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  • How to be a Bird's Best Friend

    Exotic birds - some of our most beautiful pets.

    The rewards of pet bird companionship are immeasurable - if you've never experienced the depth and beauty of a relationship with a tiny Quaker parrot or a giant macaw, you haven't lived! Sharing your house and heart with a pet bird is a challenging and enriching experience.

    The work requirements are somewhat greater than what you can expect for a cat or a dog, but the levels of interaction and comprehension are correspondingly enhanced. The larger birds have immensely sharp intellects, and the smaller ones are very astute and make wonderful pets.

    Choosing the right bird
    Before you can decide on a special bird, consider your lifestyle. Do you work from your home, love to hang around the house in your bathrobe, and long for intimate companionship? Perhaps a cockatoo would make an appropriate avian buddy.

    Some birds are very dependent on their owners for emotional support, and will suffer if left alone for a long day while the human companion is at work. For the working household, a cockatiel or parakeet (or perhaps a pair of birds) gives you wonderful rewards and not as much responsibility.

    Contrary to popular belief, seed is not a safe or appropriate diet for your bird. In the wild, birds eat a varied, generally low-fat diet. Seed is a very high-fat food, and severely deficient in many vitamins, minerals and other critical nutrients. A balanced diet can be cobbled together from normal table foods, but requires care for correct formulation. A good alternative is a high-quality pelleted diet, such as Harrison's Bird Diet or ZuPreem. You avian veterinarian can advise you on dietary needs.

    Health exam
    Wild birds are very adept at hiding signs of illness. Your pet bird will do the same if she isn't feeling well. Sometimes the only sign of severe illness is mild lethargy, decreased appetite, or other behavioral changes. In this case, it is extremely important to have your bird friend examined by an experienced avian veterinarian.

    The annual exam is an important part of your bird's regular care. Your vet can pick up subtle signs of disease before a real problem emerges. Many of the larger parrots can have a life expectancy of 70 years with excellent nutrition, maintenance and regular vet check ups. Your vet should recommend annual blood tests, gram stain of feces, and screening for infectious diseases as required by species.

    Many owners ask their vet to clip their bird's wings. It's usually a good idea to have your bird's flight ability curtailed - it's surprising how frequently birds are lost to the outdoors or injured in their house during unplanned flights.

    Be very careful if your pet bird is housed near the kitchen. Non-stick pans emit extremely toxic fumes when they are overheated, and death is a quick and tragic result. Even non-stick racks in your oven are dangerous, as is the self-cleaning feature on the oven itself. Ceiling fans and direct drafts are risky for your friend, and the obvious need to protect avians from marauding cats and the family dog (and ferret) are very important.

    Go take a bath! Many pet birds love to shower with their owners, and it's a wonderful bonding and health opportunity. Some little birds like to preen under the gentle spray of a mister, and some will sit under the faucet and let water drip on their heads.

    Cages must be kept squeaky clean. Diluted bleach (30:1) is the best and safest disinfectant for the cage, while dishes, perches and toys can be run through the dishwasher. Let cages air dry in the sun, if possible. Keep a rack on the bottom of the cage so that your feathered friend is up high off the bottom. And use plain newspaper, changed daily, to line the cage tray - a pelleted matter can contribute to mold and to respiratory disease.

    Most important of all is to remember the love and joy that an avian companion will bring to your house. So get some information, get ready and go - be a bird's best friend. It's a decision you'll never regret.

    Dr. Victor J. Dasaro has been practicing avian medicine and surgery for 12 years. He lives with his wife, Dr. Ellen Friedman, five cats, three dogs, a sublime lutino cockatiel Grilli, and a cranky African grey parrot, Rose. You can e-mail him at

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