Bird Care Tips

Top Tips for Tip Top Bird Care

The latest addition to our dog training staff at Buddy's Chance (our Austin Dog Training Center) isn't a dog trainer or even a dog! It's a bird. To be specific, a little Budgerigar named Smidgie (short for Smidgen of Sky). You're probably wondering how he can be a staff member at a dog training center if he's a Budgie? Well, he works for his living! Smidgie is hard at work learning tricks and cues so he can help us teach important concepts of training and learning to our students. He has also helped teach me a great number of things about birds and their care. Here are some of the top tips that any bird owner should know!

1. A seed diet is not sufficient for a bird
Contrary to what the grocery store pet food section would have you believe, a seed only diet is not sufficient for a bird. Your bird may prefer seeds because they are high in fat and calories (think, potato chips!), but they don't provide the complete nutrition your bird needs to stay healthy. Ideally, feed your bird a commercial pelleted diet and supplement that with other fruits and vegetables. Dr. Julia Whittington, a veterinarian at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital has some guidelines on bird nutrition that can provide more information to help you get your bird's diet on the right track.

2. As with all animals, a bird needs mental stimulation throughout the day
All animals need to exercise their brains and pet birds are no different. Unfortunately, many pets don't get enough mental stimulation in their life. We usually put all of their food in a bowl and they don't need to hunt or forage for it. They also can't just go explore their environments whenever they'd like to. You can use toys to feed your bird treats or even its meals so that it has to work its mind to get the food. This may be as easy as adding a seed stick to the side of your bird's cage to make them work a little to get the seeds or more complicated like putting treats inside a box and letting your dog work through the box to get the food. You can find more information and suggestions for bird mental stimulation here. Also see tip 5 for training information - training is excellent mental stimulation!

3. Bird first aid is crucial to know when you have a bird in your home
It is very important to be able to recognize an emergency when you see one and to know ahead of time where your avian veterinarian is located. You should also find out which local emergency veterinarians have experience with bird care and what their hours and location are. You should call your veterinarian immediately if you see any of the following:

In general with birds, err on the side of caution - never take a "wait and see" approach with a bird. If you think your bird might need a trip to the veterinarian, put in a call to your veterinarian ASAP just to be sure!

4. Avoid the myths!
As with dog and cat behavior, the world of bird training and behavior is utterly filled with myths that can lead to more problems than fixes. Since I am not yet an expert on bird behavior (I'm working on it!), I will leave the explanations up to the experts. One well-known and respected authority is a current teacher of mine, Dr. Susan Friedman. Dr. Friedman teaches at Utah State University and works with children, birds, dogs, zoo animals, you name it. She is an authority on learning, behavior, and behavior analysis. I have posted a number of articles that she has written covering bird behavior, including a number where she dispels common myths. You can find them on my Austin Dog Training website.

5. Train your bird
Training your bird is important for a number of reasons. First, it is excellent for mental stimulation. Second, it increases the bond that you'll share with your bird. And last, it will prevent many problem behaviors that can range from nuisance behaviors to problems that may cause you to re-home your bird. Keep in mind that, as with dog and cat training, there are no regulatory requirements, licensing, or oversight agencies for trainers. Look for a trainer who is a member of professional organizations, who regularly attends continuing education seminars or courses, who has experience dealing with the animal and problem behavior you are facing, and who does not mind you asking questions about their experience, education (including continuing education to maintain their knowledge base), or methods. Also look for someone who has a working knowledge of learning theory, ethology, and motivational methods of training. Lastly, I recommend at least skimming some of the articles by Dr. Susan Friedman that I have posted on our website before meeting with a trainer. They'll give you a sense of the types of training that you may see out there so that you can make an informed decision about the practices that you want to allow or not allow with your pet.

We're really enjoying having Smidgie at our Austin Dog Training Center! A bird is a wonderful addition to your home, but make sure you do your homework and know how to select the right breed or bird for your skill level and lifestyle and how to properly care for your bird once you have him home.


Written by Cara Shannon. She is the owner and one of the trainers at Buddy's Chance, LLC Austin Dog Training and Daycare. She teaches dog training classes for pet dog owners in Central Austin and consults on problem dog behaviors.