A hand-raised lovebird makes an outstanding and affectionate pet. These tiny parrots pack a full-size parrot personality into a much smaller package. Their small size makes them very easy to keep happy and active. Lovebirds are also very hardy; resistant to many of the diseases that threaten cockatiels or larger parrots. Their cheerful demeanour and gorgeous colouring making them welcome in any home that can put up with occasional loud chirping sessions! Breeding lovebirds is also a wonderful hobby, and hand-raising the youngsters can turn into a rewarding past time.

Most experts feel that the peach faced varieties and their many mutations make the best pets if a hand-raised baby is what you want. Other lovebird species are better known for their beauty than their enduring tameness. Check with your pet retailer or breeder about what kind of health guarantees are available, and find out exactly what type of feeding your weaned baby is on at the time of purchase. Avoid weaning onto seed if possible (keep on the much healthier formulated diets such as Hagen Tropican granules). These contain vitamins and minerals so there is no need to add supplements to the drinking water each day. Lovebirds can be fussy eaters, and it is hard to balance the diet when seed mixes are used as the basic food for this species. Fresh greens, fruits, and vegetables should be offered daily to all lovebirds, whether on seed or pellets. Pellet- eating birds tend to take these foods readily, especially when chopped and mixed with their pellets. Change any moistened foods frequently to prevent spoilage. Fresh corn on the cob is a particular favourite of most lovebirds.

Your veterinarian should see your new lovebird for a check-up sometime within the first week of purchase. Ask your veterinarian about routine testing for psittacosis. Psittacosis (chlamydiosis) is a respiratory infection that can affect humans, so it is always a good idea to discuss this issue with your veterinarian shortly after purchase. Fortunately, it is uncommon in lovebirds.

How many lovebirds should you purchase? That is completely dependant on whether you have the time to keep a lovebird entertained and feeling like part of the family (lots of time spent outside of the cage). A hand-raised baby that get lots of attention can easily be kept alone. However, many owners enjoy seeing two lovebirds together and may wish to breed them. In such a case, a second lovebird can be purchased at a later date. Sexing the two birds will always be a problem however – males and females look alike. Ask your pet retailer for more information.

Keep a new lovebird in a separate room from any other existing birds in the household for at least 30 days. New birds need a safe, clean cage in a quiet location. Ask your pet retailer to help you make sure you have purchased a cage with bars set narrow enough to safely contain a young lovebird. The bird must not be able to get its head between the bars. For a young bird in a new cage, you may wish to place food on the floor (away from overhead perches) until the bird has found the new food cups. Water can also be offered in more than one location until the bird is oriented. Never use any kind of particulate bedding (such as corncob bedding) on the floor for a lovebird, especially a hand-raised lovebird. You may wish to remove any grills or wire floors from the cage, as lovebirds tend to get stuck in them. Use perches of several different diameters to exercise the feet properly. Most veterinarians recommend fresh, natural branches as part of the cage furniture. Your lovebird will enjoy perching on these and peeling the bark from species such as apple, alder, beech, maple, eucalyptus, citrus and many others. Toys are highly recommended for such intelligent birds as lovebirds. Those with mirrors, open bells and chewable items such as rawhide and plaster are particularly valuable for lovebirds. Check with your retailer and veterinarian about toy safety for your particular bird. Always allow your bird(s) out once daily; check the "flight room" for safety first. Kitchens are not recommended as they contain many hazards such as hot pans, non-stick bakeware fumes, and oil or grease. Make sure other family pets are kept separate. Many owners trim their lovebird?s wings in the summer months when the pet is more likely to escape through an open window or door. Your pet retailer or veterinarian can show you how to do this safely.

Don't forget to give your lovebird the opportunity to bathe several times weekly. A gentle mist from a plant mister is ideal. Many lovebirds also enjoy playing in a dish of clean water or under a dripping tap. Fresh air and sunshine are another asset for any pet – make sure you can safely allow your lovebird time outdoors on a warm day. Find a sheltered, secure location that will protect the cage from too much sun or a sudden rainstorm. The cage must also be mounted in such a way that marauding pets or wild animals cannot frighten the lovebird(s).

Louise Bauck BSc, DVM, MVSc.

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