I heard a disturbing fact the other day: this will be the first generation of children that might NOT outlive their parents. The generation referred to is the preschool and grade school children, and those to be born to couples currently in their 20’s. When you think about it, it really isn’t that surprising.
There are many, many households where both parents need to be working full-time, in which children must fend for themselves at mealtimes. It is much easier and safer for them to use the microwave than the stove or the oven, so when dinner rolls around, often it’s pizza rolls. Couple that fact with that schools offer snack vending machines (some even have their own McDonald’s), and it’s a dietary disaster.
These same children stay indoors playing video games instead of playing baseball out in the sun and fresh air. With the poor eating habits and the utter lack of exercise, there is a huge occurrence of obesity in today’s youth, which raises the number of instances of diabetes and heart disease. Children nowadays are starting their lives with disease instead of ending them that way.
It started me thinking about the comparisons between these children and our parrots. It worries me that captive parrots might be following the same path. As each successive generation of parrots come along, they are one step further away from the wild, the native foods their species thrive on and a life of daily exercise. The reality is that most parrot owners do not know how to properly feed their birds, provide them with healthy activities or understand the level of their intelligence and need for mental engagement.
Proper nutrition and mentally and physically challenging activities are often discussed as topics on the general health and well being of parrots.
This information is readily available to those of us who know to look for it, but something often overlooked is the vital role that simple, natural sunlight plays in their lives.
Outdoor aviaries are becoming more and more popular in the avian community. They are expensive to buy and require special considerations for safety when built, but they offer so many healthy benefits for our parrots in return. Every species on our our planet has evolved under the sun, and every species requires it to sustain their lives. Vitamin D is manufactured by the body when touched by sunlight.
The function of vitamin D is to absorb calcium and other vitamins and minerals and keep them at proper levels in the blood stream. The lack of sunlight is a nutritional deficiency. It has been discovered that the liver stores a small amount of vitamin D3. This means that less time in the sun is needed than previously thought to get the job done.
Take a look at some of the ways a parrot utilizes sunshine:
- It produces strong bones, beaks, and aids in feather production.
- It builds the immune system.
- It kills germs and bacteria on the feathers and skin (and it has been recently discovered that direct sunlight kills the deadly PDD virus on surfaces.)
- It minimizes the chances of developing certain cancers.
- It reduces anxiety and depression.
- It enhances a bird’s vision.
Natural sunlight can only be reached outside. Setting your bird’s cage by the window isn’t enough. Sure it will give them something different to look at during the day, but glass blocks out 90% of the sun’s UV rays, even screens block out 30%, so there is no gain or vitamin D production.
Full spectrum lighting is the closest thing we can manufacture to natural light if you are not able to create an outdoor setting for your bird. It provides some, but not all, of the benefits. Nothing man-made can ever compare to the real deal. Taking your parrot outside after work to catch the last hours of sun in the summer will provide long term health benefits.
Please take care when you bring your bird outside. Never bring a parrot outside without a harness that is not trained for free-flight or does not have exceptional recall skills. Most birds are able to fly with clipped wings, THIS IS A FACT. Never leave your bird’s cage in direct sunlight, there are enough reflective surfaces outside for beneficial rays to reach them in the shade. Never leave them unsupervised. Hawks and ground predators can and do reach in and kill birds. If you choose to buy an aviary, choose on from a reputable company (Jamie and Dave use Cages By Design). If you choose to build one, make sure it is sturdily constructed so that a bird will not injure itself or escape, and so that no predator can get in. Most importantly, use BIRD SAFE woods and metals.
The best thing about natural sunlight is that it’s free and comes with a complementary side of fresh air.
Author Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.