Bird Ownership 101 (Part 3)

Veterinary Care – What and Why


How do I find a Bird Vet?

There are bird specialists out there – a specialist is someone who has spent time to study and learn about the different types of birds and their needs. They have passed a difficult certification process from the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners (ABVP). You may see them referred to as Diplomate ABVP (Avian) or a variation on that theme.   You can find a list of ABVP certified veterinarians on the ABVP website.


Some veterinarians don’t have the time or energy to become certified but they still may know their stuff! They aren’t specialists but may have a focus or interest in avian medicine. Any US veterinarian who sees birds on a regular basis should be a member of the Association of Avian Veterinarians (AAV) so they stay in contact with their colleagues and try to stay on top of current medicine.

aav logo

Some veterinarians refuse to see birds (especially at emergency clinics). While this is frustrating and sad it is for your protection! A veterinarian who doesn’t know how to handle or treat birds may delay appropriate treatment or cause harm. This is why they say no.


When Should I go to the Vet?

When you get your new pet it is a great idea to take them to see a veterinarian in the first month. You want to establish a relationship with a doctor before any frightening issues crop up. The doctor will perform a physical exam. Additionally, your doctor may have husbandry recommendations for you or talk to you about a diet change. This is a great first step.

We recommend annual exams for birds just like for dogs and cats. This allows you to check in with your doctor and discuss any changes. We keep weight records and monitor trends. Birds are very good at hiding their illnesses so sometimes a problem will be seen at the annual exam.

Because birds hide being sick we usually recommend a health work up in the form of diagnostic testing such as blood work. We will make different recommendations for different species of birds or different age ranges. We love to see normal test results every year and we can use these baseline values to know if something is changing in your bird’s condition…before they are too sick to hide it.

Bird Ownership 101 (Part 2)

Congratulations! You’ve got a bird!

You’ve prepped for your new family member by creating a safe and healthy environment – it’s time to bring them home and make sure to keep giving them all that they need.


If you’re lucky, your bird is already on a good quality pelleted diet. However, many young birds are weaned onto seed diets and have to be transitioned. If you’ve adopted an adult, you may not even know what food to feed! Converting a bird to pellets can sometimes be a major effort – and you can literally starve a bird to death by just taking away their current diet and offering a new one. Birds are smart cookies…gradually mixing increasing amounts of pellets in with the seed doesn’t fool the bird. They’ll either eat the pellets because they’ll eat anything or they’ll toss them aside seeking the fewer and fewer “real” food items in the bowl. Start by talking to your avian veterinarian about reasonable methods to try.


Like owning a working breed of dog in an urban environment (Border Collie anyone?), you will need to invest your time, energy and money in providing environmental enrichment for your bird – even the littlest of them.   Birds are very intelligent and we have taken away most of the ways they would normally spend their time.

Basic training that all birds should have includes stepping up on command to all members of the family, stepping up for confident strangers and staying on a perch. With these basics you will have much better interactions with your bird. I would also recommend a few “safety commands” such as going into a carrier or coming when called (especially important for birds who can fly). In a emergency, like an earthquake or fire, these guys will fall back on training in same way we do and you will be much happier if you can just get the darn pet into the carrier so you can all get out safely! There are a lot of more intense fun things you can train your bird to do – it’s a great way to spend quality time with your bird that stimulates their natural intelligence. Barabara Heidenreich is an excellent trainer. She offers several videos on training, webinars and a plethora of great info on her website at


In addition to training you can’t forget about foraging! Foraging is an attempt to allow birds to use instinctual behaviors in the search of food. In the wild, birds can spend up to 6-8 hours in a day actively looking for food. They spend much less time consuming it, socializing or looking for predators. We swap out 6-8 hours of daily activity with about 3 seconds of “is the food bowl in the same place? Yup, it is.” Foraging, at home, involves toys that allow the bird to actively search for its own food. Birds have a variety of interest in different types of foraging and you’ll need to work with your bird to find what they like. Regardless, you must teach your bird about foraging – it may be an instinctual behavior but they still don’t know how to do it on their own. Captive Foraging is a great video to get you started. Foraging can occur both inside and outside the cage. You can purchase toys or make your own. Make sure, what every you buy or create, that it is appropriate for your bird’s size and beak strength.

While any bird can be trained and may enjoy foraging there is a world of difference between canaries, cockatiels and macaws.  Make sure to tailor what you are doing to what is safe and healthy for your bird.

Bird Ownership 101 (Part 1)

So you’re thinking about getting a bird…KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

What does it take to take care of one? What’s normal and when should you be concerned? How can you improve their lives? This blog series is an attempt to run down some of the basics. It does, rather generally, cover parrot-type birds (Psittacines) and can’t go into to all their idiosyncrasies…but feel free to ask any questions you might have!

Should I Get a Bird?

That is an excellent starting question because while birds are great pets, they are definitely not for everybody. Some of the things to think about may depend on the type of bird you are thinking of. Many parrot species are very long lived – 20-30 yrs, 30-40 yrs or 60 years and up. Some are only with us for about 10-15 years when well cared for. What that means is, if you are already 30 and are thinking about getting a Scarlet Macaw chick you had better have something planned in case your bird outlives you.

bird painting wall

Where to get a Bird?

I heartily recommend looking into adopting a bird from a rescue. Most rescues try very hard to keep birds healthy and happy and usually have way too many “donations” in need of homes. Mickaboo Companion Bird Rescue (in the San Francisco Bay Area) is one such group. They offer classes and support – I expect many other rescues do as well.

Breeders (often through a bird store) give you the opportunity to purchase a juvenile. Make sure the bird is fully weaned before taking it home. I know of several stores that will allow you visit with the baby as it is growing but makes sure it is eating solid foods well before allowing you to take it home.

Flea markets, craigslist…you are much more likely to pay for a sick bird, an illegally smuggled bird or just a “mistake” clutch that hatched. I’ve met many a happy well-adjusted bird acquired this way but it is a game of roulette.

Bird Care

A major difference from standard dog and cat care is the need to cage your bird. Bird cages need to be appropriately sized for the species of bird. Before you run out to the local pet store, grab a “cockatiel” sized cage and be happy it just fits in your home…I’m sorry to tell you this, but most of the smaller bird cages are way too small to be appropriate. Yes, they meet minimum guidelines that the bird must be able to spread its wings without hitting the cage bars. They just are too small for any pet who is going to be spending most of its time in it. Get as large a cage as you have room for and can afford.

black and white bird birdcage cage

This is small sad cage – readily available at a pet store.

Other important issues include cage materials, perches, toys and food. While seed diets are suggested and offered by stores, they do not provide the right nutrients for most of our pets. A formulated diet (pellets) made by a good company costs more but gives your bird the best chance for a longer and healthier life. Take a look at our website for brochures regarding diet, egg laying issues and bacterial infections.

Birds also are quite messy – they can strew food and toys parts all over the house, or outside of their cages at the least. They poop where ever they feel like and expect you to clean that mess up for them. If you lived in a tree, would you care what you dropped? Some birds like to dunk their food, or their feet, in the water dishes making a gooey soup. All this means they require daily cleaning of the cage and food/water dishes.

parrot eating biscuit