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Keeping Birds Cool

Although most parrots are from tropical areas and budgies and weiros are native to Australia, our avian friends that we keep as pets are more used to a cushy life of air conditioning and sheltered patios.  The WA summer heat has a bite to it that we have all experienced and for a bird, especially one that is not acclimatised, this can result in heat prostration.

Heat stress, or heat prostration, is a serious problem during the summer months especially when cages or aviaries have inadequate ventilation or are in an enclosed building where the sun beats down on an unshaded roof all day.  The combination of high heat and humidity are particularly dangerous.

Birds have no sweat glands.  They cool themselves by rapid breathing with their mouths open and by holding their wings out slightly from their bodies.  The underneath of a bird’s wing has no feathers and the main wing artery is in that region.  If a bird is running a fever or is suffering from heat stress, this area will feel very hot to the touch.

Additional signs of a bird suffering from heat stress include rapid vibrations of the muscles and bones under the throat which also helps to cool the bird and in parrots with severe stress, a goose-honking type sound.

If a bird is displaying the effects of heat stress, it needs to be immediately cooled down with a gentle spray of water or damping with a cool sponge under his wings, feet and beak.  He should be taken immediately to an avian veterinarian.  Keep the car cool with the air conditioner but ensure that the air doesn’t blow directly on to the bird.

The “featherless” area under the wing allows a bird to cool itself and should always be clean and free of dirt, debris and oils.  Wash with cool water or bird shampoo if necessary.  Bird treatments should never be applied to this area.

In mild cases of stress or just to cool a bird down where misting hasn’t worked, take a clean sponge, dipping it into cool water and squeezing it onto the skin under each wing.  Do this several times on each side and let the cool cloth sit there for a few minutes between fresh rinses.  If the bird relaxes and begins to show signs of enjoying it, use the wet rag to dampen down his bottom half including his chest, feet and belly.  Allow the bird to drip dry in a cool, well ventilated area.  Air movement is important to allow the bird to continue to cool down but don’t let the breeze blow directly on to him.

Birds kept in smaller cages love being sprayed with a fine hand mister of cool water.  Weiros and galahs will almost turn themselves inside out to try to soak up every last drop.  It is quite spectacular to watch and very pleasing to see the birds perk up almost instantly.

For those with large aviaries, installing a fogger to mist the entire area will have a massive cooling effect.  These are available at hardware stores and are easily installed and attached to a garden tap.  If they are put on a simple tap timer they can be programmed to come on periodically in the middle of the day for a few minutes.  It is surprising how little water these systems use.

Alternatively, hose down the floors and walls of the area or put a small sprinkler just on the outside of the aviary.  This can make a bit of a mess and some seed might sprout but the birds will love you for it and probably nibble on the new seedlings as well.

Another option is to hang hessian from the roof of the aviary to hand over the sides.  These can be hosed down and will act like a Coolgardie Safe as the breeze blows through the damp fabric.  However, be very careful that destructive birds such as parrots and galahs can’t reach the hessian and get themselves tangled in its threads.

Warmer conditions create a breeding ground for parasites and bacteria.  Clean and disinfect bird cages regularly.

Like all animals, birds require fresh water that is changed daily however on hot days the water can easily become warm.  Birds just won’t drink warm water and will not be able to rehydrate themselves.  Change the water a couple of times in the day so that it is always cool and consider asking the neighbour to pop in to do this also if no one is home throughout the day.

Birdbaths are an excellent option as long as the water is changed frequently.  In aviaries, if electricity is available, the addition of a small circulatory fountain will help to keep the water fresh.  In small bird cages, a shallow dish filled with just a couple of centimetres will keep your bird happy for hours.  There are even baths that attach to the door of bird cages that allow your bird to splash around without getting water everywhere.

Many bird owners will bring their birds inside on a hot day.  Birds do very well indoors and will enjoy the company and cool environment but care should be taken when returning the bird to his outdoor area as sudden changes of temperature could cause a problem.  Avoid sitting a bird cage next to a window or in direct sunlight as this will only make the heat from outside worse. If a bird is allowed to free range inside, ensure that the ceiling and floor fans are turned off and that the cat is outside.

Birds do not need as much energy in summer as they do in winter but in addition to their normal pellet or seed mixes, will enjoy greens and fruit which can be left for them in a shallow dish of water.  Fresh food should not be left longer than an hour or two in a cage on hot days as bacteria will begin to grow quickly.

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