The correct care for your feathered pets


There are many avian species that are successfully kept as pets around the world, with the parrot and canary families being particularly popular. A critical component of good husbandry is the feeding of an appropriate diet to your bird.

The following points will help you make the right choices:

Do not perpetuate the myth that birds of the parrot family can survive on seeds alone. Many parrots will feed on seed only despite a variety of foods being offered, but a seed is very high in fat and low in many nutrients that your parrot really needs. We all know children who would eat sweets only despite a balanced diet being available! Commercially produced pellets are recommended, as these provide a better-balanced diet for birds of the parrot family. It is advisable to supplement fresh vegetables, a little fruit as a treat, a little seed and some nuts. A small amount of pasta, cheese or whole wheat bread can also be given.

Chocolates and caffeine should be avoided completely, as should avocado and the seeds of the most commercially available fruit. Birds would never drink milk in the wild, and dairy products with high lactose levels will cause diarrhoea. These should be avoided. Cheese and yoghurt in moderation can be beneficial, by providing a good source of calcium.

Sprouted seeds have a lower oil content and provide better nutrition for a bird than dry seeds. Seeds should be rinsed in fresh water and soaked overnight before being placed under a lamp, with paper towelling to keep them moist. The seeds should sprout within a couple of days, after which they can be rinsed and stored in the refrigerator.


Wing clipping is the process of removing feathers on either one or both wings to hinder the bird’s ability to fly. This can be dangerous as it leads to a loss of control in flight, which could result in injuries to the wings or sternum of the bird during a crash landing. For this reason, some veterinarians prefer clipping both wings to allow for better control during flight, but a lighter bird may still be able to fly. It is very important that you do NOT just cut across the primary feathers, as this may cause feather plucking. It is recommended that you speak to your veterinarian who can recommend the most appropriate form of clipping for the type of bird that you keep.



If a bird is allowed out of its cage, it will inevitably want to explore its environment and this puts it at risk of being injured. Clipped wings may still allow the bird some measure of flight, and will reduce the degree of control that the bird was in flight. Often these birds will fly into closed windows or ceiling fans and sustain serious injury.

Lack of water

The metabolic rate of a bird is much faster than that of dogs and cats, and the water requirement is relatively high. Water bottle malfunctions are common, and birds wanting to bathe may empty a water bowl. This is a common cause of death in pet parrots, and owners should be particularly vigilant in this regard.

Smoke/toxic fumes

Birds do not make good pets in homes where people smoke!! The passive inhalation of cigarette smoke is known to cause respiratory disease, irritation of the skin, and chronic eye problems. These predispose the birds to develop secondary bacterial infections that may prove fatal. Many common household cleaning agents release fumes with a similar effect, and care should be taken when using these products in the immediate vicinity of a pet bird.

Toxic plants

It is important to provide a pet bird with toys and branches on which it can exercise its chewing muscles, and these provide a source of enrichment as well, thus serving to keep the bird occupied. It is widely believed that this helps to prevent birds from developing into chronic “feather pluckers”. However due care should be taken not to provide toxic plants like oleander, which is extremely toxic to most domestic pets. Bluegum branches with leaves serve the purpose well.

Diseases contracted from the owner

There are various organisms that can be transferred from people to pet birds with very serious consequences for the pet, and the primary mode of transmission is kissing the bird and allowing contact with the owner’s teeth, lips or saliva. Whilst many pet birds love a cuddle with their owners, due care should be taken to prevent contact between mouth and beak.

Heat stress

Remember that a bird’s metabolic rate is relatively high, and this makes them susceptible to high temperatures. Be careful not to place a bird’s cage near a window if the bird will not be able to escape the direct sunlight.

Feather plucking

In some instances a wing clip may result in the remnants of the feather shaft causing irritation to the bird, resulting in biting at the feather and subsequent plucking thereof. Bacterial infections of the feather follicle may produce similar results, as may the presence of skin parasites.

Pet birds, especially African Grey Parrots and certain cockatoo species, are often presented looking more like a plucked chicken than a beautiful parrot. The causes of this syndrome are multi-factorial and extremely varied in nature, and it remains one of the most difficult conditions to treat.

In many instances, the problem is behavioural, rather than a manifestation of a disease. One should remember that birds are generally highly social creatures, and many do not fare well being raised in isolation.

A pet bird raised in the company of another bird is less likely to pluck its feathers. Parrots are often raised individually as a “child” in a family, and this frequently results in the plucking of feathers. It has been suggested that a parrot will bond very closely with one of the owners, usually but not always with an owner of the opposite sex. When one observes a pair of birds in the wild one can’t help but notice the intimate relationship between these creatures as they live together in an almost inseparable partnership. A pet parrot will often expect the same from its owner and will become angry and frustrated when the owner pays attention to someone else in the family. This can be manifested through aggressive physical attacks, loud screeching or excessive grooming, leading to feather plucking. Owners are recommended to seek veterinary advice under such circumstances.