This Months Expert: Louisa Jaskulski, RVT
Question: During the holiday season what are some of the main sources of hazards to our avian companions and how can we eliminate or minimize these hazards?
Stress: Our birds are very empathic, and will absorb and reflect the emotions of the household. If we are tired, upset, worried, unusually happy and energetic, or distracted, our birds may react by screaming or biting, or trying to hide. Give them calm attention, reassuring them that they are loved and safe, and that the human flock has not entirely lost its collective mind.
Strangers/Guests: Birds are prey animals, programmed to be cautious of new beings in their environment lest they be predators. New people should be instructed about how the birds should be approached and treated. Discourage guests from poking fingers into cages. Even well socialized "show off birds" who love attention can become tired from too much fuss. Small children are often oblivious to animals' limits and sensitivities, and can frighten or harm birds without meaning to. Older children can sometimes be threatening. For shy birds, the
arrival of strangers can be traumatic. Guests may get bitten by a frightened bird who is trying to defend its body or cage. Be sure that your birds can retreat from view and attention when they want to, and that they get plenty of undisturbed sleep. (A "sleep cage" in a dark quiet room can be a big help).
Foods: Our homes are often filled with foods of the season - candies, baked goods, salty snacks, rich foods, drinks with caffeine or alcohol in them. Parrots (budgies to macaws) are by nature curious, and if we are eating/drinking it, they want some too. Our birds are not designed to eat chips, chocolate, gravies, cheese sauces, butter, cakes/cookies, or any caffeine or alcohol. These can be toxic, even fatal. Keep bird appropriate treats on hand to share instead.
Open Doors: With all the comings and goings, be triple careful about keeping birds away from doors - they can get caught in doors, or they can escape.
Decorations: Bright shiny paper often contains substances which are dangerous if ingested. Chewing on wiring for lights can result in electrocution, and there can be toxins in wire insulation or the wire itself. Tinsel can get stuck in the GI tract. Christmas trees can be sprayed with toxic fire retardants or fake snow.
Air Quality: Birds have a complex respiratory system, and are much more sensitive to airborne particles than we are. trees sometimes carry molds or chemical sprays; cigarette or fireplace smoke; strong perfumes; holiday candles, incense, potpourri, smoky fireplaces, cooking fumes, burning food, any kind of overheated "non-stick" coating - - all can cause avian illness or death. Best to keep birds well away from such potential sources. Good ventilation is critical to avoid build ups of bacteria, viruses, dust, fumes in the tight confines of our homes. Let fresh air come in when possible, and don't let the air get too dry.
Feet, Pots and Plants: Birds on the floor will, of course, seem to aim to get under your feet. Hot stoves and cooking pots can burn the misdirected bird. If your bird likes to eat plants, beware the lovely poinsettia and romantic mistletoe.
Boarding: If you board your birds while you are gone, check to be sure the boarding facility requires the birds to have a recent health check, including blood work and a negative chlamydia test, so your birds are not exposed to disease being shed by another bird.
Winter Temperatures: Our birds are much hardier than we might think. Certainly the wild parrots in San Francisco have thrived through cold foggy winters, wild Quaker parrots live in Chicago, and I have seen films of cockatoos gleefully playing in the snow (they had an indoor area to to to if they so desired). (I have also met a macaw who lost most of his feet because a stupid breeder left him outside in winter when he was a young bird and his feet froze to the ground ---) Feathers provide great insulation. If our birds are healthy, and have had a chance to acclimate to the lowering temperatures, they should do fine in our homes or outdoor aviaries (as long as they are protected from abrupt temperature changes, wind and rain). Most birds appreciate a lit supplemental heat if kept in a cold room or outdoor aviary.. Older birds, arthritic birds, or birds with health problems, should be kept warmer. Heated perches (these are chewproof, and have steel wrapped wire designed to avoid electrocution) or radiant wall panels designed for birds, work well.
Nutrition And Hydration: Keep in mind that the air in our homes gets very dry when we use heat, creating a
risk of dehydration and drying mucus membranes. Provide moist foods and lots of fresh water. Keep up those daily showers - give them their drenching bath first thing in the morning so they can dry off as the day warms up. Be aware that birds need to eat more nutritious calories when it is cold.
Final Note: Parrots love silliness, singing and laughing. These intelligent, beautiful beings are themselves great gifts to us. Remind them often that you love and enjoy them. With care and consideration, they can enjoy healthy "HAPPY HOLIDAYS" right along with us crazy bird people!