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Keeping your bird in fine feather.


I was once the doctor to aparakeet named Tweety that belonged to a chronically ill child. Tweety was a delightful, very vocal bird. He could repeat his owner's name and say hello, good-by, and many phrases. In fact, he was just the right companion for a little girl who often stayed home from school ill.

Birds have long been popularas pets, and in recent years the demand for exotic species has been rising. Veterinarins are even having to brush up on their bird care to meet the new demand.

Parakeets, or budgies, arestill the most popular and the least expensive of the parrot clan, followed by colorful lovebirds, cockatoos, and cockateels. The Amazon parrot, large and green, with a stout body and a square tail, is a favorite in pet shops, and so is the African grey, an excellent talker. Some people even find room in their homes for macaws, the largest of all parrots. Other commonly kept birds include the half-moon conure, the myna bird, the toucan, singing canaries, and various kinds of finches.

The unique ability of some birds tomimic speech has endeared them to human beings. Cockateels, Amazons, African greys, macaws, and mynas are the most facile talkers. The little parakeet can become an accomplished talker too, but I have known only a few with large vocabularies.

Talking birds do not really understandwhat they say. If their words seem to fit their actions (or yours), it is merely the result of conditioning. A bird is more likely to talk if removed early (at about six weeks) from other birds and raised solely in the presence of humans. In a relaxed environment, the young bird may attempt to imitate your repeated words or phrases. Of course, like the embarrassed parents of a toddler who repeats four-letter words, you may be creating your own monster.

To flourish and become ideal pets,birds must have a pleasant environment. Here, common sense should prevail. You should not set the birdcage directly in front of the air conditioner or in a cold, drafty area. Nor should you place a bird for too long in direct sunlight. (Birds need some sunlight as a source of vitamin D.sub.3., but too much exposure can cause heatstroke.) A moderate temperature and 40 to 50 percent humidity is appropriate for most birds. However, a healthy, well nourished bird can tolerate greater environmental extremes than a distressed or an ill bird.

Dr. T.J. Lafeber, a world-renownedbird-care authority, says birds become accustomed to the "status quo" routine and to a very organized life. A variation in routine can cause frustration and stress. He recommends that a bird's cage be located in an area that provides the greatest socialization--in most homes, the recreation room or the breakfast nook.

Pet birds generally requirethe same duration of light and dark that occurs in a natural day. In summer, a bird should have about 8 hours of darkness, and in winter, about 12 hours. You can control the light with a heavy cage cover. And birds are affected by noise, too. A bird kept up to all hours by a teen-ager's hardrock radio station or by the blast of the television will be cranky the next morning, and it will suffer stress similar to that of parents under those conditions.

A birdcage should be largeenough for a bird to extend its wings without touching the sides, and perches should be arranged so the bird's tail will not hit the rear of the cage. Cage papers (newspaper is O.K.) should be changed daily.

Daily wear is needed to keep thebird's beak and its claws the proper length, so be sure to provide a salt block or a cuttle bone for the bird to chew on. An overgrown beak should not be ignored, but unless you have had training in beak trimming, a trip to the veterinarian is advisable. You can trim nails, but only a minute amount at a time until you learn the location of the nail quick.

One of the most important considerationsin the care of caged birds is diet. Birds should be fed twice a day.

An all-seed diet is not adequate:Even if you have purchased a bird fed nothing but sees, you should try to introduce it to other foods. In the morning offer the bird a buffet to foods but no seeds. In the evening, feed some seeds, but no all that the bird wants. Any seeds left at bedtime should be removed. A good seed mixture is 25 percent sunflower, 45 percent pigeon mix, 15 percent parakeet mix, and 15 percent safflower seed. Seeds should be no more than 30 to 50 percent of the total diet.

Spinach, leaf lettuce, sprouts, celery,and carrot tops may be offered in your buffet. Fruits can also be included daily, although too much citrus can cause diarrhea. (The cockateel is not a fruit eater.)

Monkey biscuits and high-proteindog chow may also be added as supplements to a bird's diet. They contain important minerals plus vitamins A and D.sub.3. Feed one to six pieces daily, depending upon the size of the bird: For canaries and finches, crumble and mix it with seed. A protein source such as cheese, eggs, or even a small amount of cooked meat can also be added daily.

Vitamins should be supplied to yourbird only during such high-stress times as molting or during illness. Sprinkle the vitamins over the bird's favorite food, not in the drinking water.

If a bird is gaining weight, restrictsuch high-energy foods as sunflower seeds, cheese, and eggs. During a molt, increase cheese, monkey biscuits, eggs, meat, legume sprouts, and vitamins.

A change in a bird's food or waterconsumption is often the first sign of illness. Other signs include listlessness or decreased activity; ruffled feathers or prolonged molting; such respiratory sounds as heavy breathing or wheezing; body enlargements that grow further; and smelly, watery droppings.

If you think your pet is ill, make anappointment with a veterinarian who routinely treats birds. Put the bird in its own cage for the trip to the doctor, and leave the cage as is--the veterinarian may want to inspect the recent droppings. Empty the water dish and replace it, cover the cage, and wrap it with a blanket. (You may put a hot-water bottle on top of the cage in cold weather.) If the bird has been injured, shows loss of equilibrium, or is very weak, lower the perches and remove the swing. If the bird is being treated with medication, bring it along. A day in the life of a sick bird can be compared to a week in the life of a sick person.

I now believe that birds are the mostunderrated pets. They offer entertainment, beauty, recreation, and companionship. In 1980, the Pet Industry Council estimated that pet birds in the United States number 30 to 40 million, a figure increased greatly during the past few years. Bird care is relatively easy, and often, a $15 parakeet offers as much enjoyment as a $1,000 parrot.

Questions for the VetDear Dr. White:

I am thinking about buying a smallbird such as a cockateel or a lovebird. Since I already have a cat and two active preschoolers, is this advisable?
 Maureen Ward
 Jackson, Mississippi

Dear Maureen:

I suggest a cockateel or other largebird, for it can better hold its own against your cat. Select an area of the house for the birdcage that will offer some security from being turned over by the children or from being stalked by the cat; however, select an area where the bird can have contact with family members. Encourage your children to talk to, whistle at, and sing to the bird. Be present with the children when they visit with the bird initially, to encourage gentleness during the introduction period.


Dear Dr. White:

I have two cats, a dog, and a parakeetnamed Budgie. I'd like to know how to trim the feathers on Budgie and how to tell if he is a girl or a boy.
 Sally Whitney
 Boston, Massachusetts

Dear Sally:

Usually the ten primary flightfeathers--the long, pretty feathers at the end of the wings--are trimmed. Count ten feathers from the longest, outermost tip feather, and trim this row of feathers to the overiying row of feathers. Budgie's gender can be determined by the color of the cere, the colored area around the nostril, just above the beak. A male's cere is blue and the female's, tan or pink.


Dear Dr. White:

I am a real animal lover, and I takein all the stray cats, etc. We have just recently moved to the Gulf coast. My question concerns how to care for sea gulls that get covered by boil.
 Larry Bunster
 Long Beach, Mississippi

Dear Larry:

Often a bird contaiminated by oil orpetroleum by-products must be treated for shock, dehydration, and injuries. Clear the bird's nose and mouth of debris and oil, then rehydrate the area with an oral solution of water and Karo syrup. Apply a water-based ophthalmic ointment to the eyes and the inflamed areas of the skin. During the cleaning, handle the feathers gently. Dissolve heavy oils with light mineral oil first. Then, use a 15 percent concentration of Lux Liquid Amber in warm water. Clean the bird with multiple detergent washings. Rinse the bird with a hose and warm water. Towel dry, then blow-dry with a hair dryer.

COPYRIGHT 1986 Saturday Evening Post Society
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1986 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:care of birds
Author:White, H. Ellen
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Apr 1, 1986
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