How to Care for Pet Birds in Cold Weather

blue-gray budgie sitting on a perch in a cage next to a food cup

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When the weather outside gets frightful, it can spell trouble for pet birds. Because most pet bird species hail from geographic areas that have warm, tropical climates, a drop in temperature can be devastating to both their comfort and health, even if you keep your bird inside. Learn why cold weather can pose such a problem for pet birds, as well as tips to keep your feathered friend safe, healthy, and comfortable.

Mimic Your Bird's Native Environment

Although your pet bird was likely bred in captivity, its species is probably native to a region that stays fairly warm year-round. For instance, macaws come from the rainforests of South America, ringneck parakeets come from temperate climates in India, and African grey parrots originate in the warmest regions of Africa. These types of birds are simply not designed to cope with harsh winter temperatures.

Thus, it is extremely important that the climate in which you house pet birds mimics their natural habitat. It often can be dangerous to expose a pet bird to an environment that is any cooler than 65 degrees Fahrenheit. That means outdoor aviaries must be monitored extremely closely for sudden changes in weather. And even if you keep your bird in a climate-controlled environment, a drafty window or a quick burst of cold air from an open door can stress its immune system and make it susceptible to illness.

Cold birds often sit with their feathers fluffed up to retain body heat, and they don't move around much. This behavior also can be a sign of illness. So if increasing the temperature of your bird's environment doesn't return it back to its normal behavior fairly quickly, contact your avian veterinarian.

Make Sure Your Heating Is Safe for Birds

Unless your home has central heat and air, along with good insulation, providing a comfortable temperature for your pet bird can be easier said than done. Building a fire in a fireplace is not a good option. Not only does an open fire pose a burn risk for a bird out of its cage, but the smoke from burning wood is also a health hazard. Birds have extremely sensitive respiratory systems and can easily develop serious health issues, including sudden death, from any smoke or fumes.

For the same reason, many space heaters are also a poor choice to keep your pet bird warm. Some are treated with a nonstick coating, which gives off toxic fumes that are known to be lethal to pet birds. In addition, some space heaters run on gas or kerosene, which also produce fumes that could kill your feathered friend.

Some ways to safely keep your bird warm when your house gets chilly is to move the bird’s cage away from doors and windows. The interior parts of a home are typically the warmest and farthest from chilly drafts. Moreover, cover your bird’s cage at night when it’s time to go to bed and the temperature drops. This also will deflect drafts and help to maintain a comfortable temperature inside the cage.

Plus, if you find any air leaks, seal them as soon as possible. A shrink-wrap insulation kit is often an easy way to weather-proof windows. But be wary of using spray foam and certain other types of insulation around your bird, as they can give off toxic chemicals. Consult your vet for avian-safe products.

Don't Forget About Humidity

Keeping your bird warm is only half of the equation when it comes to helping your pet make it through the colder months safe and sound. Many home heating systems can make the indoor air very dry, robbing a bird of much-needed humidity in its environment. Low humidity levels can lead to dry skin, brittle feathers, preening issues, respiratory problems, and more in a bird.

Fortunately, the humidity problem is fairly easy to solve. One option is to purchase an electronic humidifier and place it the room where your bird's cage is located. Or you can gently mist your bird with water from a spray bottle on a regular basis. Most birds enjoy a daily misting, as it mimics the natural rainfall they would get in the wild. It also helps to promote healthy preening behavior and soothe dry skin. However, first make sure your environment is warm enough for your bird before misting. Otherwise, the water on its feathers can cause the bird to become chilled.

By being proactive about your bird’s heat and humidity during the colder months, you'll greatly reduce the chance of health complications in your pet (and subsequent vet bills) due to the climate. And you'll maximize the number of happy, cozy winters you get to spend with your pet.