November 21, 2014

Medina
Partly sunny
23°F

Pretty birds

“Hi, Elbee” and “kiss the bird” intermingled with wolf whistles come from the screened porch of Gracie Burger’s home. Elbee, a rose-breasted cockatoo, and Krackers, a crested cockatoo belonging to Julie DeMasi, were visiting for a nail trim while DeMasi talked with Burger about the upcoming Exotic Bird Fair.
Many years ago, bird fairs were more like flea markets, Burger explained. In order to raise the level to provide good quality birds and bird products, Burger, founder of A Better Bird Inc., and her husband David, along with bird savvy friends and long-time volunteers like 10-year veterans Bob and Lisa Baker, Joy Simmons and Bonnie Schmock began hosting the Exotic Bird Expo.

Colorful exotic birds with their inquisitive nature and capacity for learning makes them fascinating companions, but before buying one on impulse, she advises to research the species. Birds can be noisy — an important factor to be taken into consideration. Some birds have pleasant vocalizations, while others have ear-splitting calls.

“They wake up and greet the day at the crack of dawn. They’re birds and it’s what they do,” Burger said. It’s something owners must realize and accept. Many birds can live very long lives and owners must think about providing care for the bird if it should outlive them. The size and cost of a cage and the amount of time the bird requires interacting with its owner are all important factors to consider.

Quality food and lots of toys are ongoing expenses. Birds are very intelligent and need toys to keep them busy in their cage. Some will be chewed and destroyed, but the remaining ones should be rotated so the bird doesn’t get bored with seeing the same toys every day. For a healthy bird, it needs a diet of fresh seed specific to its species, but also fresh fruits, vegetables and nuts. Fresh foods not only provide nutrition, but the different tastes and textures provide psychological enrichment. Birds have messy eating habits, and even with a seed guard on their cage, expect hulls and feathers on the floor.

Often when people bring a bird home they spend a lot of time with it at first, but later lose their enthusiasm. Exotic birds need consistent socialization by being talked to and handled every day to remain friendly and tame. Before the purchase, assess your daily schedule to see if you can provide the time your feathered friend will require. Birds do best with a regular schedule throughout the day. Electrical cords, windows and mirrors can be a danger to birds, but they can be let out of their cage to play when the owner is busy but can still keep an eye on them. An hour a day of one-on-one time also is essential, but a baby bird shouldn’t be too pampered, because as it grows into an adult it will expect the same amount of attention, she cautioned.

The larger species are much like 2-year-olds. They need supervision, training and discipline. The biggest issues are biting and screaming, and owners must understand how to handle this.

“You can’t get revengeful with birds,” Burger warned. “If you get in a battle with a bird and try to dominate the bird, you’re going to lose every single time.” When the bird misbehaves, put it in a cage for a time-out and ignore it. It soon learns the words “time out” and recognizes that its behavior is unacceptable.

When bringing a bird home, place it in its cage and let it get acclimated to its new home for a few days before handling it. Talk to it, offer food from the hand and gradually let it come out of its cage on its own. Teach verbal commands like “step up” and “step down,” but only work with the bird with for as long as it shows interest. Some birds become anxious and want to go back in the cage after a short session. Owners should be sensitive to this and not force the bird. It’s a slow learning process and shouldn’t be rushed through.

Large birds can make exceptional companions, but often are louder, messier and more demanding than smaller species. Burger suggests that if you really want a big bird, borrow one for a couple of weeks to see what’s involved in its care. For novice bird owners who want a bird they can interact with, she suggests a cockatiel. They’re the most domestic, the least aggressive and not too demanding. They’ll go to anybody and are good little talkers, she said. For a tame bird, it’s best to buy one that’s been hand-raised by a good breeder. By buying a bird this way, you’ll know what the bird has been exposed to, like children and other pets, and can call the breeder if questions or problems arise.

“They’re incredible creatures,” said Burger. They’ll surprise their owners by learning individual words and later putting them together in short sentences. Those considering a pet bird should research the species to ensure they can provide what the bird needs for all its lifespan. In return they’ll have the companionship of an intelligent, devoted pet that will amuse them with unexpected antics.

Barnosky can be reached via e-mail at petlady@roadrunner.com or by writing The Gazette, 885 W. Liberty St., Medina, 44256.