Lately a few people have been sending me messages asking for cleaning tips in relation to birds. Some of the questions have had a definite tinge of desperation to them and I can’t help but imagine these evil birds that are intentionally throwing food and poo at their humans. I can just see their beaky grins of delight when they manage to hit their target.
I can’t help but smile at the irony of my being asked for cleaning tips. If I could travel back in time and catch my frustrated parents in the process of screaming at me about the state of my room and tell them that I would one day be writing this… Actually they probably would never have been convinced. After all, I was a child who intentionally brought in jars of dirt just to see if I could find anything alive moving in it??
If there is one thing that I can say about having a parrot around the house – it forces you to learn how to do some pretty creative cleaning! To any parents wondering if a bird will teach their child responsibility? It will in the very least teach your child how to remove (or at least hide) a great range of stains!
A perfect example would be when one of my Rosebreasted Cockatoos (Morgy) stole a blue biro (pen) and landed on my bed, which just happened to be covered by an antique bedspread that was painstakingly hand-stitched by my Great-Grandmother. I had anticipated a visit by my Grandmother and a biro stain was something that could ignite a family war.
Morgy had a beautiful blue squiggle drawn on the fabric within seconds and I was in very real danger of being screamed at for being too irresponsible to have custody of ANY family heirlooms. On the bright side, that was the day that I learned that biro ink dissolves in milk. Fortunately, milk in turn dissolves easily in water – especially if it hasn’t had the chance to dry. It was a happy ending.
90% of the mess that your bird will make will dissolve in water. In theory, everything your bird gets into should be non-toxic and non-toxic usually means water-soluble. This means that bird poo should be water-soluble.
My main secret to keeping my bird’s environment clean and safe is water. The other secret is frequency of cleaning. When I sit down and think about what I do, I’ve realised I don’t actually use any products to remove mess/clean with. I clean with water in its various forms. Don’t get me wrong, I do use products to disinfect – but not to actually clean.
Whenever I’m cleaning, I wear a facemask. I’m prone to asthma, so feather dust affects me. It’s a precaution and it does help. It’s also a good disease protection technique. The illnesses that you can catch from your bird are most commonly spread through either feather dust or poo particles. The other thing that I do is spray down any cage liner with a misting spray before touching it. This effectively traps any dust particles and prevents them from becoming air born.
There are two appliances that I simply can’t live without. I would be lost without my KARCHER and my steam mop. The KARCHER is a high-pressure water hose and is used outside. It gets rid of pretty much everything but comes with the warning that it is powerful enough to literally strip paint off walls. Don’t use it with your bird still in the cage!
The steam mop is for inside. Mine came with an optional carpet attachment but fortunately I live in a mostly tiled house. The steam mop traps feather dust more effectively than a vacuum. It also removes pomegranate and passionfruit or whatever my birds have lovingly splattered over the walls and ceiling without damaging the paint.
Sometimes bird poo doesn’t seem water-soluble. This is especially a problem in summer when it has a tendency to dry out and set like concrete. In these circumstances I’d recommend either a quick spray with water or steam and then come back to it a few minutes later, it should be a lot easier to get off once the water has sunk in. If the bird poo is still difficult to remove, it may be due to the frequency of your cleaning. The sooner you get to it, the easier it is to remove.
If the poo leaves a stain, you need to look at the reason why. In most circumstances poo shouldn’t leave a stain. If it does, you may have a real problem. There are two reasons for poo stains that I’ve personally come across.
The first reason you might have a poo stain is simply because the bird has eaten something that stains. My favourite example is if the bird has eaten beetroot. Beetroot works as a dye – changing anything that comes into contact with it a permanent hue of pink. It has the same effect in bird poo. For the evil-minded reader, a great way to freak out a vet is to feed your bird this before a visit. It gives their poo a frightening reddish tinge.
The other reason that I’ve come across poo stains has been medicinal. When my elderly galah, Cocky Boy first came into my care, his poo used to leave these horrible green stains on his wooden perches. He had serious liver issues. It’s now years later, the liver issues are gone and so are the stains. It’s not a coincidence. If I’d been using a cleaning product, I may have missed that sign.
This brings me to the topic of products. I believe in disinfecting because there’s so many horrible illness out there and it’s a way of preventing your bird from getting them. I consider disinfecting as separate to cleaning because I want to disinfect my bird’s cage not their waste or mess. The product’s job is to kill bacteria and viruses – not to remove waste.
The safest thing that I can recommend to use is vinegar. White vinegar or apple cider vinegar will kill most things but not your birds. For anything stronger, I’d recommend going to your vet for advice as products are going to differ in different countries and I don’t want to give advice that could lead anyone to poison their birds. I personally use a vet quality disinfectant that I purchase directly from my avian vet.
In terms of frequency of cleaning, it’s difficult to give advice because it’s going to vary according to your type of bird and your setup. I personally, do the bases of my cages daily. The exception is actually my Blue and Gold Macaw. Within 12 hours he leaves me a gift of a heaped dinner plate sized pile of poo. He needs his lining replaced morning and night, while my other birds are fine with just a morning change. I spray out cages as needed and do full cleanouts and disinfects at least once a week. The bird room and house are completely mopped daily.
When it comes to cleaning, above anything else there’s one thing that I’m sure of. I have nine parrots. I’m ALWAYS going to be cleaning.
Mel Vincent works as an animal rehabilitator out of Australia.