There are many different species of birds that can be kept as pets and each will have their own husbandry and health requirements. In this section we will discuss parrot care and husbandry, and things to consider before purchasing a parrot.
Parrots can make fantastic pets, they are very intelligent and sociable, and when young very easy to tame and train. Before deciding to get a bird it is important to consider whether you will be able to give it the day to day care and attention it needs for the duration of it’s sometimes very long life. Budgies have a lifespan of anywhere from 5-12 years, cockatiels 10-15 years, and larger parrots can sometimes liver for over 50 years.
So why do birds require such a lot of time and attention?. In the wild birds have a busy life finding food, watching for danger, and taking care of themselves. They are highly social creatures, and will also spend time preening each other and otherwise interacting and vocalising in a flock. In captivity the basic needs for food etc are met quickly and easily, and the bird may not have a flock with which to interact. This creates a large surplus of time and energy, and can lead to problem behaviours such over grooming/feather plucking, territorially defensive behaviours and screaming or other attention seeking behaviours. Talking to, training, and playing games with your bird are excellent ways to fulfill your bird’s need for social interaction. Even just having your bird nearby on a perch, stand, or travel cage, wherever you are at the time, is good quality time. Providing your bird with plenty of stimulating toys in their cage that are periodically rotated can also help keep your bird mentally stimulated and prevent boredom.
Many pet parrots are fed mostly or solely on birdseed. Birdseed is cheap and easy to store, however it is relatively high in fat and low in essential vitamins and minerals such as vitamins A and D, calcium, and certain amino acids. As such, ideally seed should be reserved as an extra treat/ training aid. The ideal main diet for a parrot is a good quality pelleted diet made from vegetables, fruits, grains and seeds, supplemented with fresh vegetables and a small amount of fruit. Pellets are gradually becoming more widely available in New Zealand and can be bought from pet shops including the “Bird Barn” in Henderson, and can be ordered for delivery from Lynfield Veterinary Clinic.
A variety of fresh vegetables (leafy greens such as spinach and kale, corn on the cob, carrots, capsicum etc) and a small amount of fruit (eg apples, oranges, nectarines, strawberries, grapes etc) should make up the balance of your birds diet. Birds enjoy variety, and particularly foods like corn on the cob that require a bit of work to consume! Foods to avoid include avocados, coffee, chocolate, rhubarb and mushrooms. Seeds can be given in small quantities as an extra treat.
When considering cages there are a few things to think about. There should be plenty of room for the parrot to move around. Perches should be of varying sizes and textures. Tree branches make great perches, but be sure to check the species of tree is not poisonous. Do not place perches over the food and water bowls to avoid droppings contaminating food and water. Provide a range of toys, and rotate these periodically, but make sure they are safe. Metal toys should be stainless steal to avoid heavy metal toxicities, also check the paints used on toys are safe and be careful with thick rope toys, if chewed up and swallowed the fibres can cause an impaction in your birds gut.
As with any pet, it is important to recognize signs of injury, illness or disease in your pet bird. This is particularly important with pet birds as they often hide signs of disease – in a flock situation weak animals are the first to be excluded or predated, so they will often not show any sign of illness until they are extremely unwell. Typically birds also have lower tolerances to disease and a reduced ability to survive certain infections or injuries, compared to larger pets such as cats and dogs.
Most importantly you should know what your bird’s normal behaviours, appetite and appearance are, and seek help if you notice any major changes. Faeces should be monitored for any change in colour or consistency (that can’t be explained by a change in diet). Inappetance, weight gain or weight loss, lameness, discharge from the eyes or nose, lethargy and increased breathing rate and effort are all signs that should be quickly investigated.