The correct Beginning:
When starting with a baby bird (chick) it is extremely important to interact with the baby, as you will be doing throughout its life. This means that you spend the time with the cute little baby that you will have to spend with the adult bird. Many behavior problems are thought to arise from a well-meaning owner spending every minute of his/her spare time with their new adorable baby and allowing them to rule the house. Problems arise when the bird becomes an adult and suddenly is no longer the center of attention.
I encourage my clients to start from the first day by establishing a routine for their interaction with their new bird. This should be a routine with which they will be able to follow throughout the bird’s life. For instance, I recommend not rushing to the bird’s cage the instant you come home because this teaches the bird to expect immediate attention every time you walk in the door. You want the bird to be comfortable both with and without your constant presence. A well-adjusted bird will play happily in its cage as well as with you.
Also, start from the beginning by introducing new objects into their environment such as toys and exposing them to new people and situations. This helps to desensitize the bird to change later in life.
To fly or not to fly:
Some avian experts believe that in order for a chick to grow into a confidant adult they need to learn to fly. Flying not only builds muscle, but the bird also learns to navigate and seems to promote balance and the development of confidence. This method utilized a delayed wing trim on young birds. The bird is allowed to fledge out and learn to fly. I recommend teaching your bird to come to you on cue at this point or you’ll be forever retrieving them form topmost areas of your house. Once the bird has gained a good flying ability the outer few primary wing feathers are gradually clipped until the bird is no longer able to gain lift. I do believe that this result in a better emotionally developed bird, but if you decide to utilize this method of raising your bird you must understand the inherent danger. Young birds will have no navigation ability and will fly into walls and windows to they should only be allowed to fly in a "safe" room and they should be kept out of kitchens and bathrooms – full of dangers to the young flier. Of course, the primary danger is that your bird could escape the house and be forever lost. For that reason, I don’t recommend this method is young children are in the house (it is just about impossible to always watch for the open doors). And this is another reason the bird should be taught to fly to you on command early in life, but realize that a scarred young bird that escapes the house may be long gone before you can call the baby back.
Enrich the environment:
Because we want our birds to be content in their cage during the times that we cannot interact with them, it is important that the cage be a fun place to be and not a prison. Enriching the environment means providing distractions for your bird in many different ways.
Toys are an essential part of your bird’s life. I recommend keeping a toy box and rotating through several toys on a weekly basis to prevent boredom. Of course the toys must be bird safe. This means that they must have lead and zinc free paint and not have areas where the bird can get toes or tongue entrapped. Birds can hang themselves so the diameter of rings is important and should be either too small to allow a head through or very large to prevent entrapment. The type of material used in the toys is also noteworthy. The new acrylic toys are pretty and last forever, but aren’t always the best choice. Birds are chewers by nature and should have toys that they can demolish. I like the new wood toy boxes that are available at the national chain pet stores. These boxes have various shaped wood toys stained with vegetable dyes. The advantage is not only the chew ability, but also the ability of the bird to pick up the toy and hold it. These types of toys often prove satisfying to cockatoos that like to demolish their perches. Other toys I’ve found useful for our intelligent friends are the toys that the birds have to learn to use. These are toys built so that the bird has to do something to get to a treat or to make the object move. The more "mechanical" driven birds that like to find new ways of opening their cage door often love this type of toy.
Older birds that have not been exposed to any variety in their lives may originally be frightened by the introduction of toys. The best way to get around this is to do a very gradual introduction. I like to start by just placing the object in the room and gradually moving it closer to the cage until the bird is accustomed enough to allow introduction into the cage. The most important thing is to not give up. These older birds will benefit from environmental enrichment just as much as the babies.
Perches: Birds require a variety in size, shape and texture of perches. Birds rest their feet by changing what they are perching on and those individuals that are not allowed variety are often subject to foot sores. The hardwood perches are virtually indestructible but should not be the only type of perch. If you have unsprayed trees in your yard, a few dried natural branches are often the best choice. Having one cement perch in the cage allows the bird to polish its beak by rubbing the beak on the perch to remove the outer dead layer of cells. Another good choice is a rope perch. I especially like these perches for the new clumsy baby birds such as Amazons and African Greys, because they allow the bird to get a good grip on the perch. Caution should be used with these perches though because if chewed on strings can be released that can entrap a birds foot. Throw out the chewed on rope perch. So, the most important thing is to provide your bird with a variety of perches to keep your friend happy and healthy.
Location of Cage:
As I stated, I believe it is important to get a baby used to change so that they don’t become an adult bird that suddenly plucks out all its feathers when they cage is moved. Having said that, there are some dos and don’ts regarding the placement of the cage.
- Place the cage directly in front of a window, which is subject to dramatic temperature shifts and also doesn’t allow the bird to escape the view.
- Place the cage directly in line with a heat or ac vent
- Place the cage in a kitchens or bathroom. Kitchens have large variations in temperature and toxins can be inhaled from non-stick cookware and from self-cleaning ovens. If kept in a bathroom the bird is likely to be exposed to aerosolized products that can also be irritating and toxic to their air sacs.
- Place the cage in the center of activity for the house. This can result in a stressed and sleep deprived bird.
- Place the cage in an area of the house where the bird can see and interact with the family.
- Place the cage in an area with a partial view out a window so that bird can escape from unwanted/frightening views.
Further Caging Options:
I like to have a night cage in another room. This allows the bird to be placed in the sleep cage at the same time nightly, preventing sleep deprivation. Ideally, the room should be one that is quiet and dark after dusk.
In warm areas of the US it is also nice to have a sun cage for your bird. This is an outdoor enclosure where your bird can be safely placed on nice days to allow further environmental stimulation and sunbathing. The enclosure should have a solid roof to prevent contact with wild bird droppings and should have at least one shady area.
Please realize that my discussion involved how to make the cage an enjoyable and safe place for your bird and it did NOT give the option of not using a cage. All birds should be caged when you are not able to directly supervise them. An unsupervised bird will chew anything in reach (even items containing toxins such as lead and zinc), will roam the house and can be stepped on or injured by other family members and pets, and will ingest items that are unsafe. Remember, our goal is to make the care a happy and safe place for your pet. Allowing a bird to roam the house is like allowing a toddler to roam unsupervised, it can only lead to problems.