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Planning Retirement Online

Getting the bird                                               March 2010  

Getting the bird

CockatielA generation or two ago, and budgerigars were one of the most popular household pets. They were in family households everywhere, in a domed cage in the corner of the room, covered up meticulously at night, let out for the occasional fly and accepted as a normal companion for older people.

Today this is no longer the case. While budgerigars and canaries are still popular, now a range of exotic birds such as African grey and Amazon parrots, macaws, cockatoos, cockatiels and finches have also become popular pets. However, some birds are really inappropriate to have as pets, some are kept with inadequate space and care, and in recent years there has been a big movement against keeping any birds at all as pets.

Generally there seems to be a sensible middle course here, and some experts say that as long as you can provide really good space and have the time to care for the birds properly, they can enjoy healthy and happy lives.

Many people don’t realize quite how active birds in the wild are. Searching for food takes up a lot of energy and birds can cover enormous distances; some parrots fly over 80 kms a day foraging for food, which is why a small cage is hardly appropriate for them.

Many birds are also very social, living naturally in flocks. Living away from any social contact with others in their species can cause problems. Some birds develop strong attachments to their owners, and this can sometimes cause behavioural problems. Parrots particular are social birds and need socialisation and company to thrive.

The lifespan of birds also needs considering; while some birds only live for perhaps eight to ten years, parrots can live for more than 50 years, so people need to consider their long term plans before taking on a bird as a pet.

They may be small, but birds need exercise like the rest of us to keep healthy. Even if they aren’t going to cover the miles they would do searching for food if they were living in the wild, they still need to fly and keep active to be fit and healthy. For exercise, smaller birds can use a lot of energy fluttering around a small room while parrots often use lots of energy climbing up and down the wires of cages.

Like humans, birds can get overweight and fat, especially if in captivity they are overfed with high calorie foods such as nuts and sunflower seeds. Birds need a varied diet to thrive, and the dry seed you buy from the pet shops and supermarkets should only be the basis of the bird’s diet. You will need to supplement this with fresh green seeds, flowers, fruit and vegetables. Calcium supplements are often recommended and more recently mineral and vitamin supplements added to the drinking water has been said to be very beneficial.

Interestingly, birds have a very different breathing system from humans – and this means they can also be very susceptible to inhaled toxins in a home; perhaps poisons given off from burned food or cooking oil, or chemicals that come from non-stick pans when they are overheated. Sprays obviously can be very harmful to birds, so if you are thinking of keeping a bird in your home rather than in an outside caged area, make sure it is a well ventilated spot.

Then of course birds need perches – these need to be of the correct diameter for the bird to prevent foot problems. The smooth plastic perches that are often sold in pet shops can cause a bird to adopt an unnatural stance causing foot sores; while sandpaper covers can be abrasive. Non toxic twigs and branches are best.

The more you look into it, keeping a bird as a pet seems to be as complicated and time consuming as keeping a dog! The best thing for novice bird keepers to do is to talk to a vet who specialises in birds; that way you will get the advice you need and be aware of what you are letting yourself in for.



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