When we head to a shelter to get a pet, we usually end up taking home a cat or dog. (And possibly more than one. Those pleading eyes can get to us.) However, birds that find their way to shelters can be good company, as well. Their care may be a bit more extensive, and their personalities may take some getting used to, but if you know what you’re getting into and are prepared to provide them necessary care, you may consider bringing a bird home, too. This January, which is Adopt a Rescued Bird Month, learn some of the things you need to keep in mind before bringing a winged friend home.
You May Need to Care for Them for Decades
When you’re trying to determine which species to adopt – parakeet, larger parrot, finch, or others – their lifespan should factor into your considerations. Some birds can live for decades, meaning you’re taking on a very longterm commitment. You may also need to consider who will care for them when you’re gone.
Some types of parrots, for example, can live upwards of 50 years. That’s more than half an average human lifespan. Cockatiels will generally top out at around 25 and usually have lifespans in the teens, but they’ve been known to reach 30, as well. Doves often live well into their teens and early 20s. Parakeets are a little lower on the longevity side, generally living more of the lifespan of a dog: reaching maybe 15 years. Finches usually live for four of five years but can make it to double digits.
They Can Be High Maintenance
You’ve accepted that you may need to care for your bird for decades. Now you’ll need to be aware that their care is somewhat extensive. They need regular health check-ups, sufficient attention, stimulation, an owner who understands their dietary and space needs, and strong attention to the suitability and cleanliness of their environment. Their personalities may also be a bit strong if you’re not used to birds. The following tips help address some of these concerns.
Things Could Get Noisy
Before you decide to bring a bird home, bear in mind that they can make a racket. Some amount of squawking, talking, singing, and chirping should generally be expected, even in the wee hours of the morning.
Be Prepared for Wildness
Though many bird species have become pets, most are still not considered domesticated, as they haven’t been bred to live with people for the amount of time that other common pets have. This means you shouldn’t expect the same sort of companionship that you’d get from a dog or cat. Prolonged physical contact may bring out unhealthy behaviors, and socialization may take some time and not quite be where you want it to be.
You’ll Need to Do Some Cleaning
Between poo, dropping bits of food, feathers, and dander, pet birds can make for messy roommates. The clean-up should not be underestimated. A cage skirt can help, as can appropriate liner at the bottom of the cage, which should be replaced at least every other day, if not daily. Liner options include newspaper, paper towels, and other types of paper. When you replace the liner, you should also scrape the bottom of the cage. When you do a thorough cage clean, generally recommended once a week, ensure your bird has been moved elsewhere, too.
Keep Their Beaks in Mind
Birds have a chewing instinct, which helps keep their beaks in good condition. This may lead to your own belongings being damaged if the instinct is not channeled properly. To minimize damage to your furniture, cords, and other household items, getting your bird some chew toys can help. They can also use items like untreated wood and natural fiber rope.
Get Them Some Sun
Pet birds need plenty of exposure to sunlight and UVA/UVB rays to get enough vitamin D. Ideally, this should involve an outdoor cage where they get direct exposure to the sun, as windows tend to block these essential rays. Be sure to stay with your bird when they’re out there and ensure that they have shade access. At least a few hours a day is what you should shoot for, but if it’s not possible, you can also provide full-spectrum lighting indoors.
You’ll Need to Ensure Their Diet is Well-Rounded
Each bird species has a special diet, and you should be well-informed on what that includes prior to adoption. Each bird will generally be fed a base of pellets, along with seeds and whole foods like bird-safe fruits and veggies. When you first bring your bird home, you’ll need to start with feeding them what they were eating at the rescue and then ease them into their new foods. Chat with a veterinarian to ensure you’ve got this right. Be sure to follow feeding instructions that go with the pellet food, as well.
In addition to food, be sure they have access to fresh water, and pour out, clean, and refill their dish daily. Waiting a few days may lead the dish to be filled with feces, food particles, and other messy items from the cage.
Keep Environmental Needs in Mind
Another main concern is your bird’s environment. Their cage needs to have appropriate space for them, they need plenty of enrichment, and they shouldn’t be exposed to anything harmful to them.
When you choose which species of bird you want, be sure to research an appropriately sized cage for them. The bigger, the better, as long as the space between bars is small enough that they can’t get out. There should be enough room to fly a bit, as well.
The cage should come equipped with a variety of perches matched to their feet size. Perches should be placed in such a way that the bird isn’t apt to eliminate in their food or water dish, and that their flight path isn’t blocked. You should add climbing features, like ropes and ladders, and be sure they have plenty of toys to enjoy, including mirrors, baths, and the aforementioned chew toys. They also appreciate a private spot or hiding place somewhere in their cage. Some species tend to do better with a buddy, too, like parakeets.
A safe place for them to fly, either in an aviary or a flight safe room is recommended so they can exercise, as well. They should have daily supervised time outside of their cages, too.
There are certain things that are dangerous to birds that should be avoided, as well. Those include drafty areas or temperature extremes, which will generally be anything above 90 degrees Fahrenheit and below 40 degrees. Their ideal is 65 to 80 degrees, though, and you should do what you can to keep their environment at that temperature. They have sensitive respiratory systems, too, so be careful with cleaning supplies, non-stick pans, or household items with strong fumes. You should not smoke around them, either.
You’ll Reap Some Benefits
Though there is a lot of work involved in being a bird owner, you can get a lot out of it, too. The long lifespan of many species means you’ll have their company for a good portion of your life, you can create a community with fellow bird owners, and you’ll reap the health benefits of having a pet, which can include lower stress, better heart health, and reduced loneliness. If your bird is a rescue, you also get the satisfaction of knowing you gave them a second chance at life.