WAES Foster Guide
While rewarding, fostering a bird also comes with many considerations for their care. We’ve compiled the guide below to help all of our current and future foster homes.
Prepared for WAES July 2001. Updated November 2017.
Quarantining of foster birds and newly adopted birds is important to help prevent transmission of disease to people and other birds living in the home. It also protects a very stressed and oftentimes sick foster bird by limiting exposure to organisms to which other pets have developed an immunity.
This means that the bird should be housed in its own closed room away from all other birds and animals. In modern homes with central heating and air-conditioning, it is very difficult to fully close off a room. If feasible the vents can be sealed off to prevent the circulation of air in and out of that room; a fan can be used within the room or a screened window may be opened slightly to facilitate air movement. Animals should not be allowed to enter the room; care should be taken about the clothing worn in and out of the room. It is helpful if separate clothing and footwear are available to be kept inside the room; hands should be thoroughly washed and all bird dishes should be washed carefully. The bird should remain in that restricted area until the veterinary tests are completed and the bird is proven healthy.
Fostering a Bird
During the first few days after bringing a bird home, cover the cage on three sides and top with a sheet if the bird seems stressed. This will help it get used to its new home. Gradually remove the sheet for short periods until it feels comfortable in its cage. It is best to have one side of the cage against a wall.
If the bird is not in its own cage, place the perch down low near the dishes, this is especially important for clumsy younger birds that may fall. Raise the perch gradually over several days, but watch the bird to make sure it is able to get to its food. Gradually raise the dishes as well to be near the final perch position.
Birds can become frightened with too much activity and excitement. Try to keep this to a minimum for the first few days. Some birds adjust to new surroundings without skipping a beat; others don’t and should be monitored carefully to assure that they are eating and drinking enough.
Clean food dishes
The bird’s food dishes should be kept clean and free from droppings, wet food, insects, etc. If this means cleaning them more than once a day, it should be done. If you won’t eat out of the dish, the bird shouldn’t either.
Clean water dish or water bottle
The water source for your foster bird is a perfect place for fungal and bacterial growth. Many birds dunk their food before eating it, turning it into a soup. If you won’t drink the water, your bird shouldn’t either. Modern pelleted diets are very drying to a bird, they need lots of clean water to properly digest them.
Clean grate and cage
Grates and perches should be wiped off regularly and disinfected. Since this is where your bird walks and plays. they are an easy source of bacterial and fungal growth if they are not kept clean. Care should be taken when chemically cleaning and disinfecting to make sure that the chemicals you use are non-toxic. Be sure to rinse well.
Safe place to roost and play
Make sure your foster bird’s cage and play stand are located in a safe place, away from kitchen hazards, aggressive pets, open doors and unscreened windows, drafts, etc. Don’t forget the ceiling fan; even the slowest fan can cause severe damage to an unsuspecting bird. Tall Torchiere lamps with halogen bulbs are EXTREMELY DANGEROUS around flighted birds. They are tall and flying birds will want to land on them, if they are lit this can easily result in severe burns.
Birds commonly want to be with you all the time, even when you are cooking. It is best not to have birds on your shoulder or in the vicinity when cooking, a small slip and the bird may be severely burned.
Birds are often noisy, it is natural
If you go running to the cage every time the bird starts screaming he will learn to scream to get attention. Try to ignore the bird when it is screaming, and as soon as it quiets down go praise it and give it some attention.
When to call an Avian Veterinarian
The following are guidelines for when an avian veterinarian should be called:
- Birds that may be seen at the owner’s convenience:
- Annual physical examination
- Breeding check
- Blood collection for DNA sexing
- Chronic feather picking
- Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease/polyoma virus screening
- Wing, beak, nail trim
- Birds that should be seen the day of call:
- Cough or sneeze
- Eye or nasal discharge
- Acute feather picking
- Watery droppings
- Loss of appetite
- Feather loss around the eyes
- Fluffed appearance
- Newly acquired healthy baby bird examination
- Postmortem examination ( death )
- Vomiting or regurgitation (Some regurgitation is an affectionate feeding response, and not from illness.)
- Birds that should be seen immediately:
- Eye injury
- Cat or dog induced injury
- Mate induced injury
- Broken Blood Feather
- Excessive bleeding/torn nails
- Bleeding from mouth or vent
- Lying on the bottom of the cage
- Labored breathing
- Laying hen appears ill
- Head Trauma
- Blunt trauma
- Open Wound
- Ingestion of foreign body
If there is any question about the above, a member of the rescue committee should be consulted.
It is important that you keep your foster bird on the same diet that it was on when you got it. If the avian veterinarian suggests that the diet be modified, do it only under his direction over a period of weeks or months. Until your bird recognizes the new food as “food,” it could lose weight and even starve to death. Care needs to be taken that the bird has sufficient droppings to indicate that it is eating enough. Following are suggested diet guidelines: Pellets
Pellets should be placed in a clean bowl by the perch the bird uses the most. The bird should always have pellets available. Many experts think a bird’s diet should be about 75% pellets or more.
Fruits and vegetables
These need to be thoroughly washed. Fruits are more in the treat category; many of them, like grapes and apples, are mostly sugar and water. Dark vegetables are generally the most nutritious, like carrots, broccoli, yams, beans, spinach.
Seeds and nuts
These should be treats only. They are very high in fat and low in nutrition. An all-seed diet is VERY BAD! If the bird came into rescue on an all-seed diet be sure to discuss it with the veterinarian or someone on the rescue committee.
Birds typically love pasta of all kinds. There are many commercial pasta/bean mixes available that are healthy and generally well-accepted by pet birds. You can also make your own, but be sure to discuss it with someone on the rescue committee. If you are eating cereal or rice you can share a little with your bird, if it doesn’t have heavy cheesy or salted sauces on it.
Vitamins and supplements
If a bird is on a good pellet-based diet it will seldom need these.
Extra calcium may be important for African Greys and laying hens.
Discuss it with someone on the rescue committee.
Most of what we eat can be safely eaten in small quantities by your bird, but use common sense. Fatty and salty foods are not good for either of you! Avocado is fatty and some think toxic as well. Keep your bird away from coffee, chocolate, alcohol. A bird has very delicate lungs, DO NOT smoke around it! Many houseplants are toxic as well, do not allow your bird to chew on them.
Parrots chew their food, therefore they DO NOT need grit in their diets like some other birds do.
All birds need frequent baths to maintain good feather quality. If the bird won’t get into a bowl of water to play, try misting it with a spray bottle, or taking it into the shower with you. Bathing promotes healthy preening and keeps the feathers clean and flexible. It also helps prevent dry skin.
Clipping Wings and Nails
This may be the most controversial of all topics. In its early days, the WAES recommended always keeping the bird’s wings clipped.
However, recent research with CAT scans proves serious muscular and skeletal damage results from clipping wings and not allowing a bird to fly. But having a bird fly away to die is a very real danger if it is flighted. A flighted bird requires a great deal of vigilance, it can get into serious trouble instantly. A clumsy bird can fly into walls, mirrors, windows, etc., as well as out the window If you decide to clip the bird yourself, get instructions from the veterinarian, especially regarding blood feathers, which can bleed profusely if accidentally cut.
The veterinarian may suggest having the bird’s nails trimmed during their checkup. Long nails can get caught in things, and sharp nails hurt. A cement perch can be used to help keep nails trimmed, but be careful that your bird doesn’t spend all its time on it, sore feet can result. You should check the bird’s feet weekly for sores if you are using a cement perch.
The cage should be large enough that the bird can exercise and stretch its wings without touching the bars of the cage or hanging toys. The bars should be spaced so that it cannot get its head caught and look for pinch points where toes or the band can become caught. The cage should be located against at least one wall, away from windows and doors, and out of the reach of other pets (think Tweety and Sylvester). Care should be taken to make sure it is not situated where the bird can become overheated (MUST HAVE SHADE FROM HOT SUN!) or chilled.
Birds should not be kept in dim areas, they need light. Full-spectrum lighting is good, it helps them use the calcium and vitamin D in their diets. Sunlight is best (take the bird outside in its cage for short periods but MAKE SURE IT CAN GET OUT OF HOT SUN), but sunlight through windows is not as effective.
Parrots are smart animals that need stimulation. They must have toys to play with and chew on. But many toys are dangerous. Rope toys can fray and wrap around toes, nylon and plastic rope is absolutely forbidden because the strands will not break. Rope toys need to be supervised, and all frayed ends cut off.
Be very careful that the links and connectors on toys cannot trap toes and beaks, parrots will pry open connectors and sometimes they will snap back on them. Chain links should be welded closed. C-clips are best for hanging toys.
Many household items make good cheap toys. Toilet paper rolls are great for play and chewing, as are wooden spools, popsicle sticks, plastic bottle caps, old-fashioned clothespins. Birds need to have chew toys to exercise and trim their beaks.
Parrots are not goldfish… they can’t be left in their cage all day without interaction with the family. You need to spend at least 1-2 hours a day playing with the bird or it will likely be very unhappy.
TEFLON IS DEADLY!
We have known people who lost seven birds in a few minutes when a Teflon pot was left empty on the hot stove. At normal temperatures it is safe, but when it gets overheated it puts out a poisonous gas that we can’t smell. Some home heating appliances have Teflon or other coatings on the wires to prevent corrosion before sale. These MUST be “broken in” before being used around the birds. Using the “self-clean” function on a self-cleaning oven around a bird can be deadly. Heavy cooking fumes and burnt foods are also potentially dangerous.
Use mild soaps and detergents. Keep birds away when cleaning carpets or any strong cleaners.
Bug spray is designed to kill.
Keep it away from your bird, and do not use the mite killer boxes that some pet shops sell for your cage, we don’t have those mites in Utah and the chemicals inside can be harmful.
Scented candles and room fresheners
These can be very dangerous. Use extreme care with these items.
…may seem to get along with the birds, but cats and dogs eat birds naturally in the wild, and their instincts may take over. Keep thinking Tweety and Sylvester. They MUST be supervised when near one another. DO NOT PUT TWO BIRDS TOGETHER IN ONE CAGE unless you have seen them play together well for a very long time, and ESPECIALLY don’t do it if the cage belongs to a bird that now feels it is “my cage.” Birds will pick on one another, will fight with one another, they are very territorial and their play together MUST be carefully supervised. There are many horror stories of one bird killing another because of jealousy or because they got put in cages together and were not compatible. If you are looking how to help your pet check this out CBD oils for your cat to relieve general or chronic pain, at Get Under Skeleton. you will get the best information about CBD treatments, make sure to see page observer.com you will find products to help anxiety, digestive issues, loss of appetite, and more.
Houseplants can be deadly.
Do not let your bird chew on them. Tree branches can be fun to put into cages for perching and play, but make sure they are not poisonous. Consult with the veterinarian or a member of the rescue committee.
The rescue committee will give you as much information as they can about the history of the bird, including its last vet exam. You may be asked to take the bird in to see the vet. It is imperative that you follow the vet’s advice about diet, medicines, etc. In general, an annual exam is very important, because birds in the wild hide their illnesses. Once a bird shows signs of illness it is often near death, so do not delay getting it examined if it seems ill.