Avian Care


There are approximately 10,000 species of birds in the world! From chickens in the back garden, to small finches, parrots, mynah birds, birds of prey, the list is vast. It would be impossible to give advice on all the different types of birds without writing an encyclopaedia! However, the basic principles are the same and choosing a cage for your bird is much the same whether you have a chicken or a java finch.


In Britain, the legislation for cage size is mean to say the least. It states that a bird should be able to stand up freely, turn round and open it's wings fully. That is the legal requirement! Please please, think very carefully before you buy a cage for your bird. It must be as big as you can afford. A lot of budgerigar cages are traditionally very tall. Most birds do not fly like helicopters and need length as well as height! Freedom to fly within the cage is excellent and to be encouraged. There needs to be an ample perch of suitable size and height so the bird feels safe. All birds try to roost at night which makes them feel secure. Small birds in small cages can be put on top of table tops to help reduce fear and stress. The worst place for any small caged bird, is on the floor. This is very stressful for them as they cannot escape if they feel threatened. The cage has also got to be constructed of material that is substantial enough to prevent strong beaks from breaking the wire and/ or the ingesting the wire. Any spacing in the wire has to be small enough to prevent heads getting caught and it must be horizontally placed rather than vertical, as it is hard to climb up a slippery pole! For cages indoors, placement of the cage takes some thought. Be careful when placing near a window, if the window receives full sun this could cause the bird to overheat. Certainly be very careful if you use a conservatory or green house for holding your birds. Cages placed near or in the kitchen are at risk from certain oils and pans used for cooking. At high temperatures these can let off poisonous gases which can be fatal to birds. An airy, well ventilated, bright, and free from draughts in the centre of the household where there is plenty of activity is the best place for an indoor bird. If you have a house with high levels of nocturnal activity, remember to cover the cage at night fall, as your bird needs his or her beauty sleep! It is very important that this natural rhythm is followed as lack of sleep can lead to plucking and pecking behaviour.

Food and Water

Although budgies can go for 10 days without water, it is vital that all birds are presented with fresh water that they can reach at all times. Many birds also enjoy bathing in water or dust and so provision for this should be made as well. The type of food that you feed your bird depends on the type of bird that you have. Ad lib feeding is very common, where a large bowl is put in the cage, probably providing enough food for a flock of birds never mind one. Obesity is a very common and serious problem and can lead to other conditions such as arthritis and liver disease as the body of a bird is not used to dealing with high levels of fat. If your bird is a meat eater, such as a birds of prey, fresh road kill, or farmed food such as rats, mice and day old chicks have to be stored properly. They must be fed properly to avoid any bacterial overgrowth in the food. Keepers have also to remember that this extends to them when handling day old chicks, rats and mice as it exposes them to various nasty bacteria if they are not stringent with hand hygiene. Defrosting food items in a human fridge should be discouraged from a hygiene point of view. When possible try and feed a complete pelleted diet, as this prevents the bird from selecting all the juicy bits and leaving all the healthy bits out. Small birds such as finches and small parrots flourish on a pelleted diet or a good mixed seed. Remember to store it carefully and watch out for mould. Any mouldy food should be discarded as this can be very dangerous for your bird. Fungus can grow in tiny quantities, releasing poisons in small amounts, but levels high enough to kill your bird. Also, any added vitamins and minerals degrade over time, so the advice would be to buy in small quantities and in sealed packages. Most birds are omnivorous which means that they are opportunistic feeders and will eat scraps from the kitchen, even bits of chicken. Even parrots enjoy gnawing on a roast chicken leg! Parrots are probably the most controversial species kept from the food point of view. The African Grey has several conditions that are linked directly to the food that is fed. Traditionally, we have fed sunflower seeds and peanuts. Both of these plants are from theUnited States of America. They are never found in the birds native central Africa. Yet we feed these seeds to them for convenience. In many ways this is the worst possible food. It is high in fat, low in vitamins and minerals and can lead to diseases such as low calcium and fatty liver syndrome. Again, feed a balanced diet such as Kaytee or Pretty Bird and supplement with fruit and vegetables.

Wing Clipping

At one time this was a very controversial topic. It was thought to be cruel as it prevented the bird from flying. Wing clipping only helps to slow down flight. Most birds still maintain some flight and can certainly still fly much further than we can run, particularly if they have launched themselves out from an upstairs window! Obviously, wing clipping is not for all birds. Birds of prey use flight as part of their job. Wing clipping is painless and the correct method can easily be taught. It has to be repeated regularly as the feathers are replaced during moulting.

Nail and Beak Trimming

Unless there is a problem with your birds beak it should never need trimming. There are certain conditions that can develop where the beak may need some attention and this may require an anaesthetic to reduce stress and make shaping the beak easier for the veterinary surgeon. Nails on the other hand can be kept in good condition by the having perches that are the correct width and type. In general, any fruit tree or soft pine is safe to use for branches. Birds have a tendon mechanism in their feet meaning they can stand for prolonged periods of time, without getting muscle cramps or fatigue. By picking a variety if widths, this helps to keep these tendons exercised and also helps to keep the nails short. There are perches available such as the Polypastel perch. This is made of concrete and sand and they are often very thick, helping to keep the nails trimmed. Sand perch covers are not good as they can cause damage to the bottom of the feet.


Birds nails are naturally long and when perched on high in branches in the wind, long sharp nails help the bird to hold on. It is better to dremmel the nails rather than to cut them allowing the vet to asses very quickly the length of the quick. Once cut, the nails tend to bleed and the amount of blood may seem alarming. Broken nails are best sealed with a styptic pencil at the vets, or if an emergency at home, flour or cornflour can be used. New blood feathers may grow through damaged or broken and will need to be removed. Trying to stop the bleeding will not work. The feather needs to be pulled out manually. It is recommended that the veterinary surgeon does this.

Fleas and Ticks

There are lots of fleas, tick mites and lice that will happily attach to your pet bird for a feast! However, in general, if you keep one pet on its own, or you keep a group of birds all bought at the same time in isolation, there is little chance of developing parasites. Birds that live outside and have contact with wild birds are at a high risk of catching parasites. There are very few products licence for birds, but Ivermectin is a spot on that can be used for anything that bites or burrows. Surface living bugs can be removed with permethrin sprays. Please be aware that because there are few products licensed specifically for use in birds you may be asked to sign a consent form granting permission for the use of such drugs.


The same can be said for worms when you keep birds. Indoor birds kept in isolation who are unable to eat worms, slugs and grubs from the garden are at little risk. Birds kept outside will need regular worming using fenbendazole. Another precaution that can be taken is protecting your birds from the earth, where slugs and bugs live. Also use a covering to prevent wild bird droppings falling into the aviary. Again please be aware there are few products licensed for the specific use in birds and you may be asked to sign a consent form granting permission for the use of these drugs.


Birds are by nature group creatures. They like to live in a family or in extended family groups. They are social and enjoy reacting and 'chatting' with their own kind. Suddenly placing a bird in a cage, away from other birds and preventing socialisation can be very stressful. It is no wonder that many of our intelligent feathered friends have so many behaviour problems. Try and buy a hand reared bird rather than a parent reared bird for a pet. Remember it is your responsibility to make sure that you are able to give the bird enough attention to satisfy his or her needs. Some birds, such as cockatoos are renowned for their demanding personalities, screaming if they are ignored, not handled or cuddled. A simple remedy for this is to house birds in groups, either same sex pairs or small same sex groups. Most males can be housed together but if a female is present, there is usually trouble as they will fight for her affection.

Holiday Care

There is plenty of provision for our furry friends when we go on holiday. For example catteries and kennels. Birds pose a different problem. Just remember that pet shops and other places that keep birds with a high turnover are generally NOT a good place for your bird to spend their holidays. There are many bacteria and nasty viruses that are spread between birds. Holiday times, with a strange environment and increased stress levels means that your bird is more likely to become infected. Some of these diseases are fatal and there is no cure. For single birds, it is much better to find a home with no other birds. Flock birds are best kept at home, with a neighbour or friend popping in to feed and care for them daily.

Ultraviolet Light

There have been recent studies that show that many birds 'see' ultraviolet light. A lot of birds benefit from exposure to natural sunlight and many birds such as the African Grey need ultraviolet light to balance calcium in the body properly. UV light does not pass through glass so the cage needs to be outside to benefit from any UV light. Alternatively, use Arcadia UV parrot lighting. We stock a range of these lights at The Veterinary Health Centre.


Microchips are easily inserted into the chest muscle of your parrot. A microchip is one legal way to prove that your parrot is yours! There is no need for an anaesthetic!


The Veterinary Health Centre Ltd, 4 Greenways, Lytham St Annes, Lancashire, FY8 3LY. Tel: 01253 729 309 | Company Reg. Number 5507480 | VAT number 636464523
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