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Wings 'n Things on PetLifeRadio.comSusan Chamberlain, host of Wings 'n Things

Susan Chamberlain
Bird Expert, Author & Columnist

Holiday Hazards and Supplementary Heat and Lighting

Holiday Parrot

Holiday Parrot

Deck the Halls With Boughs of Polly! Have a fun and bird-safe Holiday season! Learn what hazards to avoid to keep your feathered friend safe during this festive time of year!

Cracker, it's cold outside! Learn how to keep your bird warm and toasty during the chilly winter months. Do you get depressed because it gets dark so early? Your bird suffers effects from shortened hours of daylight too, but you can help with supplementary, full-spectrum lighting.

Susan Chamberlain: Welcome to Pet Life Radio. I’m Susan Chamberlain your host of WingsNThings where it’s always all about pet birds. This time we’re going to discuss some wintertime concerns. We’re going to talk about supplementary heat and lighting, very, very important considerations for your bird during the winter. We’re going to show you how to light up your bird’s life and then we’re going to talk about the upcoming holidays and how to keep your birds safe and happy during holiday season. Don’t fly away we’ll be right back.


Susan Chamberlain: We’re back on WingsNThings. I’m Susan Chamberlain right here on and we’re going to be talking about lighting up your bird’s life this winter. You know several years ago, a friend of mine moved to the mountains of Colorado from sub tropical Santa Belle Island Florida. Her birds moved along with her and they seemed just fine until the male eclectus parrot began to go bald. Started losing all the feathers from the top of that beautiful green head of his. Another friend who lived in New York complained that her vasa parrot’s feathers were turning white. When I moved from New York to Florida, my amazon parrots increased their noise level and my parrot senegals begun to breed after a number of years that they weren’t even interested in each other.

All these phenomena are related to the amount and intensity of daylight available to the birds. The northern birds were suffering from the lack of natural intense daylight while my birds were glorying in the sub tropical sunshine. Have you ever noticed how droopy, dull and sad a houseplant looks after a month in the dim corner of your living room? What about the way you feel during those months of extended darkness?

Many people experience SAD seasonal affective disorder. A feeling of depression and general malaise associated with winter’s abbreviated hours of daylight. A source of natural light is required for your bird’s feather conditions, breeding success and the synthesis of vitamin D. Some bird owners have claimed that their pets stopped feather plucking shortly after regular exposure to supplementary full spectrum lighting. Birds living in outdoor aviaries get all the sunlight they need to convert the vitamin D in their food to its chemically active form vitamin D3. Vitamin D is necessary for the absorption of calcium but it can be toxic if overfed. Birds of manufactured diets such as pellets, crumbles and extruded shapes may not require vitamin supplements. Consult the product packaging, customer service departments of food and vitamin manufacturers and your avian veterinarian for more specific advice.

Indoor birds deprived of bright, natural, unobstructed even by a window glass light need vitamin supplements or diets containing vitamin D3. Check the package labels for the ingredients and they also need a source of full spectrum artificial lighting.

What is full spectrum lighting? We all know what fluorescent lights are. By adding colors to the gases in the fluorescent tubes, more colors of the spectrum are emitted by the light. Full spectrum is the term most commonly used to describe lights that emit colors including ultraviolet that are found in actual sunlight. It is the ultraviolet light that activates vitamin D. There are no standards for exact amounts of ultraviolet light required by pet birds but they seem more sensitive to wave lengths between 350 and 700 nanometers. Although it is far from an exact science, the practice of increasing the hours of artificial full spectrum lighting by 30 minutes per day to a maximum of 16 hours often stimulate breeding behavior and egg production. Conversely, shortening the hours of light may curtail undesired egg laying. Under normal non breeding conditions, most birds will benefit from three to four hours of artificial sunlight daily.

On dreary days, I illuminate my bird room with full spectrum lights all day long. It’s never been easier to provide your bird with beneficial supplemental lighting. Remember Disney’s Secrets of Life films featuring plants and flowers that would grow and bloom before your very eyes? Dr. John Nash Ott perfected that time lapse photography and at the same time in an attempt to promote plant growth, he developed the Ott light natural light supplement. A color balanced reduced glare lamps specifically formulated to duplicate sunlight. A Long Island Parrots Society member uses Ott lights to benefit herself as well as her birds. “My apartment is dim and I work in a basement office all day so I like the lighting for myself too”, she said.

The latest innovation in Ott light is a patent pending bird lamp designed to mount right on to the outside of the cage. Although the lamp doesn’t produce significant heat, the mounting hardware is designed so birds can move towards or away from the intensity of the light. A company spokesperson finds that birds often enjoy basking in the light and have a tendency to move towards it. Avitech Exotic Birds has a variety of adjustable,
avi-health full spectrum daylight lamps. They’re sleekly designed to compliment any décor, table, floor or clamp on styles are available. All utilize the duratest vitalight’s viralux bulb and ava-lights, a screw in full spectrum fluorescent that has been twisted into a spiral shape. A special light diffuser is included to soften and diffuse the light without blocking the ultraviolet benefits. It protects the fluorescent tube too. The lights can also be used in overhead fixtures, table lamps or track lights.

One thing that you need to remember when using a fluorescent fixture, is that you can’t use them with dimmers. They don’t work with dimmer switches so you really need to read the directions and know what you’re using there. You can sometimes find incandescent full spectrum lighting.

In addition to health benefits, full spectrum fluorescent lighting is very economical. It uses less electricity than incandescent lighting and it makes your birds look really great too. Consult packaging information or call the manufacturers for specific information as well as if you can use it with a dimmer or not. Generally if it’s an incandescent bulb, you can, if it’s fluorescent, you can’t but always ask the manufacturer. Call them or email them and ask them for specific details.

Heat lamps and panels can be very important during the winter especially when you don’t want to keep your house as warm as your bird wants it. The first wide spread use of avian heat lamps was years ago in the poultry industry where farmers employed them to keep the little chicks warm. Later on agriculturists adapted the practice to provide emergency heat for their birds and to keep babies warm in their birders.

Today we use heat lamps and other heat emitting devices with our birds in a variety of situations including convalescents, breeding, recovery from stress. Providing extra warmth after a bath and as a source of emergency or supplementary heat during the winter. Incandescent bulbs are used for most light emitting heat lamps. Setting your budgies cage beneath the table lamp is a simple way to provide a bit of extra gentle heat when needed. A normal light bulb will provide warmth but may disturb your bird at night. Infrared incandescent bulbs are frequently used for heating because the red light does not seem to interrupt the avian sleep cycle. Infrared heat warms objects rather than the air around them.

Purchase heat lamps only from sources that market them specifically for use with birds. Some bulbs in the general market place are coated with the substance containing PTFE which is polytetrafluoroethylene that’s the same polymer in non stick cookware that emits fumes that are very toxic to birds. When it’s heated, those fumes kill birds quickly so be very, very careful to only use heat lamps or any heating devices from sources that market them specifically for use with birds or that can guarantee that there is no PTFE used in the manufacture.

Non light emitting heating devices like pearlco [sp] brand ceramic heat elements do not disturb the normal day night cycle. The pearlco [sp] infrared heat emitter was designed specifically for use with animals and it’s available in different watt outputs. The ceramic composition will not shatter if it’s spattered by water but it does get extremely hot and should be located well out of reach of  birds. Avitech Exotic Birds again markets pearlco [sp] heating elements as well as clamp on reflector lamp holders to hold the heating devices and that can be used with a dimmer. For more information go to

Thin, white and unobtrusive, Avitech’s Avitemp infrared heat panels are light weight enough to hang on any wall near your bird’s cage. The front surface only reaches about 150 degrees providing even soft heat while the back remains near room temperature. Avitech’s literature recommends hanging a panel within two to four inches of the cage on the same level as your bird’s customary perching area.

I love these heat panels. I use them for my birds every winter. You can cover the top and other sides of the cage for a cozy night time roost but never, ever, ever put cloth or anything in front of the heat panel. It can be very dangerous. On cold winter days I place a panel on an easel, on a snack table in from of my macaw’s cage. It’s a great thing. The heat panels can be used for weaning cages and even on top of brooder containers. They’re made of white pebbled plastic and they’re easy to wipe clean and disinfect.

We’re going to take a little bit of a break here and we’ll get back with a little bit more about heating products for your bird’s wintertime comfort.


Susan Chamberlain: Welcome back to Pet Life Radio. This is Susan Chamberlain on WingsNThings and we’re talking about lighting and heating products for  your pet bird. We’ve discussed a few of them but whichever product you choose for your bird, exercise the same caution you would with any electrical device. Birds must not be permitted physical contact with heating elements, switches, cords or bulbs. Invest in a good quality thermometer marketed specifically for avian use to monitor the temperature inside the brooders and the hospital cages.

Know the signs of overheating. Panting, wings held away from the body, neck extended, things like that and situate lamps or heating elements where birds can move away from them to a cooler or less illuminated portion of the cage. Keep birds and other animals away from cords, switches, heating elements, bulbs and lighting tubes as electrocution or injury may result from such contact. Hot light bulbs may shatter if they’re spattered by water. Locate hot or incandescent bulbs out of your bird’s splash zone. Supplementary lighting and heating products are safe and beneficial when used prudently and according to manufacturer’s instructions.

There’re a few things you can do around your home too that will keep it warmer during the day in the winter. Open the shades on your south facing windows. The sunlight just coming in can heat up your house by 10 or even 15 degrees even on the coldest days. Put those shades down again when the sun moves away late in the afternoon or early in the evening. Keep your bird in an area of the home where doors aren’t going to be open and closed frequently, that’s exterior doors. The fluctuations in temperatures can be distressing, not necessarily harmful, birds in general are pretty hardy it’s not just a draft or few minutes of cold that are going to make your bird sick. What the cold actually does over the long term is lower your bird’s resistance to germs. You have to be careful. Keep your bird comfortable. If you’re comfortable, your bird will probably be comfortable too.

Keep birds and other animals away from the cords, switches, heating elements and everything else of your supplementary heaters. Never ever, ever use kerosene heaters in your house where birds are present. In some municipalities, they are even illegal. Just be careful and be cozy.

Here is to a warm and bright winter and what does winter bring but the holidays, Christmas, Hanukkah, New Year’s Eve, all the celebrations. It’s really a terrific time of year and a time for gift giving. You want to give a bird as a gift? Consider giving a gift certificate instead. Unless you absolutely know that the person wants a bird and wants the kind of bird that you’re going to be giving. Consider a gift certificate instead.

Cracker my double yellow headed amazon loves the holidays. From Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day she’s assured a steady supply of fresh cranberries, a harvest of nuts, an occasional snacks of popcorn and other permissible for parrots party fare. All the while she watches out for opportunities to steal some delectable human food. Once she swiped a whole ravioli out of a buffet dish and ran as fast as she could in an attempt to avoid having it confiscated. I did allow her to eat a few tiny morsels of it though. Oliver, a scarlet macaw enjoys the festivities for other reasons. She loves company and parties and greets each guest as if she’s the hostess. Her manners are usually impeccable. The only lapse occurs when she christened a hired Santa’s red suit several years ago.

Its lots of fun to share the festivities with your pet bird but holiday hazards lurk behind every wooden soldier. I’ve made a list, check it twice. Food fights, cooking marathons mean extreme temperature fluctuations and airborne toxins, put your bird’s cage where temperature changes will be gradual. Never leave cooking food unattended. Smoke and fumes from brunt food can be deadly to your bird. Fumes emitted from heated non stick cookware and appliances can kill birds quickly. Postpone using the self clean cycle of your oven until you can open all the windows and temporarily relocate your bird. Switch to stainless steel, aluminum, enamel or glass cookware.

Keep your bird away from leftovers. Bacteria proliferate quickly when food is left at room temperature. Food poisoning can make your birds extremely sick. Alcoholic beverages, cola and other caffeine rich drinks, candies, salty snacks, creamy food or hor de vours, poultry stuffing and eggnogs should never be fed to your birds as toxicity or severe digestive upsets may result. Discourage guests from offering food or drinks to your birds. Keep some special holiday snacks on hand for him instead. Dried fruit, unsalted popcorn, fresh cranberries, an unsalted nut or two and some KayTee treat sticks make great avian party snacks.

How about dangerous decorations? Oh boy this is a biggy. For safety’s sake consider any holiday plant, flower or greenery potentially toxic to your bird. Place mistletoe, holly, poinsettias, amaryllis, fir, junipers, spruce and other holiday flora well out of the reach of beaks. Christmas cactus and arica palms are considered safe as long as they’ve not been treated with fertilizers or pesticides.

Deck the halls with boughs of  Polly. Cracker my double yellow head loves to participate in all holiday preparations. Her curiosity leads her to boxes and bags full of crunchy ornaments and lights strung on chewy electrical cords. Parrot paradise literary. Paint or other coating on holiday trimming may contain poisonous compounds, many of them are imported from countries that don’t have the regulations that the United States does about toxicity in paints and metals. Decorations may break under beak pressure and cause injury. Electrical cords and lights present the danger of shock and electrocution.

Provide some chunky wood hand toys to divert your bird’s attention from electrical cord binds and ornamental play things and keep a close eye on your bird. To keep Cracker safely occupied, I allow her to play in a large empty cardboard box as I decorate the tree. She loves the new sound effects she can produce inside the box and spends a considerable amount of time naying like a horse and vocalizing before she goes to work on the cardboard. By the time she gnaws her way out, she’s ready to return to the safety of her standard cage.

Even the inks used on colorful wrapping paper maybe toxic if your bird eats them, cloak your bird’s gift in white tissue paper, cellophane or certified non toxic gift wraps. There are some of them that use soy inks. Again look at the labels and know what you’re buying.

Stress is also a factor that affects your bird during the holidays. Holiday hassle and bustle can be stressful for any bird, but if you’re giving or receiving a bird as a gift the stress level can be even higher. Consider a gift certificate so the recipient can pick up the bird after holiday mania has passed. If you must bring a new bird home during the holidays, keep him in a quiet area of your home during the festivities and remember to quarantine him from other birds for a minimum of 30 days. Quarantine is so, so important. If you bring a bird home from a bird store, if your bird has been in a bird show, if your bird has been exposed to other birds, don’t bring your bird to your bird club meeting, if you’ve broken quarantine and it’s not a good thing to do. You’re responsible for the health of your own birds and as soon as you bring your bird out in the company of other birds, you’re really responsible for their health as well.

Escape proofing is very important during the winter and many escapes do occur during winter. It can be tragic when it’s so cold outside and possibly stormy. Make an appointment to have your bird’s wings clipped now. Exterior doors will be opening more frequently as holiday visitors stop by. Place your bird’s cage well away from the escape routes and from the icy drafts as well.

Other holiday hazards include candles. That’s a no brainer. Birds can get burned. Feathers burn. Place candles where they’re inaccessible to your pet. Avoid scented candles. Some have been implicated in avian respiratory distress and even death. Spray on snow, pine scented sprays are all no-nos when you share your home with a pet bird. Any substance sprayed into the air can harm your bird’s delicate respiratory system. Furniture polish and products used for waterproofing leather are  particularly toxic so if you’re going to be water proofing those new leather boots. Do it in the garage, well away from your bird, with the garage doors wide open. Cigarettes, cigars, and pipe tobacco, the smoke contains carcinogens and irritants. The tobacco is toxic if it’s eaten. Banish tobacco products from your bird’s environment. Not only are they bad for it’s respiratory system, tobacco smoke has been implicated in feather plucking problems as well.

So be very, very careful of all these things during the holidays. You might not always think of them but take a little time, ahead of time to prepare and let the celebrating begin. Happy Polidays, don’t forget to buy your birds some great presents. Go on down to your favorite bird store and pick up some treats and toys and you know you can even get a Christmas stocking for your bird, it’s very own Christmas stocking from The 14 Karat Parrot, go and visit the  for hundreds and hundreds of gifts and accessories for your favorite bird person or for yourself. There’re all kinds of goodies there, the 14 Karat Parrot has been in business since 1982, it started out as a small mail order business and is now an online business with the great big eBay store full of all kinds of great parrot paraphernalia.

How about a pair of parrot university socks just for you? They’re really cute. Parrot University is a trademark of the Long Island Parrot Society and the logo has been translated into some nice cushy socks. They are acrylic and nylon and they’re available from the Long Island Parrot Society. Go and visit and take a look at the socks and a few of the other goodies on the website. Very informative website as well, you’ll learn all different things about how to care for your bird, how to recover an escaped bird, and things about the clubs’ activities.

Let me know what your bird’s club is doing and we’ll talk about that on WingsNThings. Thanks for tuning in. Email me with your questions and experiences, tell me about your favorite bird products, tell me about your experiences with your favorite friends, we’d certainly like to talk about them here on WingsNThings, so email me and thanks again for tuning in.

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