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The beakly standard

From Animal Sheltering magazine May/June 2012

It’s a good idea to add items for avian care and enrichment to your donation needs list, so that you’ll be ready with the appropriate supplies when feathered visitors arrive at your shelter.

With all the purring, woofing visitors that shelters have to care for, adapting to the arrival of someone who chirps can ruffle the feathers of the most adaptive kennel manager. Many shelters opt to work with local bird rescues to handle their avian visitors, which is a great option; good bird rescuers not only have the knowledge to care for particular species, they’ll have housing options that will improve upon what a crowded and hectic animal shelter can provide.

But for shelters that don’t have immediate access to an avian rescue partner, the best place to keep a bird is somewhere warm (65-85 degrees F is ideal) and away from the sounds of predatory animals like cats and dogs. Or as you might call this place, “not the shelter.”

Kidding! In all seriousness, consider an administrative office, an unused or low-traffic storage space, or your small-animal room. Caging should provide ample space for a bird to spread her wings, a variety of perches and food and water dishes, and enrichment items for any feathered friend who’s spending more than 24 hours with you. It’s smart to add items for avian care to your donation needs list so that you’ll have supplies around when birds come in.

Caging shouldn’t include wood (birds love to chew it and could make an escape route), or lead and zinc, which are toxic to the animals, and should be cleaned regularly. Bird poop can become aerosolized, and some diseases can transfer between birds and humans, so staff may want to wear surgical masks while cleaning and should definitely wash their hands before and after.

Make sure adopters know the animals are there! Include them in your adoption listings, and mention them regularly on your social media platforms (especially, er, Twitter). And if they’re kept in a less visible area of the shelter, make sure to have signage letting visitors know they’re there. You could even make a paper trail of birds “flying” along the wall leading people to their housing.

With all the possible birds you could get in—parakeets, cockatiels, and canaries are common, but larger parrots are unfortunately still in the pet trade as well—you’ll want to make sure you’ve got care, feeding, and health information that’s species-specific. Captive Exotic Bird Care: A Guide for Shelters is a terrific resource from the Avian Welfare Coalition; the group also maintains a working list of bird rescue groups organized by state. Go to to check them out.

About the Author

Animal Sheltering is for everyone who cares about the animals in their community—from shelter directors and animal care and control officers to kennel staff, volunteers, and private individuals working as activists, breed rescuers, wildlife rehabbers, veterinarians and more.