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Adopting an Exotic Bird

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If you're interested in acquiring an exotic bird as a pet and are prepared to make a substantial and lifelong commitment to it, I highly recommend you contact your local animal shelter and/or exotic bird sanctuaries in your area. The latter, in particular, are often overwhelmed with beautiful, wonderful, abandoned and rescued birds in need of new forever homes.

I can't stress enough the importance of understanding what you're getting into when you take on an exotic bird. They are not simply colorful, entertaining cage decorations. Exotics are high-maintenance pets -- expensive, messy, noisy, time-consuming, unpredictable, and sometimes aggressive.

These birds may make wonderful companions for knowledgeable, dedicated owners who have the time and other resources required to ensure the best possible quality of life for their pets.

Exotic Bird Care Basics

1. An appropriately-sized cage that is cozy and located in a safe, low stress but social area. Your bird's cage should be twice the size of your bird's outstretched wings, minimally. Buy the biggest cage you can afford. I recommend a variety of all-natural wood perches (not dowels) throughout the cage.

It should have a roof perch and contain several toys, bells, colored blocks and ropes for chewing. The more natural foraging options and toys, the happier the bird. Replace toys several times a month to keep birds interested in their environment.

The cage should be cleaned daily. Many bird owners wear a surgical mask and gloves to reduce the chance of inhaling feather dander or fecal-borne pathogens. The cage floor should be lined with newspaper that is discarded daily.

All loose material (feathers, leftover feed, bird poop) should be carefully disposed of before disinfecting cage surfaces. Birds should be removed from the area during the disinfecting process. Make sure to pick a non-toxic, bird-friendly disinfectant. I use diluted vinegar on my bird cages and stands.

2. Generally speaking, it is best to feed a high-quality diet of species-specific commercial pelleted food (not seed mix, which is the equivalent of junk food for most exotic birds), fruits, veggies, and sprouted grains. Many exotics are designed by nature to live a long, long time -- the better their nutrition, the healthier and longer they'll live.

Exotic parrots do not require a source of gravel or grit in their diet (unlike pigeons and other types of birds).

Please note: If you're a novice bird owner caring for a species of exotic you're unfamiliar with, or have encountered a problem with feeding, you should talk with an avian veterinarian or other exotic bird specialist about how to proceed. Providing adequate, appropriate nutrition for an individual bird can be a complex process, so it's best to seek the advice of an expert. Never change your bird's diet abruptly.

3. Birds do get dirty and were designed to be rained on, so bathing is often necessary. Many exotics love baths -- some will splash around in a pan of shallow water, others will join their owners in the shower, still others enjoy a gentle spray mist from a water bottle.

4. Beyond the initial expense of the bird, owners of larger exotic birds should plan to spend around $100 a month for food, toys and other supplies. Birds need annual medical exams from an avian veterinarian to make sure they are healthy. Birds are masters at hiding disease; oftentimes the only way you know they are ill is through bloodwork. All newly-acquired birds should be examined by an avian vet for infectious diseases.

5. Just because birds live in cages doesn't mean they are easy pets to care for. You can't just pop your exotic into his cage and ignore him except at feeding time. Parrots are extremely intelligent creatures, and their owners must be prepared to spend a great deal of time interacting with them. To keep my African grey happy and content, he lives outside of his cage all day and is only placed in his cage at night to sleep.

Hand-raised, exotic birds thrive on human attention and develop emotional and behavioral issues when they don't receive adequate mental stimulation. Experts recommend that some types of exotics, parrots for example, be allowed out of the cage to interact with their human family members for several hours every day.

During the time a bird must be caged (when they cannot be directly supervised), playing classical music is a good way to provide additional stimulation.

6. Birds were meant to have exposure to direct sunlight for many hours a day. In fact, sunlight is important for a bird's emotional, mental and nutritional wellbeing. The correct spectrum of ultraviolet (UV) light birds require for health is filtered out by window glass and screens. I recommend providing all birds access to UV light via a special UV "bird bulb" over their cage for several hours a day.

Three Cool Tips for Living in Harmony With a Bird

• To nurture a good relationship between you and your exotic bird, keep him at mid-chest level. Birds in the wild sit in trees according to a specific pecking order, with the more dominant members of the flock in the upper branches.

At home, a bird held at waist level will be prone to feel insecure and nervous; holding him at or above shoulder level will likely make him feel he's the boss.

• Most exotic birds are noisy. You won't change this fact. Raising your voice or scolding a chatty bird will only entertain her and encourage her to match you shriek for shriek, until she's shrieking all the time. Ignoring the screaming and rewarding the quiet is the only positive approach to this innate, sometimes annoying, natural behavior.

• Reward your bird often for good behavior with food, conversation and affection.

Dr. Karen Becker is a proactive and integrative wellness veterinarian. You can visit her site at: MercolaHealthyPets.com.

Her goal is to help you create wellness in order to prevent illness in the lives of your pets. This proactive approach seeks to save you and your pet from unnecessary stress and suffering by identifying and removing health obstacles even before disease occurs. Unfortunately, most veterinarians in the United States are trained to be reactive. They wait for symptoms to occur, and often treat those symptoms without addressing the root cause.

By reading Dr. Becker's information, you'll learn how to make impactful, consistent lifestyle choices to improve your pet's quality of life.

For more by Dr. Karen Becker, click here.

For more on pet health, click here.

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