DYK – Your Bird Keeps Better Time than a Swiss Watch?

Quick, say “diurnal, circadian or photoperiodic clock” five times fast., and that my friends is explains how your bird can tell time. Although your bird cannot tell what day it is it does know what the month is of each year using its circannual (calendar ) clock. It actually knows the precise time of day (just not what day it is).
 
IPhone might have Siri but with no Internet connection whatsoever your bird gets “messaged” on a regular basis, indicating the proper times to change feathers (molt), when to breed and with migrating birds, when to migrate.
 
Factoid: there are only two parrots, the Swift and the Orange-bellied, that migrate. These parrots spend the summer in Tasmania and spend their winter on the mainland of southern Australia flying across the Bass Strait, a very treacherous body of water. 
 
So where are these (phototrophic) “messages” coming from? Light entering the eye finds it’s way to the pineal gland and the pineal gland is where you’ll find a bird’s circadian clock. Near the front of the brain, specifically. This is really an interesting piece of anatomy as it’s made up of a group of cells that never stop jitterbugging. They always oscillate even when scientists remove them (the cells) from the birds and put them into test tubes. We humans have pineal glands, regrettably lacking a circadian clock, but I digress.
 
Avian brain & spinal cord – Image courtesy of the US government. 
 
The hatching of your bird turns the circadian clock on. Although it is an accurate clock, it does need some adjustment throughout the life of the bird. Signals from your bird’s environment like sunlight and how long the days are, resets this clock. The process is called entrainment.
 
Does anyone remember Roy G Biv from grammar school? Not the kid that always got beat up. It’s the acronym that helped us rember the colors of the rainbow Red Orange Yellow Green Blue Indigo Violet which when all put together form Full-spectrum light. Turns out our birds circadian clocks favorite flavor is “red light” (640 nm – wave length)
 
 
I talk about the importance of full-spectrum lighting a lot because when birds don’t get exposed to consistent natural sunlight like light, their circadian clocks become “free runners”. Outdoor birds who rely on the sun as a source of sunlight are able to keep their circadian clocks in better working order than caged birds. 
 
 
Pluckers and screamers are heart breakers for all caged bird keepers. Plucking does not occur in the wild – period. Birds in the wild are exposed to natural sunlight daily. Please think about that the next time you wonder if spending 30 bucks for a full spectrum light bulb with UVA and UVB is really worth it.
 
Remember that regardless of the effort you put into helping reproduce your birds natural environment, there isn’t a bird in the sky who can’t tell the difference between a 24-hour day living 300 miles north of the equator and 2 – 12 hour cycles of artificial full-spectrum lighting and real darkness.. Birds can actually tell the shape of light and movement of the sun. It’s incumbent upon us to help our birds cope with an environment that from an evolutionary point of view, they were never intended to live in.
 
This is why we see our birds begin to lay eggs in the spring. It’s because the days are getting longer. Their internal clock triggers annual reproduction and molting cycles. It’s a process that cannot be undone until the bird goes through some shorter days like what would happen during winter (this is called photorefractoriness). Shortening the artificial light cycle with a timer on your bird cages full-spectrum lighting may help reduce or stop a hen from egg laying. 
 
From a global point of view, Mexican and Central American parrots begin breeding and molting in the waning days of summer. Hyacinth macaws which are primarily found in Brazil, the center of South America, and African Grey parrots (from Central Africa) begin breeding then molting their feathers July through December. Australian cockatoos start reproducing and then blowing their feathers as spring turns into summer. Individual species of a parrot’s pineal gland, interpret light in a unique way.
 
Some of you may remember Sunshine our male Indian Ringneck that passed away four years ago Mother’s Day. Just like we take Popcorn (our Cockatiel) to work daily, we took Sunshine with us to the shop every day we worked (weather permitting). Unlike Popcorn who’s flighted and must remain caged all day, Sunshine’s wings were clipped for the first half of his life, and then we left them to grow back in, he could fly but preferred to walk most of the time. He had a ladder, extending from the front door of his cage to the floor of our office. Every day without fail, regardless of it being a workday or not (they don’t know what day it is) he would leave this cage, walk down his ladder head for the front door at 5:00 PM CST (adjusted for daylight savings time). You could set your watch by it.
 
We’ll wrap this up by stating the obvious. We humans need to adorn our arms with elaborate electro and mechanical timekeeping mechanisms. Nothing says “I love you” especially to a bird person like a watch with birds. Check out this Jaquet Droz Bird Minute Repeater Watch. Remember guys to save your pennies, but don’t wait long, there’s only 16 of these that were ever made. You’ll also need more than pennies because these unique timepieces sell for a half a million dollars each. 
 
 
 
written by Mitch Rezman
approved by Catherine Tobsing
 
Catherine Tobsing feeding white cockatiel on shoulder   Mitch Rezman with cockatoo on shoulder
Catherine Tobsing   Mitch Rezman

 

6 Reasons Summer is Dangerous for Your Bird

We talk about parrots being equatorial animals and how life in North America, for example screws up their instinctual expectations for things like light cycles and temperature. So you would think with summer here, all those problems would go away. Some did, but now we face a host of new challenges.

 

 

Escape routes

Summer is the time of open doors and windows, screens instead of glass and much more in and out traffic typically. Flighted birds pose the risk of escape by flight, and summer increases that risk no doubt. , But when your wing clipped 240g feather ball chews through the screen where you left the window open in the guest room on the second floor, your clipped wing bird could easily ride the warm summer thermals (those air things that keep non-motorized gliders afloat) and end up in the next state before you knew she was gone. . If you open doors and windows, it’s best to keep your bird in a cage, flighted or not. A wire travel carrier is an easy and simple choice.

 

Fans

A fan can be a human’s best friend. I’ve seen videos of birds who like to play in the airflow. That said, I have also seen birds who were placed under or in front of a fan with every good intention by its keeper. While keeping the air around the bird cool the birds feathers were always getting lifted. A “ruffled” feather needs to be put back in its place, and this is done by preening. With the unceasing airflow from the fan comes with an unceasing amount of preening, which has in the past triggered plucking. I advise you to keep your birds out of the path of direct fan or AC airflow.

 

Ceiling fans fall under the category of super hazard for flighted birds. Veterinarians call the result “shredded tweet” For more ways on how we kill our pet birds, read this.

 

Shade

We talk about the need for full-spectrum lighting on a regular basis. What could be better than the real deal, the Sun. You know that thing that can cause paint, burned skin, crinkle car interiors? Yep, that sun.

 

Sunlight is good, direct sunlight is not – make sure your bird always has access to shade. If your cage is near a window check it throughout the day to make sure there is always a shady spot somewhere in the cage where your bird can seek refuge from the sun.

 

Mosquitoes

West Nile virus is usually transmitted through mosquito bites and it’s an avian condition that could reult in death. Keep your bird protected from mosquitoes. If you take him or her outside in a cage outside on an unprotected deck, potential exposure of your bird to mosquito bites greatly increases. An outdoor aviary may require an additional layer of screening.

 

Burning the burgers

Grilled food always taste better, who doesn’t like a good barbecue? Whether the barbecue is at home or your bird travels with you remember the smoke from campfires and barbecues may be toxic to your bird. Check to see that direct inhalation is not occurring through an open window, or screen door too.

 

The varments

For us the circle of life usually starts the supermarket and ends on our kitchen table. For a feral cat, a raccoon or a nearby Hawk, the circle of life can be seconds away from your bird’s cage when parked out of doors. Please don’t leave your bird alone outside for a moment.

 

written by Mitch Rezman

approved by Catherine Tobsing

 

Traveling with Your Bird? Here’s Your How To’s

Air travel with your bird is a post all it’s own so today we’ll focus on terrestrial travel.
  
We are moving all comments from the old style blog to this new fancy schmancy one, by hand. Any comments made today and moving forward, will be made under your own profile. We apologize for any confusion and hope this new format will help make us all better caged bird keepers.
 
We’ve talked about travel carrier rehearsal. As we approach the peak of the summer travel season I thought we’d talk about best practices for vehicular travel. We travel with Popcorn our (White Face Lutino) Cockatiel, seven days a week. On the weekends we have a permanent spot with 25 foot (1979 vintage :-)travel trailer at a campground. It’s a 75 mile trip each way.
 

Read moreTraveling with Your Bird? Here’s Your How To’s

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