A Healthy Bird is a Happy Bird

Last Updated June. 14, 2019
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For many pet owners, having a bird is a naturally rewarding experience. Although these animals aren’t as fluffy or as cuddly as dogs or cats, they can provide some incredible companionship, regardless of the kind of bird you have.

That being said, because birds are not as common in households, it’s imperative that you know as much about their health and wellness as possible. Today we’re going to take a deep dive into the various ways to take care of your bird and keep it as happy and healthy as possible.

Health and Nutrition

One of the most crucial details to pay attention to when it comes to all aspects of home care is the particular species of your bird. Unlike pets like dogs and cats, birds have a much broader range of options, meaning that you’ll have to do different things whether you have a parakeet or a parrot. Understanding the differences between species is critical for every aspect of care, particularly with nutrition.

Here is a brief overview of the types of diets your bird may have.

Florivore – eats mostly plants, including seeds, fruit, bark, and other elements
Granivore – special focus on grains and seeds
Frugivore – primarily fruits, including their seeds
Omnivore – includes insects and other small wildlife
Nectarivore – focuses on plant nectar

Each species is slightly different, which means that even among different classes, there is variety. All macaws, for example, don’t eat the same things, so you have to pay close attention to the minute details of your bird’s diet.

A few other things to consider when choosing the right meal plan for your pet.

Fewer Nutrients Available
When birds forage in the wild, they can find highly nutritious items that come with a complicated mix of proteins and nutrients. When in captivity, bird food is usually less fulfilling, so you may have to augment your bird’s diet to ensure that it gets a well-rounded menu.

Fewer Calories Burned
Part of the reason why birds need so many nutrients is that they burn a lot of calories, both in flying around and foraging for their next meal. In your home, however, your bird is going to be doing a lot less work, so you don’t have to feed it as much. In most cases, it’s more vital to have a mix of nutrients than a lot of any particular food item.

Picky Eaters
Birds are notorious for only picking out the foods that they find most appealing. At first, you may think that you should only feed your pet what it likes, but that is a mistake. Just because kids love to eat chocolate doesn’t mean it should be their primary form of subsistence. Instead, make sure that your bird is eating all of the nutrients it needs by offering a more well-rounded diet. Even if it doesn’t like certain items, your pet still needs to eat them.

To help combat the issue of picky eating, you may try formulated diets. These options consist of processed food particles that come with a variety of nutrients. However, because they are manufactured, your bird won’t be able to pick out the different elements, thus leading to more nutritional value overall.

Mixing Foods

Although formulated pellets will help prevent leftover food, it shouldn’t be the only way your bird eats. A significant part of keeping your bird healthy and active is to mix up the types of food it consumes.

Overall, you want to include a variety of options, including fresh fruits and vegetables (if your bird eats those things) along with nuts, seeds, and pellets. Birds like to pick at food by checking its sight, smell, and taste, so providing a variety of options is always a good idea to avoid stagnation and boredom.

For example, providing carrot sticks and corn on the cob can help stimulate your bird’s appetite more than just a handful of seeds. Nonetheless, spoiling is still an issue for birds, so watch for any old fruit or veggies that are starting to turn.

Nectar-Based Diets
If your bird focuses mostly on nectar, then you’ll have to rely on specialized formulas to ensure that it gets the nutrition it needs, since you won’t be able to feed it as many different foods. That being said, adding some fruits and flowers to the mix can be helpful – just be sure that they are compatible with your bird’s size and species.

Avoid “Junk” Food at All Costs
Although most bird owners don’t usually try to feed their pets human foods, you still should avoid the temptation. Some foods like avocado, mushrooms, and onions may seem okay at first, but they can be harmful to your pet’s digestive system. Thus, you want to talk to your vet or do some research to see what can be damaging for your bird. When in doubt, don’t give it to your pet.

Also, if you let your bird roam freely at home, be sure to keep foods away from its reach. Like other animals, birds are curious creatures, and they will investigate food wherever it may be. If you’re not careful, your pet could get incredibly sick, and cleaning up that mess is never enjoyable.

As with all pets, you need to keep your bird hydrated. While some foods like fruits and vegetables have higher water content, you should still keep a dish full of fresh, clean water handy at all times.

One thing to consider is that some birds will like to use the water for cleaning, so it has to be changed regularly. Dirty water may go untouched by your pet, and it could lead to infection or disease, depending on what’s inside. Also, make sure that the water dish (and any food dispensers) are often cleaned as well.

Bird Feeders
Many different species of birds can regulate their own feeding habits, but some are better at it than others. Don’t assume that you can use a feeder and leave your pet to its own devices. In some cases, it could lead to overeating and weight gain.

For the most part, if you do leave food in the cage, it should be formulated diet items, like nectar or pellets. You can add fruits, seeds, and vegetables as treats from time to time. Whenever you do so, be sure to remove the foods from the cage within a day so that it doesn’t spoil.

Another thing to consider is the use of feeding toys that help stimulate your bird’s natural foraging instincts. A dish full of seeds is not as fulfilling mentally as a toy where your bird has to work for the food. In the wild, birds will have to do more to get their food, so you want to replicate that experience as much as possible.

Beaks and Feathers
One of the most crucial parts of your bird is its beak. Thus, you need to pay attention to it at all times to spot any potential signs of trouble so that you can take action immediately. Here are some common issues that may arise.

Flaky Beak
This condition seems to happen most to exotic bird species, and it points to a vitamin deficiency. As we mentioned, all birds have different dietary needs, so if you notice that your pet’s beak is flaking, it’s time to pay closer attention to what you’re feeding it (and what it’s eating most). Make adjustments accordingly, and the condition should get better soon.

In the wild, birds exercise their beaks all the time, both in the search for food and to help avoid any problems. If you provide wooden perches for your bird, then it will naturally work its beak on them to keep it in better shape. Wood is always ideal, particularly when compared to other materials like plastic or metal.

Another option for helping your bird chew is to give it shelled nuts, like pecans or walnuts. Although you shouldn’t give these too often, hard nuts will encourage your pet to use its beak more, helping it stay in pristine shape.

Abnormal Growths
Beaks are made of keratin (the same stuff in our fingernails), and they grow continuously throughout a bird’s lifetime. Thus, you need to make sure that your bird doesn’t have any abnormal growths on its beak, as these have to be addressed immediately.

Unfortunately, even with toys and chewable foods, your pet may still develop growths since it isn’t working out its beak as much as it would in the wild. If you notice any particular abnormalities like scissor beak or bulbous bumps, you need to consult with your vet to have them reshaped or removed altogether.

Feather Health
Since your bird is covered in feathers, it’s imperative that you pay attention to them for any potential signs of malnutrition or environmental issues that may be causing your pet stress. Here are some things to consider when it comes to feathers.

For most birds, they do well in a slightly humid environment since it helps keep their feathers in better shape. Having access to water for cleaning, as well as bird baths or humidifiers can help. In some cases, you may try specialized products like preening oil or bird bath sprays.

If your bird starts dropping feathers, don’t worry just yet. In the wild, birds will molt all the time, particularly when they’re still growing. Be aware that feathers can drop from time to time, and be sure to pick them up and clean out the cage regularly when it happens.

During this period, your bird may scratch itself more often as a means of both removing the feathers and stimulating the growth of new ones. Unless your bird is losing a lot of feathers and is starting to look emaciated as a result, you shouldn’t have to contact your vet.

Nutrition and Feathers
Since feathers are made of keratin, protein is necessary for their production. If your bird is molting, then adding some extra protein to its diet can help this process. You should also pay attention to the vitamins your pet is getting, particularly if its feathers look damaged or worn.

Vitamins A through D are essential for your bird’s overall health and the care of its feathers, so pay attention to its intake of each vitamin and regulate it accordingly.

Because birds lack vitamin D, they need access to UV rays and sunshine to help stimulate its production. If you can’t put your bird in the sun for part of the day, then you can use a full-spectrum light. If you do this, make sure that your bird isn’t exposed for more than 10 hours a day, or it can start to do damage.

Blood Feathers
Although most of your pet’s feathers are not harmful if they fall out, some of them contain blood. Thus, if these feathers are damaged or broken, your bird will lose blood quickly, which can be fatal if left unchecked.

If you see blood drops in your bird’s cage, you’ll want to look for signs of a broken feather. If that is the case, take it to the vet immediately so that the feather can be healed. Your bird won’t be able to handle it by itself, and the wound won’t close up automatically (like we do with scars).

Bird Droppings: What to Look For
Although paying attention to your bird’s poop is undoubtedly not the most glamorous aspect of pet ownership, it’s a necessary part of the experience if you want to make sure that your bird is in good health. Here are some things to pay attention to when looking at the droppings made by your pet.

No Odor
Fortunately, most bird poop doesn’t smell (assuming you don’t have a pet that eats fish). Thus, if your bird cage is starting to smell more foul than usual (pun intended), it could be a sign of infection.

Overall, your pet’s stool should be the consistency of toothpaste – not too hard, not too soft. If it’s going too far in one direction, then it could be a sign of nutritional deficiencies or disease taking hold. Tar-like poop is a sure sign of infection and means that you should take your bird to the vet ASAP.

Urine and Poop
Unlike mammals, birds don’t have a separate hole for expelling urine. Thus, any excretions will contain both liquids and solids, so keep that in mind. This is another reason why droppings shouldn’t be too dry – it probably means that your bird isn’t well hydrated.

That being said, keep in mind that the more foods with water inside (i.e., fruits and veggies) your bird eats, the looser its stool will be. If the poop seems more liquidy than usual, try to recall if you’ve made any dietary changes recently.

We’re all used to white bird poop (especially when it’s on our cars), but the fact is that the color can be varied, depending on what your pet eats. If it’s consuming a lot of colorful fruits and vegetables, that will be reflected in the poop. Overall, as long as the droppings are not overly yellow or black, things should be okay.

Fitness and Exercise
If you keep your bird in a cage all day long, then exercise is a must. When you consider how much birds move in the wild (including flying around), sitting in a cage is a far cry from the standard living experience. Here are some ways to help incorporate exercise and fitness into your pet’s life.

Let It Roam
In some cases, you may be able to allow your bird to wander around the house. Keep in mind that this may mean droppings in various places, so be prepared to clean up from time to time. Also, since your bird may be on a variety of surfaces, almost nothing is safe from being targeted. That being said, if you keep your bird to contained areas, then it will help minimize the amount of cleaning needed.

Almost all pet birds have clipped wings, but in some cases, they can still flutter around a little bit. Nonetheless, when birds have been clipped, they will tend to walk around almost exclusively instead.

Give it Toys
Ropes and other climbing apparatuses are perfect for your feathered friend as it will create stimulation and physical challenges. Also, consider toys that your bird can toss around and fetch, as that will be a quick and easy way to get some fitness into the day.

Play With Your Bird
In many cases, having one on one time with your pet is enjoyable for both of you. You start to bond with each other, and it can provide the right kind of stimulation to help stave off boredom. Some birds like to play chase, be it with a ball or other toy. You can also try teasing your bird with string and lead it around.

Feel free to experiment with different playing activities to see what your bird likes most. If you do use string, be sure to take it out after you’re done so that your bird doesn’t accidentally choke on it.

Get it to Dance
For whatever reason, birds seem to love dancing to music. Thus, try playing some different beats around your pet to see what stimulates it the most. Having some dance sessions with each other can be a fun and fulfilling way to spend time together and to keep your bird from getting too bored.

Hygiene and Grooming
One thing that your bird will do a lot of is grooming itself (like cats). For many parts of the day, you’ll see your pet working its beak around, scratching different parts of its body and cleaning out between its feathers.

Still, it’s imperative to help out whenever necessary to ensure that your pet has a decent grooming experience. Here are some things to consider.

Bird Baths
Because moisture is essential for feather health, most birds will want to take a bath regularly. Also, this is how they clean themselves, so it’s crucial to give your pet the opportunity. While you may not be able to keep a bird bath in the cage, letting your bird out and allowing it the chance to bathe is a great way to keep it happy and healthy.

Here are some helpful tips

Use a Bowl – fill it with about two inches of water and let your bird get close to it. It should know what to do next.
Showering – if you let your bird near a stream of water, it may use it to its advantage and take a quick shower. Never spray your pet directly, though.
Lukewarm Temperature – birds tend to have warmer body temps than most animals, so don’t use cold water for bird baths.
Wet Branches and Perches – some species will clean themselves by rubbing their wings against wet surfaces, rather than using water directly.
Sprays – in some cases, you may be able to spray your bird for an effective bath. Instead of spraying it directly, mist the air and let your bird decide how much it wants. If necessary, switch to a plant mister.

Nail Trimming
As with other pets like dogs and cats, birds may need trimming from time to time. It can be difficult to tell if your pet needs a trim, but if you notice scabs on its legs, or it starts perching differently than usual, it could be a sign that a trim is in order.

When it comes to trimming, you have to be careful. Get comfortable with your bird and let it feel you out before you start trying to do anything. Then, start slow and steady with bird-safe clippers. Depending on the size of your pet, this process may be relatively easy or more challenging.

You will need to hold your bird’s feet when clipping its nails, so make sure that it gets comfortable with that sensation first. Try holding its feet without the clippers, then work your way up to trimming.

For the most part, you only want to clip the tips of the nails. Going too far down can have adverse effects, including how well your bird can perch and grab things. When in doubt, consult a vet or a professional groomer.

Diseases and Treatments
Finally, when making sure that your bird is happy and healthy, it’s vital that you pay attention to its appearance. Although some diseases won’t have any visual marks, they can still affect the way your bird behaves. Here are some areas to pay attention to the most.

Abnormal Growths – Whether it’s on the beak, the skin, or in the feathers, any growth that shouldn’t be there needs to be addressed immediately.
Loss of Appetite – if your bird stops eating as much, it could be a sign of a parasite or other illness.
Behavioral Changes – stress can affect birds as much as people, particularly if they get bored. Repetitive behavior or pulling out feathers can be severe signs of stress.

If your bird seems like it’s in bad shape, take it to your vet as soon as possible for a more thorough diagnosis.

Bottom Line
If you own a bird, then you need to make sure that you do more than refill its water dish and let it sit in a cage all day. Birds are not fish – they require love and maintenance like any other pet. Understanding the various parts of a bird’s health and wellness regimen is crucial towards ensuring that your pet lives a long and fulfilling life.