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How to Keep Pet Birds

Keeping Birds as Pets
In the past, birds have been kept both in small cages indoors, and in larger cages out of doors.

The popularity of small indoor caged birds has declined in some countries due to:

• Psittacosis - an avian virus which can be transmitted through the air, from birds to humans, causing pneumonia in people

• Welfare - Concern for the welfare of birds who are restricted from flying as they would in nature.

Nevertheless, small cages are still very popular in some places.

Choosing Birds
The most popular caged birds include:

• Canaries
• Finches
• Budgerigars
• Small Parrots

Whether you obtain a bird from a pet shop, a breeder, or a friend; make sure it is in good condition, with sleek plumage, bright eyes and an alert manner. Examine the birds cage for evidence of diarrhoea. Normal droppings are target like with a centre white (urine) and outer dark brown section (faeces). Check the cage for signs of moulting. If a bird is "fluffed up", it is likely to be sick, particularly if it is on the cage floor.

It is best to get a bird when it is young, so it becomes attached to the owner. After the first moult, which usually occurs at 12 months, it is difficult to determine age. Older birds tend to be fatter and their plumage is less smooth and sleek. Sexing of birds is difficult unless the plumage and the iris (eye) of the male and female of the same species are a different colour.

Any bird locked in a small cage will get bored, and this may cause health problems, necessitating a trip to the veterinarian. Include toys such as swings, chains, mirrors and bells; and fresh vegetation, in the cage. Above all, birds require company, so place the enclosure in an area where there is plenty of human activity. Place out in the garden with wild birds for a change of scenery, but beware if you have aggressive wild birds in your area, as some will attack and/or scare pets, even if they are caged. Also be careful of local cats who may be able to bat at a pet bird if the cage wires are far enough apart.

Birds can also be trained, using a reward system, to do various tricks -usually vocal. Most canaries are bought for their singing, and parrots in the hope they will talk. Such training will require time, patience and a lot of repetition. Birds kept outside in aviaries should be drenched, as necessary, particularly if not kept in fully roofed aviaries, as wild birds may defecate parasite eggs through the netting.

Birds do not need vaccinations. In fact, most birds, if kept in hygienic conditions with regular food and clean water, lead a healthy life without ever needing veterinary attention.

Breeding, Sexing and Desexing

It is often almost impossible to distinguish the sex of many species after the first moult. Some areas that can differ between sexes in some species are the wing/feather colouring, the colour of the comb, rump or breast colour, and in some cases, the eye colour. Generally birds are not desexed, most people keep one in a cage as a pet so it is not necessary. If you are hoping to breed birds, the requirements, conditions and techniques will vary, often significantly, from species to species.

Budgies, canaries and some other types of domestic birds have been especially bred to be kept in small cages. They can be satisfactorily housed in a relatively small aviary and still remain healthy. For most birds however, they must have room to stretch their wings and fly. Aviaries should always incorporate:

• Rodent proof floor
• Fresh water and feed
• Safety - no exposed nails, wire ends or other sharp points
• Nesting materials
• Protection from extreme temperatures and other environmental hazards.

Try to also include the following into your aviary:

• Growing plants (species and habitats similar to what the birds have in their natural environment).

• Running water (flies and mosquitoes are less able to breed in running water as opposed to still, and running water will retain good oxygenation and avoid unwanted flora blooms associated with stagnant water sources. Debris will also be better flushed away, to avoid accumulation of toxins or bacteria. Gently flowing water will also give the birds something to play in on hot days.

• Larger aviaries are best to have an earth covered floor, small aviaries are better with a metal or concrete floor which can be easily cleaned.

Rodent Proofing an Aviary
Have a 300 cm (or greater) galvanized iron skirt (wall) at the bottom of the outside walls. This is a slippery surface which needs to be climbed up before mice can get to the wire mesh. Ensure any nails in the lower wall should are properly hammered in flush with the surrounding surface to prevent them becoming a foothold for mice). Alternatively, the aviary might be set on stilts (stumps) with a floor raised above ground level. The floor might be made of wire mesh, perhaps with a removable tray containing soil and grass. This set up is particularly easy to clean.

See our Ornithology and Poultry Courses at www.acs.edu.au

See our Bird Book at www.acsbookshop.com
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