Whether you are a chicken, parrot, parakeet or human, we are all products of our environment. If you have an environment that has adequate shelter, food and water, most likely you and your pet birds will be happy and healthy.
Promote Positive Behaviors
Just like with human kiddos it’s good to offer enrichments at an early age. No matter what type of pet bird(s) you have, try to make sure your birds can do the following:
Foraging and scratching (when birds look for food by “scratching” the ground with both feet) for food is a big part of a bird’s day. Their goal is to unearth morsels of food or hidden insects so that they can peck at and eat ’em up! This is commonly performed in loose litter or soil. Allowing your birds opportunities to forage and peck will allow your birds to exhibit their natural behaviors and helps keep their beaks and claws an “appropriate” length.
Most birds are perchers. In the wild perching on a branch while sleeping allows them to avoid some predators. If you have more than one bird in your flock make sure you have enough room for all the birds to perch at the same time. Also make sure the perch is smooth and that the birds claws wrap around 2/3 of perch for adequate control.
Encouraging dust bathing
Birds will dust bathe in any loose dirt or sand. This helps the birds maintain their plumage by regulating the amount of oil on their feathers and controlling parasites. IF you have mite problems, to help facilitate control of ectoparasite mites (and likely other ectoparasites), you can make a dust bath with a mixture of food grade diatomaceous earth (DE) and play sand. Specifically, get a cat litter box and mix 1 part DE and 4 parts play sand. Allowing them to dustbathe in this mixture has been shown to reduce mites which are a common problem in chickens.
Reducing Negative Behaviors
Again, just like with human kiddos, it’s best to identify negative behaviors earlier and work toward reducing/eliminating them sooner than later. No matter what type of pet bird(s) you have, try to mitigate the following behaviors:
Detering food wastage
While eating, some birds (like your kids and “that” uncle) make a mess. You can offer food in the form of pellets instead of a crumble or mash to decrease waste. Some feeders only allow the birds to stick their heads into the feeder, which reduces feed spilling out.
Broodiness is when a female bird sits on her eggs to incubate them in the hope that they will hatch into babies. Once birds are broody, they will stop laying eggs. So, IF you want to encourage your birds to lay more eggs, collect eggs every day and more often if you notice any broody behavior.
Dissuading aggressive behaviors
If you notice aggressive behavior such as fighting and cannibalism, make an assessment of the entire coop area, overall flock health and their diet. If no flock health or dietary issue is flagged, focus on flock environment/behavior. You want to make sure that the coop “sparks joy” among your chickens. In order to “spark joy” make sure:
- Your birds should have adequate horizontal and vertical play space. For example, chickens need around 2.5-4 sq/ft per bird in the coop and at 2.5-4 sq/ft per bird outside the coop.
- Adequate perch space. Again, for chickens this is about 9 inches.
- Enrichments! Birds like toys. Parakeets for example love swinging and moving toys.
Big picture, don’t “chicken out” on behavior. By helping your birds promote positive behavior and reduce negative behavior you will go a long way to making sure your birds are living their best lives.
This article was written by Dr. Maurice Pitesky at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine-Cooperative Extension.