Parrots And Cold Weather

Parrots And Cold Weather

 January 7th, 2013
Posted By:
Patty

Photo from parrotearth.com

Winter is in full swing in the northern hemisphere of planet earth. I live in Florida, which is considered subtropical, but we still endure some brief periods of freezing temperatures. Up north, where I grew up and spent most of my life, it is much colder and the consistent lower temperatures are a pervasive “chill you to the bone” kind of cold. If you have an older, drafty house, it can be kind of hard to keep temperature even and comfortable from room to room.

We get a lot of inquiries here at Birdtricks about how cold is too cold for our parrots. The concerns generally stem from the knowledge that many parrot species originate from warm climates. It is presumed that because parrots have evolved to live in warmer temperatures, they would be intolerant to the cold. That is not entirely true.

In Florida, especially here in Orlando, there is a HUGE amount of tourism from South America. Retailers here rely heavily on that revenue – in some areas it can account for up to 80% of their business. It is cheaper for South Americans to travel to the states to make name-brand purchases, which are outrageously expensive in their own countries.

In January and February, peak tourist season for Brazillians in particular, one of the main items they are shopping for are winter coats. It gets cold in South America. If you ask them, they will tell you it gets desperately cold. “Desperately cold” to them means 40 degrees Fahrenheit (about 4.5c), sometimes colder. That means that their wild parrots species can and do tolerate those temperatures.

In Australia, a country that is about as large as the United States, the seasonal temperatures throughout the country vary widely. In the south, it can dip well below freezing. While Australia does have a couple of migratory species, parrots are not migratory birds and they stay put to endure whatever their local climate has to offer.

Photo from newschoolers.com

Some people have acclimated their birds to life in an outdoor aviary that do well in temperatures down into the 40’s (f). Acclimated birds have physical mechanisms in place to protect themselves from extreme temperatures:

  • Feathering. Temperature acclimated parrots produce feathering that will serve as insulation to the cold, as do the oils in the feathers. Birds will fluff up when they are cold to produce air pockets in the feathering that further insulates them. An un-acclimated bird has not produced this feathering through necessity, and is not able to comfortably or safely withstand the same lower temperatures.
  • Scales. The feet are covered with scales that can retain heat. However, temperatures below freezing leave the lower extremities vulnerable and exposed. In very cold temperatures, the body protects its most vital parts, the organs, by regulating blood flow to them to keep them warm. Feet (fingers, noses etc.) are considered expendable and will be forfeited to save the systems that are necessary to preserve life if the temperatures call for it.

Regardless of a parrot’s natural place of origin, the only climate that matters is the one in which they live. Most companion parrots are not acclimated to cold temperatures. They have adapted to the temperatures common within our homes, generally between 65 and 72 degrees (18c-22c). While they are capable of enduring much lower temperatures, they are not prepared to.

Acclimating your bird to cold temperatures is a slow process since it requires the development of appropriate feathering – something that does not happen overnight. The best way to acclimate is to start allowing your bird to experience lower temperatures gradually and comfortably. As the days grow shorter as the fall months approach, the night cool lasts longer and allows a bird to slowly develop that which is needed to provide for the obvious oncoming cold season. A bird should not experience anything more than a 10, perhaps 15, degrees F change in temperature in the beginning stages to comfortably make the transition.

However, if you live in a cold climate where winter storms sometimes cause power outages, don’t go into a panic. A single heat source, such as a fire place or wood burning  stove (when used safely and smoke-lessly) can provide adequate warmth for your indoor parrot until the power comes back on. Covering three sides of the cage and facing the open side to the heat source (from a safe distance) will help maintain and stabilize the cage temperature.

In temperatures above freezing, cold, itself, is not a killer, but the energy expenditure to maintain body heat weakens the immune system and leaves a parrot vulnerable to disease. If your bird is healthy and on an appropriate diet, it will be fit enough to handle the cooler temperatures of a drafty house or the relatively short cold period during a power outage.

Photo from indybay.org

Wild bird species rely on the higher fat and caloric diet that life in the wild requires. They expend far more energy from their level of activity and they need fat reserves to maintain the metabolic rate needed to regulate their temperature during the very cold months.

In captivity, an appropriate diet for a bird does not include a high amount of fat by comparison. In fact, it is detrimental to their overall health since they aren’t able to burn nearly as many calories with their relatively sedate lifestyles. A high fat diet will lead to obesity and the diseases that come with it.

For a sheltered companion parrot whose typically consistent environment has suddenly changed, its overall health, often determined by diet, can make the difference in its ability to tolerate a sudden temperature change.

Please click here to learn more about the appropriate diet for your parrot.

Birdtricks.com Parrot Nutrition Course

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4 Comments on “Parrots And Cold Weather”

Jesse Lorraine  01/14/2013 2:58 pm

Pilota, my 56 y/o yellow crested Amazon, has been an indoor bird for the last 51 years. When I adopted her six years ago from the family of a late friend, I was clueless as to how to take care of her, and her surviving family knew little about the specifics of her former 45 years in captivity.
I prefer to have the bedroom cool enough that my nose is cold to the touch, but have been trying to maintain the rooms I share with Pilota and the 4 cats at about 68-70. Not ideal for me, but she’s old and in my care, and I love her.
Her cage is covered with plastic film on the top, the side facing the window, and the side facing the doorway to the den. At night, I’ve been mostly closing the doors to the den for the cats to have room to roam, and lower the den to about 65. When it’s really cold and blustery out, pilota’s cage gets covered.
I’m glad to read the comfort/safety range for her is lower, as I’ll gradually drop the the temps to max out at about 68, assuming the bird still seems comfortable. I intend to continue to heat the area to about 75 on Pilota’s shower days.
Thanks for all the info and input at this site!


shirley Martin  01/14/2013 7:37 pm

I have a Red-lored Amazon and a Blue-front. They shake and fluff up their feathers if they are the least bit cold. Even when it is comfortable to me, they still do this. I keep my heat on 70-72 degrees and put them close to the fireplace when they act cold to make sure they are not too cold. Maybe I’m just being a protective mom that tries to make sure her babies are comfortable.lol!


Anonymous  04/12/2013 12:58 pm

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Kirk Weber  12/30/2013 1:20 am

Patty: I “inherited” an Amazon. He’s lived indoors with us for 6 yrs at a fairly constant temperature–just like us. The former owner did the same. Bert has spent at least the recent 16 yrs of his life indoors (to the point where he actually hates outdoors). He also came to us with a picking (over-preening) problem; his right breast is completely down to the “grey”–no green left. Outdoors, we have all manner of conditions from very hot (technically 86F/30C but the humidity makes it feel more like 100F/40C) to very cold (-18F/-28C, but the winds make it feel more like -31F/_35C). Bert doesn’t seem bothered by the heat, but obviously he can only be acclimatized for cold–down to a point. So, my questions are:

(1) how do people who live in apartments (I don’t now, but I used to) acclimatize their birds and
(2), I don’t have an outdoor aviary, so how do I acclimatize Bert? Should I take him out for a certain time each day, and for low long, and at what rate should the exposure period be increased?

Thanks. :0)