Dani's Pet Bird Care and Safety Tips and Information.

I have attempted to create an easy, printable reference for anyone owning or planning to own a hookbill. Hookbills are parrot and parrot type birds, including, but not limited to, Parakeets (Budgies), Cockatiels, Lovebirds, Cockatoos, Amazons and McCaws. This is not complete information and I urge everyone to visit their library, especially the magazine section back issues, you are sure to find a wealth of information. The internet can also be a great source, but be careful, I've also found quite a bit of misinformation. Lastly, I am not a vet. If your bird seems to be ill, contact your closest vet who can help you find an avian vet in your area.

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"Which bird for me?"
  • Only you can answer this question but I do suggest you start small. A Cockatiel is my favorite pick for beginners. They can talk, are very affection and gentle and can be taught some simple tricks. And, with proper care, they can live upwards of 15 years. But no matter which bird you pick it may be better to get one that has been handfed though it doesn't need to be a baby. Budgies are the exception, it's too difficult to hand feed them and they are very easy to tame if started young. I have had some good results with older, wild or aggresive birds. In fact both my cockatoos were wild caught and are now as tame as hand-fed. Though I don't usually suggest wild-caught as it's too hard to even verify if they were legally imported. The black market in wild-caught birds is a horrible crime and the animals can suffer cruely. Be careful.
    BUT..before you consider a larger bird, please consider, re-consider and then think about it some more. Large birds are often for your lifetime and beyond. My Goffin Cockatoo, Luna, is now well over 20 years old and doesn't show any signs of aging. In fact, his mate, Sophie, who is close to 20, just became reproductively mature a couple of years ago. (BTW, I won't be allowing my birds to have babies.)
    Anyway, being past 40, I've now begun to consider and plan for what will happen to them when I'm gone. I'm lucky, Luna is not a one person bird, he loves everyone and both my birds are very healthy and beautiful so finding another home, if the time comes, I hope won't be much of a worry. But there are now hundreds of rescues all over the country packed with unwanted parrots. Birds are not toys, if you bring a bird into your life, plan to pay extra and look longer for places that will accept them when you need to move don't plan to get rid of them with an ad in the paper.

    Well, enough of my lecture....on to more info....

    "What kind of cage should I use?"
  • This will depend on the size of the bird. Be sure the bars will not allow the bird's head through. Horizontal bars are best as it is easier for the birds to climb and get exercise. Stay away from wrought iron as many of these are imported and may contain lead in the paint. You can built your own, at a MUCH reduced cost, but you will need to do research as some wires can oxidize and poison your bird if he chews the wire. Other wires are welded with lead (DEADLY!).

    "What should I feed my bird?"
  • This is probably the most important area. This can make the difference between a bird that lives 5 years to one that lives 50! It's time to throw out the bird seed. Much research has been done on hookbill nutrition in the past couple of decades and feeding a seed only diet has been proven to be inadequate, even dangerous. Your bird's diet should consist of about 70% pelleted diet and the rest made up of healthy "people" foods. Vegetables (canned, fresh or frozen), grains and meats are all good. Pay close attention to the sections "What should I NOT feed my bird?", and "What foods should be fed in limited amounts?".

    New info for 2007
    Okay, since I first wrote this site in the late 90's, I've changed my mind a good deal on seed. I've moved away from processed foods for my whole human and non-human family, and moved toward more whole natural foods. Seeds can be a healthy part of a pet birds diet. But buying the best, freshest seeds and a blend that is mixed for your type of bird is vitally important. Seeds die over time and where and how they are grown makes a big difference in their quality. If you can find seed mixes grown in California (they have the most stringent food growing guidelines in the US and use the least amount of pesticides) you'll be doing your birds a big favor. Now I feed my birds about 1/3 seed, 1/3 fresh veggies, greens, fruit with other human type foods, and 1/3 pellets. I've also become very cautious about using soy so I look for bird pellets that are organic and contain no or very limited soy products.
    For more on soy health issues, for people and animals, try an internet search on The Dangers Of Soy.

    "What foods should be fed in limited amounts?"
  • Any "people" foods that should be limited for people too. Birds have a much higher metabolism than people so are much less tolerant of chemicals, preservatives, etc. Birds love snack foods, but foods with a lot of fat, sugar or salt should only be given very rarely and in very tiny amounts if at all. Soda pop, dairy products and coffee; my birds love these, but only get a tiny taste and only on rare occasions. Fruits are full of sugar, so, though healthy in small amounts should not make up a larger portion of the diet. Lories and Lorikeets are the exception here as they are necter eaters, but their diet is very specialized so again, do lots of homework if you decide on a Lory.

    Seeds can be a great treat but only in small amounts as birds prefer seeds and can quickly start to refuse the better foods, so don't set yourself up for problems. NEVER use wild bird seed, they are grown and packaged under different guidelines than pet bird seed so tend to have much higher levels of pesticides, they also have higher levels of other contaminants and are less likely to be fresh. The nutrients in seeds fades as it ages, so even if you insist on feeding seed make sure it is fresh and doesn't contain insects like meal moths. There have been some questions raised about broccoli and onions so be careful.

    New info for 2007
    I have totally removed trans fats from all foods in my home, this goes right along with using whole and natural foods. I don't worry as much about sugars and fats as long as they are natural. Instead of cheap processed sugar I buy organic evaporated cane juice which I find at my local Food Co Op, many grocery stores now have it but at a higher price. This is more nutritious than white sugar. And it actually tastes better and can be used in place of white sugar in any recipe. Also, you won't find vegetable type clear cooking oils, shortening or margarine in my home. You will find plenty of grass-fed organic butter and palm and coconut oils. And you'll find lots of organic and natural meats, poultry, and whole dairy products.
    For more info about the health benefits of natural fats try an internet search on Health Benefits Of Saturated Fats also try looking up Mary Enig and Sally Fallon. They've done a lot of wonderful research and they could help change the way you eat.

    "What foods should never be fed to my bird?"
  • Avocado, chocolate and alcohol (including beer and wine) have all proven to be toxic to birds, NEVER give your bird these items.

    Meats that are old or even slightly undercooked. Although some meat, especially poultry, like chicken, is good for birds be very careful. Also make sure you stay away from your birds if you have any fresh poultry juices on your hands, keep your birds away from counters that you've used for preparing poultry and other fresh meats. It has been said that much of the bacteria and viruses carried by fresh poultry is destroyed if frozen. I only purchase frozen chicken, this is also protection for the rest of my family.

    The outside of fruits and vegetables; I pare down all of these to the bare flesh due to the difficulty of removing pesticides and other chemicals. I even peel grapes and pare down strawberries, I then rinse them some more. This is very important, one unwashed piece of strawberry can kill even a large bird, it has happened!!

    All seeds and pits; Apple and some other fruit seeds contain deadly poisons, though in small amounts. Some pits like peach pits are also toxic. To be safe never allow your bird to have any of these. Strawberry and raspberry seeds are ok but again, you want to pare these down anyway.

    New info for 2007
    I now only give my birds organic or home grown produce. When I buy organic I still rinse thoroughly, due to e coli and other pathogens, but I don't have to pare it down. When I give them homegrown, I don't bother to rinse. I've learned recently that it's good for the immune system (for all animals and people too) to encounter some bacteria and germs. When I take my birds into the yard (wings checked and trimmed if necessary of course) they usually start digging and eating dirt. Previously, I wondered and worried about this behavior. I don't any longer. They seem to know by instinct what their bodies need. But, I only let this happen in my own yard because I never use any chemicals such as herbicides, pesticides or fertilizers and I know which plants and trees are toxic and keep my birds away from them. You may want to think again about trying to keep your children sanatized, several chronic illnesses, such as asthma have been linked to under developed immune systems. The huge rise in asthma runs along the same time line that people have become germ phobic. It's quite telling that children raised on farms rarely get asthma.
    For more info on this subject try an internet search for The Hygiene Hypothesis.

    "Are there other poisons or toxins in my house?"
  • There are many hazards to birds in every house; Your mouth tops my list. Yes, people carry an incredible amount of bacteria in their mouths! If autopsies were done on all the mysterious pet bird deaths I think the results would be shocking, many of these would have been directly due to letting a bird come in contact with human saliva!! Keep your bird away from your mouth and don't feed them from the same silverware. DRY kisses on the head and beak should be okay. I cringe when I see so many birds eating from their owners mouths on "America's Funniest Pets".

    House plants are next on my list. Never let your bird near your plants unless you are positive they are safe, of course even if they are safe for your bird your bird is not safe for them! It is difficult to determine the toxcicity of plants so be careful!

    Teflon and all non-stick coatings are hazerdous if over-heated. They produce toxic gasses that WILL kill your birds. People have lost whole housefulls of birds, and this is not rare, it's happened over and over!! Teflon can be found on frying pans, stove drip pans, broiler pans, cookie sheets, etc. so to be safe keep these out of your home!! Feeding your birds food that has been cooked on teflon is probably safe, as long as there is no scratches or flaking of the teflon. Something to think about; If teflon gasses kill birds, and FAST, what may they be doing to your family?

    Lead is another frequent hazard. It can be found in house paints, art paints and products, stained or leaded windows, even in bird toys! Some small bird toys are made in other countries and can contain lead weights or paints. I give my Cockatoos infant toys like plastic keys. I also buy bird toys from reputable companies that are based in this country. There are many hidden sources of lead; I read where a woman lost her bird after it chewed on a pull cord from a lamp that contained lead. BE CAREFUL!!

    Wood can be toxic. Some woods are naturally toxic, some have been treated or stained with toxic chemicals. If you want to give your bird natural perches or chews make sure they are safe. Apple and manzanita are safe woods. You can purchase manzanita from pet stores. I look for old apple trees to use for my birds but I make ABSOLUTELY sure they have not been sprayed with pesticides. Also choose trees that are away from roads, automobile exhausts can build up in the soil and poison the wood.

    Any air-borne chemicals like spray disinfectants and air fresheners can do serious harm to your bird's lungs. To be safe never spray ANYTHING into the air near your birds. Start reading your household product warnings, you'll do your family a favor if you stay away from any chemicals that mix with the air. Use liquid cleaners that mix with water rather than spray cleaners. Cigarette smoke falls in this catagory, it can cause the same problems in birds as in humans, only much quicker! REMEMBER, anything that comes in either aerosol or pump spray can be toxic to your birds and is probably not a healthy addition to your lungs either!

    Fumes like bleach are also a problem. If you can smell it your birds shouldn't! Even a self-cleaning oven can prove dangerous.

  • I'm also careful when taking my birds outside. Since I feed wild birds I keep my pets away from areas where the wild birds frequent as wild birds (and domestic poultry) can carry a lot of diseases and parasites that are easily transmitted to my pets.

    "How do I trim my bird's wing or flight feathers and nails?"
  • Many people I know take their birds to a vet or pet store to get their nails/claws and wings trimmed. I've always trimmed my own birds but used to do it with them wrapped up in towel. That's still the usual way. But several years ago I started working with my older bird and using a pair of sissors I would slowly, patiently and carefully clip one feather then tell him how wonderful he was and give him a sunflower. Both he and my female Goffin cockatoo now actually hold their wings in the air while I trim away! In fact, as soon as they see the sissors they pop their wings up! Nails are a little trickier. I put them on their perch, hold one toe gently but firmly, and using a pair of human nail clippers I take off just the sharp point. You need to be careful and it's important to keep something like a styptic pencil near by in case of cutting too close and causing bleeding. Some regular wheat flour, packed into the nail, can help in a pinch. Both my birds chew on my fingers a tiny bit as I do this but never too hard. After each little nail I give them lots of praise and a sunflower seed. It usually takes several tries and a lot of patience when trimming their nails. But it's so much better and less stressful for me and my birds to do it this way.

    Once again; Birds have a much higher metabolism than humans, a tiny bit for you is a huge dose to them. When you wash their dishes, your hands etc., rinse everything VERY thoroughly to remove all traces of soap, even rinse dishes out of your dishwasher. Whether or not your birds don't show symptoms immediately you are still greatly increasing their chances for disease and cancer later in their life. Protect your bird AND your family!

    New info for 2007

    My other pages.

    Luna's page.
    Go to Luna's page.

    If you have any questions about birds, please try searching on Google. There is a vast amount of info now available on the net.