For the New Bird Owner

 vet check/health guarantee

showers (bathing) 

the first two days

grooming (clipping)


other pets in the house

taming (the wild bird)

potty training


cleaning the cage

switching a bird to pellets 

talking & tricks




signs of a sick bird


 other health problems/injuries

safe wood for perches  

finding a vet


 miscellaneous questions

Vet Check/Health Guarantee

Whenever you buy a bird or other animal, it is recommended to obtain a veterinarian's opinion that the pet you purchased is a healthy one.  Some breeders or stores provide a "health certificate" to the new owners, saying that the bird has previously been checked by a vet and is healthy.  When you think about it, this only means that the bird was healthy when it was checked, and then it was brought back into the facility, where it could potentially come into contact with a sick bird and pick up a disease.

At one point, early in my breeding experience, I asked a prominent veterinarian if he provided health certificates for babies to be given to the buyer.  He told me "no", and said: 1.) this would put his reputation at risk, because he would be certifying a bird as healthy that could possibly come into contact with a pathogen after he checked it, and it would be safer to check the bird after it is moved from the presence of other birds to its new home, 2.) he wanted the new owner to come in for a health check so that he could meet them and make sure that they had been informed properly of the responsibilities of ownership, the commitment involved, and basic bird care, and 3.) after visiting the vet for the health check, the new owner would hopefully not hesitate to bring the bird to him if there ever were a problem.

The important thing to look for when purchasing a bird, is whether you can obtain a health guarantee from the seller in writing.  It should state that if the bird is checked by a vet within a reasonable length of time and if there is a problem, then you can take the bird back to the seller for a full refund.  Some stores will only give a refund in merchandise, not your money back.  We recommend that the bird be seen by a veterinarian within two working days of purchase.  This is to protect everyone concerned, including the bird.

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The First Two Days

The first two days that a new bird is home with you are very important, especially if he is a just-weaned baby. During this period, you should carefully monitor his droppings and (assuming that he's tame) handle him frequently for short periods of time. This means that it would be potentially dangerous to your new bird to bring him home, put him in his cage, and leave for the rest of the day.

Please note: If your new bird is *not tame* please skip the next paragraph, and do not begin handling or training until the bird has had a week or so to settle in. Birds that are nervous around humans go through more stress during a move and need an adjustment period. For advice on taming your bird, please see the section below: Taming (the wild bird).

When you bring your new bird home, and before you put him in his cage for the first time, you should sit quietly with him for 20 minutes or so, in the room where his cage is located. Make sure that there are no distractions such as pets or children moving about. This may sound contrary to what seems right, but let me explain. If you put the bird directly into his cage, then he learns that "in here is safe". The longer he's in the cage before you take him out, the harder it will be to get him out. However, if you show him right away that "out here in this room with us is safe", he will be much easier to get out of the cage the next time. You can get him out a few more times the first day he's home with you, limiting these outings to 20 minutes to half an hour, and allowing him lots of time in his cage in between the outings to eat, sleep, preen his feathers, and start to get used to his new cage.

Making sure your new bird is eating is the most important thing to accomplish in the first day. It might be helpful to place the food and water cups near the topmost perch initially. If the cups are low and can't be moved, then you might try having only one perch in the cage, down low, by the cups. That way he will be looking right at his food and water.

The reason for the extra caution here is that when some babies (and occasionally older birds) go to a new home, they may be either too scared or overwhelmed by their new environment to think of eating. If this happens and the baby's hunger becomes too great, it will refuse to eat and start begging to be handfed again. When begging, most babies will make a whiney sound and bob their head up and down. Some of them do it even if they are eating. If you watch the droppings, you will be able to tell if he's not eating. If the droppings become very small and dark (blackish green) or you see two or three white droppings in a row, and especially if he's begging, it would probably be wise to call the breeder or store and discuss the possibility that the baby isn't eating. In this case, the baby might have to go back to the seller for just a few days, for some supplemental feedings. Then when he returns to your home, the baby will accept its new environment much more easily, because he's been there before. If he is eating, but not eating enough to maintain his weight, then possibly by the second day, he may stop eating and begin to beg incessantly. Again, please get in touch with the seller to let them know what you're observing.

Also, the first week after a bird is moved, even an older bird, is the most common time for an illness to show up. You must be on the lookout for any symptoms of illness during this period. (Please see
Signs of a Sick Bird, below.)

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At first, you should allow your new bird to perch only on your hand. This will give you better control, and it will teach your bird manners. With work, he will eventually develop a complete trust in your hands for handling and petting. Allowing a bird to sit on your shoulder before he is well-trained would potentially give him a feeling of dominance and superiority, and he would try to control *you* from his perch.

The "up" command should be used when asking the bird to step up. Gently push your index finger against the lower tummy and say "up". Be sure your thumb and other fingers are tucked down and out of the way, making a firm perch to step onto. (Please be aware that some birds will grab your finger first with their beaks to make sure the "perch" is steady. Don't misinterpret this move as an attack.) Keep your finger level and steady, and bend your wrist downward with your elbow tucked down and in close to your side as you bring him in level with your chest. Be careful not to hold your elbow up so that your arm is level with your hand, or the bird might climb from your hand up your arm, and end up on your shoulder. Try to anticipate how long he will sit nicely, and before he gets bored, you can distract him by switching him to the other hand (giving the "up" command), petting him behind the head, offering him something acceptable to chew on, walking around a bit, or simply setting him down. Resist the temptation to offer your finger from your free hand for him to nibble on. This is like saying to the bird, "here, chew on this". When he does, he might nibble too hard, and you are only setting yourself up for a confrontation.

As time goes on and you get to know your bird, you might allow him to gently feel and nibble at your skin with his beak, as long as he's being gentle. Sometimes the bird is just being curious, and "preening" a human's skin can be a sign of affection. However, if a bird gets carried away and it hurts, or if he actually bites, you should immediately let him know he has done something inappropriate. If your bird does happen to bend down and pinch the hand he's perched on, you can gently jiggle it and at the same time, say (sharply) "no!". This will unbalance him a bit and will bring his head up, at the same time reinforcing the "no!". If he tries to nip again, give you hand a more abrupt jiggle, saying "no!" once more. If he persists, bend over slightly, and when he tries the third time, say "no!" and at the same time, put him on the floor. Then stand up and wait a few moments without saying anything. If he tries to climb up on you, step away from him. After 30 seconds or so, pick him up again using the "up" command, and chances are, he won't do it again. If he does, you can repeat the procedure. These birds are so smart that it usually doesn't take long for them to catch on.

At some point, depending on how well-behaved your bird is, you may begin to allow him to sit on your shoulder for short periods. Only allow him to sit there if he steps onto your hand whenever he's asked to with no hesitation. If he begins to show any aggressiveness towards you or your hand when asked to step up, then shoulder-sitting should be discontinued until hand training is re-established. With some aggressive species and certain individual birds, shoulder perching may never be a good idea.


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Taming (the wild bird)

Not too many years ago, the only birds you could buy in a store were wild-caught or wild captive-bred (parent reared). Large shipments of birds regularly came into the import stations in both Canada and the U.S., and wild domestic baby birds were delivered by breeders who netted them out of flight cages after they fledged. Tame, hand-fed babies weren't available everywhere like they are today. Nowadays, it's uncommon to find a wild-caught or wild domestically bred parrot for sale in a store or elsewhere, but there are still small shipments of birds coming into the country, and on occasion wild captive-bred parrots do become available on the pet market. As well, some stores carry Budgies and Cockatiels that have not been hand-fed and need to be tamed. Other possible explanations for a bird not being tame would be that the bird could be a young bird that was handfed, but it reverted back to a wild state from a lack of handling after it weaned, or it could be an older bird that was imported some years back and the previous owner(s) never successfully tamed it.

If you have purchased a wild, untamed bird, the bird will be fearful of you and climb away when you put your hand in the cage, or bite out of fear if you try to pick him up. For the bird's sake, you should tame him so that he won't be lonely. After he's tame he'll appreciate your companionship, and look forward to coming out of the cage to be with you, and most likely will enjoy being scratched and touched. In this section I will use the term "wild" to refer to both wild-caught birds and domestically-bred birds that were never tame or have reverted back to a wild, unhandleable state.

Important Note: Some very tame birds may try to bite, and because they are tame, they have no fear of humans. This fearlessness makes them very dangerous and unpredictable. If such a bird has previously bonded to one person, perhaps a former owner, it can be extremely aggressive towards other people, especially if they happen to be the opposite sex as the person the bird was bonded to. These birds may *attack* unprovoked, by lunging or flying at an individual, and then biting them, sometimes severely. If you have purchased a bird that shows no fear and acts aggressively towards you, the methods discussed in this section will most likely not work for you, and could possibly be dangerous to attempt.

As was mentioned above, if your bird is not tame, you should give it about a week to settle in and adjust to it's new surroundings before you attempt any training. After that, the bird should be worked with as soon as possible, because the older a bird gets and the more ways it learns to avoid you, the harder it will be to tame. Some people believe it's best to leave their new bird in its cage, coaxing it gently with tidbits of food, hoping that the bird will eventually warm up to them and be their friend. They may also be afraid that if they force the bird to do something that it doesn't want to, that it will hate them. So they let the bird tell them when he wants them to stop (by biting or fleeing), and the taming progresses very slowly, or not at all. A wild bird instinctively fears the "unknown", because in nature the unknown usually means danger. The bird will only approach a human to get what it wants and then bite or run away, because it is afraid to venture into unknown territory and get any closer. As the weeks and months go by, it becomes older and more set in its ways. All the while, biting and fleeing are being repeatedly reinforced as ways to avoid the "unknown" (the human), and it becomes almost impossible to undo those negative behaviours. Most birds will never become handleable, let alone affectionate, with this approach.

The best way to tame a bird is to "force yourself" on him. In other words, you need to actively tame him in training sessions. I tamed many wild birds for people back in the days of importation, and still there are occasional birds that people bring to me because they not tame. In some cases, I can have the bird stepping up on command and sitting nicely on my hand without biting after the first session. In the case of a totally wild bird, it may take the owner up to a week to accomplish the task, with guidance.

Generally speaking, what follows if the technique I use for most birds. Sometimes, because birds are different from one another, common sense will dictate an adjustment or variation to this approach. This certainly isn't the only method of taming a bird, just the one that works well for me:

1. First, you'll need to get the bird's wings clipped and have his beak and nails trimmed. If he can fly away from you, he'll be in control of the situation, and taming will be next to impossible. Having his beak trimmed will help lessen the severity of injury in case you're bitten. Also, this trimming takes some of the cockiness out of the bird's attitude, and makes him more docile.

2. Next, decide on a place where you'll work with him. You should never try to work with a bird in, or on, or even within sight of his cage. That is his territory and he'll feel dominant there, and he'll resist your efforts tenfold. If he can see his cage, he'll only think about is getting back to it. The bathroom is the best training room for most people: it's small, there aren't any places where a bird can get stuck behind something (as it could in your kitchen behind the fridge or stove), and there aren't any sharp edges in a bathroom for the bird to bang against if it tries to jump away from you. Alternately, you might choose a small, fairly empty bedroom.

3. How do you get the bird from its cage to the training room? One method is to capture the bird in a towel, being careful to avoid letting him get his beak around your fingers, and carry him to the room swaddled in the towel. But I prefer to take his food and water bowls out of the cage, unclip the top wire part from the bottom, and carry the top, with the bird in it, to the training room. Once there, you can slowly turn the cage upside down and when the bird climbs up (to get away from you) he will come out of the open end of the cage, and then probably fly down onto the floor. Then you can take the cage top, turn it right-side up, set it just outside the room and close the door.

4. Now you're ready to begin working with your bird. The first thing I do is to determine whether, given the chance, the bird will try to bite me or not (please see Important Note , above). Do *not* use gloves. They don't protect you all that much, and at some point the gloves will have to come off and you'll be starting all over again. If you're careful, and you do it right, you never have to be bitten by the bird in the process of training him. I bring to the room with me two perches (doweling) about two feet long, and the appropriate diameter that makes perching easy for the bird. I take one perch in my left hand, and since I'm right-handed, I bend down and offer the stiffened index finger of my right hand to the bird. I push my finger towards the lower part of his belly, and say "step up". If he runs or scoots away, I continue to calmly and persistently keep pushing my finger towards him, each time repeating the "step up" command. If, at any point, he shows a strong inclination to try to bite my finger, I use the perch in my left hand to protect my right hand, and I offer him the perch to see whether he bites it hard or is just bluffing. If he does bite the perch hard, then I begin offering the perch with my right hand instead of my finger, and hold the second "protection" perch in my left hand, again, pushing under his belly and saying "step up". Please note that the bird will *not* hate you for chasing him around. As long as you are consistent with your actions and are patient, and do not do something out of anger that hurts the bird, he will soon learn that you aren't going to hurt him.

5. Continue to follow him around and repeatedly ask him to step up until he gets tired of running away from you. At some point (and this varies!) he will finally step onto your finger or the perch. At that moment - freeze!- and do not move. That's the bird's reward for stepping up. All of a sudden, all the action stops, and he can catch his breath, look around, and rest for a moment. Don't be surprised if, as soon as he's rested a bit, he jumps away again. Immediately resume trying to pick him up on the perch or finger, and you will surely see that this time he gets on much more quickly. (Already he has learned that is what you want.) Freeze again. He will probably sit longer this time. If he tries to bite the hand he's sitting on, or starts to go up the the perch towards your arm, you can interpose the perch in your left hand to ward off his beak or have him step on it to regain your control of the situation. You can continue this until he perches without trying to leave, but I wouldn't go any longer than about 20 minutes for this first training session.

6. At the end of this first session, most birds will be stepping up, with some effort on your part. You can bring the cage back into the room, and when the bird steps up, return him to his cage. Be prepared for him to make a leap for the cage because he's probably had enough of you for the time being! Return the cage to its normal place and clip on the base, and allow your bird to eat, drink, and have a bit of a rest before beginning another session.

7. I would give no more than three 1/2-hour training sessions daily. You'll might notice that in the beginning of each training session that there's some regression; the bird is more resistant to your efforts again, but it won't be as much as the first time. Each time he'll settle down more quickly. By the end of a week, you should have him stepping up on command, and calmly perching without trying to move away. If you've been having him step up onto the perch instead of your hand, you can begin to shorten the perch by sliding it back through your hand until the bird is standing your hand. In future training sessions, you can work on things like stepping from hand to hand, or you might begin to touch him while he sits there. This all takes time and patience, but it is definitely worth it. Now you'll be able to move about the house with your bird, and you can place him on a T-stand or sit with him while you watch T.V. You'll find that in a comparatively short time, you have a bird that isn't afraid of you, because he has learned you're not going to hurt him. The door is wide open for him to actually begin to like you and want to be with you!


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Most breeders nowadays are using some form of the pelleted diet as a main diet for their birds.  Pellets are much more nutritionally complete than a seed-based diet, for the reasons I will explain below.  Most of the baby parrots bred in Canada are weaned onto these pelleted diets, making it easy for the pet owner to continue feeding their pet this superior diet.


It used to be, years ago, that seed was the only readily available food for pet birds, so we fed it to them without question.  But studies have shown that seed is deficient in many important vitamins and minerals, including Vitamin A and Calcium.  But, the real problem with seed is that most birds won't eat anything else when they're given free access to it.  Most birds will only pick out their favourite seed (usually the sunflower or safflower seeds) and shovel the rest of the seed out of the dish with their beaks.  Then you have a bird who is getting the nutrition of only one seed, plus water, in his diet.  This would be something like a human on a bread and water diet; he'd be alive, but I don't think that this person would live a long life or be very resistant to disease.

The reason that birds will eat seed and nothing else, if given the opportunity, is because they love it.  It's nutty and oily, and comes in a fun little package.  Sometimes it helps to understand that seed to a bird is like meat to a dog.  If you fed your dog meat, your dog would love you for doing it, to be sure.  But his diet would be incomplete.  So most breeders and veterinarians recommend a dry dog food as the most nutritionally balanced diet for a dog.  Also, if you were feeding your dog meat, it is likely that he would be totally uninterested in eating any table scraps.  But dogs who are fed dry dog food go crazy for tidbits, because dry dog food is kind of bland and boring. 

With birds, it's pretty much the same, in that they won't eat the veggies and good things that they should, when they are on a seed diet.  But when they are on a pellet-based diet, all of a sudden, they'll eat this wonderful assortment of people food.  Most breeders, and even the pellet manufacturers, recommend that you feed your birds a variety of things, i.e. pellets as a main diet, and lots of variety in their snacks.

If your bird is on a pelleted diet, then all you have to do is keep their snacks balanced.  To do this, you can follow this guide:


Any foods from this group that are good for you are good for your birds.  These include whole wheat bread or toast, rice, couscous, corn, pasta, Cheerios, Rice Krispies, and cooked oatmeal.  Seeds fall into this group as well, but it is so easy for the birds to get hooked on them (like a dog would if regularly fed meat), that if you put seed in their dish, they won't eat anything else.  So you can give 6 or 8 sunflowers seeds, peanut halves, or other seed/nut treats a day, from your hand as a treat or a training aid.


This would be any of the vegetables that are really good for people from the yellow and orange group (carrots, squash, sweet potatoes) and the dark green leafy group (broccoli, spinach, kale, chard, romaine lettuce, and even dandelion greens from your yard if it hasn't been sprayed).  If you have heard not to feed your bird head (iceberg) lettuce, it is because it has no nutrition, is sweet and crunchy, and will spoil them from eating the more nutritional, dark green veggies that are a bit bitter by comparison.


Most birds love fruit (with the notable exception of Cockatiels, who will usually only eat a bit of apple), but they don't really need a lot of it.  Birds make their own Vitamin C in their bodies, so fruit is like nature's candy for birds; a sugar and water treat.  Fruit is good for their mental well-being, because it's fun, but should be kept in small quantities.  Acidic fruits such as oranges should be limited to only once or twice a week in small quantities.


A bird needs some protein in its diet, but not too much.  Proteins include lean meats (like chicken and fish, cooked), beans and peas (the legume group for plant protein, raw or cooked), hard boiled or hard scrambled egg (not raw, see Toxic Foods, below), and dairy products (hard cheese, yogurt).


In addition to these snacks, you should offer your bird a calcium source, so that he can add enough calcium to the snack portion of his diet to balance it out.  You can use either a cuttlebone or mineral block, and the bird will eat some when he instinctively feels a need for it.  They can't eat too much, but if your bird likes to play with his block or cuttlebone and destroys it in a short period of time, then you could put it in the cage for a few minutes each day, or break it into pieces, and give him another piece whenever the last one is gone.

If you were to make a bird's diet up from scratch, this is basically how you would do it.  This is essentially the way the pellets are balanced, and as long as you keep their snacks in approximately these proportions, you won't be unbalancing the bird's diet.  Snacks are essential for the mental well-being of your bird, so feeding them is important!


The things I have heard to avoid, that normally would be considered people food, are:

Uncooked egg (as in a fried egg with runny yolk or white, can cause a serious allergic reaction in some birds)
Avocado (some birds react adversely to some part of this, not sure which)
Chocolate (can cause allergic reaction)


If it's junk food for you, then it's junk food for your bird.  It doesn't mean that small amounts of junk food will definitely harm your bird, just that it should be fed in very small quantities or not at all.  For instance, one or two small pieces of potato chip once or twice a week would not be harmful, but remember that every time he hears the potato chip bag crunching, he'll want some!


Gravel is NOT a necessity for parrot family members, including Budgies.  Most people are surprised to hear this, because the stores still sell it.

Seeds have a protective outer coating, or hull.  If a grazing animal eats a seed, the hull protects the seed so that it passes through the digestive system unharmed, and it is then deposited back on the ground complete with "fertilizer" to germinate.  Birds have evolved a way around the problem by having a gizzard, and eating gravel, which scratches the hull and allows the bird to digest the seed.

Some birds need gravel, but those are birds that eat their seeds whole, such as pigeons, chickens, ducks, etc.  These birds peck at the ground and pop the seeds down whole with the hull intact.  Parrot family members, however, shell their seed, so gravel isn't needed to digest it.

In fact, if your pet bird is allowed free access to gravel, he may eat too much of it; the seed without the hull may not break the gravel down fast enough to get rid of it.  As well, some birds overeat gravel when they're bored or ill. Then the bird may become impacted, with so much gravel in their system, that it slowly starves to death.  Most avian veterinarians currently say that the risks of using gravel outweigh any benefits, and not to use it at all.  But if you feel that you must, only use a pinch (6-8 grains of gravel) every few months.  (I read an article once where someone had calculated that the box of gravel sold in the store was enough to last the average bird 300 years!)

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Switching to Pellets

Should you decide to switch your bird to pellets, there are two methods of doing this, and I will describe both, with my comments.  The first, and most often attempted method, is to mix pellets into the seed, gradually reducing the amount of seed, until finally, only pellets are given.  Outwardly, this might seem the simplest and least stressful thing to do.

However, birds love seeds very much like a dog loves meat.  Try to imagine switching a dog who has been fed meat all of his life to dry dog food.  If you were to mix the two together, the dog would pick out the meat, and hold out for more.  He would begin to get thin, and you would see his ribs sticking out.

With birds, you can't see that they are getting thin; their feathers hide their weight loss.  So as a person gradually reduces the amount of seeds, the bird is getting thinner, and possibly still only eating the seeds.  Even if the owner sees pellets crushed up, or on the bottom of the cage, the bird may not be eating them.  Then one day, the owner thinks, "OK, that's enough", and he stops putting seeds in the dish.  Now this critically thin bird has had his sole food source removed, and a day later he may be dead.   I have heard of this happening to birds.

So what is the safest way to do it?  In my opinion, it's far safer to monitor the droppings and switch the bird "cold turkey".  Here's how it's done:

1. Pick a two day period when things around the house will be normal. Don't attempt to change the bird's diet if he's had another stress recently (a move to a new home or change of ownership, an illness, a new cage, another new pet or new person in the house, or any other major change for the bird). If he's a new baby, I would suggest waiting until he's fully settled in and eating very well, maybe a month or so, before you try to change his diet.

2. On the first morning, clean the cage, and remove any seed and seed products, such as a millet spray or honey stick.  Put pellets in the dish, and nothing else.  Make sure the bird also has the usual fresh, clean water.  Put clean newspaper on the bottom of the cage, as this will enable you to see the droppings clearly.

3. Watch the droppings throughout the day.  At first, the droppings will be normal.  A normal dropping is mostly green (fecal material, i.e. the poop) with a bit of white (crystallized urine, i.e. the pee).  As the bird holds out, and they usually do, you will see the droppings getting smaller, with less and less fecal material.  As long as there is green in the droppings, there is food in the bird's digestive system.  Usually by the end of the first day, if the bird hasn't eaten any pellets, his droppings will be getting puny, but still have some green in them when you go to bed.

4. On the second morning, you will probably find that the bird has played with some pellets, that they are scattered around, and some of them crumbled.  But how do you know he has eaten any?  If the newest (wet) droppings are larger again, with more green (sometimes a browner shade of green) in them than before you went to bed, then BINGO! .....he's eating the pellets, and you have succeeded. Do NOT put any seed in this bird's cage again, or at least not for a very long time.  If you do, he will likely switch back to them instantly and start refusing to eat pellets. To be safe, continue to carefully monitor the droppings for a few days afterward.

5. If, on the other hand, the droppings are still small on the second morning, and as the day progresses, you see that the green part has become small and blackish coloured, or if you see 2 or 3 all-white droppings in a row, then you know there is no food in your bird's system.  You give him his seeds back right away, and wait for at least a week before trying it again. This way your bird will not lose weight, nor do you take a chance of him starving to death.

Note: I switched over 200 birds to pellets in my aviary over 10 years ago (and many more since then).  They ALL switched, except for 2 Cockatiels, which I tried a for second time, and failed.  I had 50 Cockatiels at the time, so I just decided the simplest thing to do was to sell those two to another breeder who was still feeding seed.  This fairly high success rate shows that it's not that hard to do, but I came away from the experience with the notion that Cockatiels might be slightly harder to switch to pellets than most other birds.

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For the first few days a new baby bird doesn't need any toys in his cage.  Your new bird will be busy learning to climb around in his new environment, and you need to make sure he doesn't have too many distractions so that he can concentrate on eating and drinking.  When he's completely used to you, your home, his cage, and other pets, then he may start to get a bit bored, and you can introduce a toy or two.

The best toys are ones that have a variety of different coloured and textured materials (such as leather, wood, and rope) hanging on a chain or rope.  These toys encourage chewing, which is good for their beaks and nails, and the hanging type of toys encourage swinging and spinning, which is fun for the bird, and fun to watch, too!  The clip should be a safe one, not flimsy (like a key-chain ring), because some birds can pry apart the hanger and get their beak caught in it.  The best hangers are a C-nut, screw type hanger.

There are also many good cotton rope toys on the market, that are made into perches, swings, and hanging toys.  The only caution is that once they get frayed, the bird can get his leg or toes tangled up in the frayed strings, so it should be trimmed or replaced at that point.

When you put a toy in the cage with bird still inside, he will see a moving, swinging, strange thing coming at him.  He will probably flip out, running and perhaps falling to the floor of the cage to get away.  Therefore, it's better to take the bird out and away from the cage, and put the toy into a corner where it won't move or swing.  Don't put it too near his favourite spot to perch, or near his food or water.  Then put him back in the cage.  At first he will likely be afraid of it, but before not too long (minutes to hours, usually), you will see him playing with the toy and chewing on it.  After a few days, you can again remove him from the cage, and move the toy to a more central location, where he has easier access to it.

Try to resist the temptation to load up the cage with toys.  It's better to only put a couple of good toys in there, and when he gets bored with them, switch them with other toys.  Just like a child that hasn't seen a toy for a while, the bird will be more amused than if he sees it every day.

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New Bird Owner Index


Some people don't realize that their new pet parrot won't know the difference between poisonous and non-poisonous plants.  In their natural environment, wild parrots learn from their parents and flock-mates which plants are safe to eat.  In our homes, we have plants that originated from all over the world, and even a wild parrot wouldn't know which plants were safe to nibble on.  As well, your pet was probably raised in captivity, and has never been exposed to any kind of potted plants before.

If you don't know if a certain plant is safe, don't let your bird come into contact with it.  Some commonly kept houseplants are quite toxic.  The following are partial lists of unsafe and safe plants commonly kept in our homes:


Bird of Paradise
Elephant's Ear
English Ivy


African Violet
Christmas, Easter Cactus
Jade Plant
Spider Plant
Wandering Jew

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New Bird Owner Index


Many bird magazine articles, websites, and bird-related news groups have mentioned the dangers of Teflon® (PTFE) to birds.  But there are still lots of people who don't know the risk because the manufacturers won't put warning labels on their product.  I have personally known two people who lost their birds to Teflon® poisoning, and it shouldn't have to happen.

Birds have a more sensitive respiratory system than we do, and they are much smaller.  They have air sacs in their bodies to help them be lighter for flight, and they even have hollow bones which are part of their respiratory systems.  So fumes affect them much more than mammals.  (They used to take caged canaries down into the mines, because if the canary died, then they knew there was a gas leak, and they could get the people out.)

PTFE stands for polytetrafluoroethylene, and is a coating applied most commonly to pots, pans, and bakeware to prevent sticking.  Teflon® has become a generic name for this coating, but there are different brands such as Silverstone® and T-fal®, and many other brand names.  When overheated, PTFE produces invisible, odourless fumes that are toxic and sometimes fatal to birds.  If used carefully and conscientiously, it can be safe, as well.  My rule of thumb is to always use Teflon® on medium heat or lower, and NEVER leave a Teflon® pot or pan unattended on the stove.  If you have kids in the house, make sure they understand the risk as well. If you don't think they are taking you seriously, put the non-stick pans away and only let them use it with your supervision.  Some people with birds refuse to use non-stick cookware in their house at all.

Please be aware that Teflon® is also appearing in other places.  These include irons and ironing board covers, drip pans that go under the stove burners (these can release fumes the first time the burner is set to "high"), breadmaker pans, some self-cleaning ovens, hair dryers, curling irons, space heaters and more.

Some people think that if their bird isn't near the kitchen, it's safe.  This is definitely not true.  One owner told me that his birds were all the way at the other end of the house, and that they heated some oil in a frying pan to sear a steak.  The steak went into the pan, and at that moment, they heard loud squawking from the other end of the house.  One of their two Conures was thrashing on the bottom of the cage, and died on the way to the vet.  The other bird, in the same cage, was apparently unharmed.  It has been reported that oil in the pan can increase the toxicity.

Just recently an owner called, wondering if I might be able to help tell her why her bird had died.  It had been noisy and active that morning, now suddenly, without any symptoms of illness, it was dead.  Right away I thought of a toxicity, and asked if she cooked with Teflon®.  Yes, all the time, was the reply.  Then I asked if she had used it recently, and she said, yes, she had burned breakfast.  But she had been totally unaware of the danger!

I received this letter through a bird list on Aug. 21, 2000:

"I know most bird owners know all about Teflon coated pots and pans....I had a small 1 Litre pot (and) I was heating some water. My Granddaughter called to ask me to drop her off at the movie. I totally forgot about the pot. Of course the water boiled dry, and when I got home I could not find my pet Greencheek. All my other birds seemed fine, but then suddenly they started dropping one by one. I lost a pair of Mitreds, a pair of Nandays, a pet Nanday, four baby Cockatiels in a brooder, and 3 Cockatiels about 8 weeks old. If anyone out there has birds and loves them, get rid of any Teflon pots. All it takes is one careless moment. I found my Greencheek later under my desk dead."

Privately, in another correspondence he writes:

"(Please let others know.) Anything to help other bird lovers. The ones I miss most are my Greencheeck and Bart the Nanday. I handfed both of them right from the egg...... handreared Conures are the sweetest and real clowns.  Some of the larger Conures are a bit loud, but they make up for it with their sweetness."

Richard Vogl
Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario

This is so sad, and shouldn't have to happen, ever. I have been told that the manufacturers of Teflon® won't put warnings on their cookware because there aren't enough bird owners to warrant the cost of changing the packaging, and because people might assume that if it is bad for birds, it's bad for people.  Maybe they need to hear from a bunch of us, and then they will do something?

Contact DuPont at 1-800-387-2122
DuPont Canada email:
Public Affairs email:
Product Inquiry email:
DuPont Canada Inc.
Box 2200, Streetsville
Mississauga, Ontario
L5M 2H3
Attention: Public Affairs

Note: I recently read that they have a bit about the PTFE danger to birds on a Dupont website:

The page is mostly about some of the other dangers to birds in the home (unrelated to PTFE/Teflon®). Way at the bottom, they talk about fumes, and in that paragraph there is mention of PTFE. I guess it's a start, but most folks don't go on the internet to read about their new frying pan before using it, do they?

NEW!! On April 22, 2003, I received a letter from the Environmental Working Group asking for those people who have lost their bird due to PTFE to contact them. Please click here to see the letter and view the contact information! Thanks.


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New Bird Owner Index


Safe Wood for Perches

When you buy your cage, it will most likely have perches made of wooden doweling.  The perches may even be plastic.  Wood is certainly better for the bird's feet than plastic, because wood is warmer, and is somewhat porous, so that air is able circulate under the bird's feet, to a degree.  Even better than smooth wood, is a natural tree branch.  I like to use the smooth wood doweling for the lower perches in the cage because they are easier to clean, and the lower perches are the most likely to get dirty from food and fecal material.

But for the topmost perch, where almost all birds will prefer to spend the vast majority of their time, I use a branch cut from a live tree, with the bark still on it.  I cut the branch to size, and give it a wipe with a damp cloth to remove any dust or dirt that may be on it.  Then you can notch the ends, or use an oversize washer on the outside of the cage and attach the perch with a screw.

Safe trees to cut your branches from are:  any fruit tree except cherry (apple and pear are both OK), any willow tree, and sugar maples.

There are also available, in the stores, various coloured perches made from ceramic.  This is the same material as the white stuff that you see a ring of on the bottom of a coffee mug. It is used for sharpening knives, and does a really nifty job of keeping the bird's nails and beak trim.  It does *not* do a good job of dulling the beak or nails; rather they are kept short and sharp, which is how a healthy beak and nails should be.   If you get one of these perches, put it in a lower part of the cage, because it is cold and too hard on the feet for the bird to be on it all night.  A good location is in front of the food or water dish, so the bird is only on it occasionally, and he will wipe his beak on it when he is done eating or drinking.  Another good location is halfway between an upper perch and a lower perch, where the bird has to cross it on the way up or down.

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All birds make noise, but the noise can become excessive if the owners make the mistake of reinforcing the behaviour. Most birds have a rowdy time in the morning (greeting the day, I suppose) and again in the evening before they settle down to sleep.  As long as the bird you've purchased isn't too noisy for your situation, this can be fairly easy to handle.

The problem arises when, for one reason or another, the bird makes noise at the wrong time.  Perhaps you have company, and the bird feels excluded.  Or he hears you talking on the phone, and he's jealous that you're not talking to him.  Or you leave him in the cage during a time when he would normally be out.  Any of these situations (and many more) might cause the bird to try to get your attention. The natural first thing for him to try is squawking.  If at this point he gets attention, then you have rewarded him and taught him that it works.  Sometimes, it only takes once, as they are very smart and quick to learn.

My favourite example, that describes this situation, is that of a child throwing a tantrum.  If Mom breaks down and buys him the candy he wants, he will throw a tantrum whenever he wants something and can't have it.  Now suppose that someone tells the Mom that she goofed, and she should ignore the tantrums.  The next time the child throws one and she ignores it, what will happen?  The child will intensify and step up the level of the tantrum, because he knows it works.

The bird is much the same as a small child, in that once he knows it works, he can keep it up for a very long time. If you then try to undo it by ignoring the bird, it will increase the level and duration, and almost certainly drive you around the bend.  The most important thing to remember, with any bird, is to never, ever, give them attention for a loud noise that you don't want to hear repeatedly.  Even punishment gives the bird the attention he wants. I've heard of people covering the cage, yelling at the bird, throwing things to scare him, on and on. None of these things will work, because when the bird is mad at you, he will try to make you mad. Forcing you into action will reward the bird, because being punished is better in his eyes than being ignored.  

Everyone in the family has to be aware of the "no attention" rule, and abide by it.  If you are unfortunate and happen to purchase a bird who already has this bad habit, then you must ignore it from the very beginning.  Show him that in your house, this behaviour does *not* work.

If the bird is just beginning to test what will get your attention, ignore the noise, and wait patiently for him to try something more acceptable.  This might be a cute *little* noise, or talking.  Some birds will try bobbing up and down or swaying back and forth to visually try to get your attention.  Rewarding him by saying "hello" and looking in his direction, or going and getting him out of the cage, will be enough to teach him that this is an acceptable way to behave and an effective way to get attention.

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Showers (bathing)

In order for their plumage to be healthy, it is essential for all birds to bathe or have a spray of water on them regularly. Bathing helps new feathers to develop properly and come smoothly out of the sheathes that they form in, and it's also good for the bird's skin. Once a week is about average, but twice a week may be better during the time of year when our homes are heated or air conditioned, because the air has less humidity.

Some birds will take a bath on their own (usually in their water bowl!), but you may be able to get them to jump into something more appropriate by offering a bowl of some sort frequently when they are young. Depending on the size of the bird, you might try a small shallow bowl for budgies, up to a dishpan size for larger parrots. Splashing the water with your fingers might get them in the mood.

If they refuse to jump in on their own, there are other options for giving them their bath. Some people spray their birds with a spray bottle, with the water in the bottle being almost, but not quite, hot. Test it first by spraying it on your hand, and if it's warm the bird will be more likely to enjoy it. However, some birds hate being sprayed, and if yours is one of those, you might try taking him into the shower with you. Even if he sits on the curtain rod while you shower, his feathers will benefit from the humidity in the air. As a last resort, you can spray the bird briefly, even if he's not enjoying it. I figure that they get rained on in nature whether they like it or not, and they won't have healthy, shiny plumage if they never bathe.

Just as an interesting note, many people have noticed that running the vacuum cleaner seems to trigger a bathing urge in their birds. They get all ruffled up and start dancing and wiggling their tails. This is probably because the low rumbles of the vacuum cleaner sound to a bird (instinctively) like an approaching thunderstorm.

It's not necessary to buy a commercial preparation to add to the water, because plain water is really the best thing for your bird's feathers!


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Grooming (clipping)

Clipping a bird's wings to prevent it from flying is important for some very good reasons.

First, for the bird's safety.  Unclipped birds can fly out the door or window, hit a ceiling fan, smack into a mirror or window, fall into a sink, laundry tub, or toilet and drown, or land on a hot stove or in a pot on the stove.

Second, a clipped bird stays tamer.  An unclipped bird becomes more independent and less tame.  Just like a cat that is let outdoors, the unclipped bird becomes aloof and independent.  It will bite more and be less affectionate.  Sometimes, after we've sold a bird, the owner chooses to let the feathers grow back in.  Later, the owner usually tells us, "you were right!", because they've seen the negative change in their bird's behaviour, and ask to have their bird clipped again.

Each bird needs to be clipped to suit its individual flying ability. A one-wing clip is more effective at restricting flight than a two-wing clip. The reason that the one-wing clip works better is because the fully feathered, unclipped wing has a large surface area, therefore, it has greater resistance in the air, and keeps the wingbeat slow. With both wings (including the clipped wing) flapping slowly, the bird can't get lift and loses altitude. He can't speed up the wingbeat to compensate for the missing feathers. On the other hand, the two-wing clip would allow him to speed up the wingbeat, and to eventually build up his muscles and compensate almost totally for the clip. (Some people think that the one-wing clip works because it throws the bird off balance, which it initially might do. But after a short period of adjustment, it will learn to use its tail as a rudder, and can fly in a straight line.)

Birds that are are long-winged and good fliers, such as Cockatiels and most Parakeets, should almost always be given a one-wing clip. If given a two-wing clip, these birds would initially not be able to fly, but after a short while, they would adjust to it and be capable of flying very well. If startled, they could fly out the door unexpectedly.

Those birds that are heavy-bodied with short wings (such as African Greys and Pionus), overweight birds, and those individual birds that are a bit clumsy at landing on their feet, should be given a two-wing clip. We now routinely give baby Congo African Greys a two-wing clip to start because it allows them more lift. If they're good fliers and adjust by starting to fly level, we gradually adjust the clip as they moult.

Before you take a bird outside, you should check the clipped wing(s), and if any feathers have grown back in, they must be trimmed off.  Another safety check is to periodically force the bird to try to fly in a carpeted room.  If he makes a good effort to fly from about waist height and goes downward all the way, landing about 6-8 feet away, then his clip is O.K. If, however, he flies level across the room, he could get lift outdoors and end up in a tall tree.

Other aspects of grooming are the beak and nails of the bird.  In the wild, birds have a tougher life than they do in captivity, so their beak and nails stay more trim.  Nails need to be clipped so that the bird does not get snagged on clothing, furniture, carpet, or his toys.  Also, if the nails are not kept trim, foot deformities can result.  The beak will need periodic trimming to keep the bite even and to remove excess growth and build-up.  Also, keeping the beak trimmed will keep the beak from being razor sharp and hurting you when the bird doesn't mean to.  This is especially important if you have children handling the bird, as they will pull their hands away because of the sharp beak, and unintentionally reinforce the biting.

Clipping services are usually very affordable, and it's not worth putting it off and taking a chance on losing your bird, or worse.  Try to find an experienced person in your area, and ask for references.  If the groomer has experience, they will be more than happy to put you in touch with some satisfied customers.

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Other Pets in the House

Birds can get along wonderfully with other pets in the house.  Dogs, cats, and other birds can usually all learn to get along together, but this has to be carefully accomplished in a safe manner.  I need to stress here that although they can virtually learn to ignore each other, which greatly minimizes the chance of something bad happening if they should accidentally come face to face when you're not around, you should not purposely leave them alone together.  Animals are unpredictable; don't expect them to be perfect.

Animals are individuals, and you know your pets and their temperament better than anyone else.  Some animals are instinctively the "killer" type, because they have either been bred for it or learned it from their environment.  Two examples of this would be certain small Terrier breeds, bred specifically for their ability to hunt and kill small animals, and some outdoor cats, who have learned to hunt as a way of life.

If you have one of these, I am not going to tell you that you can change them.  You will have to be very careful when these animals are around your bird.  Some people think that if they let their bird fly, it will be safer, when in fact, it is the fluttering and flying which entices some animals to leap at them and attack.  A bird that is clipped, that walks where he goes, is a lot less of a temptation for an animal who likes to pounce on or chase something that is trying to get away.

The first step in introducing your original pet to a new bird, is to pay extra attention to the pet that was already in your home when you bring the new bird in.  Your new bird is not going to know that you're not paying a lot of attention to him, but the older pet will certainly be jealous if he sees a new pet come into the home, and everyone making a fuss over it.  So at first, give your original pet lots of attention whenever he is around the new bird.

Then, the best way to get these two to coexist, is to have them around each other as often as possible, under carefully controlled conditions.  That would be where one person is controlling the bird, and another person is controlling the original pet.  Eventually, most of them will get used to each other, and their attitude will be, "Oh, it's you.  So what."

Because all pets are individuals, it would be difficult for me to go much further into some of the things I have learned, that work for most dogs, cats, and birds, through my own experience.  I could write about them here, but they might not work for your individual animals, and I would need some background information before determining what might work best.  If you have more questions, please e-mail me and we can set up a consultation.

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Potty Training

"What? You can potty train a bird?" The answer is yes, but the success rate depends on two factors. First, how big or small the bird is, and second, how diligent you are at teaching this conditioned response.  

Smaller birds poop more often than bigger birds, and seem to be harder to train, because initially, training the bird requires you to notice when the bird is getting ready to "go", and then to put it in a suitable place where you want it to learn that it's OK to do so. Small birds will get away with going in the wrong place more often because they have to be placed more frequently and consistently enough to learn what is expected of them.

With almost all birds, being low (as in being on the floor) causes them to think of wanting to go up. A bird on a wire poops before it flies off because it is natural to "lighten the load" before flying. If you know that your bird hasn't gone for a while, and is due to have a dropping, then if you place it on the floor, this will cause the bird to think of going up, and it will prompt him to have a dropping. Choosing a "go" phrase like "Go poop!" or "Go splat!" will teach the bird a command that it can associate with the activity.

Place the bird on a smooth floor surface where it will be easy to wipe up the dropping. Tell him to go and as soon as he does, pick him up and praise him. If he doesn't go within 30 seconds or so, pick him up and wait a few minutes before trying again. If you repeatedly do this, he will eventually learn what's expected of him when he's put on the floor and he's given the "go" phrase. Most birds get to the point where they prefer not to go on your shoulder. Some birds even learn to tell you that they have to go, by certain movements you will learn to notice, or by actually saying the phrase they've been taught! My Indian Ringnecked Parakeet would very gently put her beak on my ear to let me know, and my Pionus starts to get fidgety when he has to go. He will easily hold for half an hour if he's on my shoulder.

The exception to this technique is Cockatoos. I've found that they are easier to train by holding them away from you by extending your arm, and I think this works better with them because they like to be held close. If you put a Cockatoo away from your body, it perhaps makes him a bit nervous, and then when he thinks of wanting to get back, he'll go. This is very handy, because you can hold him over a toilet, or garbage can, or anywhere that's convenient for him to go.


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Cleaning the Cage

Cleaning your bird's cage may seem like an easy enough thing to do, but I've had some questions on the subject, and seen a lot of misconceptions about it as well.  If your cage came with a grill for the bottom, then you have a choice of whether to use it or not.  If you use it, it will prevent the bird from going down to the bottom and tearing up its paper, but it will have to be scrubbed clean periodically.

It's also a matter of personal choice whether to clean the cage daily, or once or twice a week, and may be influenced by the humidity in the air, as mould will grow more quickly in damp conditions.  As for lining the bottom of the cage, there are several choices.  I believe the best choice is newspaper; it is non-toxic, inexpensive, and makes it easy to keep an eye on the bird's droppings and eating habits.  Some people have found a source locally for unprinted newspaper that comes in rolls.  Paper towels will work equally well.

Another choice is corn cob bedding, which looks nice, but hides the droppings and can go mouldy fairly quickly, so that it needs to be changed more often.  Pine (not cedar) shavings can be used, but will blow all over when the bird flaps his wings, and has the same disadvantages as corn cobs.  Cat litter should not be used, as it can be toxic if ingested.  Gravel is not good if the bird can eat it, as some birds have a tendency to overeat gravel and become impacted.

As for disinfecting the cage, it is never necessary to disinfect unless the bird has had an illness, or you are adding a new bird to a previously used cage.  Some people go overboard with disinfection and chemicals, and those can be potentially toxic for the bird.  Washing the cage with soap and warm water will remove any fecal or food debris, and bacteria cannot grow.

Perches should be scraped or sanded, and they can be given a wipe with a damp cloth, but they should not be soaked in water.  Dry perches will absorb the water and they will be cold and damp for days, potentially causing discomfort and foot problems.

If you lightly spray the paper with water from a spray bottle before you crumple it up, it will help to keep the dust from becoming airborne.

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Talking and Tricks

All parrot family members are capable of mimicking the human voice.  On average, they start to talk during their first year, and occasionally some say a couple of words before they are weaned at 3 months old.  Teaching your bird to talk is a matter of patience, and some understanding of why birds like to mimic.  In my opinion, birds mimic us because they like the sound of what they hear and because it gets them attention.  So, if you say a word over and over, like hello.... hello.... hello...., the bird is likely going to think that's rather boring.  If, on the other hand, you say a few key phrases throughout the day, and say them once with enthusiasm while waiting for a bit before you say it again, the bird is much more likely to be paying attention.  

An example would be, if you walked into the room, threw your arms out and said, "Hello Buddy!!!"  You would have the bird's attention, and he would think that what you did sounded (and looked) interesting.  You might try that 4 or 5 times during the day.  It is usually recommended that you don't whistle to your bird at first, because some sounds are easier to mimic than our voices, and if they start with noises, this might be all they learn how to do.  

Teaching a bird to do tricks, initially, can be as simple as observing their behaviour, and reinforcing something that they do naturally. For example, if a bird stands on top of his cage and flaps his wings for exercise, you might say, "Wave!" while he is doing it, and wave your hand at him.  Some birds will pick up the association, and begin to flap their wings whenever you say "wave".  Certainly if he did this, you would want to reward him with some enthusiastic praise or a treat. Once mastered, you can add to the trick, by waving your hand as a cue, and saying "hello" instead of "wave". The bird may learn to say "hello" while he is waving.

Another set of tricks can be taught to those birds who like to lie on their backs: notably Conures, Poicephalus Parrots, Caiques, and Cockatoos. First you teach them to lie still on their back, or "play dead". Some birds have learned to hang their head and shake their feet when their owner points a finger at them and says, "bang!"  The next step might be to balance them on their shoulders for a headstand (see photo at right).

The tricks you can teach are only limited by your time and imagination, if you use common sense and reward their good efforts.

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Most birds love to travel in a car, as long as they can see outside.  Just like children, they have been known to get carsick if kept low where they can't get their bearings.  Most people put their birds in a carrier, such as a cat or dog carrier, for car trips, but some have their bird trained (by first taking them on short trips) to behave themselves while loose inside the vehicle.  In this circumstance, open windows are obviously dangerous.  As well, the driver must not be distracted at all by the bird.  If you are travelling, very cold weather and the reliability of your vehicle are important considerations, particularly if you are going to be in an isolated area without nearby assistance.  Without heat, a bird would succumb to the cold much more quickly than a person.

If you are going to be travelling across an international border, then permits will be required.  All parrot family members are listed in C.I.T.E.S. as either Appendix I or II (endangered or protected).  Permit requirements frequently change, and they might take a long time to process, so it would be wise to check well in advance of your trip.  You might contact a local breeder, veterinarian, or bird club for help in where to get started.

If you're going to leave your bird behind for more than a day, you'll need to make arrangements for its care.  More than a day is too long to be left alone, because if the bird were to spill or bathe in his water shortly after you left, then he could conceivably be without water for 2 days if left alone for the weekend.  For some smaller birds, this could be fatal.

The best option is to have someone stay in your house, or come by a couple of times a day to check on the bird and keep it company.  If this isn't possible, then perhaps a friend or family member would be willing to look after the bird in their home.  Another possibility would be a teenager who babysits in your neighbourhood, who you could get references for.  The teen could look after the bird in their home under the supervision of their parent.

Also, there are breeders, veterinarians, and pet stores who will board your bird for a fee.  Common sense will tell you that the higher the turnover of birds in the area where your bird is kept, the greater the risk for exposure to contagious diseases.  Pet shops and boarding facilities with large numbers of small birds coming and going have a high risk of exposure, as do veterinarian offices that treat sick birds.  A breeder who only has his own birds on the premises, with few birds coming and going, would be less risky.  If they can board your bird in an isolated area, this would be even better.

We board birds in our home, but they are isolated from the breeding birds in our aviary.  The risk is not so much to our birds, who are in their own place and around each other all the time.  The risk is to the visiting bird, who may be stressed by the move to a new location, and has no resistance to disease because he has not been around other birds for some time.  The fewer birds he is exposed to, the better.

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Signs of a Sick Bird

Assuming you have taken your bird to a veterinarian for a health check shortly after purchase, then you are familiar with an avian vet, and can contact him if necessary.  You've had some time to observe your bird's activities, noise level, and personality.  You know approximately how much he sleeps, when his noisy periods are during the day, how much he eats, and what his droppings look like.   However, at some point (it could be today, or months or years later, or never) you may notice something unusual about your bird.  You may think, "oh, lets wait and see how he feels tomorrow", and this could be a fatal mistake for your bird!  Some things are minor, and can be watched, while others need immediate attention before it is too late.

Some diseases are acute; the bird becomes ill very quickly, and time is of the utmost essence.  Other diseases have nagging chronic symptoms that come and go, and sometimes owners can get lulled into thinking that it must not be very serious, when in fact, if they had the bird treated and the problem was cleared up, it might double its lifespan.

I tell people that if they have a dog or cat, every year they would have medical bills.  You do not necessarily have to take your bird to the vet every year; they need no vaccinations, or treatments for parasites, and if you're paying regular attention to him, *you* are the most likely person to recognize when your bird is ill.  So the one time he needs it, don't hesitate!  Along with diet, the factor that most influences the lifespan of your bird, is prompt veterinary attention by a qualified avian vet when he needs it.

Below are some of the most obvious warning signs that something could be wrong with your bird:

1.  The bird sleeps more than normal.

This is probably the most common symptom of a sick bird.  Baby birds naturally sleep more than adult birds do, but in between their naps, they are active and playful, climbing around and making noise.  If you see an increase in the amount of time your bird sleeps, or if he acts reluctant to wake up, this could be an indication of a problem and should be checked out.  After an unusually active or stressful day, you might notice that your bird is tired and subdued, but this is a time to keep a careful eye on them, because stress can bring out an illness.

*******If you're not sure, but you think your bird may be sick, seek prompt veterinary attention!*******

2.  The bird is quieter than normal.

Birds usually have a noisy period in the mornings, or afternoons, or both.  If you notice that your bird is much quieter than normal, and there is nothing around him that is new that could be frightening him, it could be a sign that he doesn't feel well.   This is almost as important as how much the bird sleeps, because the fact that he's unusually quiet is something you can notice when you're not even in the same room with him.

*******If you're not sure, but you think your bird may be sick, seek prompt veterinary attention!!!*******

3.  The bird is sleeping at the bottom of the cage, or unsteady on the perch.

Birds usually choose the uppermost perch to sleep on.  Some birds, such as Budgies and Conures, prefer to sleep hanging in the corner of the cage.  Most birds also tuck one foot up under their feathers when they sleep.  If you find your bird on the bottom of the cage, or perched unsteadily on two feet, it may because he is too weak to sleep in his normal manner.  When they climb, they move slower and more unsteadily than normal.

Nesting behaviour could, in this case, be mistaken for illness.  Some birds will build a nest on the bottom of the cage, tearing up paper, and especially a female will sometimes sleep there just before she lays an egg.  These nesting birds will be alert if you approach, waking up normally if they are asleep, and looking at you with a bright, alert expression.   When they climb up to eat, they are strong, and move with co-ordination.

*******If you're not sure, but you think your bird may be sick, seek prompt veterinary attention!!!*******

4.  The bird has fluffed up feathers.

A bird can help control its body temperature by puffing up its feathers to keep warm, or holding them tight to the body to cool off.  When a bird is sick and has a fever, it will try to get warm, just as you or I might by covering up with a blanket.  Sleeping birds normally puff their feathers out a bit, but a sick bird will continue to keep their feathers puffed out somewhat as they move about.

*******If you're not sure, but you think your bird may be sick, seek prompt veterinary attention!!!*******

5.  The bird has lost weight.

Young birds  that have just weaned (started to eat on their own) are usually a bit on the thin side.  They go through a slimming-down phase, just as a human child thins down around the time he turns a year old.  But after that, they should maintain or gain weight and fill out a little.  One sign of a sick bird is that they sometimes lose weight rapidly.  In just a day, they can become critically thin from fighting their illness.  This is known as "going light", and if you are used to how your bird feels when perched on your hand, you might notice it.

There are a couple of good ways to check the weight of your bird.  The first, and most accurate, is to weigh it on a scale.  Some people use a small digital scale, such as a kitchen scale.  The bird can be weighed daily from the day you bring it home.  The second way is to learn to feel the bird's keelbone, which is the bone that runs from his chest down the middle of his belly.  On a turkey (please excuse the example!), this would be the sharp bone that the white breast meat is on either side of.  On an overweight bird, such as the turkey, the bone is buried, and the flesh mounds up on either side of it.  A bird of good weight has the bone even with, or slightly protruding (1/8") from, the keelbone.  A thin bird has more keelbone protruding, and by feeling your bird's keelbone regularly, you will know if it starts to stick out more than normal.  This can be an important sign when you think something is wrong but you're not sure.  Sometimes the bone sticks out so much that you can pinch and hold onto it with your thumb and index finger.   This bird needs help right away!

*******If you're not sure, but you think your bird may be sick, seek prompt veterinary attention!!!*******

6.  The droppings look different.

Droppings are a difficult thing to explain, because there is a lot of normal variation that does not necessarily mean that anything is wrong.  It's easy to become preoccupied with every little variance.  In general, major changes, or changes that persist, are probably worth checking out.

A normal dropping (as you've probably noticed) consists of a green part, coiled and tubular shaped, and a white part.  Sometimes there can be a watery part, which some people mistake for diarrhea.  This is actually called polyurea, and that just means excess urine in the dropping.  This can be caused by perfectly normal things, like eating a lot of vegetables and fruit (a good thing!) or drinking more liquids than normal.  If the water in the droppings becomes excessive or persists however, then it may be a sign of a urinary infection, and should be checked out.

True diarrhea is when the coiled green part becomes runny, flat and formless.  If you check under the bird, there may be droppings stuck to the vent feathers.  This is more serious and should be taken care of promptly.  As well, if the white part becomes yellow, or the green part becomes a bright limey yellow-green, this can indicate an illness that involves the liver of the bird.

An egg-laying female will have larger than usual droppings with a noticeable odour just before and during egg laying. This is normal.

*******If you're not sure, but you think your bird may be sick, seek prompt veterinary attention!!!*******

7. There are droppings stuck to the vent (the opening where the bird poops).

It is not normal for droppings to stick to the feathers around the vent. If they do, it is probably because they have mucous in them, indicating an infection in the digestive system. Eventually, some birds lose the ability to pass any droppings because their vent becomes completely blocked with dried fecal material. Before this happens, you should take your bird to see a vet. If you can't get to a vet right away and you find the opening is already blocked, you can carefully remove the crust, being careful not to pull at any that is firmly attached to skin. (Using water to slowly dissolve the droppings is not recommended, because the bird is likely already ill, and getting him wet would be stressful.) If a few feathers come out when you remove the crust, that's OK, since removing the ones with poop stuck to them will temporarily keep the opening cleaner because there'll be less feathers to get in the way. This is only a temporary emergency measure to allow the bird to pass droppings until you get it to the vet.

*******If you're not sure, but you think your bird may be sick, seek prompt veterinary attention!!!*******

8.  The tail pumps up and down when the bird breathes.

This is most noticeable when the bird is sitting still and you are away from the cage.  Sometimes birds can hide it, but if you watch from a distance, you will see the tail go flick.....flick....with each breath.  The more noticeable the flicking (the greater the movement), the more serious it probably is.  Also, in a healthy bird, the tail is in line with the back, but an ill bird will sometimes hang its tail downward at at angle. These are signs of respiratory effort, or distress, and can indicate anything from a low-grade chronic breathing problem to an acute toxic reaction to something inhaled.  Get it checked out!

*******If you're not sure, but you think your bird may be sick, seek prompt veterinary attention!!!*******

9.  There are dirty or wet feathers above or around the nostrils, or the nostril is plugged up.

When a bird has a respiratory infection he may sneeze more frequently than normal, and have a mucous discharge from one or both nostrils. You may only notice that the feathers around the nostrils are a different colour than the rest of the feathers if the discharge is slight. You may also notice that one or both nasal openings looks dark or plugged up. Staining of the feathers or a plugged nostril could certainly indicate a low-grade infection, and needs to be treated with medication. In a more active infection, you may see definite wetness or discharge around one or both nostrils. Respiratory infections in birds can be quite serious, so please see a vet right away.

*******If you're not sure, but you think your bird may be sick, seek prompt veterinary attention!!!*******

10.  The bird is regurgitating.

First you have to determine if the regurgitation is behavioural or not.  Some birds regurgitate, or bring up food from their crops, as a sign of affection.  In the wild and in breeding situations, birds will feed each other.  They swivel their necks up and down, and bring food into their mouths, and offer it.  This isn't like when we throw up; it isn't smelly or acidic, it's only coming from the crop.  Normal, healthy birds will do this to their favourite toy, a mirror, or for the person they are most attached to.

A sick bird that regurgitates is usually just standing on his perch, looking miserable, and throws up.  He is not doing it on purpose as a response to anything around him.  If you see your bird doing this, you need to see a vet right away.

*******If you're not sure, but you think your bird may be sick, seek prompt veterinary attention!!!*******

11.  The bird is a female, she has been laying eggs, and now she does not look well.

There is a condition, usually caused by a lack of calcium in the diet, called egg binding. This is when the hen becomes too weak to lay another egg. Instead of being alert and responsive, she looks tired and weak, and is sleeping a lot. You may see a bulge in her lower abdomen where the egg is. When she climbs up to eat, she looks slow and weak, or she fails to go to her dish and eat at all. This condition is serious and potentially fatal, and is best treated by an avian veterinarian. He will give her an injection of calcium, and this will quickly work to help her expel the egg.

Egg binding can also be caused by the owner taking the eggs away each time she lays one. She will continue laying and trying to complete her nest, and may lay eggs until she exhausts her bodily reserves of calcium. At this point, since calcium is needed for muscular contraction, she becomes unable to push the next egg out. The proper thing to do if your female lays eggs, is to let her keep them and sit on them, for three to four weeks. It may be inconvenient, but she can rest and rebuild the reserves of nutrients in her body.

*******If you're not sure, but you think your bird may be sick, seek prompt veterinary attention!!!*******

12.  The bird is eating (or drinking) more or less than normal.

This is probably the least accurate sign of illness.  Some birds eat and drink very well when they are sick, some eat or drink even more.  However, if you notice a change in your birds eating habits, it might be a clue to watch everything else more closely, and if you see another symptom coinciding with the change, see a vet.  Look closely at the bottom of the cage for any changes in the droppings or signs of regurgitation, and check his weight.

*******If you're not sure, but you think your bird may be sick, seek prompt veterinary attention!!!*******


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Other Health Problems/Injuries

In the following section, I will describe some of the more common problems or injuries that I have seen over the years. Please be aware that if the recommended procedure involves restraining your bird, the treatment should only be attempted if you are familiar with the proper method of holding your bird without causing injury to him, or being bitten by him. If you are not sure of how to do this, seek professional advice or assistance.


Preening (grooming of the feathers with the beak) happens frequently throughout the day, and almost always there is a big preening session before a rest period. A bird's life in the wild depends on the condition of its feathers, so it's natural for them to frequently check and fuss with them. Sometimes the bird is almost frantic with the activity of picking, ruffling, and running all his feathers through his beak, like he's in a big hurry to be somewhere important.

When new bird owners see their birds preening, sometimes they mistake it for a sign of parasites. Parasites on pet birds are really uncommon, and with good intentions you might go out and buy a "mite protector", thinking that you're doing your bird a favour. The only place your bird can get parasites is from another bird; they don't arrive on their own. If he doesn't already have them, you will be exposing him unnecessarily to chemicals 24 hours a day for nothing. And if he does have them, a mite protector won't get rid of them.

If you believe your bird arrived in your home with parasites, please read the section below: PARASITES.


Instead of preening normally, certain birds may begin to fray their feathers, or even pull them out. This is an abnormality in behaviour that can happen for many different reasons, and it isn't always easy to determine the cause. Sometimes people think that their bird is moulting when in fact, he is plucking. When birds moult, they look fairly normal. You may see that when he stretches his wings, there are gaps between the feathers, but there shouldn't be an unkempt appearance to the bird. In the beginning, plucking usually manifests itself as downy under-feathers sticking out through the coloured ones, most commonly on the chest or the tops of the wings. One sure sign is when the bird's head looks really good, but below that, where he can reach with his beak, looks tattered.

Sometimes plucking can be due to an illness: poor diet, infection in the skin, overly dry conditions, tumors, and parasites are all possible causes. If your bird begins to chew excessively on his feathers, or begins to pluck, I always recommend a visit to your avian vet for a checkup. It really is necessary to rule out any medical causes for the plucking behaviour before you can be sure that the plucking is due solely to emotional factors. Be sure to bathe your regularly (see bathing, above), especially in the winter when the heat makes the air in your home drier than normal.

That being said, in most cases, feather plucking is most often a psychological problem. If the bird is healthy, then plucking can be thought of as being similar to nail biting in humans; some people chew on their nails because of nervousness or anxiety, others bite their nails because they simply enjoy doing it and got into the habit. Lots of people don't do it at all. Personality is a factor in nail biting, just as feather plucking is more prevalent in certain types of birds.

In those types of birds that are prone to plucking, there may be certain triggers that can start the overpreening behaviour. Please remember that not all birds will pluck when these things happen, only those few who happen to have a predisposition towards plucking to begin with.

In the following section, I'll try to list all the potential causes and triggers that I'm aware of:

1. Spending less time with your bird. This is probably the most common scenario in which birds begin to pluck. As the thrill of having a new pet wears off, you don't give him as much of your time as you used to. It's important to try to give the bird a steady amount of attention, because even though he can adjust to gradual changes in routine, he might react by screaming or plucking if he feels that he has been somewhat abandoned. Too much attention in the beginning can also be a negative thing if you can't maintain that level of enthusiasm, so try to start out with what you can foresee doing on a regular, daily basis.

2. Breeding behaviour. The age at which a bird is sexually mature varies, but is usually around a year old for smaller birds, up to several years old for larger species. At this time the bird will pick someone to bond to, and start to show a strong preference to be with that person as much as possible. Even though they would sleep in bed with us if they could, it isn't possible to have our birds with us 24 hours a day. Sometimes a bird will pluck out of frustration at not being allowed out at certain times, and if given attention for it, it can become a permanent bad habit. See #5 below.

3. Moving to a new home. In the course of a move, there is a lot going on. Packing and unpacking, and all the chaos that goes along with it is unsettling to a bird because you are busy and their environment is changing in a major way. You can help smooth the transition by continuing to give your bird the usual attention, and try to set the cage up in a similar location in the new home. *Don't* choose this time to buy a new cage for your bird! He needs to get settled in with as little stress and change to the important things in his life as possible.

4. Taking a vacation. There isn't much you can do if you have to go away, and sometimes being separated from their primary people can cause birds to pluck. You can minimize the stress of your being gone by having someone come into your home to look after the bird, if possible. At least he would be in familiar surroundings. The next best option is to have someone look after the bird who can maintain his routine as similarly as possible to what he is used to at home. Keeping the amount of time out of the cage the same, and having someone he likes to give him attention will go a long way towards making him feel secure about your absence.

5. Giving your bird attention for preening. Some people are so worried that their bird might pluck that they watch him constantly when he's preening and interfere unnecessarly. The worst thing you can do is to give your bird the idea that preening gets him attention. A bird might start plucking to try to get attention, and if you yell at him or try to distract him, he will be getting the attention he wanted, and pluck more. If he starts plucking, the best thing you can do (after you visit the vet) is to stay calm and relaxed about it. That way, your bird won't get the idea that plucking has "won you back", and he may give it up sooner.

6. Having a new baby or a new pet in the house. Birds must go through an adjustment period when a new member of the family is added. To minimize the stress of the new arrival, make doubly sure that you spend time with your pet during the early transition period, just as you would make sure to give an older child attention when a new baby comes home. Birds are a lot like children in that they can get jealous of a new addition, particularly when they can tell that they have been displaced and are not the center of attention any more. They will adjust to the change, but you need to be patient and understanding of the underlying cause of the jealosy, which is akin to sibling rivalry.

Also, remember that the bird might be afraid of the new baby or pet, and if that's the case, let him get used to the newcomer at a distance before getting too close.

7. A major change in the location of the bird's cage. Try to decide on the best location for the bird's cage right from the start. If you do have to move the cage at some point, you might try putting the bird there for a short time each day or taking him there for visits so he feels comfortable with it beforehand. One change I have heard of that prompts plucking in some birds, is when they are moved from a window location where they could see outside, to a location where there is no view. Some birds may become bored without the stimulation that they are accustomed to. Surprisingly, the reverse can also be true: if they are used to the security of no view and suddenly there are cars and strange birds outside within their view, it can make them apprehensive at first.

8. A lack of stress (beneficial stress). My theory is that birds in the wild seldom pluck because:

1. it would be dangerous. Their flying ability would be compromised and they would look different from the rest of the flock and be a potential target for a predator. In captivity, they have the "luxury" of being able to spend hours fussing with their feathers, and to get away with messing them up with no negative consequences.

2. there is no time for plucking in the wild. Parrots are busy watching for hawks and eagles, and they have to fly long distances for food and water. They have other flock members to contend with for the best perches and nesting sites. They have to win their mates and defend their territories. In other words, their lives are filled with stress.

In captivity, they have a *lack of stress*. We put a ceiling over their heads (no chance of predators) and place their food and water nicely in front of them. They have a cage (their territory) and no one else goes in there. They'll play with their toys and flap their wings when they feel like it, but just like humans, they need to be pushed a bit to be physically and mentally healthy. It might be that *beneficial* stresses such as exercise on a regular basis and things like varied diet might curb plucking behaviour in some birds. If your bird is clipped, you can exercise him by placing him on your hand or arm and making him flap his wings by raising and lowering it. He'll learn to hang on, and you can increase the exercise period gradually as time goes on.


When a new feather grows in on a bird, it starts out as a quill filled with blood. As the feather forms within the protective sheath, the blood recedes and the feather begins to emerge from the tip of the shaft. It ends up being dry and hollow. If a large feather with blood in it gets broken, it may bleed. This usually only happens on the wing, or less commonly, the tail. The wetness will irritate the bird, and he will pick and fuss with the feather, which causes it to continue bleeding. Sometimes it looks like he has an injury to the side of his stomach because that area gets blood on it from a broken blood feather hidden in the wing.

The only efficient way to stop the bleeding is to find the bleeding feather and pull it all the way out, by the root. Once you do that, the bleeding will stop. Do *not* use tweezers or pliers to hold the feather, because clamping it tightly with metal, and then pulling, cuts or tears the feather and it ends up breaking off instead of coming out. Use your fingers, hold the feather tightly as close to the base as possible, and then pull firmly until it comes out. If it's too short to get ahold of, you might have to go to the vet to have him remove it.

If a feather is merely bent, sometimes you can straighten it out by gently bending it back. If there is no blood present in the shaft (it looks clear and hollow) and it is loose and floppy at the point where it is bent, then it's best to just break or cut it off (cutting the feather does not cause any pain to the bird). Hold the base of the feather and gently pull off the loose piece.



Please see directly above: BROKEN OR BENT FEATHER.


If you are planning to clip your bird's toenails, be sure to have some blood stop (styptic) powder on hand. This can be purchased at almost any pet store, and the powder works much better than other styptic products, such as the solid or liquid types.

In an emergency, any fine edible powder (such as flour, cornstarch, baking soda) can be used as a coagulant to help stop a nail from bleeding. Put some powder in a shallow lid (the cap from a pill bottle works well). If it's the tip that's bleeding, such as when the nail has been cut, push the tip of the nail into the powder, and by tamping the nail down several times against the bottom of the lid, you can pack the powder firmly into the tip of the nail. Hold it there for a couple of seconds, take it out and check to see if it is bleeding. If so, wipe off any wet powder and push the nail back in against the bottom. Do this repeatedly until the bleeding stops.

Just like dogs and cats, birds have blood vessels in their nails, and sometimes these blood vessels extend right into the tip of the nail. There are times when, in order to clip the nail properly, the blood vessel must be cut. If you keep clipping beyond it, the nail can get too long. You will need to cut it to the proper length, and then use the powder if there is any bleeding. Also, if a nail becomes overgrown, there is a risk of it getting caught on the cage bars, toy, or other object, and becoming torn at the root. If this happens, apply powder, gentle pressure with a clean dry kleenex, and take the bird to a veterinarian.

It would be difficult for me to describe here the proper method and length to cut your bird's nails. If you're unsure about how to do this, visit with an experienced veterinarian or bird groomer ahead of time and ask questions so that you feel comfortable with the technique.


If the bleeding is more serious than the above, use gentle pressure with a clean dry cloth, and seek immediate veterinary attention.



If the tip of the bird's beak breaks off, and it's bleeding, you can use the same method as explained above (for bleeding toenail) to stop the bleeding. If the break is very high up on the beak, or if there is a crack with blood coming out, or if the bleeding is severe, you should take the bird to a vet immediately.

Sometimes a bird might chip either the lower or upper beak, and there is no bleeding. If this happens, it's not an emergency, but you should have a vet or groomer look at the beak as soon as possible. Sometimes the location of the chip might alter the way the bird's beak fits together and it may, over time, place internal stress on the soft part of the beak where growth occurs. Then the beak may begin to deviate to one side, and can actually become crossed. If this is not corrected early, it can become permanent. Additionally, the upper and lower beak need to fit together properly in order for the two parts to trim each other, and when they don't, excessive growth of one part can occur.


Sometimes a bird's beak starts to grow abnormally fast. Occasionally owners don't notice the change because it's gradual, so when it is finally noticed it appears to have happened overnight. Sometimes poor diet or liver problems can cause the beak or nails to grow abnormally fast, so it's worth a visit to the vet if you notice a sudden change in the rate of growth. Certainly, if the tip grows too far, it can inhibit eating and preening, and the bird may develop an unkempt appearance or become listless.

If the bird's nails become overgrown, it can affect climbing and perching and can potentially cause foot damage. In the wild, parrots are much more active and overgrowth rarely occurs. If the nail curls around too far, there is even the chance that it can get hooked on the bars of the cage or a toy, and the bird can't get loose. This is how sometimes a bird can pull its nail out by the root, causing severe bleeding. Regular grooming can prevent this.



There are three reasons birds might develop sores on the bottoms of their feet. First, if they have smooth wooden or plastic perches. These rub on the feet in the same places all the time, and plastic in particular can cause sores because it is hard and non-porous. The remedy for this is to use a natural tree branch (with bark) for the uppermost perch in the cage. The second instance is where the owner has put a ceramic perch (designed for nail trimming) in the upper part of the cage and the bird sits almost constantly on it. These perches are too abrasive and hard on the feet for the bird to be standing on the majority of the time, and should be placed in a lower spot in the cage, such as near the food bowl.

The third reason is a condition called "bumblefoot". This is caused when a sharp nail pierces the pad on the underside of the foot, causing infection. All that may be present on the bottom of the foot is a small scab, but the bird may limp or have trouble climbing because the infection is like a spike that goes deep into the pad of the foot and can be very painful. You may also notice swelling in the toes, foot, or ankle area. If you think your bird has this, please see a vet.


When birds are moulting, they have many new feathers growing in. As their feathers grow, the bird will preen them and remove the outer sheath. These pieces of feather casing look like flakes of skin, and some people might mistake this for dry skin or dandruff. As long as the bird is getting regular baths (once or twice a week), his skin should be fine.




I have personally only seen this condition on small birds such as Budgies and Canaries and it is probably rare in larger parrot family members. The skin around the nostrils (cere), eyes, and/or legs becomes whitish, porous, and crusty-looking. Don't confuse this with the enlarged brownish cere female budgies may have when they come into breeding condition.

This condition can be treated with a topical cream, and can be obtained either from your veterinarian or a pet shop.


Even though red mites are the parasite most often found on pet birds, they are still uncommon and usually confined to the smaller species. If you'd like to check, there is an easy way to find out if your bird has these. First, you should know that red mites look like tiny red specks; the size of a dot a sharp pencil would make. They move very slowly, and only move onto the bird at night. During the day, they hide in cracks and crevices near where your bird sleeps. Look for them during the day by taking the perch he sleeps on out of the cage, and tap each end of it on a white sheet of paper. If there are any mites, they will certainly be hiding in the end of this perch, and they will fall out onto the paper. If you look closely, you will see them move.

The treatment for red mites is to use a veterinarian-approved powder on the bird and his perches, and to wash and disinfect the cage, cups, toys, and anything else he has come into contact with. If treated properly, the problem will not reoccur.


I have not seen lice on pet birds, but they would be treated as for red mites, above.


Parrot family members do not get fleas, so there is no risk of transmission from dogs or cats.

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Finding a Vet in Ontario

For a list of Veterinarians who will see Avian and Exotics in Ontario, please click here.

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Miscellaneous Questions

What is that grinding noise my bird makes with his beak? When a bird is getting comfortable, and just when he's settling down to go to sleep, he'll making a weird grating noise with his beak. He's actually rubbing the lower beak against the inside of the upper beak to sharpen it. If you look closely at the inner surface of the tip of the upper beak, you'll see it has ridges, just like a file or rasp. When the biting edge of the lower beak is pushed against it, it becomes sharpened like a chisel. This is an instinctive preparation for the next day of eating and chewing.

Where are my bird's ears? Just behind the eyes are circular patches of feathers that look different from the other feathers on the head. These feathers, which cover the small oval ear openings, have evolved a special texture to permit the transmission of sound. If you gently scratch the bird and lift these feathers, you will see the ear holes. He may "yawn" when you touch him there, because it tickles a bit!

My bird sometimes sneezes. Is he sick? Birds have tiny modified feathers in their nostrils that resemble hairs to collect and filter out dust. After preening, they sometimes sneeze once or twice to clear out the feather dust that they've inhaled. This is normal. Also see: Signs of a Sick Bird, #9 (above).

Why is there a hole under his lower beak? It isn't actually a hole that goes right through to the bird's mouth, it just looks like one. This is a hollow spot where the skin tucks in and attaches up inside on the lower mandible. This is likely an evolutionary development to amplify the volume of the bird's voice (sort of like cupping your hands to your mouth when yelling).

My bird is always picking and scratching at himself. Does he have parasites? It's normal for a bird to groom themselves (preen) many times during the day. After he eats, plays, and just before resting, he will staighten out, once again, all his feathers to make sure everything is in order. Sometimes, it can look quite frantic, but it's a sign of a healthy bird.

Why does my Budgie spit up seeds all over his mirror?
When birds are in love, one way they show their affection is to feed each other by bringing up food from the crop and offering it to their mate. This can also be viewed as preparation of a sort for feeding babies that will hatch subsequent to nesting. When a bird sees its reflection in a mirror, it actually thinks there is another bird there, and will bond with it, potentially trying to do all the things it would do with a real bird.

Sometimes my bird hangs onto his perch and flaps his wings like crazy. Why? This a a perfectly normal behaviour, and it's the bird's way of getting excercise when he's inside the cage or his wings are clipped. It means he's feeling great!

Why does my bird suddenly shake himself? This is called rousing, or ruffling, his feathers. If your bird is awakened in the middle of the night, or upon his waking up first thing in the morning and periodically through the day, he will ruffle his feathers to straighten them out. Sometimes you can see a little cloud of dust come off the bird when he does this, and this is the result of healthy down feathers giving off what is known as powder down.

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