Bird Care

Caring for parrots and other psittacine birds


The bigger the better is the general rule when choosing a cage. Horizontal, rectangular cages represent the best use of space and should be at least as wide as twice the bird’s wingspan. Perches should be made of natural hardwood (e.g. apple, pear or oak), of varying diameters. The dowel perches that are commonly used do not encourage normal wear of feet and nails and often lead to pressure sores.

The bird should also have a play area, and most species require a minimum of 45 minutes play and human interaction morning and night. The cage should be in a busy family area but well away from cigarette smoke, fumes and Teflon coated cooking utensils. Toys such as branches, pine cones, rawhide dog chews and natural fibre rope are all useful – make sure they are clean and have not been sprayed with any chemicals. Birds need exercise to stay healthy and should be encouraged to fly as much as possible.

Paper is the best material for the floor as it is easy to clean out and the appearance of the droppings is easily monitored. The paper should be changed daily and the cage cleaned thoroughly once a week. Food and water bowls should be cleaned daily and should not be placed next to each other or under perches where they are likely to become contaminated with droppings.

Most birds require plenty of time for rest during the night – 12 hours of dark and quiet is recommended. During the day access to fresh air (not draughts) and sunlight (not filtered by glass) is advantageous.


The seed-based diet that most pet birds are fed is grossly inadequate for a long and healthy life.

Most birds pick out their favourite bits – usually sunflower seeds and peanuts – which are very high in fat and lead to obesity and related problems. Seed diets also commonly cause problems involving calcium/phosphorous imbalances and low levels of vitamin A and D. Budgies also develop problems with low iodine levels. Foods such as Trill are well  balanced for budgies and can be supplements with grit, cuttlefish and millet.

There are two main approaches to providing a healthy diet for parakeets and larger parrots.

There are several of these now available such as “Kaytee” and “Pretty Bird”. They are formulated differently for different types of bird, and their pelleted form prevents birds from picking out their favourite bits – given free choice, a caged bird will not pick out a balanced diet! Once converted onto a complete diet, vegetables, fruit and treats such as millet or corn on the cob can be added for variety and stimulation – these should form no more than 20% of the diet. Many birds also enjoy cooked bones such as chops, with a little meat on.

In the wild parrots are opportunistic feeders thus eating a wide variety of foods. In the home, a range of foods from each of these groups should be offered. Only 10% of parrot diet should be nuts and seeds.

  1. Fruit and vegetables – cooked or raw, often better accepted initially grated or chopped. Wash well first. Watercress, dandelions, lettuce, spinach, carrots, apples, pears, oranges, corn on the cob, chickweed, sprouting seeds (soak good quality seeds such as wheat, mustard, cress, bean sprouts and peas in water for 12 – 24 hours until they sprout).
  2. Fruit trees and berries – in general those that are safe for people to eat can be offered to birds. Branches and twigs from these plants also provide gnawing exercise.
  3. Seed – Sunflower, safflower, pine nuts and peanuts are all very high in fat and low in calcium and vitamin A and should only be fed in very limited quantities if at all. Millet, oats, hemp, maize and peppers can also be fed. Husks should be removed.
  4. Meat and dairy produce – cooked meat (especially bones), fish canned cat and dog food and cheese can all be fed in small doses.
  5. Other – Bread, toast, pasta and other table scraps also help add variety to the diet. Cuttlefish and oyster shell provide additional sources of nutrients.
  6. Supplements – All home-based diets should be supplemented with vitamin/mineral mixtures such as “Avimix” made by Vetark. Young birds should also receive extra calcium (we recommend “Nutrobal”). Birds that still have a high proportion of seeds in their diet should be supplemented with “ACE-high” which contains the extra vitamins required.

The main thing to remember if feeding a home-based diet is to provide plenty of variety – not only is this essential to provide different nutrients, but will also keep your bird entertained and reduce boredom.

Many birds which have been fed a seed diet all their lives become very suspicious of new food items – time and patience are required to convince them to eat a healthier diet.

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