Basic Small Pet Bird Care in Temporary Shelters
(Finches, Canaries, Doves, Budgies (Parakeets), Cockatiels, etc.)
DIET: Most small birds will not eat unfamiliar foods. Try to find out what they are used to eating since brands may vary in appearance; try to gradually mix new food with old.
Finches, canaries, small doves and budgies can’t open sunflower seeds. Give a seed mix made for their species if you can. Few know how to eat pelleted diets.
In an emergency, you can use a seed mix made for other small species, or you can sift or pick out the larger seeds from parrot seed or wild bird seed with mostly millet.
Check dishes twice daily if possible. A layer of empty seed hulls may cover the unopened seeds deeper in the dish, so blow or scrape away the opened shells.
Birds may not eat every seed type in the mix. Watch droppings as described below.
Give 1 food dish for each 2 birds and 1 water dish for each 4 birds. Most don’t know how to drink from a bottle. Position dishes so they are in front of a perch.
Grit is not necessary in a temporary shelter. Budgies and cockatiels never need grit.
HOUSING: Minimum temperature 60 degrees, maximum 85 degrees. A bird that is too cold will fluff out the feathers. Covering the cage isn’t adequate; move to warm shelter.
Panting is a sign of distress and overheating. Cool with water and fans immediately.
Cage bars should not allow the head to push thru. Zip-tie cage to secure for moving.
Some species may become aggressive when starved or overcrowded.
Reduce stress with covers or barricades around 2 or 3 sides of the cage.
Use newspaper or paper towels in the cage bottom and change daily.
Place perches where the tail will not hit the cage bars, and not directly above other perches or dishes. The foot should wrap 1/2 to 3/4 of the way around the perch.
RESTRAINT: Never work on a flighted bird outdoors, move indoors or into a vehicle.
Capture with a hand towel or paper towel if needed. A darkened room may make capture easier. Corner the bird in the bottom of the cage and wrap the towel around it.
Gently encircle the neck with the thumb and forefinger to elongate the neck between the head and shoulders. Your fingertips should be touching under the lower beak thru the towel. The weight of the towel will help keep the wings at the bird's side. Support the body in the palm of the hand. Never restrict breathing by compressing the chest.
Do not trim the wings of finches, canaries, or small doves unless essential for safety.
COMMON MEDICAL PROBLEMS: Bacterial infections are very common. Keep cage and dishes clean; wash hands before handling; do not share food from your mouth.
Over the counter antibiotics and those used in dogs are often ineffective in birds.
Birds are extremely sensitive to toxic fumes. Never use aerosols near birds; be cautious with disinfectant fumes or exhaust from vehicles when rescuing.
Birds will hide symptoms of illness as long as possible. Report any subtle changes in sleeping, eating, breathing, droppings, or activity level immediately. A finch may die in 24 hours if not eating or drinking.
OTHER: There should be white urates and green/brown feces in each dropping. Watch for change in color or consistency. Birds that aren’t eating pass only urates or fluid.
Sick or injured birds may be picked on by cage mates. Remove immediately.
Small birds greatly benefit from extra heat when sick. Warm to 80 or 85 degrees.
Compiled by Julie Burge, DVM, Burge Bird Services, August 2010