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Gresham Animal Hospital

Exotic bird with a girl and sticks

Bird Care Tips

Keeping your Bird Healthy

Birds, after cats and dogs, are the third most popular pet in the United States. Even though they are small and caged, birds still require a great deal of care and attention. They are complex creatures, and if you take good care of your own bird, you will have the opportunity to see what unique pets they are.

Here are a few tips on how to keep your feathered friend happy and healthy in his life with your family.

Make Friends

While one bird can make a wonderful addition to your family, he’d probably be a lot happier with a friend of the same species. Even though male canaries may typically be kept by themselves, many birds are happier with a partner or small flock. In most cases, male/female pairs will do the best together. Finches frequently live in flocks of 100 or more, so having just one finch is contrary to their nature.

Unlike cats, dogs, rabbits, and other pets, you do not need to spay or neuter your birds. These surgeries for birds are much more invasive, and because of birds’ extremely light weights, correct anesthesia can be tricky. Also, since birds lay eggs, their population can be controlled by simply removing the eggs.

Behavior Problems

In general, the smaller domesticated bird species (canaries, finches, cockatiels, parakeets, lovebirds) are less likely to suffer from behavior problems than their wilder, more exotic counterparts. These species have been adapted to life as companion animals through long genetic selection. If you take proper care of them, most will never exhibit any behavior problems.

For those birds who do have behavior problems, the more common ones include frequent egg-laying by the female, or self-mutilating behaviors, such as feather-plucking. Such problems can be signs of boredom, dietary issues, incompatibility with cage mates, or stress.

Keep in mind that these issues are less frequent or non-existent in domesticated species, but can be seen more frequently in larger species.

Get a Vet

As pets, canaries and finches can live 8-10 years, while cockatiels, parakeets, and lovebirds can live up to 20 years. However, if you want your bird to live as long as possible, it is important that your bird stays healthy. Before getting your bird, you will need to find an avian-certified veterinarian in your area. If you have trouble finding one, contact your local animal shelter for advice.

Food for Thought

Birds are complex eaters and require a variety of foods to keep them healthy, depending on what type of bird they are. Read our guide to feeding your bird for more specific information on what to feed your bird.

New Home

Birds require much more than cages to be happy and healthy. Read about what birds need in their homes for enrichment and well-being here.

Bath Time

Birds will do a good job of keeping themselves clean, but they need a little help from you. All birds like and need to bathe. Most birds will bathe themselves vigorously if they have access to a shallow water bowl in their cages. This bowl should be separate from their drinking water. Some birds, especially cockatiels, may prefer to be spritzed by a squirt bottle.

Another part of avian hygiene is preening. Preening is a bird’s way of grooming and caring for his feathers. His preening will make sure that all of his feathers are nice and neat and pointing in the right directions.


It is also important to keep an eye on your bird’s nails. Nails may need to be trimmed periodically. If your bird’s nails start to curve around or if he is having trouble standing on a perch, it is probably time for a trim. Because trimming a bird’s nails must be done carefully, take the bird to a vet or have someone with experience assist you.

Sick Days

When birds are sick or injured, they will normally try to hide their illness. However, here are a few things to look for:

  • Closed or swollen eyes 

  • Diarrhea; or fecal stains on the feathers surrounding the vent (anus)

  • Sitting in one place for extended periods of time during the daylight hours with feathers puffed out

  • Noisy or labored breathing, with wheezing or clicking sounds

  • Shivering

If you see any of these signs, please call your veterinarian immediately. Until you can get your bird to the vet, use a heat lamp placed near his cage to provide extra warmth. Be sure the bird cannot reach the lamp, and direct the heat so that the bird can move close to it or move away from the heat if he chooses.

SRC: Human Society of the United States