Most of us view bird chores with a sense of dread. It’s reasonable that one wouldn’t necessarily enjoy the unpleasantries left at the bottom of cages. It can be a lot of work to keep up on the cleaning that bird ownership requires.
But there is a very big advantage to doing those chores: you get an intimate look at your bird’s health and its activities. Birds are such masters of disguise when it comes to illness that we have to actively investigate to get to the truth.
Wild birds hide illness because it makes them an easy target for predators looking for a quick meal, and as it calls attention to the entire flock, sick birds are chased off by their peers. In exile, a bird is left vulnerable without many eyes watching for danger and, therefore, will hide symptoms for as long as possible.
Instinctively, captive bred birds do the same. There are only two symptoms that cannot be hidden: one is weight loss, which is why we want to weigh our birds frequently and record the results in a journal. The other telltale sign of illness is in the quality of their droppings.
The droppings of a healthy bird will, for the most part, remain consistent. Their diet might reflect temporary changes – the water content of fruit, for instance, can account for runny droppings until it has been digested. For the most part, though, dropping should remain the same in consistency and amount. They should also be odorless.
Unless we go out of our way to watch for problems, we will miss them. By the time a bird displays obvious symptoms of illness, they are in need of immediate vet care.
Aside from possible health issues, you can better judge what your bird is eating when you clean up the dumped pellets and tossed green beans that might be hidden beneath remnants of toys in and around the cage.
If you have a bird that has night frights or is developing a pressure sore on its feet, you will want to know which perch your bird spends hours sleeping on each night so that you can change it or relocate it. It will be the one above the largest pile of poop in the cage.
It is during cleaning that you will notice a damaged area in the cage, or that your bird is able to get at the electrical cord that you thought was tucked safely out of reach. Sherlock Holmes has nothing on bird owners – we are the finest detectives around.
So rethink your dreams of one day having a service come in to clean your cages for you because it can result in a loss of crucial information about your bird. However, feel free to hire someone to scrape the sweet potato off the ceiling.
Author Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.