive System

Birds do not chew their food and have specialized digestive tracts to compensate. All food must be broken down within the body itself. First the food travels down through the esophagus and into the crop. The crop is actually just an expanded section of the esophagus and it acts as a holding tank for food before it can enter the proventriculus- the bird version of a stomach. The proventriculus produces acid and adds enzymes which aid in breaking down the food, which is next passed to the gizzard. The gizzard helps grind tougher food like seed. According to Ornithology by Gill, a turkey gizzard can “pulverize English walnuts, steel needles, and surgical lancets.” The gizzard is highly keratinized to make the surface rough (keritan is what makes up fingernails and hair).

Food then takes its time passing through the intestinal tract, where nutrients are absorbed. Birds that eat large quantities of plant matter (greens, not fruit) will have a large cecum. This area of the intestines specializes in breaking down plants via acid, enzymes, and specialized bacteria. Parrots do not have enlarged cecums. Waste is then expelled through the cloaca, or vent.

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Female reproductive system. Taken from “Parrots of the World” by Forshaw.

Reproductive System

The reproductive organs shrink when birds are not in mating season. This drastically decreases their weight, making flight easier. Males have two testes and females have one ovary.

Eggs are produced thus: The ovum is fertilized and passes through a long tube called the oviduct. Each section of the oviduct adds a different part to the egg, just like an assembly line. In the infundibulum the egg stays 20 minutes before passing along to the magnum, where the albumen (egg white) is added. Now the egg goes to the isthmus, where inner and outer membranes are formed around the albumen. This takes about an hour. In the uterus the shell and all pigments are added. This process takes the longest, about 20 hours. The egg then passes through the vagina and out the cloaca.

Ever find a little pink or brown thing inside a chicken egg? Laying hens do not have access to roosters, so their eggs are not fertilized. If you find something odd in an egg it is most likely a piece of the reproductive tract that sloughed off while the egg was passing through.

Body Parts
Ever wondered what names like green-cheeked conure, golden-mantled rosella, red-lored amazon and red-rumped parakeet are referring to?

  1. Crestbody1body2
  2. Nape
  3. Mantle
  4. Upper back
  5. Lower back
  6. Tertials
  7. Primaries (clipped)
  8. Breast
  9. Foreneck
  10. Cheek
  11. Lores
  12. Crown
  13. Forehead
  14. Cere
  15. Chin
  16. Throat
  17. Metal band
  18. Rump

Copyright © 2011 by Karen Trinkaus. May not be reprinted or used in any way without the author’s permission. Images taken from Parrots of the World by Forshaw where noted. 

 

 

Egg Laying in Pets

Ah, spring…sunshine, showers, flowers, and egg laying in pet birds.

luca_egg

Not all female pets will lay eggs. My Goffin is 14 and has yet to lay a single egg. Others, often cockatiels, will habitually lay every year. So what do you do?

Step One: Remove anything that could be interpreted as a nest site- Happy Huts, boxes, enclosed toys/dishes, tents, etc. Also, do NOT pet your bird on the back or under the tail. head scratches are fine, but touching her back is going to simulate a male mounting her.

Step Two: Provide lots of calcium and protein. Excess laying will deplete a hen’s calcium reserves, which can lead to soft shelled eggs (more likely to fracture internally) and brittle bones. Offer cuttlebone and/or mineral block, and cooked scrambled eggs with the shell. If this has been going on a long time, you may need to see a veterinarian for a quicker form of supplementation.

Step Three: STOP REMOVING EGGS. Birds can count and usually have a specific clutch size that they are trying to reach. Removing eggs means that they never finish their clutch so they just keep laying more. Removing broken eggs is fine. Once her clutch is complete she may try to incubate the eggs. Incubation lasts three to four weeks for most species. Eventually she should realize that her eggs are duds and abandon them. At this point they can be safely removed. Some hens will lay again, others will not. If she does lay again you can try leaving the eggs in longer. At the very least, leaving eggs in will space out the time in between clutches.

Step Four: Decrease daylight hours. Most species are springtime breeders. Even birds that can lay year-round usually become more hormonal during the spring. You can try to shorten their breeding season by fudging their daylight hours. Covering the cage early at night may help, though cockatiels are prone to night frights when covered. For cockatiels I would move them to a room with limited sunlight and get blackout curtains. Close the curtains well before sunset every day.

Do I need to swap out the eggs with fakes? No. You certainly can, but I don’t really see a reason to do so.

For more information: Discouraging Breeding Behavior in Pet Birds

©2016 by Karen Trinkaus May not be reprinted or used in any way without the author’s permission. Image submitted by reader.

First Aid

It always pays to be prepared for any emergencies, especially if you own birds. Chances are that if something goes wrong it will happen on Saturday night at 2:00 a.m. and you’ll have to wait until Monday morning before you can even try scheduling an appointment. This article is NOT meant to be a substitute for veterinary care. True, there are some things you can take care of at home. Most of us breeders would rather handle things ourselves unless we absolutely can’t, but unless you really know what you are doing you need seek out a qualified vet.

First Aid Kit

Every bird owner should have a first aid kit. In a crisis you don’t want to be running all over the house looking for this or that. You want everything to be in one accessible place. Things to place in your kit:

  • Syringes
  • Gavage feeder*
  • Vetwrap
  • Cotton balls
  • Q tips
  • Tissue paper
  • Nail clippers
  • Very small scissors
  • Flour or Kwik Stop

* ONLY if you are someone who KNOWS how to use it. A gavage can be a lifesaver in the right hands and an instant killer in the wrong hands.

Syringes and gavage tubes can be used to administer medication or feed birds unable/unwilling to feed themselves. Vetwrap is a very neat material that only sticks to itself- never skin, fur or feathers.

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Hospital tank with lamp and under-tank heater.

The Hospital Cage
Everyone needs a good hospital cage. It will where you will be housing birds that are sick and waiting for a vet appointment or recouping from illness or injury. This cage should be small enough to restrict movement, yet larger than a carrier. Plastic animal cages (those cheap ones with the colored lid and handle at your local pet store), brooders and small aquariums work the best. There should be one perch that can be removed if needed, or no perch at all. There should be no toys. The water bowl should be small and shallow to prevent drowning and the feed bowl should likewise be small. There should be no bottom grate. The substrate should consist of paper towels changed twice daily. If you are not using a brooder the hospital cage will need supplemental heating. Tubs and tanks can be kept half on/half off a heating pad set to low or medium. A heating light works better if you are using a cage or if it has a perch.

hospitalcage

While in the hospital cage, make sure you observe droppings and food intake. I would recommend taking pictures of droppings if they seem off. You can show these to the vet if need be. It’s always better to have too much information than not enough.

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Still under observation, but out of the tank. Heat lamp above but no under cage heater.

Injuries
With the exception of toe injuries and broken blood feathers, most injuries will require the bird to spend some time in the hospital cage.

Bitten toes and feet are usually not a problem unless the laceration is exceptionally bad. If a bird has a foot or toe injury with no apparent cause, try examining it closer. Birds can get tiny fibers, string or even human hair wrapped tightly around their toes. This can cut of circulation and cause severe damage. I recently adopted a cockatiel who lost its foot up to the ankle because its owner did not realize there was string wound around it (he thought it was just another bird bite). Close examination is always good with any ailment.

Broken bones require vet attention. Wings are very fragile so any injury to them requires a vet visit to make sure nothing is broken or torn. Keep the bird in a hospital cage until its appointment.

Beak, mouth and sinus injuries can allow infections to enter the brain. It is extremely important to seek a vet in these cases.

Broken blood feathers are not as horrific as they are made out to be. I know many people recommend the removal of any broken blood feathers. I do not, for several reasons:

  • By the time you find out a blood feather was broken, it has usually clotted up nicely.
  • Removing such a large feather is painful and can often cause more bleeding to occur.
  • I’ve never had a problem with one starting to bleed again.

Broken feathers are often caused by night frights. If you do catch one bleeding, I recommend holding flour onto in until it clots. Unless your bird is very skittish it probably won’t knock the feather hard enough to cause bleeding again. The same procedure goes for bleeding. Flour is a wonderful, inexpensive way to stop bleeding.

Splayed legs are easy to fix at home and require no vet assistance. Just use paper tape or vetwrap to bind the chick’s legs closer together (but not so tight that you’re cutting off the circulation). Do this for at least a one week, longer if needed (older chicks). Change the dressing every other day or if it falls off.

Remember, first aid can be a good tool in case of emergencies but for serious problems please consult a veterinarian.

© 1997-2016 by Karen Trinkaus. May not be reprinted or used in any way without the author’s permission.