Care & Habitat For Your Bird
There are thousands of species of living birds, although most of the popular pet caged birds belong to two zoological orders: Psittaciformes and Passeriformes. Psittacine birds are all members of the parrot family, including cockatoos, cockatiels, budgerigars/parakeets, lovebirds, African grays, amazons, macaws and lories and lorikeets. They all have rounded bodies with short legs, broad rounded wings, powerful hooked bills, and strong feet with thick, curved claws that (with the help of the bill) are well-suited for climbing.
Passerines are the “perching” birds: the various canaries, finches, sparrows, mynas and over half of the known living bird species, many of which are known for their singing abilities. The distinctive characteristics of the passerines are their relatively small beaks and feet with thin, sharp claws that are adapted for perching.
Choosing A Cage
Cages and accessories for birds can be quite elaborate, however the most important feature for allergy sufferers is that they are easy to clean and disinfect. Since many birds love to climb and to chew, stainless steel cages are best because they’re virtually indestructible. Birds have vastly different space needs, so be certain that the cage you choose is large enough for your bird or birds to stretch their wings without touching the sides and to move freely about without being obstructed in any way. A cage with a removable floor tray will facilitate the cleaning of bird droppings once a day. Line the cage floor with thick paper and tape it down to make cleaning easier.
Place the cage in an area where it can’t be tipped over and where it is away from direct sunlight, drafts or sudden temperature changes, and fumes or other odors – the polytetrafluoroethylene gas emitted from overheated cookware coated with Teflon, Silverstone and some other non-stick pans, for instance, can be fatal to birds.
Because of the amount of feather dust that can circulate in the air, the cage should not be placed in the bedroom of an allergic person. Since so much time is spent in the bedroom, that area should be as allergen-free as possible. Also, do make sure that any cats or dogs in the house cannot thrust their paws or noses into the cage or otherwise gain access to it and injure the bird.
Remember, too, that the area around the cage will become soiled by food and droppings. Many birds are also very sloppy when they bathe and splash drops of water outside the cage. You can protect your carpets to a great extent by standing the cage on a sheet of plastic.
Cleaning The Cage
The major bird allergen is derived from the powdery-like feather dust which collects in and around the cage, and which also circulates through the house. Feather dust, especially from Cockatoos and Cockatiels, builds up very rapidly in the room that contains the bird cage. Droppings that have dried in the bottom of the cage are another source of dust. Birds digest their food quickly and create a great deal of waste matter. It is estimated that most birds have between 25 and 50 eliminations per day!
Whenever possible, the cleaning should be performed by someone other than the allergic person; otherwise the allergy sufferer should wear a protective mask to prevent breathing in the feather dust. To help keep the feather dust and droppings from building up, drying out and becoming airborne, change the papers on the bottom of the cage at least once a day. Vacuum around the cage area to pick up any debris, loose feathers or spilled seed husks that the birds has scattered about. Use a damp sponge to wipe over the washable surfaces, and a damp mop on wood floors; this will collect and hold the powder and keep it out of circulation. Rags, feather dusters and brooms are not only ineffective but will actually intensify the problem. Another effective way to decrease the build-up of dust is to install an air purifier in the room where the bird is kept. HEPA main filters in room air cleaners will not last as long when a bird is present, so make sure you change the filter more often than the manufacturer recommends.
Once a week, the cage, floor tray and all accessories (perches, toys, swings, mirrors, ladders, chains, etc.) need a routine cleaning. A more thorough cleaning is necessary about once a month. Before doing this, you must move the bird and put it in a traveling cage or other container with plenty of air holes. Everything should be scrubbed with a firm brush in hot soapy water, disinfected (experts recommend a 20 minute soaking in a dilution of 4 ounces of Clorox per gallon of water), rinsed and dried thoroughly before putting the bird back inside. If the perches are made of wood, it’s smart to have an additional set; wood takes a long time to try and a bird’s feet can become irritated by standing on a wet perch (and by standing in fecal matter as well).
Sanitary Procedures For Dispensing Food & Water
Fresh food and water, in clean containers, should be available at all times. Pet stores sell basic bird seed and water containers with special clamps that attach to the cage bars, as well as heavy earthenware dishes for serving fruits, greens and other food. Be sure to place the dishes away from the bird’s perch or else they will become contaminated by droppings.
Once a day, pick up all leftover seeds, fruit, greens or other uneaten food. Spoiled food, along with stale droppings and feather dust, can be sources of bacteria, fungi, viruses and molds, all potential dangers to your bird’s and, more importantly, your health. Wash all containers in hot, soapy water, rinse and dry thoroughly before refilling.
Care And Grooming
Birds usually keep themselves fairly clean. Most will preen or thoroughly clean their feathers – even very long tail feathers when present – by pulling them, one at a time, through their bills. Some birds will artfully twist and contort themselves so their bills reach all body parts except their heads, napes and throats. In addition to grooming the plumage, birds also spread oil from their preen gland, located near the base of the tail, onto their feathers to help waterproof them.
Physically and emotionally healthy birds spend a great deal of time preening. After the preening sessions (as well as after sleeping), birds will raise their feathers and shake them vigorously to align their plumage into proper order. Unfortunately for allergy sufferers, the twisting and rubbing movements of the head and bill during preening, and the shaking of the feathers can cause a great deal of feather dust to be released into the environment. Birds whose plumage contains powder-down feathers produce significant amounts of dust when their feather tips disintegrate into a fine, white powder, which is so minute that it quickly circulates throughout the house.
All birds molt regularly, gradually replacing their old worn-out feathers with new ones. Molting varies among species: some birds molt continually year-round while others molt once a year. A variety of factors, including time of year, locality, temperature, humidity, diet, sex and laying eggs, influence the molting cycle. It’s normal to find feathers in the bottom of the cage every now and then, but excessive molting and bare skin patches may be a sign of illness. Check with your veterinarian about this, as well as about any periodic trimming of the nails, beak and wings that is necessary.
Bathing is an extremely satisfying activity for birds and they enjoy baths or showers a few times a week. It helps them – especially Cockatoos and Cockatiels, get rid of excessive feather dust. It also helps keep the skin and feathers in good condition and, more importantly for allergy sufferers, it helps to reduce the accumulation of feather dust. The best time to give your bird a bath is immediately before you clean its cage and re-paper the bottom, because the floor covering will undoubtedly get wet and need to be changed. If it’s cold outside, be sure the room is warm – at least 75° degrees F. (23.8° C.) – and draft-free. It’s a good idea to schedule the bath during the morning or afternoon, so that your bird’s feathers are totally dry before bedtime.
Canaries, lovebirds, mynas, and other small birds love wriggling around in containers filled with water. Pet stores sell special bathing cups that clip onto the cage door, or you can simply place a shallow (to prevent drowning) dish on the cage bottom. Fill the container with tepid water, let your bird go in and splash around as much as it wants. Most birds will hop out, shake their feathers and plunge back in again, chirping with delight.
Medium-sized and large hookbills adore “showers,” or a light misting of water from a spray bottle, a couple of times a week, especially on warm days. Fill a clean spray bottle or plant mister with fresh, tepid water. Set the nozzle for the finest mist possible. Hold the bottle about 12 to 15 inches away – don’t point it directly at the bird. Instead, spray into the air above the bird, letting the water drizzle down like raindrops. Some birds may be apprehensive of the sprayer to begin with but in time become so enthusiastic about their showers that they vocalize a lot at the sight of the bottle.
Instead of a plain water bath, another way for allergy sufferers to control the amount of powder that is scattered into the atmosphere, especially for Cockatoos and Cockatiels, is to lightly mist Allerpet Pet Dander Remover™ onto the bird’s feathers every 2 or 3 days, spraying away from the head and towards the tail. Allerpet will help to condition and add gloss to the bird’s feathers. Allow the plumage to dry naturally or dry with a hair dryer (warm, not hot). Keep the bird away from drafts until completely dry.