Owning pet birds can be a very rewarding experience. They are great companions and bond strongly with their owners.

They are also complicated and require a great deal of care when it comes to diet, husbandry and mental stimulation. If you are considering a pet bird, please research your chosen breed thoroughly as each bird may differ in their needs. Birds are also a pet that can live for a very long time if cared for properly. In larger breeds of parrots such as cockatoos this can be upwards of 80 years. This will also be something you need to think about before purchasing a pet bird.

The information provided here is for general reference only. If you have any other questions please chat to one of our friendly staff.

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Husbandry

Whether you own an exotic parrot that lives indoors or a flock of aviary birds, husbandry contributes to the overall health of our birds.

First things first, faeces! Birds produce a lot of it (they pass faeces every 20-30 mins) and it needs to be removed regularly. At least once daily. Faeces that are left in the bottom of the cage or on perches and in feed bowls harbour bacteria, fungi and parasites. Hosing (with pressure) an outdoor aviary is a great way to remove the bulk of the faeces regularly and scrubbing down perches, nest boxes and other objects in the aviary, once a month should be sufficient.

A great additive to the floor and nesting boxes is a sprinkle of D.E. (Diatomaceous Earth). This is an organic and safe product which helps greatly in keeping parasites such as lice and mites at bay and is available from your local co-op or online.

With caged birds inside, newspaper should be placed in the bottom of the cage and replaced daily. Cages should be wheeled outside and scrubbed or pressure hosed at least once a month, if not more. If you would like to use something to help disinfect the cage, perches and objects in the cage, you can use a dilution of water and white vinegar by mixing equal parts of each. When using any additives to the water to clean bird cages, you must rinse and dry them thoroughly before reintroducing the bird. You can also use the disinfectant F10 by following the instructions on the bottle for dilution rates. Again, make sure it is rinsed off completely and dried before re introducing the bird.

Perches

Perches are extremely important for your bird’s leg, foot and nail health. The key is to use a variety of sizes and textures with the majority being native tree branches such as gum tree, bottle brush and melaleuca (paper bark). This way your bird can choose to walk on which ever they feel comfortable on at the time. Before using and collecting branches please do your research on which trees are safe for your birds or check the safe branches list at the end of the article.

It is also a good idea to include one cement or pedicure perch to help with nail and beak length. Do not let this be the only perch they have to sit on. Absolutely no dowel perches should be used, as the smooth texture can cause pressure sores on the bottom of the feet and can also be the cause of nail overgrowth.

Food and water bowls

Food and water bowls should be cleaned daily by removing them and scrubbing them. Dry and replace with fresh food and water. It is not ideal to leave a bowl of seed or pellets in the cage for days on end, as this can attract flies and rodents which can carry bacteria. Birds are messy with their food and it is your responsibility to make sure their housing and eating area stays clean.

 

Mental stimulation (the good and the bad)

As most of you know, birds are extremely smart animals. This applies to birds as small as budgies all the way through to our larger pet birds. They need to keep their minds busy and active to deter them from developing bad habits such as undesirable chewing, biting, screaming, plucking and more. A great way to do this is by training them. Train them to “step up”, pick up items and put them in a box, walk through an obstacle course………the list is only as long as your imagination.

There are lots of videos on the internet to show you how to train your bird using positive reinforcement. Most birds will absolutely love their training sessions but keep them short and sweet. Use their favourite food as their treat. Try small bits of almond (crushed or slivered), pieces of corn or sunflower seeds.

Toys

There are endless options when purchasing bird toys but you don’t have to spend a lot of money. The main things to avoid when purchasing toys for your bird are cotton rope (this can be ingested and cause blockages), happy huts (also has fibres that can be ingested and cause blockages), flimsy plastic toys and toys that have metals other than stainless steel. Unfortunately, a lot of the pet shop toys have bells and wire that are not stainless steel. These toys quickly rust which puts our birds at risk of heavy metal poisoning.

Alternative options to these toy parts are non-dyed leather strapping, strong hard plastics, sisal rope and natural materials such as wood, seed pods, and raffia.

You can also make your own toys using household items like toilet rolls, egg cartons, cardboard boxes, butchers paper and old phone books. String them together with some leather and there are endless possibilities for your bird to play with (you can also hide treats in them to find throughout the day).

There are also toys on the market which encourage the natural behaviour of foraging. These toys are usually puzzle or maze type toys where the bird can see their treat and has to work out how to manoeuvre the toy to get the treat. This may include opening draws, pushing or pulling levers or tilting the toys to move the treat towards the opening. These are great toys and can occupy your birds for hours while they try to figure them out.

Patting and rubbing

We all love our pets and want to show them affection and to us that means patting and cuddling. Unfortunately, in the bird world this can cause undesirable behaviours and in some cases serious health issues. Patting or rubbing your bird anywhere but their head and beak gives the bird the impression you would like to be their mate. This can cause them to display mating behaviour such as regurgitation, humping and aggression towards other people you are close with. In female birds it can also encourage egg laying where they will become increasingly protective and aggressive to look after their eggs.

In all non-breeding pet birds we strongly advise to deter egg laying as this can cause calcium deficiencies and egg binding which can lead to death. To help prevent this, do not allow your female birds to hide in dark corners, cupboards, under furniture or in boxes. Although your bird may encourage you to pat or rub them (it’s super cute!) please confine it to the head and beak only.

 

Diet

Nutrition and diet are often a neglected part of bird ownership but it is one of the most important things to get right in order to keep our birds healthy so that they live longer lives.

These days we have nutritionally balanced pellets designed to provide everything they need. We find that pellets as an only food can become boring for our birds and so we encourage you to provide a more varied diet. This should still consist mainly of pellets (we recommend Vetafarm) but also include vegetables, fruit, nuts, sprouted seed, legumes, pulses and native flowers.

When we look at their overall diet, we should be feeding 70% pellets, 20% vegies and the remaining 10% should be made up of fruit, nuts, sprouted seed and native flowers. An example would be to add to their main food bowl enough pellets for 1 day, and depending on the size of your bird you could add an almond (chat to us about your specific breed of bird with regard to nut choice) and a pinch of healthy seeds such as flax seed or pumpkin seeds (pepitas). In another bowl, chop up a variety of vegies and add some sprouted seeds, mix them together and top with 1 piece of fruit. Alternatively, you could hide their nuts in foraging toys or throughout their cage and or put their fruit and vegies on a hanging skewer so they can munch on it throughout the day. Please refer to our list of safe foods and the breed specific notes to tweak this diet to suit your bird.

Safe foods

  • Apple, Apricot, Asian vegetables, Asparagus, Anaranth (raw or cooked)
  • Banana, Blackberry, Blackcurrant, Blueberry, Beans, Broccoli, Berlotti beans, Black-eyed peas, Broad beans, Brussel sprouts, Bok choy
  • Currant, Cherry, Coconut, Cantaloupe, Celery, Cauliflower, Carrots, Chickpeas, Common bean, Collards, Ceylon spinach
  • Date, Dragonfruit, Dandelion
  • Endive
  • Fig
  • Gooseberry, Grape, Grapefruit, Guava, Garbanzo, Green bean, Garden rocket
  • Huckleberry, Honeydew
  • Kiwi fruit, Kale
  • Lychee, Lentil, Lima bean
  • Mandarin, Mango, Melon, Mung Bean, Mushrooms
  • Nectarine, Navy beans
  • Orange
  • Paw Paw, Peach, Pear, Plum/prune (dried plum), Pineapple, Pomegranate, Purple Mangosteen, Pumpkin, Peas, Peanut, Pinto beans, Pea sprouts/leaves, Pak choy
  • Raspberry, Rambutan, Redcurrant, Rock melon, Red chilies (parrots don’t have capsaicin receptors. This means they do not feel heat from chilies), Runner bean
  • Star fruit, Strawberry, Sweet potato (raw or cooked), Sweet corn, Spinach, Snow peas (raw), Span peas, Spinach, Sorrel
  • Tangerine, Tomato (fruit only not the leaves or stem)
  • Watermelon, Watercress, Wheatgrass
  • Zucchini

 

Safe trees and plants 

Birds love to have tree clippings, branches and plants to keep them entertained. They love to strip the bark, chew the leaves and mulch the wood, this is a process by which birds achieve a real sense of accomplishment. Below is a list of the safe tress and plants you can give to your birds:

  • African Violet, Aloe Vera, Apple, Arbutus, Ash, Aspen, Autumn Olive
  • Baby Tears, Bamboo, Bee Balm, Beech, Begonia, Birch, Bottlebrush (Callistemon species), Bougainvillea, Butterfly bush
  • Chickweed, Christmas cactus, Citrus, Coleus, Callistemon, Comfrey, Coneflower, Corn Plant, Cottonwood, Crab Apple
  • Dandelion, Dogwood, Donkey Tail, Dracaena varieties
  • Elm, Eucalyptus
  • Ferns (asparagus, Bird’s nest, Boston, Maidenhair), Figs (creeping, rubber, fiddle leaf, laurel leaf, weeping), Fir, Forsythia
  • Gardenia, Grape Ivy, Grape Vine, Guava
  • Hawthorn, Hen & Chickens, Hibiscus, Honey locust, Huckleberry
  • Jade Plant
  • Kalanchoe
  • European Larch tree, Larix decidua
  • Magnolia, Marigold, Monkey Plant, Mulberry
  • Nasturtium, Natal Plum, Norfolk Island Pine, Nut (except chestnut and oak)
  • Palms (areca, date, fan, lady, parlour, howea or Kentia, sago, phoenix), Papaya, Pear, Peperomia, Petunia, Poplar, Prayer Plant, Prune, Purple Passion (velvet nettle)
  • Quince
  • Ribbonwood
  • Sassafras, Sensitive Plant, Sequoia (Redwood), Spider Plant, Spruce, Swedish Ivy
  • Thistle
  • Wandering Jew, Wax Plant, White Clover, Willow
  • Zebra Plant

Poisonous trees and plants

Below is a list of the dangerous trees and plants that you should give your bird.

Poisonous plants and trees

  • Acokanthera (fruit & flowers), Aconite (Monkshood, roots, flower, leaves), Amaryllis (bulbs contain alkaloids), Angel trumpet tree (flower & leaves), Apple seeds (see Cherry Laurel), Atropa belladona (all parts), Azaleas, Rhododendrons (all parts), Anemone (wildflower), Anthurium, Arum Lily, Avocado, Apricot seeds (see Cherry Laurel), Australian Flame Tree, Autumn Crocus (bulbs)
  • Balsam Pear, Baneberry (red & white berries, roots & foliage), Beach pea, Betel Nut Palm (all parts), Bird of Paradise, Bishop’s Weed, Bittersweet (berries), Black Laurel, Black Locust (bark, sprouts, foliage), Bleeding Heart, Dutchman’s Breeches (foliage, roots), Bloodroot, Bluebonnets (all parts), Bottlebrush (Aesculus Parviflora variety), Boxwood (all parts), Bracken fern, Buckeye Nut, Horse-chestnuts (sprouts, nuts), Buckthorn, Bulb flowers (amaryllis, daffodil, hyacinth, narcissus, iris), Burdock, Buttercup (all parts)
  • Cacao, Caladium (all parts), Calla Lilly (all parts), Camel Bush, Cardinal Flower, Carolina Jessamine (flowers, leaves & sap), Cassava (roots), Cherries (twigs, foliage are fatal), Castor bean (seeds are fatal), Chalice (trumpet vine), Cherry Laurel (all parts are dangerous, contains hydrocyanic acid), Cherry seeds, China Berry Tree (berries), Chokeberry, Christmas Berry (berries), Christmas Candle, Christmas Rose (all parts), Clematis Virginia bower, Climbing Lilly, Columbine (all parts), Cocklebur, Coffee Senna, Coffeebean – rattlebush, rattlebox, coffeeweed, Common Privet (black or blue wax coated berries & leaves), Corncockle, Coyotillo, Cowslip, Crocus (bulbs), Croton (outdoor plants), Crown of Thorns, Cyclamen
  • Daffodil (bulbs), Daphne (berries are fatal), Datura, Deadly Amanita, Deadly nightshade (all parts), Death Camas (all parts, roots deadly), Delphinium (all parts), Destroying Angel (all parts), Devil’s Ivy, Dieffenbachia (all parts, especially sap), Dogwood (fruit slightly poisonous)
  • Elderberry (leaves, shoots, bark), Elephant ears – taro (all parts), English Ivy (berries), Ergot, Euphorbia (leaves & flowers), Euonymus – spindle tree
  • False Hellbore (all parts especially root), Felt Plant – maternity plant, air plant, panda plant, Firethorn, Flame Tree, Fly Agaric (all plants), Four O’Clock, Mirabilis (all parts), Foxglove (all parts fatal)
  • Gelsemium (all parts), Glottidium, Golden chain (seeds, pods may be fatal), Ground Cherry
  • Heaths – kalmia, leucotho, peires, rhododendron, mountain laurel, black laurel, andromeda, Heliebore (all parts), Heliotrope, Hemlock (all parts), Henbane (all parts), Holly (leaves, berries), Honeysuckle, Horse Chestnut (all parts), Horsetail Reed (all parts), Hyacinth Bulbs (can be fatal), Hydrangea (whole plant)
  • Impatiens (whole plant)m, Iris (underground stems), Ivy (all parts)
  • Jack in the Pulpit (root), Jatropha (seeds & oils), Jasmine Yellow (all parts), Jessamine Cestrum nocturnum (berries fatal), Jerusalem cherry (fruits & leaves), Jimson Weed (all parts), Juniper
  • Kentucky Coffee Tree
  • Lambkill (leaves), Larkspur (foliage, roots, seeds), Latana Camara (green berries fatal), Laurels (all parts fatal), Lily of the Valley (all parts), Lobelia (all parts), Locoweed (all parts), Lords and Ladies, Lupine (seeds)
  • Machineel (all parts), Malanga, Marijuana (all parts), Marigold, May Apple (all parts), Mescal (all parts), Mexican Breadfruit, Mexican Poppy, Milkweed (all parts), Mistletoe (berries fatal), Moccasin Flower (all parts), Mock Orange (all parts), Monkshood (foliage, fleshy roots), Moonseed (berries possibly fatal), Morning Glories (all parts), Mountain Laurel (young leaves & shoots), Mushrooms & Toadstools (wild types)
  • Narcissus Bulbs (can be fatal), Natal Cherry (berries), Nettles, Nicotiana (wild & cultivated – leaves), Nightshades (all parts)
  • Oaks (foliage, acorns), Oleander (foliage)
  • Peach seeds (see Cherry Laurel), Pear seeds (see Cherry Laurel), Peppercorn Tree, Peony (all parts), Periwinkle (whole plant), Philodendron (leaves & sap), Photinia Robusta (poisonous seeds and flowers), Pigweed, Pikeweed, Pinks (all parts), Plum seeds (see Cherry Laurel), Pokeweed (roots), Poinciana, Poinsetta (leaves, sap fatal) ,Poison Hemlock (all parts fatal), Poison Ivy (all parts), Poison Oak, Poison Sumac (all parts), Poppies (all except California), Potato (sprouts, foliage fatal), Privet (leaves, fruits), Pyracantha
  • Rain Tree, Ranunculus (all parts), Rape, Redwood (wood chips toxic to fish, turtles & other aquatic animals), Rhubarb (leaves, leaf blade fatal), Rosary Pea (seeds fatal), Rosemary (certain leaves)
  • Sandbox Tree, Sage (certain leaves), Scotch Broom (seeds), Senecio (all parts), Shinus Mollis, Skunk Cabbage (roots), Snapdragon (all parts), Snow on the Mountain, Snowdrop, Sorrel – dock, Squirrel Corn (all parts), Star of Bethlehem (all parts), Stranomium (all parts), Sweet Pea (stems)
  • Tansy (all parts), Taro (stems, leaves), Thornapple, Tiger Lilly (all parts), Toadstools, Tobacco Plants (all parts), Tomato (foliage, vines), Tulip bulbs, Trumpet Vine (all parts)
  • Virginia Creeper, Venus Flytrap (all parts)
  • Water Hemlock (all parts fatal), Wattle, Wild Black Cherry (withered leaves), Wisteria (seeds, pods)
  • Yam Bean, Yellow Jasmine (all parts), Yellow Oleander (all parts), Yews (foliage, berries)

Seeds: As you may have noticed in our recommendations, we do not include dry seed mixes

Although wild birds have access to seeds all year round, the type of seeds they feed on change throughout the year as different plants come into season. The commercial mixes that many bird owners feed their pet birds tend to be high in fats (oil) and deficient in nutrients. To make matters worse our birds tend to pick through these seed mixes and only eat 1-2 types of seed, limiting their nutrient intake even further.

A great way to transition your bird to a healthier diet is to sprout the seed mixes and continue to offer healthier food all the time. Sprouting seed changes the fat content and essentially turns the fatty seed into a “vegetable” making it a lot healthier for birds. If you are having trouble transitioning your bird onto a pelleted and vgetable diet, please chat to one of our staff to help you along the way. Never take seed away from a complete seed eating bird cold turkey! They are stubborn and will starve themselves. We use and recommend Vetafarm brand products which provide a range of pellets and crumbles for different bird species.

Breed specifics

Budgies, Grass parrots, Finches, Cockatiels- Offer freshly picked grass seeds when in season and millet spray on top of some fresh vegies and Vetafarm crumbles.

Lorikeets– Lorikeets need a nectar supplement such as Wombaroo lorikeet and honey eater powder. This can be fed wet or dry.

Galahs, Amazons, African Greys, Alexandrines, Indian ringnecks, Princess Parrots, Cockatoos, Conures- A small amount of healthy dry seeds such as flax seed, chia seeds, millet and grass seeds can be offered. You can also add minimal nuts to their diet. Almonds are the least fatty nuts but moderation is the key.

Eclectus- Eclectus really should stick to this diet. No coloured pellets or vitamin supplements should ever be offered to Eclectus unless instructed by your vet. Eclectus have a longer digestive tract which means they extract more nutrients from their foods. Too much extra nutrients can cause toe tapping, wing flipping and plucking.

Macaws- Macaws are from the Amazon where they feed on jungle tree nuts and lots of fruit from native trees. They can handle more nuts in their diet then other parrots but still keep it minimal. In captivity they will never travel the kilometres that they travel in the wild and therefore we do not need the fat and energy that nuts provide them, as they cannot burn it off with exercise. Try Vetafarm’s Macaw nuts.

Worming and parasite control

Worm your bird every 3-6 months and have a crop tube worming at least once a year. Book a yearly check to detect any general health problems and parasite infections and have the crop worming done by your vet. Spray for mites every 6-12 weeks, and again, keep the cage and living areas as clean as possible.

Moulting

Moulting is the replacement of old feathers with new ones. It is a normal process for your pet bird to go through. During a moult you will see feathers sitting in the bottom of the cage and little down feathers floating around as well. When the new feathers come though you may see the pins poking through their normal feathers.

A moult should not cause major bald spots on your bird as a normal moult will replace a few feathers at a time. Feathers that are discoloured or remain as pin feathers are abnormal and are likely the symptom of a disease. Common causes of abnormal moults include viral and bacterial infections as well as liver disease and nutritional deficiencies.

Moults occur once to twice a year depending on the species of your bird. Usually you will see their main moult mid-summer and a smaller one early to mid-winter. Most normal moults take approximately 6 weeks to complete. Moulting can be a stressful time for your bird as a lot of energy is used to produce new feathers. Birds on a balanced diet of pellets and vegetable do not need vitamin supplements during this time. If your bird is on an all seed diet you may want to chat to a vet about supplementing with vitamins and minerals.

 If you feel your bird is unwell at any time, please do not hesitate to call us and book an appointment for a check-up. Birds are very good at masking illness so once you see signs, your bird has probably been unwell for a little while already.

Leg Rings

A leg ring is an identification object applied around the lower leg of a bird. They can be made of metal or plastic and often have a unique number stamped on it.

We do not recommend the use of leg rings as they can cause complications such as pressure sores, bone fractures, loss of circulation leading to tissue necrosis (death of the leg tissues) and getting caught on things including the birds own beak, toys and cages causing panic and even death.

To remove a leg band most birds will require a general anaesthetic as we need the bird to stay completely still as removing the ring is a very delicate process. There are risks involved but the benefits greatly outweigh these risks. Please chat to one of our staff for more information. An alternative to leg banding is microchipping. Please see the next paragraph for more information on this type of identification.

Microchipping

Having your bird microchipped is not compulsory but is an excellent idea. As is the same for cats and dogs, if your bird goes missing, you have proof of ownership and the bird is more likely to make its way back to you than if it wasn’t chipped.

Unlike dogs and cats where the chip is inserted under the skin between the shoulder blades, a birds chip is inserted under a General anaesthetic into the muscle in the chest. Only birds weighing 100g or more can be microchipped. E.g. Lorikeet size or larger.

DNA sexing

Here at North Nowra Veterinary hospital we provide DNA sexing of birds. Lorikeets, African Greys, Amazons and Conures, among others, do not have any obvious distinguishing features that tell us what sex they are. The test takes 1 drop of blood from your bird’s foot and takes 7-10 working days for a result. 

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