Birds have always been and will continue to be popular pets. There are over 8 million pet birds in the United States alone. They are beautiful, intelligent and relatively easy to care for if you have the know-how. Here are some tips on pet bird ownership, health and the best ways to care for them.

Starting Out

If you are considering getting a pet bird, it is important to know your state and/or country's laws and regulations regarding ownership of birds and exotic animals. Many species of birds kept as pets are "exotic," and are often imported from other countries. There are laws requiring that these birds undergo testing and periods of quarantine to ensure their health and safety and that of the public. For more information regarding importing birds into the United States, visit the USDA APHIS website.

If you are purchasing a bird and not importing the animal on your own, make sure to work with a credentialed seller or breeder. Credentials generally include certification or documentation showing that they have legally imported the bird and/or that they adhere to sound breeding practices. This is important for ensuring that the bird you are purchasing is optimized for health and in good condition.

After acquiring a new pet bird it should be examined by a veterinarian. In fact, there are veterinarians who specialize in avian practice. It is important to establish a relationship with a veterinarian early on so that the bird's health history is well-documented. Your veterinarian can also help guide you in caring for your new companion. If you are bringing a new bird into a household that already has birds, the new bird should be isolated from the others for at least one month. Isolating it from the other birds will protect them in the event an illness or behavior problem develops in the new bird. Similarly, you should try to restrict human access to your new bird in the beginning to protect the health of both the bird and the people around them. 

Handling and Husbandry

Not all birds are alike and each of the species have different requirements. Talk to the seller and your veterinarian to determine the best housing, food, and accessories for your feathered friend.

Wash your hands thoroughly with warm, soapy water and a disinfectant before and after handling your bird. If you are interacting with other birds, it is recommended you clean and disinfect your clothing and shoes to avoid contamination. Similarly, avoid borrowing or sharing bird supplies from other households.

The cornerstone to bird health is to provide it fresh food, clean water and maintain a clean cage.  After purchasing new food, consider transferring it from the bag and into a sealed container to help keep it fresh and avoid bacterial or mold growth.

Your Bird’s Health

A healthy bird is bright, alert, and responsive. It has clean, clear eyes, well-groomed feathers, a clean beak, and normal stool. You will quickly come to learn what is "normal" for your bird.

Signs of illness in birds include:

  • discolored stool (yellowish green or bloody)
  • ruffled, unpruned feathers
  • discharge around the eyes and beak

Pay attention to how your bird looks, acts, and how much it eats, drinks, and defecates. If you suspect your bird is ill, or if it starts to demonstrate unusual behavior, talk to your veterinarian. If a household bird dies unexpectedly, your veterinarian should also be notified.

Remember that it is a team effort - you and your veterinarian - to keep your pet healthy and provide it a happy life.