Keeping Cage Birds
Small cage-birds like budgerigars and canaries make ideal pets and can provide great companionship for their owners. We do not generally advise keeping larger psittasine birds like parrots and cockatiels or specialist birds such as finches as pets as they frequently suffer stress and behavioural disorders and are better suited to living in larger aviaries.
Small cage-birds can be kept in groups or individually but if kept on their own they require frequent inter-reaction with their owners or they will become stressed and bored. Most cage-birds will bond with their owners and relish companionship. The classical budgie cage is fine but most birds will welcome the opportunity to fly free indoors and will return to the cage. A variety of perches should be provided in the cage but the ubiquitous wooden doweling and plastic perches are best avoided as is sand paper on the perch as this is very abrasive to feet.
The best perches are home-made from tree branches as these provide a natural environment and being of varying thickness, allow the birds to exercise their feet. Fruit trees are best and ash, elm and willow are also suitable but the bark of some trees may be poisonous to birds if they peck on it. Best of all, natural perches are free, can be discarded when soiled and you simply start again.
Cages should be enriched with toys and objects such as swings, bells and mirrors. Most bird cages have a litter tray that can be removed from the outside and this should be lined with paper and soft sand - hard sandpaper should again be avoided. Cages should be kept away from windows and radiators, and are best covered at night. Avoid placing cages in kitchens as fumes from non-stick pans can be toxic. Most birds also appreciate a sand bath and a light, daily spray with water.
Budgies and canaries are best fed on a commercially available branded seed. Avoid loose seed bought from pet shops as this is likely to be of poorer quality and kept in unsuitable conditions. Branded seeds will also have added essential minerals and vitamins to keep your birds healthy. A fresh millet spray is appreciated by both budgies and canaries. Seed eating birds also need grit to help them digest their food and fresh water should be provided at all times. Most bird cages are fitted with plastic trays for water, seed and grit which can be filled from the outside.
Most small cage birds are not sexually dimorphic so it is difficult to tell males and females apart but male budgerigars usually have a blue cere (the skin above the beak) while in females this is brown. We can do a simple DNA test on a feather to find the sex of any bird.
The majority of disorders in cage birds are due to environmental factors such as incorrect housing, boredom or unsuitable diet. Some birds will pluck their feathers due to boredom and this can be difficult to stop once started but feather problems should be investigated as these are commonly caused by parasites. Overgrown nails and beaks are common but correct perches will minimise these. However, once they start to overgrow they usually need regular trimming. This is something best performed by a vet to avoid cutting too short.
Because birds are flock animals, and signs of weakness may be picked on by other members of the flock, they are good at hiding signs of illness until they are very advanced. Small birds frequently suffer from respiratory diseases which may be rapidly fatal if not treated promptly. Diarrhoea is also common due to intestinal parasites and incorrect feeding. Normal faeces should be white, surrounded by black or dark green. Any other colours may indicate a problem. Birds do not pass liquid urine.
Females will commonly lay eggs but these of course will not hatch unless birds are kept in mixed-sex pairs. Eggs are best removed from the cage. If the laying is continuous it is best to seek the advice of the vet. Occasionally a female may become egg-bound and this is a medical emergency.
St Martins Veterinary Clinic
126 Station Road
Tel.: 01895 444400
Fax: 01895 431520
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