Q: I have had my amazon Mickey for over a year. I have done a lot of reading so that I do all the right things. One question I can’t figure out is should I have my bird on a routine or not?
Oliver B., Parma, OH
A: This is a difficult question because the answer is both yes AND no.
Birds, being prey animals, place a lot of importance on their sense of security. Their level of security is determined by their environment. When their surroundings feel unstable or inconsistent, even the most outgoing bird can begin to feel uneasy.
A wild bird’s surroundings are pretty simple and straight forward. They live in a tree with their mate and offspring and except for neighboring wildlife and seasonal changes, their area remains fairly constant. That works for them. They need to be very familiar with their area if they are to spot anything unusual, such as a predator, quickly.
For our birds, living among humans is much more complicated. Doors open and close, people come and go, and there is the television – a room within the room where very small humans live their lives. Our environment must be a curious place to a bird.
Our birds have “things” which a wild bird does not. I recently moved and discovered that my birds actually have more “things” than I do. The “things” we put into their cages for play, chewing and foraging get worn out and are replaced with other “things”.
When you think about it, our birds cope quite well with all the change in their lives and it is important that they continue to do so if they are to maintain their feeling of security in the human world. In that sense, a routine can be bad for a bird.
While you don’t want to push your bird over the edge, it is smart to constantly be introducing new things to your bird. For instance, when I am cooking, I might ask myself if my birds have seen my new potato peeler. I will walk it over to their cages to show them. This doesn’t mean they get to play with it, but I do give them an up-close view. This is very helpful with my fearful gofffins cockatoo – the more times she sees something new that doesn’t try to harm her, the more accepting of new things she is in general. She lives in the human world. It is to her benefit to be adaptable.
Everyone has a different schedule for feeding their bird. I think it is mostly determined by their work schedule. If you are not rushing out the door in the mornings, it might be beneficial to hold back on breakfast for a varying amount time every day so that your bird does not become demanding about food. My birds will wait patiently while I might prepare several meals before they get theirs. This doesn’t mean I don’t feel their eyes burning holes in the back of my head, but they are doing it quietly.
Any necessary routine regarding food does not involve a time of day but your commitment. As birds are hungriest in the morning, breakfast should be considered the most important meal of the day and should consist of very healthy foods. That should be YOUR routine every day.
Bathing your bird should be done at the warmest time of the day but otherwise at your convenience.
I think routine is very important when it comes to bedtime. Sleep is more important to our birds than most people think. Lack of sleep can cause both health and behavioral issues. Birds should be put to bed in a comfortable and familiar area where they are most likely to get the best quality of rest. I try to get my birds to bed at approximately the same time every night and ensure about 10 hours of sleep for them.
I thought about this for a while and have discovered that my list of things to keep in a routine ends there. Since birds are very cautious animals it might seem that more should be on that list. If we were discussing wild birds, there would be more there. But captive birds have to learn to survive comfortably in our world and being unable to face change would only make their lives anxious. We have to help them in this area and the way to do that is to let them experience things outside of a routine.
When trying to decide whether something in your bird’s life should fall into a routine or not, weigh up the pros and cons: will my bird benefit from this being the same way every day or will that sameness cause expectation and unwillingness to adapt to change. If you try to look into the future, your answer will present itself.
Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.