Birds As Pets
Sanitation and Feeding
Sanitation and diet are the most important items in the care of birds, as in the care of all pets. Droppings should be removed frequently from the cage. This is easy enough for small birds kept in individual cages. Many of these cages have a removable tray on the bottom which may be taken out and washed. Where there is no such tray, a newspaper sprinkled with sand may be used and removed daily. In the case of pigeons and doves, birds kept in populous cotes, sanitation is more of a problem, but its neglect may result in widespread disease.
Food and water should be kept fresh and clean. Semicovered trays are best so that the birds do not walk or defecate in them. Food should not be allowed to stay in the cage long enough to become sour.
There is no one food that is satisfactory for all kinds of birds any more than one kind of food can be fed to all four-legged pets. By nature some birds live on foods of vegetable origin only, while others feed largely on insects as well as vegetable matter. An owner should keep the natural requirements of his pet in mind. Parrots, parakeets, all members of the psittacine family are herbivorous; canaries, linnets, crows are omnivorous.
There are a number of commercial bird foods which offer a wide variety of seeds. They should be given in fairly small quantities so that the bird does not eat only the type it likes best and ignore the others which would give a more rounded diet. But it must be remembered that all birds will not eat all kinds of seed. Besides the commercial foods, some supplementary feeding is necessary.
Parrots are great fruit eaters, and bits of banana, apple, grape should be added to their diet. Raw peanuts, cereals, carrots, and turnips are also good, as is toast, cooked rice or potato, and oatmeal porridge.
Canaries need more protein than is available from seed alone, especially when breeding. Mashed hard-boiled egg is excellent, but should be given in very small amounts. The shell may be mashed with the egg, and some experts mix in a little alfalfa-leaf meal and add a drop of percomorph oil. Bread soaked in milk may also be given.
Most birds need something to peck at to keep their beaks in condition. Cuttlebone is good for small birds. For parrots a bit of mortar or soft wood will serve.
Breeding and Other Care
If the bird is to breed, the owner should consider its natural habits when furnishing space and material for nesting. The wild canary builds high in trees, in fairly open places, exposed to light. Parakeets nest in hollow trees, in the dark. Canaries like a nest of dried grass and string, perhaps padded with cotton. Parakeets use only the bare floor of the nest. Caged birds should be given a chance to duplicate their natural nests as nearly as possible.
Only the male canary sings, but he should sing when given a rounded diet and when not molting. The introduction of a mate, or listening to another male that does sing, will usually start the silent bird going. It has also been found that if the hours of light to which the bird is exposed are increased gradually (an extra hour each day for a week, then an hour and a half to two hours daily the second week), the bird may start singing. Occasionally, however, there is a male that will not sing under any conditions.
It is as natural for a bird to molt as for a mammal to shed its hair, but occasionally a bird will begin to pluck out its own feathers. This may sometimes be due to lice, but more likely it results from sheer boredom. If the bird is given more exercise and if the temperature of the room where it is kept is reduced, the practice usually stops. If possible, every bird should be given a cage large enough to allow it to make short flights. For this reason square or oblong cages are preferable to round ones. Though a bird may be kept healthy in a small cage, exercise is beneficial for it, as for all animals.
Disease in birds may be caused by bacteria, parasites, virus, fungus, and dietary deficiencies, just as with other pets. The symptoms of many of these are so similar that even the trained veterinarian may have difficulty in determining the exact cause of illness. It is always best to isolate the sick bird immediately and take thorough sanitary precautions, removing from the reach of other birds all its droppings and any food or water it may have touched.