The Perfect Habitat
Retailers should advise bird customers about proper temperature, humidity and lighting requirements.
Birds that are commonly kept as pets have come from many different environments in the wild. Macaws are mainly found in rainforests, where the humidity and temperature remain high most of the year. The most popular finch species kept, the zebra finch, lives in the desert regions of Australia, where the temperatures can fluctuate by over 40 degrees Fahrenheit between day and night. Of course, the most popular caged birds are fairly adaptable–otherwise, they would never have become pet birds–and can therefore live and even breed in environments that are different from their wild habitats.
However, to ensure long-term health and for more successful breeding outcomes, it is important to try and match a bird’s local habitat. The three most important environmental factors to discuss with potential customers are temperature, humidity and lighting.
Temperature is not a huge factor, especially when keeping birds indoors, as the temperatures that are comfortable for us will also be comfortable for birds. However, it is best not to place the cage near any vents where cold or hot air will blow right onto the bird. The cage should be kept near a window when possible, but not in a place where the whole cage is in direct sunlight, as this may cause the bird to become too warm.
For keeping birds outdoors in aviaries, it is important to have a place the birds can go to warm up if they are being kept in a colder habitat (or to cool off in tropical surroundings). To help the birds warm up, offer customers a “hot box,” which is usually an area set up with a protected heat lamp. Bird owners can also provide access to an indoor area from the outdoor aviary.
Although most caged birds kept in captivity come from warmer climates, it is also important to be sure that a bird can cool off. Usually, providing a shaded area in the aviary will help keep a bird cool on hot and sunny days. In regions where it can get very dry and hot, supplying a misted area will help as well.
Humidity can also play an important role in keeping captive birds healthy. Humidity should be taken into consideration when the location of the owner’s home is in an especially wet or dry environment. Amazon parrots, for example, come from places with high humidity and would find Florida a better place to live than Arizona. Of course, humidifiers and dehumidifiers can be used as needed to keep a bird more comfortable.
Lighting plays a larger role in keeping caged birds healthy than many people may realize. Birds located indoors will benefit by being kept near a window through which they can get lots of indirect sunlight. If the cage cannot be placed near a window, or the days are short–as they can be in the Northern United States during the winter–advise customers to use a full-spectrum bulb above the bird’s cage. This light should be on at least ten hours a day, and up to 12 during the summer or when the plan is to breed the birds.
Along with having light during the day, a bird needs darkness at night to sleep properly. To achieve this, the cage can be covered as needed, or the bird can be moved into a “sleeping room,” which should be completely dark and quiet for at least ten to 12 hours a day.
Some domesticated animals get used to living in conditions different from their ancestors, even to a point where it may not be able to survive out in the wild anymore. This is not the case with pet birds, except those that have been bred in captivity for hundreds of years, such as budgerigars and canaries. But most pet birds, especially the medium to large parrots, are not too many generations away from their wild kin, so it makes sense to keep them in a place that closely resembles their wild habitats.
Birds are adaptable and can live well even if their surroundings are not ideal for them, but they will stay healthier and live longer kept in conditions close to what they are used to in the wild. It is therefore necessary that bird owners be made aware of the proper environmental conditions that will keep their pet birds happy and healthy.
Robyn Bright has a master’s degree in parrot biology and more than 35 years of pet retailing experience.