So you want to get a pet bird…

A pair of scarlet macaws

Birds make wonderful companions, since they are such social and vocal animals. However, there are some considerations that every new bird owner should make before deciding to take on a lifelong, feathery companion. Yes, birds can live a long time, so owning a bird is a long-term, sometimes even lifelong commitment! Smaller species such as budgies and cockatiels can live for 20 years, while larger parrot species can live up to 50 years. Additionally, birds tend to have extremely social natures, and can therefore, develop self-destructive or aggressive behavioral problems if they are not adequately socialized.

Different species of birds have varying needs, and depending on your lifestyle, one type of bird may be a much better option for you than another. So before you purchase the toys, bird seed, and housing, you have to decide on which bird you’d like to make your companion. Here are some common pet bird species and some things you should consider before you choose the bird that you want to share your home with.

A pair of wild budgerigars

Budgerigars and cockatiels are, by far, the best companions for novice birders, due largely to their small size and ease of care. They are very clever and social birds, and a lot of fun.

Budgerigars (budgies) are the most abundant psittacine species in the world. Originally from Australia, these small birds are generally easy to keep. Their needs are easily met in captivity, and they tend to be great pets. Adult males have blue ceres (the fleshy covering just above their beak that includes nostrils), while adult females have tan colored ceres.

Cockatiels are the smallest of all the cockatoo species. They have a characteristic, movable crest on their head. Also from Australia, these birds are highly social and often live in large, nomadic flocks in the wild. Like the budgie, their needs are easily met in captivity. Because of their gregarious nature, they bond and interact with humans very well and tend to be great pets. Adult females are grey in color, while adult males have a yellow face with a grey body. Females have a tendency to become chronic egg layers, but be advised that you should not remove the eggs. These birds have a feedback mechanism that tells them to brood over a clutch of eggs and to stop further egg laying, but if the eggs are constantly being removed, the hen continues to lay them, resulting in depleted calcium reserves. Also, sexual activity in these birds can be stimulated by dark nesting places or mushy food, which can sometimes lead to aggression.

Sulfur-crested cockatoo

Cockatoos are both much larger and louder than cockatiels. There are about 30 different species of cockatoos, each with their own characteristics. Generally speaking, these birds form very close pair bonds, and their highly social nature can make them more difficult to care for in captivity. They are very smart, and can learn that loud vocalizations result in receiving attention, making them one of the most commonly relinquished pet bird species. Cockatoos may also develop some negative behaviors, such as feather picking. Also, if someone in the household has allergies, be aware that these birds tend to have lots of powder down feathers, which can produce a lot of dust.

Conures are a group of small to medium sized parrots, but don’t let their small stature fool you, it is not representative of their volume. These birds are very loud, and, like the cockatoos, are also often given up within the first year of ownership.

Eclectus parrots and lovebirds tend to have more aggressive females than males. Wild female eclectus parrots are typically the birds that defend the nesting cavity, while the males forage and bring back food. Hence, the hens tend to be more dominant and aggressive than the males. Lovebirds in general tend to be aggressive towards other bird species as well, so avoid keeping them together with other bird species.

Amazon parrots are intelligent, outgoing species. Potential amazon owners should be aware that male amazons, around the time of sexual maturity and each subsequent breeding season (springtime), can become aggressive. They can also be aggressive when stressed. African grey parrots, on the other hand, are a more introspective species, and when they are stressed, tend to develop self destructive behaviors, such as feather plucking/destruction, rather than become aggressive towards other animals and people.

Macaws are the largest of the parrot species. They are highly intelligent and full of energy, which can make them a challenging pet for an inexperienced bird handler. They also have a very strong bite, so housing and toys need to be selected carefully.

An African grey parrot

Remember, when looking for your bird companion, to look for reputable breeders. Illegal poaching and smuggling of many of the above named species is a real issue, and contributes to the decline of wild populations. A good and reputable breeder, however, will properly care for and socialize the chicks to humans prior to your obtaining the bird, which reduces risk of the development of aggressive behaviors.

Once you’ve made the decision on which bird you want to love and interact with at home, then you can think about your bird’s toys, food, and housing. Remember that a lot of the husbandry is based on the bird’s natural history.

More social species tend to do well with companions, but remember that the birds need the ability to move away from each other if necessary. If they cannot move away from each other because their housing is too small, the birds can become stressed and develop disease.

When considering cages, always remember that it should be large enough for the bird to completely spread its wings without touching sides of cage. The bird should be able to move around and exercise within the confines of its home. One should also consider the strength of the cage if one is bringing home a bird with a strong bite, like a macaw. Make sure it’s a cage that you can easily clean and keep hygienic for the animal.

Stock the cage with toys and perches appropriate for the species that you are housing. Provide a box or nest area for the bird to hide when it is stressed. Provide perches without abrasive surfaces and made out of a safe, untreated wood material, because sometimes birds may chew on their wooden perches. The perch should be large enough that when wrapping their toes around it, the bird’s toes cover 75% of the perch’s circumference, allowing for even distribution of the bird’s weight. Never place their food and water directly below a perch, because birds will invariably poop in it.

A pair of rainbow lorikeets

Make sure you understand and provide the optimal environmental condition for your species of bird. The vast majority of psittacine species come from tropical locations around the world, so generally, keep them warm and provide a heat source. However, different birds have different requirements, so make sure you understand heating, lighting, humidity, noise level, and nutritional/dietary specifications for your bird. For example, while most parrots are granivorous, meaning that they feed on fresh fruits, veggies, and seeds, the lory and lorikeet species are nectivorous, so they require a specialized nectar diet. Remember that seed alone is not a sufficient diet for any parrot species. Make sure you speak to your veterinarian about how to provide an adequately balanced diet for your avian companion.

Remember that psittacine species tend to be very highly social and active birds. In the wild, they spend much of their time looking for food and communicating with conspecifics. Therefore, in captivity, they need to be given lots of socialization time, as well as challenges to solve to reduce any chances of development of destructive behaviors. Providing food in foraging toys or challenge boxes will help provide some enrichment for your feathery friend.

Always remember to consult your local exotics veterinarian with any husbandry or health related questions about your new companion!


I would like to acknowledge the various professors and veterinarians that I personally have learned about bird care from, who have enriched my avian education, and especially Dr. Donna Muscarella, who inspired the idea for this article, and aided my writing it.

For more information please check out the following websites:

The World Parrot Trust:  – Check out his website for more detailed information regarding characteristics and care of various parrot species.

Good Bird Inc. http:  – Check out this website for information on companion parrot behavior and positive reinforcement methods to reinforce the parrot-human bond.

Note: All images were taken from the public domain.


Mary Nasr, class of 2020, is from Staten Island, NY. She received her Bachelor of Science from Rutgers University in 2016, with a major in Animal Science. She is passionate about zoo and wildlife medicine, conservation, and education, and aspires to build a career around zoo/wildlife surgery and anesthesia.

SAVMA Symposium 2018 – Wildlife Learning Opportunities

Skyline view of Philadelphia from our hotel room

Symposiums and conferences are times when professionals gather to share information, techniques, and participate in activities that will improve their skills. The Student Chapter of the American Veterinary Medical Association, or SAVMA, held its veterinary student symposium this past week. It was a great opportunity for students of all veterinary disciplines to mingle with one another and with successful veterinarians in their field. This year’s SAVMA Symposium was held at the University of Pennsylvania’s veterinary college, PennVet, in the city of brotherly love.

At the symposium, students had the opportunity to attend lectures in a variety of veterinary medicine fields, from small animal specialty medicine topics to large global scale issues in One Health. As a student interested in zoo and wildlife medicine and One Health, I attended many interesting lectures on topics from “Marine Mammal and Sea Turtle Strandings” to honey bee biology and pathology.

A personal favorite of mine was one lecture that discussed the role of a zoo veterinarian in conservation. The speaker discussed the varying degrees with which international medicine can be incorporated in a zoo veterinarian’s career, and that each individual chooses how large of a role it plays in their life. While one person may want to spend their entire career working on the conservation of a particular species in a particular region of the world, others can work on more short term projects for three to four weeks, and return to their “home base”. Listening to the stories of other veterinarians who chose one path or another encouraged me to imagine myself in their shoes. This lecture resonated with me because it allowed me to critically evaluate which path was best for me in light of my life goals and priorities.

In addition to the many lecture topics that were covered, there were also a variety of wet labs and day trips for students to attend during the symposium. These labs and trips also spanned many disciplines in veterinary medicine, including small and large animal medicine, One Health and Zoonoses, lab animal medicine, and much more! Behind the scenes tours of the Philadelphia Zoo and the Adventure Aquarium were top of the list for many zoo and wildlife oriented students. For students interested in zoo and wildlife medicine, available wet labs covered topics such as reptile physical exam, fish diagnostics, wildlife necropsy, and comparative medicine. I signed up for two wet labs, one on comparative anesthesia, and the other on ferret surgery.

Group photo taken at the dinner on the final night of the symposium

Myself and a group of students from various veterinary schools around the country caught a bus together early in the morning to attend the comparative anesthesia lab at PennVet. The lab kicked off with some mice handling skills, since we were using mice as our model. During the lab, we discussed different methods of anesthetizing different species of animals, as well as various drugs used on different species. We split into three groups of four and each student anesthetized one mouse. The different groups anesthetized their mice using either intraperitoneal or subcutaneous injection, while the individuals in each group anesthetized the mice using a different combination of drugs. We examined the different drug combination protocols and each protocol’s effects on the mice by careful monitoring, taking note of any side effects and how long it took for the mice to start feeling sleepy and subsequently lose their righting reflex. Throughout the lab, we discussed the different planes of anesthesia and how to evaluate whether or not an animal was in a surgical plane of anesthesia by testing a variety of reflexes, such as palpebral and withdrawal reflexes. We then safely recovered all the mice and regrouped to review anesthetic machines and gas anesthesia, which is another form of anesthesia that allows for rapid induction and recovery from anesthesia.

The next afternoon, I attended a ferret surgery lab, in which we discussed the diagnosis and variety of treatment methods of insulinomas and adrenalectomies in ferrets, as well as the most common surgeries that most ferrets need in their lifetime. The discussion detailed a step-by-step approach to diagnosing adrenal disease and conducting an adrenalectomy surgery on a ferret. Afterwards, we were able to practice performing adrenalectomies on cadaver specimens. While our bodies may look symmetrical, they most definitely are not internally. Removing a diseased left adrenal gland is simple in a ferret, since it is located amongst fat near the left kidney. The right kidney, however, lays on top of a critical blood vessel in the ferret, so surgery can be much more complex when removing a diseased right adrenal gland. Since my partner and I finished early, we also practiced completing a spay surgery on our ferret, and afterwards practiced different suture methods and using a skin stapler to close our abdominal incision. Next, we split into groups and practiced our communication skills with mock clients, who were lab volunteers. Each volunteer set up a scenario, and we, as veterinarians, would talk through the possible diagnoses and treatment options. Since surgery is a personal interest of mine, I enjoyed the opportunity to learn about a new and common surgery done in ferrets, while joking around with the wonderful PennVet clinican who was supervising the lab.

Nightlife in the City of Brotherly Love

In addition to all these events, students also had the opportunity to attend many professional development talks on varying subjects, including talks that addressed approaches to studying for the North American Veterinary Licensing Exam (NAVLE), compassion fatigue, diversity issues, and business strategies. There were even yoga sessions, academic and athletic competitions, as well as a large trivia competition that were held during the symposium. These fun events helped students break the ice and intermingle while fostering some friendly competition.

The symposium was a great opportunity to establish new relationships while rekindling old ones. I was able to meet zoo and wildlife veterinarians who were living my dream. We conversed about the various unique paths they took to reach their goals, and how their personal priorities affected those decisions. I was also fortunate to have spent some time with old professors and classmates from my undergraduate career at Rutgers. Seeing how old friends have succeeded in their endeavors is refreshing and exciting!

SAVMA Symposium 2018 was a highly rewarding experience, both because of the great opportunities it afforded me in professional development, and for the fun times I had with old and new friends. I highly recommend that all veterinary students, no matter what field or species you are interested in, attend SAVMA Symposium at least once during their time in vet school.



Mary is a second year vet student from Staten Island, NY. She received her Bachelor of Science from Rutgers University in 2016, with a major in Animal Science. She is passionate about zoo and wildlife medicine, conservation, and education, and aspires to build a career around zoo/wildlife surgery and anesthesia.

I found a turtle! Now what??


What happens in spring and summer? Turtles start breeding and nesting! Unfortunately, many get hit by cars in the process.

You’re driving along the road and you see a rock, wait, it’s a turtle! You slow down to note that it’s not moving particularly fast… It’s almost rush hour, and you start to worry. “What should I do?” you wonder.

Let’s start with identifying the turtle you are now parked near. Put your four-way flashers on and then carefully get out of the car and approach the turtle if road traffic allows, ushering people around the turtle as appropriate. Two common Northeast U.S. turtles are:


  • Eastern painted turtle (Chrysemys picta)
    • These are smaller than a dinner plate and have long sharp claws. They are called painted because they have yellow and red stripes and patterns along their heads, limbs, tail, and shell. 





  • Common snapping turtle (Chelydra serpentina)
    • These guys really look like dinosaurs; they are large with long tails having stegosaurus-like spines along midline and the edge of the back of their shell often appears serrated. Their name is appropriate as they may try to snap/bite you.




The following are some guidelines on how to help each species, which are similar but with some nuances.

In general, help the turtle cross the road in the direction it was heading. Do this carefully as you are dealing with a wild animal on a potentially busy road.

  • Eastern painted turtle
    • Do not:
      • Pick up by the tail, limbs or head!
      • Put your fingers near its mouth to tempt it – you may get bitten!
    • Do:
      • Pick up from the sides of the shell between the fore and hind limbs (area commonly called the bridge).
    • Be aware:
      • They can reach pretty far with their sharp claws, so you may end up with some scrapes if the turtle struggles during its expedited road crossing.
  • Common snapping turtle
    • Do not:
      • Pick up by the tail, limbs or head!
      • Put your fingers near its mouth to tempt it – you will lose fingers in the process!
    • Do:
      • Raise from the base of tail (near the shell) with one hand and place the other hand underneath the portion of the bottom shell near the hindlimbs. Picking up large snapping turtles by the tail alone can cause damage to the vertebral column and spinal cord.
    • Be aware:
      • They can reach over the top or under the bottom of their shell to bite you
      • They can climb chain link fences and move fast when they want to

What if the turtle is hurt, such as being hit by a car?

I have been told countless stories where someone was helping a turtle cross the road, but someone else ran over the turtle anyway, right in front of the good samaritan. This phenomenon occurs mostly during the turtles’ nesting seasons, when they are most active.

The two species of turtle previously discussed have similar nesting habits. The breeding season for both is in the spring, and then the nesting season is in summer, from about May to August. They are both nocturnal, preferring to lay their nests in the low-lighted hours such as dusk. Both will travel long distances to find suitable substrate – loamy or soft soil near water sources – or the soft dirt and gravel on the edges of roads. They dig their nests with their rear legs and then lay their clutch of eggs – turtles should not be disturbed during this process. They differ in the size of their egg clutches. Common snapping turtles lay about 20 ping-pong ball-sized eggs in one nest, while Eastern painted turtles lay a lower number of slightly smaller eggs, though they may produce more than one clutch in a season. These differences are mostly due to size of the species and/or individual.

Shell repair techniques can be used to fix some injured turtles, as turtles are unusually hardy creatures. If the damage to the shell or the rest of the turtle, is too great to repair, the turtle will be humanely euthanized. Gravid (having eggs) females will be identified by radiographs (x-rays will show the egg shells in their abdomen) and their eggs extracted and incubated to hatch that fall. Sometimes the hatchlings are over-wintered with a licensed wildlife rehabilitator to give them a head-start the next spring. Whether released in the fall or the following spring, the baby turtles will probably stay out of sight until they too partake in their respective species’ procreation.

If you find an injured turtle, call the 24-hour hotline at the Cornell University Hospital for Animals (CUHA) at 607-253-3060 and ask for the Wildlife Health Center (WHC)! We have student Wildlife Technicians and veterinarians on call at all times, to answer any of your questions. We can help you decide if the turtle needs to be picked up, placed in a box, and brought in to us, or, if you’re too far away from Cornell to drive to us, we can help you find a licensed wildlife rehabilitator in your area. All of us are here to help, and all of us want these turtles to be okay so they can start the next generation!

For more information on these species, please see the following:


Lauren Jacobs is a third year Cornell veterinary student and student wildlife technician from Poughquag, NY. She received her Bachelor of Science Degree in Animal Science from Cornell University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences in 2015, with minors in Biology and Music. Lauren is interested in mixed animal private practice and plans to continue to work with wildlife and enjoy music after graduation.