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About Cockatiels: Bird Health Maintenance


   We all want a healthy bird. It's not terribly difficult to keep your cockatiel in good health, but just like anything else, a bird sometimes falls ill. This section is an attempt at a guide on how to keep your bird healthy and happy.
   One of the first major factors is diet. I believe I have gone into it extensively in the nutrition section, so I will briefly summarize. Birds need a healthy and varied diet. A main course of pellets, with fruits and veggies on the side, is a good start in the right direction. Occasional treats of small amounts of seed and millet spray are fine, but keep in mind that to a bird, such treats are like Big Macs: unhealthy to be eaten every day. Fresh produce must be removed from the cage about four hours after offering it, lest it become a playground for bacteria. Don't feed your bird potato chips or other junk food. A cockatiel eating one potato chip is equal to us eating 50 chips! Excessive salt is fatal to cockatiels. Fresh water must be offered daily. If, in the course of the day, the bird poops into the water trough, the water should be changed. Cleaning the grille and paper tray should be done regularly as well.
   I highly recommend placing a cuttlebone and mineral block in your bird's cage. They are only a few dollars and last a long time. Birds like to gnaw, and these will provide necessary nutrients as well as helping to wear down their beak so it doesn't become overgrown.
   Yet another problem with those "beginner kits" they sell for cockatiels is the "mite protector" that usually comes with them. Your bird doesn't need that, it's the equivalent of hanging a sack of moth balls on the cage. Birds can even die from this treatment. If you suspect your bird of having mites (a problem most birds do not have, because it involves having contact with outside birds) it should be taken to an avian vet immediately. Also, don't spray your bird with the oils they sell, or any medication until consulting an avian vet. You could be doing more harm than good.
   Although it may not seem that way at first, keeping your bird's wings clipped will keep your bird happy and healthy. Clipping the wings establishes a certain dominance over the bird, keeping them calm and perfectly content to nibble on your ears. Otherwise, the bird may see itself as "top bird," and chomp on your finger and basically fly around doing whatever it wants. Clipping also prevents birds from flying into mirrors, windows, or even taking off out the door. I knew someone who didn't clip their cockatoo's wings, and the bird flew into a window and its beak broke off. Not only did they have to handfeed it, but when they got to the vet, who tried to glue it back on, the bird asphixiated and died. To think it could have all been avoided with a few snips of the scissors.
   Don't try to clip the wings yourself if you have never done so. Either take it to the vet, or to me (I charge $5 and will demonstrate how it's done). Randomly chopping on your bird is never a good idea. Some feathers on birds are blood feathers, and if you cut them, it is not only painful, the bird will bleed, sometimes to death. Until you've been shown how, and all your questions answered, don't clip them yourself. If you have doubts, ask the person to show you again, or just keep taking your bird to the vet to have them clipped.
   There are some pet stores that allow you to pick up birds, and there are pet fairs where you are literally surrounded by birds. You must wash your hands immediately when you get home, and if you've allowed a bird to sit on your shoulder, put your shirt into the wash immediately. I know a bird loving couple that enters their house through the laundry room and immediately change their clothes and then take a shower. This may sound a bit drastic, but diseases are easy to spread and there's no such thing as being too careful. It would be terrible for your little cockatiel to become sick just because you didn't wash your hands. You don't know where these birds at pet stores and bird fairs have been, it's better to be safe than sorry.
   Occasionally, it may be necessary to have your cockatiel's toes trimmed. Plenty of hard perches in the cage should take care of that, but sometimes, and especially if you have a cloth perch or two, they don't. Cutting 'tiel claws is a lot like cutting dog toenails, because they have a quick which will bleed profusely if you cut it. Cockatiel toes are black, so it's a bit of guesswork. I advise either making sure they have plenty of hard perches, or seeing a vet to trim them until you get a feel for it.
   Birds are very prone to stress related illnesses, so it's better if you avoid stress totally. Some circumstances you are unable to control - your bird may be molting, you may get a new puppy or new bird, or you could go away on vacation. You should make sure your bird has plenty of its favorite toys around, and leave it alone if it wants to be in these circumstances. You should not let small children squeeze, tease, or frighten your bird. Don't run around with a bird on your shoulder. If a bird wants to be left alone, leave it alone. Traveling is also stressful for birds, try to keep its cage covered (remove all the perches) or place it in a box with air holes.
Broken Tail Feathers    Young birds are prone to breaking feathers. They are clumsy, and they are like little kids. They move around a lot, without all the experience of other birds, and they will break some tail feathers. The feather should be clipped off where it is broken, because it is uncomfortable. You can either leave it clipped off, or you can have it pulled. If you bought your tiel from me, I will pull feathers for free. For anyone else, it is $5. If the feather is bleeding, it has broken a blood feather, and you should immediately apply cornstarch, or Qwik Stop, if available. Birds have little blood, they can't afford to lose any. The blood feather must be pulled.
   The picture on the left is an assortment of pulled broken feathers. They aren't very attractive! If a tail gets really ragged looking, you may elect to have the ratty feathers pulled so that new ones can come in. New feathers seem to be a lot stronger, and not break often, if at all. In my older birds, I never have to pull a feather.

   Finally, cockatiels are not cage birds. They are meant to be handled and played with. Ignoring your bird will not only make it less likely to want to be picked up, it will be stressful to a bird that is used to being out of its cage and handled a lot. If it comes to the point where you can't give your bird the attention it deserves, then it's best to find someone who will.