Dr. Bob's Animal Health and Information  Site



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Table of Contents

1.Pre Purchase Information


3.Cage Information




7.Mentality and Emotions


9.Care and grooming


11.Feather facts

12.Behavioral problems

13.Determination of Sex


15.Alertness is the Key to Bird Health

16.Stress in caged birds

17.Respiratory Problems of Birds

18.Taming Birds

19.Bird Diseases- which are emergencies

20.Emergency Treatment

21.Toxic substances in the house

22. Acknowledgements


1. PRE-PURCHASE INFORMATION                     back

Owning a bird as a pet has been popular since the Victorian era, when the parlor was not considered completely decorated unless it had a canary in a very small brass cage residing on a table in a corner. It has been only recently, however, that the health and management of pet birds has become a real concern of the pet bird breeder, owner and Veterinarian. Pet birds are no longer maintained in overly small, ornate cages that do not allow for social contact. Large bright airy cages, along with improved dietary management, have increased the life-span and reproductive efficiency of most of the pet bird species.

Why do you want to own a bird? There is no correct answer to this question, but it is one you should fully examine before you purchase a bird. Often a pet bird is the answer for apartment dwellers, people desiring animal companionship with minimal time or money investment, or individuals wanting an affectionate, intelligent pet. However, a bird should never be purchased on impulse. You should approach the task of purchasing a bird already aware of the characteristics of the species of bird you are interested in, the average price of that type of bird in your region and with some knowledge of how to evaluate the health and breed characteristics of the bird you are considering. This will require a bit of research and asking around before you are ready to buy, but the investment of your time will save you much grief at a later date. The beautiful macaws and cockatoos are not for the neophyte! Most first-time bird owners are happier with finches, canaries, budgerigars ("parakeets") or cockatiels.

Birds can be purchased from a variety of sources, such as pet shops, breeders, private dealers, or individuals. If you are buying a bird for the first time it is almost essential that you purchase your bird from someone who is in the bird breeding and/or selling business. These individuals usually have a reputation to protect; ask around and find out who in your area is known to deal honestly and fairly with buyers. Many stores today, especially those specializing in birds, have been operated by bird fanciers who have turned their hobby into a business; they usually know and care about their birds. They will have in stock items required for basic care and maintenance of birds, such as play toys, cages, bird feed and general health supplies. Sales personnel will generally offer you more information than you ever thought necessary to get you started, so leave yourself plenty of time to shop!

Health should be a primary consideration when you are choosing a bird. Pay close attention to the health of all birds you examine-- a free bird, if it is sick, is not worth the long-term monetary and emotional costs. To keep it simple, a sick bird will look sick and a healthy bird will look healthy; bright, alert, active and in good feather. There are clues to a bird's health beyond general impressions. A sick bird may sit with its feathers puffed up; its eyes may be dull or even closed; the nostrils may be clogged or occluded to some degree. An additional clue, here, is to check the feathers above the nostrils; if they appear wet or matted, then the bird has a nasal discharge. The feathers around the bird's vent or hindquarter area may be soiled or matted, indicating diarrhea; the bird may be listless or inactive; the seed cup may appear not to have been touched, indicating that the bird is off-feed. Also be on the lookout for bald spots where feathers should be, swellings or sores on the feet or toes, a protruding breastbone, white crusts on the beak or a bird that appears to be having difficulty breathing.

You must also consider the temperament of your bird when you are selecting. An intelligent bird with a good disposition is essential for everyone's benefit, but most birds in the temporary condition of "being for sale" are quite stressed and not at all themselves. Do not expect too much at first, but do become aware of how different birds approach you as you make your choice. Intuition and experience are the most reliable guides you can have in this area.

When you finally choose your bird, consider the following before money changes hands: Will you be able to locate the seller next week should there be a problem? Is there a health guarantee allowing for returns or exchanges within a reasonable period of time? Can the seller verify the bird's age and birthplace? (While this may not always be possible, most reputable sellers have this information available; if not, learn how to judge the age of the bird species you would like to buy.) Will you receive a written bill-of-sale? The purchase of a bird should always be contingent upon the bird being examined by a Veterinarian within a few days of purchase; you should be allowed to return the animal for a full refund should it be found not in good health within a few days of purchase. The bill-of-sale should include the purchase price, the guarantee and return policy, the bird's band number (if known) and a full description of the bird (i.e. color, sex (if known), genus and species).

2. NUTRITION- Improper feeding is a major cause of disease and death in pet birds.                                            back

This section describes general feeding recommendations for your pet bird. Ideally you should research the species you have chosen and learn about their specific needs. Each species has its own unique dietary and environmental needs. By knowing their habits in the wild, where they live and what they eat in their native habitat, you can better understand how to be more successful in keeping them healthy and happy in your home. You can obtain information by talking with successful reputable breeders and owners, and by reading books dealing with your type of bird.

A. DIET- Balanced diets are only achieved by offering a variety of foods. Remember that a bird's diet in the wild is whatever is available. Earthworms in the spring, berries in summer, buds of flowering trees in fall.

1. SEEDS- Historically the basic diet for many pet birds has been a variety of seeds. Some mixtures have been accepted as the more essential seeds and are sold commercially as finch, canary, parakeet, and parrot seed. This does not mean it is a natural food supply--only that if all of the different seeds in the mixture are eaten, it will sustain life.

a. BASIC- Mixtures of seeds packaged commercially. Bulk bird seed from a pet shop is likely to be much fresher and more nutritious than boxed seed sold in the supermarket. Be careful that your bird is not selecting only one or two types of seed out of a mixture of six to ten varieties. This will produce an unbalanced diet and nutritional deficiencies.

  1. SUPPLEMENTAL- Other seed mixtures sold under names such as: Health Food, Treat, Conditioners, Molting Foods, or Song Foods.
  2. Be aware the current trend is away from using seed mixtures as the major component in most species diets. This is based on the observation that many pet birds do not eat the entire mixture, but instead pick out only a few varieties in the seed mix. Often the seeds they selectively eat are ones with high oil content which can be unhealthy for the bird in the long term. Amazon parrots tend toward obesity which is magnified by eating nuts or oil containing seeds such as sunflower or safflower. Macaws actually require a little fat in their diet so a limited amount of nuts or oil containing seeds is an acceptable part of their diet.

2. PELLETTED FOODS- There are a variety of pelletted foods now available for pet birds. As our knowledge of proper pet bird nutrition improves these diets become more nutritionally sound. Some companies have diets designed for the various species of pet birds. Use the one that is designed for the species you have. Often they are marketed as complete diets, however as with seed mixes, they should be considered only part of a complete diet. Dog food, cat food, monkey chow , and other pet foods ARE NOT the same as pelletted pet bird food and are not an appropriate part of your pet bird's diet.

3. GREENS- Greens are a valuable and rewarding addition to your bird's diet. The common table greens may be used, or in the summer, backyard greens are available. Greens have the reputation of causing diarrhea, which is not true, but they will affect the character of the stool. Greens are bulky foods that pass through the digestive tract rapidly, causing a soft green stool. Greens are high in water, adding fluid to the body. More urine is produced which adds to the fluidity of the droppings. Birds at first may overeat greens, but if fed consistently, will only eat a small amount. Sprouted bird seed is a special treat. When feeding any type of fresh food, make sure to thoroughly wash the food before giving it to the bird. This removes any soil bacteria or contaminants which could be harmful to your bird.


(must not have been treated with insecticides, pesticides, or


Leaf lettuce Dandelion

Endive Chickweed

Celery (chopped or the tops) Fresh branches, etc. (Edible varieties only)

Carrot tops



Mustard greens


It is important that all varieties of bird receive from 15-25 percent of their diets in the form of vegetables, fruits, and "treats." The smaller seedeaters (finches, canaries, etc.) should be given the lesser amount. The Conures, Amazons, and Cockatoos, somewhere in between, and the fruit-eaters (Lories, Toucans, and many Macaws) the greater amount.

Vegetables are a great source of protein and carbohydrate which tend to offset the higher fat content of some of the "favorite" seeds of many birds, such as sunflower and safflower seeds. Try a wide variety of vegetables like green and other beans, fresh or cooked corn, peas, broccoli, peppers, squash, cauliflower, potato, carrots, cooked spinach, beets, yams, sweet potatoes, etc.. Avoid iceberg lettuce, particularly in young birds. It has little or no nutritive value. Also some vegetables such as tomatoes tend to be acidic and should be avoided.

Fruits are an excellent source of carbohydrate and a moderate source of protein. They supply the bird with a readily digestible energy source, and are a valuable source of many vitamins and minerals. Fruits such as berries, grapes, papaya, and sometimes citrus fruits and apples tend to give birds what we call "functional" diarrhea. These fruits and berries are said to have a "cleansing" effect on their digestive tracts, but anything can be overdone. Offer these items once or twice weekly. Some fruits such as pineapple and most citrus fruits tend to be acidic, and also should only be fed in limited quantities.

Peaches, pears, and bananas have better nutritive value for birds and are less apt to cause diarrhea.

Yogurt, the all natural type with no additives, is an excellent source of protein and calcium.

Treats can be an excellent source of nutrition for birds. In addition, the pleasure of both bird and owner can be greatly enhanced. Do not hesitate to offer a variety of snacks, including cooked egg, toast or bread with peanut butter, graham crackers, rolls, low salt cheese, noodles, cookies, etc..

Four general types of food to avoid are the following:

1. Foods that contain large amounts of salt; such as saltines, potato chips, popcorn, etc.

2. Foods that contain large amounts of sugar; such as candies, syrup, etc..

3. Foods that contain large amounts of fat or oil; such as meat trimmings, avocado, etc..

4. Any food containing a stimulant or depressant; like caffeinated sodas, alcohol, etc.

Furthermore, you should exercise common sense in choosing your pet's food. As a general practice do not feed parts of food items that are not commonly eaten by people. For example do not feed the pits of fruit such as peaches, plums, or cherries as these contain cyanide and therefore are toxic. Another example is the tops of carrots, these contain very large amounts of nitrates which also is toxic if enough of them are consumed. Also, when feeding fresh foods do not leave them in the cage so long that they spoil or grow large numbers of bacteria. If you think about whether the food would be safe for you to eat after being left out for a period of time and apply that same reasoning to your pet bird's food, you usually will be safe. Do not put a food that will spoil in the cage and leave it there all day long, your bird will get sick just like you would if you left dinner on the table all night and ate the food off the plate for lunch the next day.


Some bird fanciers prefer to feed an all soft food diet, rather than use seed as part of the diet. Many diets have been developed which work well. One which will supply adequate nutrition is the following:

Mix equal portions of the following four groups:

1. Cooked whole grain rice

2. Cooked legumes (beans, peas, sprouts, etc.)

3. Cooked mixed vegetables

4. Dry dog or cat food

You can mix the ingredients together and cook them like a stew, and then save small daily portions in plastic bags in the freezer. These bags can be thawed as needed either in a microwave or by placing in hot water (make sure it is not too hot.) The mixture can be fed to the bird twice daily. No soft food should be left in the food dishes or cage for over 12 hours.

You can add sprouted seeds to this, and may add small amounts of low salt cheese once a week.

B. FOOD SELECTION- These facts must be considered when feeding. Food is selected by:

1. HABIT- which is instilled when the mother is feeding the young in the nest box.

2. APPEARANCE- more than taste and smell. A bird is apt to be suspicious of strange foods or other objects for a period of time or may never accept anything new placed in his cage.


Birds are inherently finicky. If they get "hooked" on sunflower seeds, and will not touch anything else, it can in time result in a number of vitamin and mineral deficiencies as well as fatty degeneration of the liver, thyroid problems, fatty tumors and other complications.

We believe in offering birds fresh food twice daily, in an amount that they will consume in about six hours. Feeding in this manner makes sure that the bird will be hungry when fed, and may be willing to try something new when offered. Always have the favorite food available at feeding time, however. One can sprinkle the favorite seed over a variety of vegetables (succotash) or fruit such (unsweetened fruit cocktail) as a good way to start. Alternate this type of mixture with the regular feed choice daily. Determine the bird's preferences of vegetables or fruits, and use your own good judgment. Don't be afraid to try leftovers or table scraps-- including even bits of lean meat-- but do not leave it in the feed dish long enough to spoil.

Do not give up too soon!! It often takes weeks or sometimes even months for the bird to try something new.

In addition, be sure to provide a balanced vitamin-mineral, and amino-acid supplement over the vegetable, fruit or seed. You can use commercial preparations such as Nekton, Chirp, Petamine, or Superpreen.


1. Your bird requires adequate sources of the fat soluble vitamins A and D3.

2. Vitamin B Complex-- It is becoming more obvious that vitamin B complex should be supplemented in the diet.

3. Birds being treated with antibiotics also require a source of lactobacillus to replace the normal intestinal bacteria. This can be supplied by yogurt.

4.If your bird is receiving a properly balanced pelletted diet, you do not need to add extra vitamins to its food or water. Over supplementation with vitamins can be as dangerous, or worse than no supplementation at all.

5. If you do need to supplement with vitamins, use a type that goes on the food, not the water. Many vitamin supplements cause very high levels of bacteria to grow when the supplement is placed in the water. Good on the food supplements are Nekton and Nekton-S.

  1. MINERALS- Minerals are an essential part of the daily diet. The best sources are: Cuttlebone, Mineral Blocks, Milk, Oyster Shells, Egg Shells, or a supplement specific for birds.

African Grey parrots have a higher requirement for Calcium in their diet which must be present in either the pelleted food, high calcium vegetables, or supplements.

Budgerigars ("parakeets") require Iodine supplementation to their diet to prevent thyroid dysplasia. One drop of Iodine solution weekly in the drinking water will satisfy this requirement.

F. LIQUIDS- Besides fresh water, other liquids may be offered. Some birds have a real fondness for nectars. Many birds like orange juice which may be offered in limited amounts. Milk is a very excellent food and can be added to drinking water. Remember, it must be changed the same day. We recommend using bottled water rather than tap water as the household plumbing can harbor bacteria that are of little concern to people, but quite dangerous to pet birds.

G. GRIT- Birds that hull their seeds do not require grit. Although they seem to enjoy picking at it, overeating grit can irritate and even obstruct the gastrointestinal tract. If grit is used, it should be provided in very small amounts. A few grains of grit a week is more than enough. Do not use sand paper or gravel paper on the bottom of your bird's cage, nor on the perches. We recommend a firm no-grit policy (exception is passerine birds such as finches and canaries).

H. HOW TO BROADEN A BIRDS DIET- Many birds have developed poor eating habits, and as a result have or are bordering on malnutrition. It may be difficult to overcome these bad habits, but persistence usually pays off. Do not try to starve your bird into eating new food. A small bird will die in 48 hours if it does not eat.

1. Begin with sweetening the water, and then after he has developed a "sweet tooth" add other nutrients such as juices, milk, and honey.

2. Introduce only small amounts of new food.

3. Try feeding hot foods. Try hot nuts, hot cereals, hot cheese and hot soup.

4. Mix new foods with the regular basic seed.

5. Place new foods below a mirror or adjacent to a favorite toy.

6. Try feeding outside the cage.

7. Change bird from ad-lib feeding to three 15-minute feeding periods.

8. Hand or spoon feed.

Be aware that variety in food in addition to being more nutritionally sound, also helps as it is a major source of mental stimulation for pet birds.

3. CAGE                                                  back

A. Cages should be as long as or longer than they are tall. Birds tend to fly lengthwise, not up and down, and we can make them feel more comfortable with a long cage. Tall cages are fine for canaries, but certainly do not meet the needs of budgerigars("parakeets"), cockatiels, or other hookbill birds.

B. Perches in cages are best made of natural material. The ideal perch would be a branch from a citrus or fruit tree, oak, manzanita, or eucalyptus tree with the bark still intact. One need not worry about mites if the perch is first sprayed with any common mite spray available at your local pet shop. They are easily replaced, and are excellent nutrition and excellent exercise. Never use sandpaper covered perches as this will irritate the feet. Try to have perches of several different diameters to avoid pressure sores from continual pressure in one part of the foot.

C. The bottom of the cage should be covered with wax paper or newspaper or an appropriate litter material designed for birds. This makes an excellent bottom cover, as it does not spread moisture all over the cage from a single accident or dropping. Furthermore, the paper can be lifted out daily, allowing one to estimate the number of droppings per day and thus monitor the bird's appetite. Do not use sandpaper on the cage floor.

D. No gravel or mineral grit should be used in any cage used by a pet hookbilled bird. Canaries, doves, and finches may have grit if desired mixed in food at the rate of one teaspoon per pound.

E. Cuttlebone should be placed in all cages with the soft side in. This means the flaky side out where the bird can get to it and the hard shell near the outside of the cage. The cuttlebone should be placed at head height, within easy reach for the bird.

F. Aluminum cages are more suited to today's bird care than painted cages, and will give much longer service, well compensating for their cost. Be careful to avoid old painted cages or imported cages that may contain lead based paint since this is toxic to your bird. Galvanized cages may also contain lead as do many soldered cages.

G. SEED AND WATER CUPS-- One large cup is needed for water. Usually one large cup and at least 3-4 other small (treat) cups are needed for food. Wash the water and fresh food containers frequently.

H. TOYS-- These depend on the type of bird. For some birds they are very important and may help prevent feather picking. Do not use small weighted toys for large birds. Avoid toys that are potentially hazardous. Toes or beaks may become caught in small holes such as those present on jingle bells.

I. CAGE COVERS-- Covers have two purposes.

1. They darken the cage in order for the bird to rest.

2. They help to keep the cage warm if the temperature drops at night.

  1. BIRD BATH--Some birds enjoy bathing in a dish or bird bath. Others will need to be spray-misted 2-3 times a week. Moisture is an absolute requirement for feather care.
  1. AVOID CLUTTER-Cages that are too large or have too many toys and other objects in them may be every bit as stressful as a small barren cage. Try to attain a balance that the bird enjoys.
  1. CLEANLINESS-Maintaining a clean environment in the cage is essential. When you set up the cage make sure to keep this in mind, and make sure the cage is acceptable to you. After all you are the one who will be cleaning it every day.

4. ENVIRONMENT                                 back

Consideration must be given to the cage, the surroundings and all activities in that area. Many birds in this area do well if kept outdoors as on a screened porch. The change to this type of environment must be made slowly. Remember to cover the cage if the temperature drops below 50 degrees.


1. PEOPLE-- Birds learn to relate to people, and actually, when living in a cage situation, need people for socialization. Talk to your bird, whistle to him, or sing to him. They cannot live well without you.

2. PLAYING--Playing is having fun and enjoying life. There is no rule to follow for each type of bird, but consider the following:

Bones Paper Spoons Rope (not string)

Toys Bathing Bells(large) Cardboard strips

Mirrors Swings Cork Hanging Cob Corn

Dumbbells Balls Branches Wood

Make sure all objects are clean and do not have toxic materials on them. If obtained outside, branches should not have any pesticide residue on them, and should be scrubbed and soaked in a solution of 1 cup of Clorox in one gallon of water for at least 15 minutes , followed by thorough rinsing and drying before being used for the first time. Do not use treated wood used in the building trades.

B. LOCATION OF CAGE-- Except for the first week, when introducing your bird to a new environment, birds generally are the happiest and do their best in areas of activity. Place the cage on the porch or in the family or living room. Direct sunlight is stimulating and enjoyable to birds; care being taken not to overheat them on a summer day.

C. TEMPERATURE-- A healthy bird can tolerate a change of temperature of 10 to 15 degrees. Sick birds chill readily and need a room temperature of 80 - 90 degrees.

D. HUMIDITY-- An ideal humidity for a bird seems to be 30 - 50 %. Air conditioning does not come close to this ideal. A screened porch is perfect in warmer climates.

E. DRAFTS-- A healthy bird seems to tolerate drafts with no ill effects. Major temperature changes and continual drafts are not appreciated by your bird and should be avoided if possible. Sick birds are adversely affected by drafts or frequent changes in temperature.

F. PHOTOPERIOD--Birds require the same amount of light and dark as that occurring in a natural day. Being exposed to many hours of daylight and then electric light daily for long periods of time may stress a bird to the point of causing problems with molting. Ideally the day should shorten each week when moving from mid-summer to winter, and lengthen each week when moving from mid-winter to summer. Cage covers assist in controlling the photoperiods.

G. DANGERS--Consider these seriously:

Glass Mirrors Open windows

Open pans of water Unwashed fruits and vegetables Tropical plants

Overeating grit Long toe nails and beak Spoiled foods--moldy grain

Paddle fans Thread Paint fumes

Leg bands Burnt Teflon Carbon monoxide

Smoke Loud noises Overheating--sunstroke

Cats & other pets Leaded glass windows Cigarette butts

Alcohol Small amounts of insecticides or poison--especially aerosols

Any volatile material including cleaning agents, spray wax, hair spray, paint fumes, insecticides etc.

Also see the last page of this handout.

5. DROPPINGS                                     back

Droppings are one of the best indicators of your bird's health and reflect the digestive and urinary systems. Observe and count the number of droppings daily. The droppings are an instant guide to the amount eaten by the bird. If your bird begins to eat less, the number of droppings will decrease indicating a medical problem and he should be seen by a Veterinarian.

6. PARASITES                                         back


1. Include worms and protozoans.

2. A fecal specimen no more than 2 hrs. old for examination for large parasite eggs, and an immediately passed fresh stool to examine for protozoans are required to do a thorough parasite examination.

3. Uncommon in caged birds.


1. Cnemidocoptic mange (scaly face / scaly leg ) is common on the face and legs of budgerigars("parakeets") and on the feet of canaries. It is confirmed by microscopic examination of a skin scraping.

2. Lice, red mites, and other forms of mites are found less frequently.

7. MENTALITY AND EMOTIONS                back

Birds have a personality, definite likes and dislikes, feelings and a surprising amount of sensitivity and emotions. Birds are very social in the wild. We need to create a lot of stimulation for them in our homes. A variety of toys which are placed in the cage a few at a time and rotated weekly should be present. A variety of food should be made available. (However make sure there is a part of their diet that is consistent -ideally the pellets. Daily interaction between you and your pet bird should be the norm. You can use the cleaning and feeding time to your advantage. You will be there doing it anyhow, so you should make it a fun experience. Let the bird out while you are preparing the food. Give it some paper to shred, talk to it, or do whatever it enjoys. Certainly the more time you spend with them the better they feel, and the more enjoyable pet they become for you. Some species, such as finches and canaries prefer to be kept in groups in larger cages where they may fly around and interact with other birds. These species do not require as much stimulation or other interaction with their human caretaker as the larger species.

8. LONGEVITY                                        back

It is difficult to locate any statistics on the life span of pet birds. This is due in large part to the recent advances in diet, husbandry, and Veterinary care available.

Finches 8 - 10 years

Canaries 10 - 15 years

Budgerigars ("parakeets") 10 - 15 years

Larger Psittacines 25 - 50 years or more

9. Care  

A. CARE OF BEAK-- Beaks grow continuously and are worn off by their normal eating habits and the interaction of the beaks. A budgerigar ("parakeet") beak grows 3 inches per year. At times, beaks must be trimmed.

B. CARE OF NAILS-- It is important to keep the nails trimmed short. Sandpaper perches are useless for this purpose and can cause disease of the feet.

C. CARE OF FEATHERS-- When feathers molt annually, no special care is needed. Feathers that become dirty or oily have to be bathed. This happens from smoke, dust and greasy cooking. Ragged-looking birds are sick and are affected with some deeper problem. Within two weeks of the loss of any feather, a few feathers should be replacing it. If baldness begins to occur, seek Veterinary assistance. Never use any ointment or other oily or greasy medication on your bird's feathers. This will cause it to be unable to regulate temperature properly.

D. CARE OF FEET--Foot infections occur in spite of many precautions. Be certain to keep perches clean, have at least one soft perch, vary the size of the perches, and if you notice any weight shifting, sores, or lameness - immediately seek Veterinary assistance.

E. CARE OF LEGS-- A leg band's purpose is for identification. They should be removed to prevent problems. Large birds can now be permanently identified using microchips without risking damage to the legs. Scales on a bird's legs and feet may thicken and form a hard - tight crust. These can be removed by applying a skin moisturizer and then working the scales off with the fingers or lifting them off with a forceps. String or lint can wrap around the leg or toe of a bird and cut off circulation. If you see discoloration of the leg or toes or a depression around the bird's leg - seek Veterinary assistance.

F. CARE OF SKIN--Since the skin is protected by feathers, no special care is needed. Most important though, is not to apply oil or grease to the skin. Any oil can cause heat retention and heat prostration.

G. CARE OF EYES, EARS AND NOSE-- A discharge from any of these areas indicates trouble. Slight crusting or wetness of the hairlike feathers above the nasal opening is not normal. Until the bird can be seen by a Veterinarian, the area should be kept clean. Wipe the area with a mild antiseptic solution. Do not apply anything oily, nor give proprietary medication before a diagnosis is made.

H. CARE OF THE UROPYGIAL, EAR AND ANAL GLANDS -- These should be checked annually by your Veterinarian. If the bird is pecking excessively at the top of the tail near the body, the uropygial gland may have to be carefully examined.

10. WEIGHT                                            back

Once a bird has become an adult, the weight should never vary. Checking the weight occasionally, especially at the annual examination will give valuable information about your bird's health. Birds who eat excessive amounts of oil containing seed may become obese. Sick birds may lose weight. Learn to check your birds pectoral muscles frequently and be aware of any noticeable change in their size.

11. FEATHER FACTS                                back

A. Feathers serve to insulate a bird. The density and strength of the feathers protect the bird both mechanically and thermally.

B. The structural network of the feathers serve as a water repellent; not oils on the feathers.

C. The preen (uropygial) gland secretes an oil that decreases wear by lubrication of the feathers. Hence, it is important that a bird preen itself continually at some interval during the course of the day. NOTE: Stress will alter a bird's preening habits.

D. Annual molt is a time to replace old feathers with stronger, healthier new ones. This is a period of stress for the bird and should be followed closely.

E. Feather maintenance is accomplished through periodic baths - either by showers, splashing or walking through wet greens.

F. Complete feather care can only be achieved when a bird is in good mental and physical health. This includes companionship, pleasant environment, security from stress, proper sanitation, and, of course, a well - balanced nutritious diet.

12. BEHAVIORAL PROBLEMS                         back


A. Feather picking is a disease found primarily in stressed birds. The insecurity of captivity frightens many a bird. These animals are nervous and apprehensive. If left unrecognized, many begin to alter their preening habits. Feather picking results when they substitute chewing for preening.

B. In order to minimize this vice, design a place for the bird's concealment such as a nesting box or coffee can. Provide a companion, and use common sense in bird husbandry.

  1. In short, reduce stress and have a healthier bird.
  2. Do not overlook the possibility of psittacine beak and feather disease. This problem is common in Cockatoos and African Grey parrots and your bird should be examined, and possibly specifically tested for this problem if it has chronic feather problems.


Birds are vocal animals. The bigger the bird, the louder the scream. The owner should realize that some screaming by your pet is just part of owning a pet bird. Excessive screaming can be due to many things. Often it is a call for attention. Do not go running when the bird screams. That merely reinforces the behavior since that is what the bird wants you to do. Eventually this will result in a persistent screamer. A more extreme situation is separation anxiety. This is a form of anxiety attack. These birds may not only scream, but engage in destructive behavior to either themselves or their environment. They need a comprehensive program of behavioral conditioning, and sometimes anti-anxiety medication. If your bird is traumatizing itself, feather picking, or destroying its environment as well as screaming, you should discuss the problem with your Veterinarian. Other causes of screaming include stress, fright, anger, playfulness, and excitement. Understanding the underlying cause of the screaming helps in identifying what if anything needs to change in order to reduce the screaming. You should also be aware of the species variation in vocalization. Some birds such as Nanday Conures or Moluccan Cockatoos are much more vocal than others.


One of the main forms of expression for a pet bird is using its beak. This does not mean that biting should be allowed. On the other hand, neither does it mean that every time a bird puts its beak on you they are going to bite. As you become more familiar with your bird and its habits, you will be able to understand its moods. Biting is something you should deal with. If your bird is aggressively biting, talk to your Veterinarian, breeder, or members of a bird club to learn how to deal with it.

13. DETERMINATION OF SEX                    back

This can be very difficult. In most instances, there is no need to know the sex of your bird. Some species have observable differences. Budgerigars have different color ceres. Males have a blue cere and females a brown or pink cere. Cockatiels have characteristic spots on the underside of the primary wing feathers of females and solid color on males. This can be difficult to determine on some color patterns, pearly for instance. Eclectus parrots have greatly different color patterns with females being red and males green. Most other species of psittacine birds are more difficult or impossible to determine sex by external appearance. In these species, sex can be determined either by surgical examination of the internal reproductive organs, of by chromosome analysis of newly forming feathers.

14. HANDLING                                     back

At some time or other, you may have to catch and hold your bird. Properly done, this will do no harm. for the inexperienced or beginner, the first step may be to lower the perches. With the obstructions removed, small birds may be caught with your hands, but larger birds should be covered with a towel and then picked up. Birds breathe by expanding their chest. This is why a bird cannot be held by its body, and must be restrained primarily by holding the head and neck tightly.


Birds hide their problems very effectively, and when they begin to obviously manifest their illness, they are already seriously ill. The bird that dies "suddenly" has probably been sick for some time and was not recognized as being abnormal. Birds are actually very hardy and tolerate problems as well as any other animal. If given a chance, birds live a long time. Because of this difficulty in detecting illness early, the following is recommended:

A. Observe closely for any signs of illness.

B. Take your bird to the Veterinarian annually for a check up. This will include a physical examination, a 24 hour dropping analysis and a blood test (total protein, packed cell volume, and white blood cell count estimate).

C. Watch for any of these signs of sickness:

1. Change in the character of the droppings or a decrease in the number or volume.

2. change in food or water consumption.

3. Change in attitude - generally observed as a decreased activity ( inactivity ), talking less ( or more poorly ), singing less, or no response to stimuli.

4. Change in bird's appearance or posture. A sick bird generally ruffles his feathers, begins closing his eyes in a sleepy fashion, and will be sitting low on the perch (droopy).

5. Any noticeable breathing while resting, heavy breathing after exertion, change in character of voice, and any respiratory sounds (sneeze, wheeze, or click).

6. Any enlargement -- even fat is abnormal in a bird.

16. STRESS IN CAGED BIRDS                        back

Birds experience stress from the day they are born. Their dependence on the parents to provide them with proper diet, environment, and protection against enemies and weather is absolute. Any accident to the parents during this "weaning stage" would mean the certain death of the chicks. Graduating from this stage means that it must be taught by its parents to fly, find its own food including the killing of prey in some species.

The young bird is clumsy, usually hungry, and always afraid of its environment. It is also the time when many of these adolescent birds are captured and confinement begins. Confinement is always a stress to any young bird deprived of its parents, its nest, and freedom all at the same time. This confinement lasts until the next pickup from the native area which may be days or weeks, at which time they are transported over rough terrain under crowded conditions and with poor food and water supply to a holding area not much better in hygiene.

Then this impressionable bird is flown to an area where it is stuck in quarantine for a period of thirty to sixty days. It is subjected to great physical and emotional stress. The birds are released from quarantine and sold either to large pet shop owners , bird wholesalers, or to jobbers, who in turn sell them to smaller pet shops, who in turn sell them to you. Then the ultimate comes, when a bird is sold to an individual and, here again, is another change of environment, hopefully to a desirable one. This is the bird's first exposure to affection, good nutrition, some degree of solitude, and a clean environment.

Is it any wonder at this point that their feathers are broken and dull. They are fearful, defensive, and confused. They are lucky to be alive.

Just one more thing is required, and that is a trip to the Veterinarian for a complete physical examination, detection of disease, trimming of nails, wings, and beak properly, removal of any leg bands, and gaining information and literature regarding proper diet, caging, perching, vitamin and mineral supplements, and parasite control.

Have patience with this very stressed, new member of your family, he doesn't know that this is his lucky day!

The above information depicts the situation for imported birds. Many of the undesirable steps now can be avoided by purchasing a domestically raised bird. The cost may be higher, but your problems are likely to be much fewer. Remember, however, that even domestically raised birds undergo many stressors before they reach their final destination. They should also be thoroughly examined by a Veterinarian soon after purchase.


After nutrition related diseases, respiratory disease is the most common disease of birds. Birds have a unique respiratory system. There is no diaphragm and so the majority of air movement results from movement of the chest and abdominal walls. Remember this when holding your bird to give medication of any type. Excessive pressure on the chest and abdomen may produce respiratory arrest in the bird!!

Signs of respiratory diseases may range from ruffled feathers, failure to talk, loss of appetite, to tail bobbing. Discharges from the cere or mouth, and sneezing, tail bobbing, or flicking the tail down indicates severe respiratory impairment. This bird should not be picked up under any conditions by inexperienced handlers. Most respiratory diseases in a bird are far advanced by the time that the owner recognizes it.

Examination includes observation of breathing habits, palpation of the sternal musculature to give an idea of the duration of the disease, and listening with a stethoscope. Any discharge present in the opening to the cere should be cultured to define antibiotic therapy, and the mouth thoroughly examined for swelling or discharges. It is not uncommon to place the bird in an incubator for an hour or two prior to handling to ease the stress and to improve the lot of the bird. Observation of the bird after replacement in his cage is one of the Veterinarian's greatest tools in determining its reaction to this stress, and the prognosis for treatment. Once the bird is stabilized, it is extremely important to evaluate chest radiographs. Many times the radiographs reveal abdominal masses pressing on the respiratory system. A blood sample is vital to indicate the length of time the bird has had the disease, its severity, and other organ system diseases present, and therefore aid in determining the diagnosis and prognosis.

18. TAMING BIRDS                                back

Make certain that you have given the bird two weeks of quarantine during which time it has an opportunity to adjust to its new surroundings. The bird must be eating well, and its droppings and overall appearance must be satisfactory. The bird should have been checked for worms, and the fecal sample cultured for disease -- causing bacteria.

The first lessons should be started after it is dark outside and may simply consist of opening the cage door, allowing the bird to climb to the top of its cage. Some birds jump from the cage, and others refuse to leave it. If you have a bird that refuses to leave, do not force the issue. Simply leave the door open ten to fifteen minutes and close it. Whatever you do, be consistent and do it each time. When the bird comes out of the cage, offer it peanuts, corn, or banana from your hand. For the bird that will not leave the cage, offer food while it is sitting on the perch. If it looks at you, sits on the perch, and takes food from your hand, you are doing well.

The early lessons may be spent just standing in front of a cage, hand-feeding the bird. Once the bird comes from the cage, it should be taught immediately to step onto a perch and remain there. Never force a bird, and use a training stick to direct the bird in the direction that you wish it to go. If it flies off the cage, use a stick either to pick it up or direct it to climb back to the table where the cage is present and let it climb back up to the cage. Block all attempts of the bird to leave the area. If the bird refuses to return to its cage, just put out the light and it will be much more manageable.

The early lessons are used to build trust. Teach the bird to step onto a training stick as soon as possible. Work on teaching the bird to come from the cage in an orderly manner, proceeding calmly to the top of the cage. It should sit there and step on and off the training stick.

If the bird will step onto your hand, avoid the stick for now. The more trust the bird has with you, the better it will be for the bird. Once the bird is used to your environment, then train it to a stick. This can be useful in stressful situations or when a stranger is taking care of your bird.

Under no circumstances should a glove be worn as it only creates distrust of human handlers in a bird's mind. Remember that the entire goal is to create and reinforce trust in people. Once the bird is hand tamed, try touching its feet, back, and the top of its head.

Be consistent. Approach the cage slowly from the same direction each time. Say the same things each time. Open the cage and present the training stick at the same angle each time. Once the bird is comfortable and consistent with one way, and has been for a period of time, approach it in a new way. Still keeping up the other way as well. Not being predictable can be good mental stimulation.

Remember, there is no standard time to achieve results. Keep the lessons short, and above all, be patient. Your reward will be the finest, most affectionate pet that has ever shared your life.


Most emergencies in companion birds involve gastro-intestinal or respiratory diseases, trauma, or bleeding. Cage birds tend to hide signs of disease, thus making apparent sudden onset of illness common. Small birds such as budgerigars ("parakeets") and finches should pass 40 or more droppings daily if they are eating enough for maintenance. Decreased dropping counts indicate inadequate food intake. Normal droppings consist about equally of urates and fecal material; abnormally high urate levels may indicate kidney disease.

Bile causes greenish discoloration of droppings. Bits of tissue or blood indicate severe intestinal inflammation, and undigested seeds are a sign of gut hypermotility. Nasal or ocular discharge or conjunctivitis may indicate localized upper respiratory inflammation or deep - seated respiratory disease. The bird's reaction to light and heat as well as the character of respiration should be determined. Examination of birds which can perch and are eating can usually be postponed until the next day.

Trauma following collision with an object is seldom immediately fatal; usually the bird's condition deteriorates as inflammation develops for 6 - 8 hours. Trauma should therefore be suspected when the bird has been in good health, has no visible signs of respiratory or enteric disease, and is in good flesh. For trauma involving the brain, prednisolone or dexamethasone is given to reduce shock and control inflammation. A bird maimed by an animal is also given antibiotics and fluids since , wound contamination and fluid loss are almost certain.

Fractured legs and wings are usually held abnormally, and should be examined and treated as soon as possible. Antibiotics should be given in compound fracture cases, with steroids as needed to alleviate shock. If bleeding occurs, apply simple compression or, if this is impractical, ice, Kwik stop, or flour. Keep the bird warm, calm, and immobile. If much blood has been lost, the bird should be given steroids, antibiotics, and fluids. If bleeding from a broken feather or feather follicle cannot be controlled by compression for 10 -- 15 minutes, the bird should be brought to the hospital while compression is maintained.

20. EMERGENCY TREATMENT -- Temporary care until the bird can be seen by a Veterinarian                         back

If ever the bird sits with its feathers ruffled, eyes partially closed, droopy appearance, or if there are signs of diarrhea or respiratory problems, the bird should be treated immediately. Also any bird which has been injured, sustained a broken leg or wing, been bitten by a cat, dog or other animal, or been burned or chilled should likewise be started on emergency care.

Every part of the following is important:

A. INCUBATOR -- A temporary incubator can be made by placing a heating pad along side the cage and then the entire cage is wrapped with plastic and a cage cover. The temperature should be maintained at 80 - 85 degrees.

Should the cage temperature become too hot, the bird will start breathing rapidly, hold his wings out from the sides of his body, and the feathers will be held so close or tight to the body that he will appear skinny.

B. FOOD -- A bird that stops eating dies. Therefore, every effort must be made to encourage the bird to eat. Cups of food are placed adjacent to where the bird is perched, food is scattered on the bottom of the cage if the bird is off his perch. The Veterinarian will immediately force feed a bird by passing a stomach tube.

C. REST -- Sick birds need rest, and thus, should be in a darkened room or covered to insure 12 - 16 hours of sleep. A two-hour nap in the morning or afternoon is advisable.

D. DROPPINGS -- Start counting droppings. The number or volume of droppings will be of great concern to the Veterinarian. Better yet, save the droppings for the Veterinarian to view.


1. Don't give alcohol containing drinks.

2. Don't use laxatives.

3. Don't use oil.

4. Don't stop food.




Amaryllis   Azalea Bird of paradise
Black locust Boxwood Buttercup
Caladium Castor bean Cherry
Clematis Cowslip Daphne
Datura Diffenbachia Elephant's ear
English ivy Foxglove Hemlock
Horse chestnut Hyacinth Hydrangea
Iris  Jack - in - the - pulpit Jerusalem cherry
Jimsonweed Juniper Larkspur
Lily - of - the - valley Lobelia Marijuana ( not sterilized seeds)
Mistletoe Mountain laurel  Narcissus
Nightshade Oleander Philodendron
Pokeweed Poinsettia Poison hemlock
Potato (shoots) Privet Rhododendron
Rhubarb Rosary pea Skunk cabbage
Snowdrop Tobacco Virginia creeper
Wisteria  Yew



Lead frames of stained glass

Tiffany lamps

Weighted items (ash trays, toy penguins made for small birds)

Weights for windows, diving, fishing

Boat supplies requiring weights

Batteries, solder, bullets, air rifle pellets

Old paint, sheetrock, galvanized wire, screens

Foil from wine or champagne bottles

Mirror backing, linoleum, zippers, jewelry, light bulb bases

Dolomite and bone meal products (some)

Leaded gasoline fumes


Moldy seed or food

Molds present in the cage or other areas of the environment

Pesticides or rodenticides

Medications (with dosage not calculated for weight of bird)


Spray can propellants and other aerosol fumes or volatile products

Alcohol, Chlorine, Fertilizers, Salt, Tobacco, Selenium shampoo

Teflon or other non-stick products when heated dry

Cleaning agents

Baits and poisons

Excessive dust, smoke, or other particulates.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS                back

I would like to thank Meredith Wille for her proofreading and valued suggestions in this revision.

Some of the information contained in this pamphlet was obtained from the following sources:

1. Notes from Gerald Snyder D.V.M.

2. The Cornell Veterinary notes