Pet birds can be excellent companion animals, provided they are properly cared for and provided with an interesting and spacious environment.
Regular adequate exercise (free flight within a safe enclosed environment) is a pre-requisite for healthy, vigorous, and fit pet birds. Exercise is necessary for both physical and mental health.
For the same reasons the RSPCA is opposed to battery hens, pet birds need to have space to exercise, and to express their normal actions and instincts. Most cages are too small for this, so those permanently confined in a cage should have access to a flight aviary or be given regular opportunities to fly in a safe environment outside their cage (such as indoors). Cages should be thoroughly cleaned, including food and water containers, at least once a week.
- Optimal cage size
- The minimum width of a cage for a pair of birds should be three times their combined wing span.
- The minimum length of a cage should permit at least two wing beats (the more the better) between perches. Perches should be placed far enough from the ends of the cage to allow the birds to turn around on the perches without scraping their tail feathers against the cage.
- The minimum height of a cage should be three times the length from head to tip of tail of the largest bird to be confined in it, and should be increased accordingly if more than one pair or more than one species is kept in the cage.
- The cage should be constructed or positioned such that at least one perch is at standing shoulder height (for the sense of security of the birds).
- The cage should provide room for the bird to fly between perches in an approximately horizontal plane.
- There should be sufficient room for the bird to fully extend its wings and to fly without damaging wings or feathers on the walls or ceiling of the cage.
Some birds, such as budgies, are highly social and it is better to keep at least two birds together. All birds will appreciate toys such as ladders, bells, swings and mirrors to alleviate the boredom of being in a cage. Wooden chew toys designed for birds will help keep beaks trimmed.
Birds eat a varied diet in the wild, so you should try to provide a combination of both a high-quality commercial food suitable for the species and some natural foods such as fresh fruit, vegetables, seeding grasses, native flowers, and green foods. Varying the food can also provide a form of environmental enrichment for the bird. Check with your veterinarian or bird specialist to ensure all foods offered are appropriate and non-toxic. For example, natural foods for budgies can include Grevillea, Bottlebrush, beans, parsley, alfafa, and broccoli.
Feed should be completely changed regularly, rather than topped up. A cuttlefish bone in your bird's cage will provide important trace minerals. Mixed grit and a source of calcium should be available for those bird species requiring it.
Ensure fresh clean water is available at all times at a temperature and quality that meets the birds' physiological needs and that the bird will drink. Water should be changed daily and placed as high as possible to prevent the water getting dirty.
Do not feed your bird avocado, coffee, garlic, onion or chocolate as these are highly toxic to birds, among other substances.
Birds can sometimes appear healthy despite being very ill – it’s the way they survive in the wild. So you’ll need to be observant for signs of illness, and if you suspect anything, go to the veterinarian immediately as chances are the bird has been unwell for longer than you realise. Signs of ill-health include changes in:
- the quality or quantity of droppings
- the amount of food or water consumed
- actions or natural instincts e.g., developing an ability to fly
- appearance or posture e.g., appearing sleepy or fluffed-up
- rate and depth of respiration
The RSPCA veterinary hospital can provide veterinary care for your bird, from regular veterinarian checks to specialist surgeries.
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