Imagine if your pet could ask, “How are you doing?,” or answer, “Hello!,” when the phone rings. If you are an exotic bird owner, this may be an everyday occurrence for you.
“Exotic birds can be one of the most entertaining and rewarding pets to have as part of your feathered family,” says Dr. Troy Tollefson, nutritionist, research and development at Mazuri.
Prior to joining the Mazuri team, Tollefson worked as a nutritionist at Busch Gardens, developing diets for everything from parrots and flamingos to pelicans and hawks.
“Some of the same exotic birds that I’ve previously worked with in managed care can also be found in homes throughout the world,” Tollefson said. “In either case, the same principles apply for keeping an exotic bird happy and healthy.”
Before taking flight and bringing one home, here are 6 key points to consider:
1. You’ve found a lifelong friend
One of the most exciting times of new pet ownership is the day you bring them home. Whether cat, dog, rabbit or macaw, doing research ahead of time will prepare the whole family for the journey ahead.
“The number one thing to keep in mind when considering an exotic bird for a pet is understanding that they’re very long-lived,” Tollefson said. “Small animals such as hamsters, guinea pigs or rabbits are short-lived compared to a parrot. With life expectancies upwards of 50 years, most parrots will likely outlive their owners.”
Exotic birds provide a playful source of life-long entertainment for their keepers. In fact, birds of the psittacine family, such as macaws and cockatiels, can have vocabularies of a few hundred words.
“Knowing the nuances of the species and how they communicate is key to enjoying your bird’s friendly banter,” Tollefson continues. “For example, macaws are rather talkative and vocal compared to budgies. Choose the bird that best fits your lifestyle.”
2. Provide proper housing
“Just like with caring for any other animal, you should ask the basic husbandry questions before bringing your bird home,” Tollefson said. “Is it going to be an active bird that needs a lot of space? Can you accommodate a large enough cage? Where can you let them out to explore?”
Birds should have enough room to spread their wings, jump from one perch to another, climb the bars of the cage and play with toys. Ideally, they should also be provided with a space to accommodate flight and ample out-of-cage time.
Daily cleaning and sanitation of the enclosure is just as important. Birds are very sensitive to respiratory irritants, such as mold, fungus and bacteria. Maintaining a clean environment will allow them to live comfortably through the decades.
3. Offer complete nutrition
Tollefson explains that one common misconception bird enthusiasts have is that their bird’s diet must mimic what they eat in nature.
“Hyacinth macaws eat seven types of palm nuts in the wild as their main diet,” Tollefson said. “However, while pet owners may provide a few nuts as treats or rewards to their Hyacinths, those that they source may not be the same nutrition as the wild nuts. It’s important to include a balanced diet along with any nuts provided to them.”
“With Mazuri’s complete feeds, we don’t try to replicate that natural diet of palm nuts,” explains Tollefson. “Instead, through research and development, we replicate the nutrition to make the basic building blocks as similar as possible for each individual species. Nutrition is a proactive science that allows pet owners to invest in their animals’ future.”
4. Proactively manage health
While sitting in front of the TV with a bag of potato chips, it’s easy to eat more than we should. A bird in managed care may find themselves in a similar scenario, so it’s important for keepers to maintain balance for them.
“Obesity is the number one problem with pet birds,” explains Tollefson. “To properly manage your bird’s weight, feed them a limited amount in the morning and in the evening, versus feeding them free choice all day long.”
Tollefson recommends the majority of a birds’ diet consist of a complete feed. While fresh fruits, vegetables, seeds and nuts may enrich your bird, too much can cause a variety of health problems, especially for a long-lived species.
“A good rule of thumb to follow: only provide 10 percent seeds, 20 percent fruit and nuts to supplement feed,” he continues. “Treats like seeds and nuts can be higher in fat. A high-seed diet can also be low in a variety of vitamins and nutrients that are important to maintaining bones, feathers, digestion, immunity and more.”
5. Schedule regular visits with a trusted veterinarian
Similar to humans, regular health and nutrition check-ups for exotic birds often results in a healthy life. Working with a trusted veterinarian to proactively manage an exotic bird’s health and wellness can extend their lifespan even beyond 50 years.
If you’ve ever attempted to trim the nails of a flapping bird, you know it can be quite a challenge or feat. A veterinarian that has experience with birds can help you with nail, beak and wing trims to maintain them at the proper length.
By nature, exotic animals are very good at hiding signs of illness in the wild to protect themselves from predators. An annual wellness exam with a veterinarian who is knowledgeable about bird behavior is a proactive way to screen for issues that may not be as clearly apparent.
6. Entertain them with environmental enrichment
Exotic birds have a remarkable capacity to learn new things. To keep them entertained and stimulated, many bird owners provide their feathered friends with swings, bells and food puzzles as a training reward.
“One of the most rewarding aspects of keeping an exotic bird is coming up with a variety of different toys to keep them mentally stimulated,” Tollefson said.
Enrichment can come in many forms, from toys and treats to simply spending special time with their keepers. Find your bird’s favorite boredom buster, sit back and let the fun begin!