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Advice and Support

Advice and Support

  • Grabbing a bird
  • Holding a bird
  • Giving a bird medicine

Grabbing a bird

You may sometimes need to take your bird from its enclosure. A tame bird can be taught to step on to a stick or your finger. This is the easiest and least stressful method. Birds which are not tame or birds that live in an aviary can be caught with a net. Take the bird carefully from the net without injuring it. Be careful of the beak, birds can have a nasty bite when they feel threatened or are frightened.

A caged bird can best be taken from its enclosure by using a thick towel. The bird then has difficulty seeing exactly where your fingers are, making it harder for it to bite. A glove can also be quite handy, although this can also cause birds to become afraid of hands. A bird will be more quiet when its enclosure is dark.

Holding a bird

You may need to hold your bird at some point. For example to assess whether the bird is too thin. Or to give it medicine. Tame birds allow you to do this without resisting. If a bird has learned to sit on a finger or a stick, a simple examination should pose little or no problem.

Birds that aren't used to being touched require a more forceful approach. Especially parrots that feel threatened in some way can cause quite painful bite wounds. The most important thing to do when holding a bird is to prevent it from biting and the best way to do this is by making sure its head cannot move.

It is also very important to remember that a bird is a vulnerable animal. The bones are hollow, which means they break easily. Breathing can also be hampered if the bird is held the wrong way. A bird inhales by moving its breastbone outwards. If it can't do this because the torso is being grasped too tightly by the person holding it, the bird could suffocate.

To make sure the bird can't bite, it's best to grab hold of it by the back of its head. By holding the head on either side between the thumb and index finger, just below the eyes, the bird can't turn its head. With smaller birds (lovebirds, budgerigars), the body can be held in the palm of the same hand. This way, the bird can't break its wings when flapping them and the neck is held outstretched. The other hand remains free to examine the bird or give it medication.

Larger birds (Cockatoos, Amazon parrots, African grey parrots) often require the other hand to hold the bird's body. Hold the body in the full palm of your hand just under the breastbone, so the bird can still breathe freely.

Giving a bird medicine

When a bird needs to be treated with medicine, you can administer this in several ways. Some medicines can be mixed into the drinking water, whereas others must be given to the bird directly in its beak.

The biggest danger here is that the medicine can end up in the windpipe (trachea) instead of the gullet (oesophagus). When administering medicine, remember to hold your bird in an upright position to minimise the chance of choking. Hold the syringe or pipette containing the medication diagonally against the upper beak. When you the slowly push the medicine out, it will run into the beak. Be sure the bird swallows the medicine and doesn't spit it out.

If larger quantities of medicine are required, it may be necessary to administer it directly into the bird's crop. Make sure the neck is fully stretched and then insert a tube, gastric needle or thin syringe from the left side into the beak, then push it straight downwards. Before administering the medicine, please check whether you can feel the tube, needle or syringe under the skin. If you can't, there is a chance it could be in the windpipe. Administiring liquids in the windpipe is almost always fatal.

If you notice that the liquid has accidentally entered the windpipe, even if just a little, put the bird back immediately. It will try to get rid of the liquid by vigorously shaking its head. An avian vet can show you the technique of administering medication to your bird. 

Catching and holding a frightened bird gives it a lot of stress. If this happens repeatedly, your bird will only become more frightened and will certainly not harbour any warm feelings towards you.

In other words, if a bird requires regular medication for a few consecutive weeks, it is worth considering letting the bird stay at the bird hospital during this period. This ensures that catching and holding the bird will be done as swiftly as possible and that your bird will not have as many negative experiences with you as the owner. What's more, there is less chance of wrongfully administering its medication.

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