Natural sunlight varies as seasons progress and ebb. It is the intensity and duration of light that tells a bird that it is breeding season, and when to molt – it regulates it’s cyclical clock and adjusts metabolism. Ultraviolet light strengthens the immune system and works with the glandular system in the synthesis of vitamin D, which through a series of processes, increases calcium absorption.
This means healthier and stronger bones and beaks, and improved feather production. Additionally, a bird’s vision and perception is dramatically enhanced. Our parrots can see into the near ultraviolet range. This gives them the ability to, for instance, to see colors that we cannot, and to see things from a different perspective than we do.
In the wild, it is how they select mates and identify other flock members, and predators. It assists in their search for food.
Have you ever been outside with your parrot, when she suddenly cocks her head to the side and stares upward in horror at something that is a mere black speck in the sky to you? She has likely identified a hawk.
Birds love the sunshine. Linus would spend all day outdoors if he could.
Natural sunlight is the best thing for our parrots. But it is impractical (and often unsafe) to roll their cages outside each day to give them this advantage. Being in tuned with the seasons makes for a more psychologically well-balanced bird.
The health benefits are many. As 90% of the sun’s beneficial near ultraviolet rays are filtered out through modern window glass (even aluminum screening will filter out 30% or more), simply placing the cage by the window is ineffective. The next best thing we can offer as an alternative is full spectrum (FS) lighting in our indoor cage areas.
What is FS (full spectrum) lighting?
Full spectrum is a term that is used in the marketing of bulbs that replicate natural sunlight. It radiates near ultraviolet light that, while not equal in quality to sunlight, it is the best artificial light that we have at this time and is very effective.
Where can I buy these bulbs and which ones are the best?
FS bulbs are available in many pet stores and online. They come in two varieties: tubes that vary in length (like the ones you might have at work and bulbs like the high-efficiency bulbs we have at home (the curly ones). The tube bulbs require fixtures that hold those particular bulbs in a length equal to the length of the bulb you are purchasing (usually 24″ or 48″) and the screw in bulbs will fit into any regular lamp base.
Some brand names are Vita Lite, Chroma, BioLight and Lumichrome. The bulbs, to be effective, should have a CRI (color rendition index) of 90 or more, and a color temperature of 5000k or more. Be sure to get bulbs specified for avian use. Reptile have different lighting requirements. Logic tells me that the tube bulbs would distribute light more broadly and would be a better choice. If you elect to go with the screw in bulbs, I would consider using two of them.
If you get a parrot cage by cages by design, their cages come with full spectrum lighting.
Where do I place the lighting in the room and how long do I keep it on?
To maximize the benefits of FS lighting, the bulbs need to be placed about 12″ to 18″ from the cage. The heat generated by these bulbs is minimal and it won’t cause overheating. Try to place them over the top of the cage (if there’s a tray covering the top, you can either remove it or angle the light in from the highest possible point). Since we are trying to duplicate nature, shoot for high-noon.
Put the lights on a timer that will turn them on at sunrise and off at sunset, or as close to that as you can to work within your schedule. Remember to adjust the timer to mimic the seasonal sun.
As I was doing research for this, I learned that my own lighting system is inadequate in one room. I need to add at least two more light sources to fully cover the needs of all the cages. Hopefully, one day, I will have the outdoor aviaries I’ve always dreamed about and FS lighting will no longer be an issue.
Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.