First Published March 30, 2016
Revised January 10, 2022
Parrots are from tropical regions so winter bird care is important.
Exotic birds, like parrots and cockatoos, can make wonderful pets, but that doesn’t mean they’re not high-maintenance! Because of their sensitivity to cold weather, it’s important to follow some basic precautions to ensure that your pet bird can survive the cold months. This post describes the five essential do’s and don’ts of taking care of your exotic bird during the wintertime.
Check out your local bird store for quality bird food. We recommend a high-quality pellet, like Harrison's, Roudybush, or Tops. You must also use a mix of fresh foods, be sure to add fruits and vegetables and other fresh plant-based foods that contain lots of beta-carotene and vitamin A. These will help keep your bird’s skin and feathers healthy while they are molting. Avoid seeds and high-fat treats. Also, be careful with very salty or sugary foods as well; these could lead to dehydration or obesity, respectively.
If you're living in a place where temperatures regularly dip below freezing, your bird may be at risk for developing respiratory issues like bronchitis and pneumonia. Adding a humidifier to your bird's living area can help prevent dry air and make it easier for your bird to breathe. Be sure to keep an eye on its humidity levels; if they rise too high, then consider reducing them by lowering the setting.
Additionally, you'll need to make sure that the filter is kept clean. Humidifiers can accumulate bacteria and mold if they're not properly maintained, which can pose serious health risks for your bird. Keep your humidifier clean with a daily wipe-down and follow all of its cleaning instructions precisely. Some products may require more or less frequent care; always read through any manufacturer’s cleaning recommendations before use.
When it’s cold out, it can be tough to keep your feathered friends clean. The good news is that a warm shower or "bowl bath" won’t harm them; bird feathers repel water. So, while you should still give them baths in the winter, make sure that you keep them away from drafts and don't let them get chilled.
That said, some types of birds enjoy bathing more than others (parrots are common bathers), so try not to assume that all birds need regular showers. In general, though, try not to bathe your exotic pet less often just because it’s colder outside; just make accommodations to keep them warm.
The safest and most secure way to keep your bird warm in colder temperatures is to invest in a small, dedicated bird heating system. It can b a heated perch or a birdcage warming panel inside of the cage. Although not terribly expensive, these systems are helpful even if you have central heat because they help maintain a consistent internal temperature for your pet. Plus, they come in really handy to support your bird if it gets sick.
Birds continue to need UVA and UVB light in colder months, so it’s important to offer them a safe bird light in the winter. Placing a light on your bird’s cage will make sure they have enough UVA and UVB to provide them with vitamin D.
Vitamin D is necessary for calcium absorption. It also helps with maintaining the immune system, supporting bones and muscles, and maintaining heart health.
Your bird will be molting as Spring approaches and its nutritional status needs to be in tip-top shape to grow beautiful, healthy feathers.
The snugglies and sleep tents for birds are marketed to help them stay warm during harsh weather, but they can actually be more harmful than helpful. These cloth snuggies and sleep tents are made of fabrics that your bird chews on. Inevitably, he will ingest some of these fabrics or pull bits off and swallow them. Not only do you run into a potential digestive tract obstruction problem (parrot-sized kapok stuffing is no one’s idea of a good thing), it also takes him away from his natural instinct to fluff up his feathers in order to keep himself warm when it’s cold outside.
On top of that, the nest-like cavity makes you bird hormonal right before bird hormone season starts. The close confines and security offered by a sleep tent or snuggie may cause some birds to be out of sorts when it comes time for mating. The result is a particularly harsh hormone season that can cause chronic health problems.
Birds and Teflon, kerosene, or propane just don't work. The fumes are not good for you or your bird. Your bird has super-efficient lungs and the fumes can actually kill it. Spending a few bucks on a bird-safe cage heater will save you a lot of tears!
It’s easy to use commercial products to clean and treat your bird’s feathers or cage. The problem with these sprays is that you have no idea what they’re made of. Commercial bird sprays are typically filled with ingredients that are so potent that they can lead to death or serious respiratory issues in birds. If you must use a commercial product, make sure it has natural ingredients and contact a veterinarian before using any products on your bird. It’s better to be safe than sorry!
Feeding your bird fatty foods like sweet, enticing commercial bird treats or an all-seed diet will trigger your pet to become more hormonal than usual. Fatty food intake leads to hormone spikes in birds just as it does in humans; when there are more hormones floating around, you can expect mood swings and other unpleasantries.
Not only that, birds are prone to fatty liver disease. Fatty foods can cause bird obesity, leading to life-threatening illness; and when there’s too much fat in your pet’s diet, you’re actually preventing him from absorbing important nutrients like Vitamin A and Calcium from other food sources. So be careful of what you feed your bird!
When it comes to your bird, you can’t skimp on nutrition. Some people opt for cheap diets that save money but rob birds of essential nutrients. These deficiencies can cause lasting damage to organs and bodily systems.
A lot of people complain that they just can' get their bird to eat veggies. Just like kids, birds need to be taught what is important to eat. Otherwise, they'll avoid it. When you're putting out a new food, spend some time teaching your bird that it is safe to eat. Then make sure your bird sees you eating these healthy treats too!
Some birds also develop preferences for certain foods -- maybe it is green beans or spinach (or even lettuce), over all other options. If you haven’t introduced a particular food yet, try hiding some small pieces in other foods they do love (like bread crumbs) so they discover them more naturally by accident.
Diane Burroughs, LCSW is a licensed psychotherapist trained in ABA therapy techniques. She specializes in avian anxiety disorders and is certified in Nutrition For Mental Health. Diane has written a number of bird behavior books and she offers behavior consultations. She's developed a range of UnRuffledRx Science-backed Parrot Wellness Supplies.
Diane's products have been featured in the Journal of Avian Medicine and Surgery and at Exoticscon, a conference for exotic pet veterinarians. Her bird collars & supplements are stocked in avian vet clinics and bird stores throughout the US. With over 30 years in the field of behavior, Diane has created thousands of successful individualized behavior plans that help pets thrive.
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