Saturday, November 14, 2015

Fresh air and sunshine!

Lately, the weather here as been gorgeous! I am a big proponent of getting our birds outside as much as possible. The cages on the back deck and outdoor aviary (built by my talented husband ♥) are utilized almost every day. Our birds enjoy their time outdoors immensely. It gives them a chance to disconnect from humans and just be birds for a while. When I look out the window to check on them, I see them ruffling their feathers in the cool breeze, napping, preening, playing with their toys and snacking on healthy foods. They watch the hummingbirds, squawk at hawks and crows in the distance, and interact with each other in a flock dynamic. My two pet quakers get along well enough that they can share an outdoor space together. My other pet birds do not get along so well, so they each have their own space when they go out. But even in separate enclosures, they interact with each other as one unit, a "flock". If one bird sees something and gives a warning call, all the birds react accordingly.When I am bringing them out one by one in the morning, none of the birds will begin to eat their breakfast until all the usual flock members have arrived.

Sunlight is very important for our birds physical health. Birds have a uropygial or "preen gland" above the base of their tail. This gland secretes a special oil that produces vitamin d when exposed to sunlight. As the bird preens the oil over it's feathers, it ingests some of this oil which converts to vitamin d3 by the birds liver and kidneys. This vitamin is best known for it's role in aiding the body to absorb calcium. Some people use full spectrum bulbs for this reason. Vitamin d is also one of the vitamins included in pelleted foods. This is good, but I feel natural sunshine, not only promotes physical health, but emotional health as well. Who doesn't feel better when they get out of the house and spend some time outdoors for a while?

Bird harnesses are also a great way to get your bird outdoors. Our pet caique, Sukha LOVES her harness! When she sees me with it, she gets very excited because she knows we are going to be doing something together. She can barely contain herself while I am placing it on her. The harness has allowed me to do more activities with her because I know she is safe. She goes out with me every afternoon to help me with the outside chores. She goes with me to the feed store when I buy supplies. She "helps" me bring the garbage cans to the curb and check the mail. My husband and I recently went to a friend's barbeque, and Sukha came along with us! She loves all the attention she receives when she goes places!

For my other birds who don't wear a harness, I use a small lightweight cage to put them in so they can be a part of outdoor activities as well. They also accompany me to the feed store this way. My amazon puts on quite the show of singing, burping and laughing when she meets new people. As the people start laughing at her antics, she gets wound up and can sometimes act unpredictably. The travel cage allows people to interact with her in a safe manner while she's "doing her thing".

Our young birds start to go outside at a young age. First I bring their familiar weaning cages outside. Then as they become more confident, they spend time in the larger outdoor cages on the deck. After that, they spend several hours a day in the walk-in flight aviary. Exposing young birds to being outside adds another dimension to their life experience. They fly, climb, chew on bark, feel the elements and are exposed to different sights and sounds. They love it!

I have seen some very creative ways that people have come up with to provide their birds some outdoor time. There is even a facebook group dedicated to helping it's members with outdoor enclosure ideas. The group is called Home Aviary Design. The people are very supportive. You can check it out here:

If your bird has not been outside before, take things slow and keep it positive. Most learn to enjoy it after they've been out a few times.

Friday, April 24, 2015

The great wing trimming debate

I receive calls occasionally from customers who tell me they do not want their babies wings trimmed. When I ask why, I usually get one of two reasons: These people have had a poor experience in the past with one of their birds receiving a botched (too short) wing trim. The second is that some feel trimming the bird's wings is unnatural and they want the bird to have free reign of the house (which to me, is not a good idea).

I find it interesting that people have such black and white opinions on this subject. There is a third option however. The moderate/conservative wing trim, which is what we do here for our birds. I'll touch on that later.

Our policy is to allow all our babies full flight until we see they are confident and skilled in their flying and landing abilities. This is so important for their physical and mental development. An interesting thing I have noticed is weaning confidence goes hand in hand with flying confidence.

Green cheek conure making a safe, controlled landing with
moderately clipped wings.
Around here, things can get pretty interesting when the babies are fledging! Kitchen chores are done with babies hanging out on top of my head, on my shoulders and hanging by one foot off the front of my shirt (laugh). Ceiling fans are off, doors closed, and careful attention must be paid to where the babies are at all times. Small birds, such as parrotlets can get lost in an instant! I remember one of my parrotlets went missing during playtime. I was feeding another baby and looked away for just a moment. I frantically looked for that baby for about an hour. I finally looked up and saw the little one perched on a chandelier!

This phase is a lot of fun for me. I like to teach a little bit of flight recall training (indoors of course). It's great exercise for the babies and so natural for them at this stage. A few repetitions of them flying to me and they are ready to settle down and play with the toys on their play area or get something to eat. I take pictures of the babies flying for my customers which they enjoy as well.

They also get to practice their flight skills in our outdoor "day" aviaries. Interestingly enough, after a few minutes of play out there too, they tend to settle down and just hang out.

Once they are flying well, I take just a little bit off the first four flight feathers on the first trim. Just a LITTLE BIT. In fact, the babies don't even notice and continue to fly as if they were still flighted. After a day or two, I trim just a little bit more and evaluate how they get around. My motto is you can always trim more off, but you can't put it back on!! So moderation and observation is the key when trimming feathers. After about the third trim, the babies again, are still getting around very well. BUT my moderate trim still allows for very good horizontal flight and balanced landings, while limiting the HEIGHT that the babies can reach when flying. This keeps them out of the ceiling fans and off the top of the curtain rods. It also slows them down to a more controlled speed while they are learning to navigate in their new homes.

Sometimes, the babies will build up some muscle strength after a few weeks in their new home and the owner's tell me the flights had to be trimmed just a little bit more (when this occurs, it is usually with the lighter bodied birds such as green cheek conures or parrotlets). To me, this is fine. It tells me that I trimmed the wings appropriate for the bird's age and physical condition while it was here.

My customers tell me they love my wing trimming method. Their birds are very social, flying to them, confident enough to explore the new play areas, etc. A recent customer, who purchased a jardines from me, really took some convincing when I told him I was going to trim his baby's wings. But when they came and got their baby, the wife remarked at how well their baby was able to fly and that it did so in such a controlled manner. Veterinarians have also complimented the wing trims on my babies when they are brought in for their well bird exams.

Young caique in full flight with moderately trimmed wings
For most households, I do recommend a bird's wings be trimmed. But this is a personal choice. Wing trims do not last forever. Should an owner decide he/she wants their bird free flighted, they can let the wings grow out after their birds molt and see how it goes. About 99% of my customers who have done this, after a short time, do decide to have the wings moderately trimmed again. But a few of my customers have kept their birds fully flighted very successfully using positive training techniques.

Trimming the wings helps behaviorally with some birds as well. I have one customer, who when their parrotlet is fully flighted, he claims the whole house as his territory and becomes hard to manage. Once the wings are trimmed, he settles back down to his usual, social personality. I had another customer tell me one of his birds took a disliking to the youngest child in the family, and if out, would fly and attack the child! Slowing this bird down with a wing trim would be the first step in getting back some control to establish more acceptable behavior.

A proper, very moderate wing trim like I mentioned above, has worked very well for us for 18 years and our customers tell us it works for them as well. As far as the argument that trimming a bird's wings is not "natural", one must remember that our home environment is not natural for birds. So I take this argument with a grain of salt. How many windows, walls and ceiling fans does a wild parrot need to avoid while flying at full speed in the jungle?

When I trim a bird's wings, the purpose is to SLOW DOWN the bird's flight and limit the HEIGHT that the bird can reach, NOT prevent flight entirely. Some people who are against clipping at all make the analogy that clipping a bird's wings is like cutting off a human's legs. I see it more like putting a parachute on a dragster to enable it to slow it down in a safe, controlled manner.

The safety and well being of our babies as they go into their new homes is our number one priority. We have found our moderate wing trimming technique allows our babies to acclimate safely in their new homes, while still having some (but not all) of their flight capabilities. After the bird is in your home for a few months and begins it's first molt, it is up to you to make the decision about what is best for you and your bird.