Q: I want to bring my birds outside during the day. How hot is TOO hot for my birds?
-William B., Buffalo, NY
A: There are many, many great benefits to giving your birds a daily dose of sunshine and fresh air, but climate and temperature does play a role and involve risks. For the bird that is accustomed to being outdoors and has been able to make that gradual adjustment from season to season, it is more simple: watching for signs of distress and keeping water plentiful. For the bird who lives indoors and is accustomed to heat and A/C it is a bit more tricky.
The hottest, and most concerning, part of the day are between the hours of 10am and 2pm. This is when the sun is directly overhead. The heat, however, can linger well into the late afternoon making temperatures just as uncomfortable, and birds are as susceptible to heat related conditions (and death) as are humans. The difference is that, while we can move indoors when we are over heated, our birds are trapped in a cage. Hopefully the humans are paying attention.
Slow acclimatization with indoor parrots works best when you begin in the springtime, just as temperature are reaching a comfortable level. Start by closing the vents in the room your bird occupies, blocking the heat or A/C, and opening the windows so that the room can match the temperature outdoors. In the spring, choose the warmest time of the day to do this. A fan can be used for circulation if needed . If you do this everyday for 2-3 hours, your bird will be able to make slow, natural progress toward heat tolerance. By the time, the full strength of the summer sun arrives, he should be ready to enjoy the great outdoors.
If your are just beginning the acclimatization now, you will have to vary the schedule a bit, and be more careful. Use the same method, but open the windows in the early morning, between sun up and 9 or 10am, depending on the temperature, and in the early evening between 4 or 5pm and until sundown (and through the night if you are certain that the temperatures will remain comfortable). In this case, be certain a fan is running for air circulation, but never aim the air flow at the bird.
Intersperse this with short periods outdoors through the day, maybe 20 minutes here and there. Eventually your bird will grow more tolerant to higher temperatures and will be able to spend longer durations of time outside. Keep in mind that you should always bring your bird back inside before he gets overheated. Outside should be a fun place to be, but it won’t be if he expects to be uncomfortable every time you take him out.
It is important to note that no matter how well adjusted your bird becomes to the heat (or cold), it can be overwhelming. Be certain to be very watchful for signs of overheating and never place the cage in the direct sun. Many outdoor aviaries have solid roofs which provide shade. Cages are metal, however, and hold in extra heat, try to place your aviary in a shaded area. Make sure the water dishes are full of clean, cool water. Remember that the direct sun can make it too warm for them to drink, so it needs to be checked often. If you are using a standard cage outdoors, make sure the top is covered.
A large sheet of plywood that covers the entire top with an overhang of several inches (to provide additional shade) would be perfect. At very least be certain there is a shaded corner for your bird to retreat to.
If it is too hot for YOU to be outside, bring your birds inside. Birds that live indoors do not have the same feathering as birds that live outdoors year-round. Our birds aren’t able to utilize down feathers to insulate themselves from extreme temperatures because companion birds don’t grow them in great numbers. They don’t need to. They live indoors.
For signs of heat distress, look for drooping wings (a bird will move it’s wings away from its body to cool down), lethargy and open beak breathing (or panting). If you see this, take action. Bring your bird inside and run lukewarm water over him (never use cold water). Soak him right down to the skin and put him in his indoor cage at a comfortable temperature. Let him dry naturally and watch him to make sure he springs back. Offering cool water and fresh fruit will help to replenish fluids.
Author Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.