Bird care

Before you purchase a bird, please ensure that you have thought carefully about the needs of birds as pets. Speak to your local veterinarian and other pet owners, and gather as much information as you can to aid you in your decision.

Responsibilities of owning a bird

Buying a bird really means that you are prepared to take on a serious commitment for five to ten years depending on the type of bird you choose. Keep in mind the following checklist:

Children caring for pets: Owning a pet provides a child with companionship and teaches the child responsibility and care for dependent creatures. Parents, however, must at all times guide children in their choice of a pet and the husbandry of the animal, and be prepared to supervise the day-to-day care so that the animal is not neglected through ignorance or loss of interest.

Which bird?

A canary or budgerigar is a particularly good pet for a family with very limited space or modest means. They are suitable for people living alone, especially flat dwellers. The care of these caged birds could hardly be more simple or undemanding, but the individuality they show depends on the degree of freedom they are allowed and on the stimulation provided by their surroundings and their companions.

Male or female: it is the male canary, which whistles, and the male budgerigar, which is easier to teach to talk.

Buying your bird

Buy your bird from a reputable source. Beware of purchasing it from markets, pet shops or places where large numbers of pets are kept, unless you are satisfied with the condition of the facilities.

Never purchase a pet that looks unwell or is for sale with other animals that look unwell. It is far better to avoid a problem by taking due care and precaution in selection. Purchasing the unwell animal may support a breeder who is not taking care of his animals. If you are ever concerned about the welfare of birds for sale, contact us to confirm the action to take to make a formal complaint.

Read all you can about the particular type of pet you have chosen. Books about birds are obtainable from pet shops, newsagents or your local library. Talk to friends who have the same type of bird you wish to purchase. Check with your local veterinary surgeon about the specific medical problems the bird of your choice could contract. At the same time check how these diseases are recognisable and what preventative measures are required to avoid them.

Birds require specialised shelter from the elements, protection from natural enemies such as cats, dogs and wild birds, a correct and balanced daily diet, and the opportunity to take adequate exercise.

Owners must ensure that pets receive proper veterinary care when they are ill, and must watch their pets to detect signs of illness.

Caring for your cage bird


A well-designed and built aviary is the most satisfactory housing for birds, enabling them to live with freedom of movement and some flight as though still in the wild state. Circumstances dictate that most birds kept as pets live in cages, usually manufactured of metal with wire mesh screening. The minimum size of cage to house one bird will depend on the breed of bird. Queries regarding cage sizes should be referred to the RSPCA.

The cage should be positioned in a well lit, sunny area where the birds will have frequent human contact, and in which it will be safe to be released to exercise. A portable cage stand permits the birds to be repositioned for their comfort. Appropriate perches of varying size must be provided as well as well-secured food and water troughs. The food and water receptacles should not be positioned beneath bird perches and any accidental contamination of the food and water by bird droppings must be removed immediately it is noticed.

Frequently, ladders, bells, ropes, swings, mirrors, and suitable toys are provided, but if the cage is over-furnished with them the bird may permanently injure itself by becoming entangled. At night the cage should be covered over to permit the bird to rest and to protect it from draughts.

Should the cage be placed outside the house on a given day, care must be taken to protect the bird from predators – cats and wild birds. Birds should not be left in the sun without shade.

A tray on the floor of the cage will collect excreta and should be removed each day and thoroughly cleaned. The cage itself should be easy to scrub out, while water and food troughs and perches should be easily removable for cleaning purposes. The Code of Practice for the Housing of Caged Birds provides minimum cage requirements and can be obtained from the Department of Primary Industries.


It is important to train your bird to be handled, especially to permit examination for signs of ill-health. Begin by letting them become accustomed to being handled in the cage. Soon they will become finger-tame, and then they may be removed from the cage whilst still perched on the finger. It will require a good deal of patience, and gentleness with finger pressures when actually handling the bird. Caution should be exercised when handling canaries.


Whilst canaries whistle, a lone budgerigar which enjoys close contact with the owner will very often learn to talk. These birds are first taught to talk at about six weeks of age, and if they have not succeeded by six months they probably never will. Talk to the bird directly, using the same word over and over. Once the bird has learnt one word, new words or complete phrases may be achieved.


The caged bird’s basic diet should consist of the specially prepared seed mixtures available in pet shops. This diet should be supplemented with green foods and fruit. Cuttlefish bone should be available in every cage to provide many trace minerals required by birds. Fresh water is essential to a bird’s life and must be replenished frequently in hot weather or if it becomes fouled.

Health and veterinary care for canaries and budgerigars

The signs of good bird health are listed below.

  • Demeanour: quiet and approachable, alert, observant, with periods of activity.
  • Appetite: good.
  • Breathing: quiet and rapid, with beak closed.
  • Feathers: luxuriant, well preened and held close to body. A good sheen
  • Beak: Not overgrown. No encrustations and able to pick up food easily
  • Eyes: Bright and watchful.

Signs of poor health are listed below. If your bird appears unwell for any reason, consult your veterinarian.

  • Ailments: a sick bird will droop on its perch, or sit on the bottom of the cage, be silent, with feathers fluffed out and sleep for most of the time, often with its head tucked under the wing. The bird’s breathing may be laboured. Observe the bird for abnormalities in the cage before handling, and where necessary seek veterinary advice.
  • Overgrown beak and claws: if the bird does not trim its own beak on cuttlefish bone, or its claws because of bad perches, then they will require trimming by a veterinary surgeon.
  • Feather plucking: mostly, this occurs from boredom. Once established, the habit is difficult to stop. Correct feeding is essential; toys and mirrors help distract the bird from itself.
  • Tumours: growths on or under the skin are common. Veterinary advice should be sought early.
  • Regurgitation: regurgitation of food by healthy single budgerigars should not be mistaken for vomiting. It is a courtship ritual and regurgitation will often take place whilst the bird looks at itself in a mirror.
  • Respiratory disease: colds, bronchitis or pneumonia may quickly respond to warmth. If the condition persists or deteriorates, the bird will require veterinary attention.
  • Mites: red mites feed on birds at night, causing much irritation to the bird. Signs of mite infection are found on the floor of the cage early in the morning. Dusting the bird with an insecticide and vigorous cleaning of the cage is necessary.
  • Scaly face: a grey encrustation caused by a mite, which gradually spreads around the beak, eyes, feet and legs. Scaly face is contagious. Special insecticidal solutions are necessary to treat this condition and a pest strip hung just outside the cage will help kill the mites.

General grooming

Water is required in the cage for bathing and should be provided in a separate, shallow saucer, particularly on warm days.

The law

The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act helps protect all animals from cruelty. If you suspect cruelty to an animal inform the RSPCA Inspectorate or Victorian Police immediately.

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