Not too hot, not too cold just RIGHT. Goldilock’s experience with the three bears’ porridge applies equally well to the temperature at which we keep our birds or force them to endure. Parrots come for the tropics – right? So, you’d expect them to be able to withstand heat and sunshine. Yes and no.
Look at these two examples of poor husbandry. One of them, I am ashamed to confess, is my own.
Mina, a Military Macaw, who will be two in October, has flown outside for 15 months.
I generally take the Macaws out in winter around noon. Their fly times are loosely calibrated around weather and wind. In summer, early morning or early evening. Last April, there was an unusual heatwave. (Is it global warming?)
Two friends and I set out for a two-hour walk and invited the Macaws. Benni, with well over 2000 free flight sessions under his wings, simply flew into a tall tree and did not venture out.
Mina, younger (more anxious to please perhaps) followed us. As you can see from the picture, she became extremely hot. The signs were the open mouth, the spread wings and her air of discomfort. The walk was cut short; we came home within the hour
Benni, cool and suave, flew out of his tree and re-joined us. In spite of the high temperature, his feathers felt cool; he had stayed deep within a Leylandii tree. (His wild cousins were probably doing the same in the rain forest.) I won’t make the same mistake twice.
The other occasion s more applicable to many birds who do not free fly. Carers often push the cages outside onto a patio, balcony or garden to give the Parrots fresh air and sunshine.
As you know, sunshine is the best source of Vitamin D. It’s worthwhile so long as the caged bird can - like Benni - get out of the sun. A few branches over the cage top suffice.
The carer I’m criticising kept a Parrot-boarding establishment. I visited her on behalf of some friends in London, who were considering leaving their Grey there while they went on holiday. I was dismayed.
On the boiling hot day, she’d had rolled the cages of six birds onto her south-facing terrace. The sun beat down onto the metal cages. No branches to provide dappled sunlight or shade had the birds wished for it. It needed no professional’s eyes to see how uncomfortable they were.
The lady didn’t agree with my suggestion the she provide some shade. I drove home and didn’t recommend her to my friends.
Such cases of poor husbandry led to heat stress - not ideal for a Parrot but not a cause of death. Birds don’t get heatstroke in outdoor conditions. What can cause death from heat stroke is - if a Parrot is left in a locked car and the temperature rises too high.
It’s not rocket science to realise that Parrots don’t sweat. They don’t have sweat glands, so they have to pant. They live in the tropics, most of them in rainforest areas and in the hottest part the day, they rest under the canopy. They forage for their food early morning and late afternoon.
How to keep Parrots cool
In some aviaries where cost isn’t important, automatic sprinklers are provided. In the UK climate, they’re hardly necessary. I have large aviary without them.
The easiest and least costly way to keep birds cool is to provide fresh, clean water in a receptacle large enough for them to splash in but keeping the level not too high so that they can stand. Why you must replace the water daily is that warm water provides a fertile base for bacteria to increase, especially when Parrot poo drops in.
If you keep various species, you’ll knew they have various water requirements. Kakariki, these small, adorable New Zealand Parrots, bathe daily. Mine do even in winter when the water is almost frozen.
Another neat way to cool birds is to sprinkle leafy branches with water or rain water. Birds love to wriggle amongst wet leaves. That is a way that wild birds often bathe. After rain, my Parakeets can be seen bathing in bamboo leaves. You can put wet branches into a cage to please and cool the occupants.
My alternatives are simple and appear to work. Since my aviary is built beside a stand of oak trees, the far side is always cool. The sun enters the front. The roof is covered in part with roofing felt and has foliage growing over most of it so the sunlight that enters is dappled.
In the weak rays of winter sunlight, I observe the Parakeets perching in the few patches of undiluted sun. They don’t do that in the summer.
Being cool indoors
A spray bottle works for many Parrots; others are scared of it. Squirting a bird with water as a deterrent isn’t a good idea because you are teaching the Parrot not to trust you. But if a particular bird enjoys it, it can be fun for everyone. Buy baths here.
If you have space for a bird room - a bowl of water on the floor - or on the kitchen floor if the birds come into the kitchen, provides an enjoyable experience. If your Parrots are reluctant to bathe, leaving the water bowl on the floor and floating a couple of enticing toys on the surface may break down her resistance. I use fir cones or raffia balls. I have seen small birds bathe together. My larger birds always take solo turns.
A note word of warning - always ensure the water level is low enough so that the bird can stand with ease. I know of a sad case where a Kakariki drowned in her own cage in her water bowl. The level was too high; she couldn’t scramble out.
Showers are an excellent way of keeping cool (and of warming up in winter). Macaws in particular enjoy showering with their human mates. If a bird feels hot, wiping her down with a damp sponge works well.
One danger to avoid in extreme temperatures, either hot or cold, is draughts to which birds are susceptible. If you open windows to allow a cross breeze, make sure that the cage is not in a cross current. Parrots can catch cold.
In winter, when indoor Parrots don’t usually go out, many carers invest in a UVA lamp. It has a high initial cost but provides plenty of health benefits. When Natalie Spencer took in Dave, a rescue Amazon, the lamp she provided on top of his cage, where he liked to perch, cleared up his chronic sinusitis. If your indoor birds do not regularly receive some sunlight outside, a UV lamp provides a good solution. Buy lamps here.
Baby it’s cold outside
Looking at the life history of wild birds you learn that temperatures range more widely than you might have supposed. Several species frolic in snow. In Australia, for example, Cockatiels or Budgerigars can go from just above freezing to 30 or 40 degrees.
Birds will acclimate themselves to colder or warmer temperatures, if they’re introduced gradually over a period of months so that Parrots in a colder aviary will grow more feathers.
They will also fluff up to keep warm like garden birds do. Of course, if you take Parrots indoors during a cold snap, you have to be cautious that the temperature has become milder before taking them outside again.
I used to heat my aviaries with greenhouse heaters but as the Parakeets never entered the heated sheds unless I forced them, I stopped the practice and since then, I’ve never lost a bird to cold.
In winter, I give the outdoor Parrots and Parakeets more sunflower seed and human grade monkey nuts. Indoor birds do not need additional fat in their diet to keep warm. Indoor birds usually live in a pretty constant temperature between 15 and 20.
Although Parrots’ body temperatures are higher than humans, a useful hint is that if you’re feeling too hot or too cold she probably is too.
For baths for your Parrot please click here.
Illigers resting credit:.Parrots in the Wild
To be the first to read blogs like this, plus exclusive offers and the latest Parrot news, sign up to our newsletter