Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Making feathered friends: bird basics 101

Every year, thousands of frustrated people surrender their pet birds to shelters because they lack the knowledge and skills to care for them. Patty Blau, a volunteer with the local bird rescue organization Mickaboo Cockatiel Rescue offers bird parents and anyone considering adding a feathered friend to their family the tools they need to correct undesirable behavior and prevent potential health problems.
"I've always loved birds, but believe that they don't belong in cages, so I never pursued them as 'pets,'" Patty explains. But in early 2004, she got to know her friend's rescued cockatiel. When she did a little research into the rescue situation for birds, she quickly realized the enormous number that are purchased and subsequently surrendered to rescue organizations and shelters due to a lack of understanding about the time, thought and money a rewarding relationship with a bird requires. By the end of the year, she was fostering her first two cockatiels. Patty is now the proud parent to three birds and is currently fostering an additional eight. She also teaches basic bird-care classes throughout the Bay Area.

Here are Patty's top five tips for living with birds:

  • 1. Keep them occupied. Birds are intelligent and develop bad habits when they're frequently left alone in their cages. Devise foraging activities for your birds when you're out of the house and give them plenty of "out" time when you're home.
  • 2. Feed them a widely varied diet. Like us, birds enjoy a variety of foods. Alternate between organic fruits, veggies, grains and a good-quality pellet. Seeds should be minimized to only 15 or 20 percent of their diet.
  • 3. Make sure they get plenty of zzzs. If your bird seems cranky, he may be suffering from lack of sleep. Make sure your he has a quiet place to snooze (perhaps even a smaller "sleep" cage) in a room that's completely dark for at least 10 hours (and preferably 12).
  • 4. Whistle a happy tune. If you've recently adopted a bird or have one that seems frightened of you, try whistling songs or whispering. They have extremely good hearing and will likely listen to you with curiosity and interest and begin viewing you as a companion rather than a threat.
  • 5. Learn your bird's body language! Your bird will send clear signals when he doesn't want to be touched or approached, including (but not limited to) raising various groups of feathers on top of his head, neck or back. By giving your bird space he will learn to trust you and will be more receptive when you approach.

If you are contemplating adopting pet of the avian variety, Gail Ellis, education coordinator for the Marin Humane Society offers this advice for determining if a bird is right for you:

  • Read everything you can about the bird you want to adopt and talk with a trusted vet.
  • Even budgies (parakeets) can live very long lives. Assess your ability to commit. Do you have the time, resources and interest?
  • Most parrots, including budgies and cockatiels, are as smart as a toddler and tend to act like one too. Are you ready for a perpetual two year old in your life?
  • Parrots are still wild animals. They need exercise and socialization. When you are home your bird should be sharing in your life, not sequestered away in his cage.