Summer’s great. You’re free from worry about keeping your companion birds warm enough for another few months, fresh produce abounds (better birdie brunches!), and the extended hours of daylight keep everyone, birds included, on a more livable schedule. Vacation or leisure time plans are probably in full swing at your house. Whether you’re staying close to home or traveling this summer, your feathered friends play a major role in summer activities. Take a look at my list: Line up the bird-sitter, get the birds’ wings clipped to thwart escape, take the cages outdoors for pressure-washing, change air-conditioning filters, check the garden for bird-ready veggies, spend a morning on ant patrol, buy a fly-swatter, check the window screens….and so on.
Summer brings lots of pleasures, but it’s also time for some special birdkeeping considerations. Begin with your bird’s cage. How does it look? Put your pet in its travel cage or another safe haven, and take that cage outdoors and give it a major cleaning. If you have access to a power washer, use it on caked-on dirt. (Be careful with painted or ‘powdercoat’ finish cages; a strong power washer may remove some of the finish.) If you live in an apartment, dismantle large cages and put the parts under a hot shower. Smaller cages may be showered intact. Use white vinegar, a citrus cleaner or one of the various enzyme-based ‘bird poop removers’ as a pre-treatment for especially soiled cages.
Many bird owners report excellent results with steam cleaning machines. Texan Nancy Merritt has loaded her birds’ cages into her truck and taken them to the car wash for steam cleaning.
Be inventive. Use available cleaning tools and services. Don’t tell my dinner guests, but I’ve put small, metal-finish cages through the dishwasher! I removed the top rack to accommodate cage, grating and tray, and they came out sparkling clean. I used ¼ of the recommended amount of detergent. Do be aware that not all cage finishes will hold up under the rigors of a dishwasher’s cycles. Never use metal polish on cages, as remaining residue is most probably toxic to birds. Avoid using bleach on aluminum cages or cage parts. Bleach will discolor aluminum.
Okay, the cage is clean, now what? Check out the placement of the cage and other avian furniture in your home. Locate these items away from doors that will be opened frequently to reduce risk of your bird escaping. (Get those wings clipped now!) The angle of the sun has changed since winter. Is hot sunlight flooding into the cage? Avoid avian heatstroke: be sure your bird has access to shade at all times.
Is the cage near a window that will be opened regularly? Locate your pet’s cage and other furniture away from windows that will allow barbecue smoke and cooking fumes inside You have control over the placement of your own grill, but check out your neighbor’s facilities as well.
Insects got you bugged?
Use non-toxic or biological pest control methods indoors and out. Attract insectivorous birds to your garden; install a martin house in your yard if you live in an area friendly to these little birds. Pheromone (sex lure) moth traps in the pantry, a length of flypaper in the garage, and a fruit fly trap (or tall bottle with a bit of red wine in the bottom) keeps indoor pests at bay in my house. I sprinkle a diatomaceous earth product (Concernâ, available in home improvement and garden centers) around the foundation of the house to keep ants from trespassing. A light coating of vegetable oil around each leg of the birds’ cages keeps crawling insects from invading their space.
Bugs in the birdseed? Many bird owners refrigerate or freeze seed to prevent moth infestation. Freezing doesn’t always kill all moth eggs that may be present, and after a few weeks you may notice worms (larvae) in the seed or moths fluttering about. A reader wrote to ask about the advisability of permitting her bird to ingest infested seed. Many birds eat buggy seed with no apparent ill effects, but you should be aware that some insects may be vectors for diseases, and that the nutritional quality of the food may be compromised if insects have been noshing on it for awhile. Purchase only as much seed or formulated food as you will use in a short amount of time (about a month) and store it in insect resistant containers.
For a copy of Citizen’s Guide to Pest Control and Pesticide Safety, contact:
National Service Center for Environmental Publications
1-800-490-9198 or 1-513-489-8190
www.epa.gov (you can access the publication online; click on pesticides)
Summer Food Safety
Summer produce provides a bonanza of variety for your bird. Fresh melon or squash seeds offer a tasty treat, and peas, beans, peppers, corn and other garden vegetables are nutritious and tempting as well. Big, wet lettuce or broccoli leaves and carrot or beet greens clipped to cage bars encourage small, leaf-bathers like budgies to flutter around beneath the greenery and to nibble on it as well. Choose organic produce if possible (or grow your own!), but be sure to wash it thoroughly before presenting it to your bird, as it can be tainted with insects or droppings from birds and animals. Blanch fresh corn in boiling water to reduce risk of contamination from mold.
A varied diet is healthy for your bird, but be careful when sharing summer meals with your feathered friend. According to USDA reports, bacteria proliferate between 40 and 140 °F. Leftovers, or food that has already been cooked, then cooled should be reheated to an internal temperature of at least 165°F. Serve reheated food to your bird as soon as it has cooled to room temperature. Remove uneaten portions from your bird’s dish after an hour.
LIPS member, Anthea Stavroulakis, Associate Professor, Dept. of Biology, Kingsborough Community College at CUNY (City University, New York) had some advice that will benefit you as well as your bird:
“Cooked foods are more readily spoiled by fungal and bacterial contamination which will alter the taste and more importantly could result in production of toxins (metabolic products of the
growing microbes). In general, foods containing sugars are acted upon because sugar is a microbial nutrient. Refrigeration, suppresses microbial growth, bacterial more than fungal - ever notice how even molds can grow in refrigerators? So, short of refrigerating Polly, two guidelines come to
mind: Don't leave questionable or fruits in your birds’ cages for more than one hour, and choose fruits that are "contained" - e.g.: grapes have their own wrappers (skin). Vegetables such as corn, fresh peas in the pod and red pepper usually are considered a little safer. This is some advice I share
with my Microbiology students when I caution them about cream pies and custards in the local diner, as these foods are readily inoculated and contaminated with Staphylococcus aureus, and toxin producing bacterium responsible for certain cases of 24-hour food poisoning.”
Don’t share summer salads containing mayonnaise, fish, meat or eggs with your bird, especially if these foods have warmed to room temperature.
For Further Information Contact:
Food Safety and Inspection Service
United States Department of Agriculture
Washington, D.C. 20250-3700
FSIS Food Safety Education Staff
Meat and Poultry Hotline:
1-800-535-4555 (Toll free Nationwide)
(202) 720-3333 (Washington, DC area)
USDA / FDA. Fight BAC! URL http://www.fightbac.org/consumers/brochure.htm
USDA/ FSIS. Seniors Need Wisdom on Food Safety. February 1997.
Enjoy a safe, comfortable summer with your avian companion!