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Friends of a different feather

Birds: About 4.5 million American households own winged pets

Posted: July 2, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: July 2, 2011 1:55 a.m.

Looking for a fun, fairly low-maintenance pet? Consider adding a fine, feathered friend to your family.

While they may not be as popular as cats and dogs, birds are owned by a significant number of Americans.

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, birds can be found in approximately 4.5 million households in the United States.

Veterinarian Marlene Anschultz doesn’t just treat birds at Happy Pets Veterinary Clinic in Valencia, she’s owned a yellow-naped Amazon for the past 23 years.

“I think birds are an easier pet than a dog or a cat. They don’t take up as much space. You can have one in an apartment or trailer. You don’t have to have a yard,” Anschultz said.

Domestic birds can range in size from a small canary to a large parrot or macaw.

“The difference is that small birds are social among each other and are better off in an aviary, so you can get two or three of them and put them in an enclosure, say on your porch,” Anschultz said. “Bigger birds, such as parrots, need constant affection, attention and holding.”

Birds are not for everyone, Anschultz acknowledged.

“Some people find them loud or irritating,” she said. “But they’re really affectionate and have a sense of humor, too. Some birds cackle along with your jokes and make fun of you afterward. They can be real characters.”

Each bird species requires its own special diet and maintenance, though Anschultz suggested the following as a basis for responsible bird ownership:

* The bars on bird cages need to have spacing small enough that they can’t get their head through; approximately half of the diameter of the head. The cage itself should allow for enough room to move around freely and even fly side to side.

* Typically, birds eat a combination diet of feed and vegetables. With a larger bird, there is an increased need for fresh produce.

* Adequate exercise and interaction is crucial to ensure a happy bird and to avoid the development of neurotic behaviors, such as feather plucking and cage destruction. Plan on spending a couple of hours a day with your bird, placing them on a play perch or allowing them to hang out with you at your desk or on your finger or shoulder.

* Training your bird will not only enrich its life, but yours, too. For example, birds should be placed in a cage that is no higher than eye level to its owner. Otherwise, a bird can become dominant, rather than obedient. Training books and DVDs are available at bird and pet stores or online.

* Determine the right bird for you and your family by talking with an experienced professional at a bird store or your veterinarian. Cockatoos, according to Anschultz, are usually a one-person bird, and can get jealous when living among a large family or small children. Conures, on the other hand, thrive in a more social environment, and can handle a higher volume of people.

* Consider rescuing an adult bird rather than purchasing a young one, especially if you’re a novice. An older bird already has a set personality, so you’ll know upfront whether it would be a match for your lifestyle. Rescue staff or volunteers are usually very well-informed about any personality or behavioral issues, and can be helpful in matching you with the right bird. A good place to start your search is on or Google “bird rescues in Los Angeles.”

* Like dogs and cats, birds need regular medical attention. Anschultz recommended annual veterinary checkups.

* Birds can be prone to vitamin A deficiencies, liver issues and obesity due to diet, or can be injured by family members stepping on wings or feet. In these cases, an immediate trip to the vet is advisable.

* On average, smaller birds live between eight and 10 years. As the size increases, so does the lifespan. Macaws and parrots can live 50-75 years, so make sure you are committed to having the bird in your life for a long time. As such, you may need to make arrangements for your bird in the event of a long illness or death.

Happy Pets Veterinary Center is located at 27550 Newhall Ranch Road, Valencia. (661) 295-9972 or


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