Most people are becoming aware of the important role that sunshine plays in our lives. It has significant impact on our physical AND mental health. Many people suffer bouts of depression during the winter months. It’s not a coincidence that sunlight and outdoor activity happen to be reduced during this season.
When sunlight comes in direct contact with the body it is synthesized into vitamin D, which maintains proper levels of calcium and phosphorus in the blood stream. Without vitamin D, the body does not properly absorb calcium, something that is critical to a parrot.
All bird sites now tout the advantages of proper lighting for their avian companions. The information that is unclear on the internet is about the necessity for DIRECT sunlight. I’m sure that part of the reason for this is because people are hesitant to recommend that anyone place their bird in direct sunlight. Some people might misunderstand information and leave their bird to suffer (or worse) from too much exposure.
To make matters worse, everyone has their own opinion on how much direct exposure is enough for a parrot. But it is generally understood that a bird needs at least some access to direct sunlight to remain healthy.
But how much? There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. Different factors have to be taken into consideration, such as the season, (as the earth has a different proximity to the sun during different months), the hour of the day (the position of the sun in the sky), the climate (sometimes it is just too hot for your bird to be in the sun for ANY length of time), your geographical location (your proximity to the equator), and the location of the bird’s cage (placement near reflective surfaces such as water, sand, cement or asphalt, even grass to some degree.)
Given that BirdTricksStore.com is a large international community, all with different living environments, I will recommend that you make sure your bird gets 30 minutes of exposure to direct sunlight each week and as much time outdoors in shaded areas as possible (hopefully with reflective surfaces nearby) without making your bird uncomfortable. That amount would be safe no matter what your circumstances are.
A good way to be sure that your bird is not suffering while in sunlight is to right there with it. If you become uncomfortable, you can assume your bird is as well. If exposure is done in 5 minute increments per day, that’s fine. If it is possible to safely extend that time, do so.
For times when outdoor excursions with your bird are not practical or unsafe, you can use full spectrum lighting around the cage. It isn’t as effective as the real thing, but it is suitable under the circumstances.
Be sure to select bulbs that are intended for avian use and emit light in the ultra violet wavelength. Reptile bulbs are not adequate and many throw excessive heat. For the safety of your bird, it is recommended that the light fixtures be placed 12-18″ from the cage. (This distance reduces their effectiveness, but safety must be the first consideration.)
WARNING!! Overheating or heat stroke is dangerous! Please be very watchful when your bird is in direct sunlight (or outside at all during hot weather)!! If your bird is panting or holding its wings away from its body. Give it a good soaking in ROOM TEMPERATURE WATER. Cold water can cause a sharp decrease in body temperature that can kill or cause organ damage.
Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.