Winter in North Texas is an ever-changing blend of weather that can leave you wearing two pairs of socks one day and enjoying the sun’s warm through a pair of sandals the next. The fickle forecast and fluctuating temperatures mean we don’t have to prepare in the same way people in colder regions do, but snow is becoming a regular occurrence. It is important for birdkeepers to prepare for cold weather and avoid seasonal hazards.
1. Create a Cozy Retreat
There is an array of cozy nests and plush coves available to keep smaller birds warm, but macaws have more complicated needs–particularly since they are so playfully destructive. Some catalogs offer an electric perch, but that seemed too risky to me. My best option was to help Spot regulate his nighttime temperature by giving him a choice of sleeping positions. Unfortunately, he prefers to have only one perch in his rather substantial cage and dedicates his MacGyver brain to removing or dismantling the perceived trespassers.
I installed an add-on corner shelf in his cage and covered a portion of the outside walls with cardboard. (A free-standing screen would make a more attractive alternative.) This helps further insulate him from drafts. At night, I toss a very heavy blanket over that portion of the cage. He sometimes nips at the blanket, but doesn’t bother the cardboard. Go figure.
2. Store Extra Food in Case of Winter Storms
After a lot of fussing with a picky re-homed macaw that didn’t come with an instruction booklet, I settled on feeding a pelleted diet supplemented with treats, such as popcorn and veggies. Since his food of choice is difficult to find in local pet stores, I order bulk bags online. I enjoy the convenience of having the 20-pound bag delivered right to my front door and the food is fresher than what I usually find in stores.
Unfortunately, one of my winter orders was delivered to some mysterious location where a scribbler signed for it. Dealing with the retailer was a headache because they wanted to wait for the package to reappear instead of issuing a refund or replacement. They finally sent a replacement, but winter storms delayed delivery even longer. I kept at least one week’s worth of food in reserve, but this snowy saga taught me to keep a bigger supply ready since bad weather can affect delivery services and access to local stores.
3. Be Vigilant about Fumes and Toxins
Birdkeepers likely know about the dangers common fumes and products can pose to pet birds, but the jubilance of the holiday season can eclipse our vigilance. Seasonal products such as scented pinecones and holiday candles are temptations we should resist.
Between cold and flu season and an influx of holiday guests, cleaning becomes a bigger priority as we spend more time indoors. Since everything from disinfectant sprays to household cleaners can harm birds, I adjusted my cleaning mentality to focus on simple solutions. Instead of my usual routine of haphazardly spraying aerosol disinfectant until the smell made it difficult for me to breathe, I physically wipe surfaces, such as doorknobs and remote controls, with cloths doused in cleaner. I keep several bottles of hand sanitizer and boxes of facial tissue available to reduce the spread of germs.
The kitchen is a major danger zone since everything from self-cleaning ovens to burnt food to cleaners can create toxic fumes. I use elbow grease and cleaners that don’t have a heavy scent. The kitchen exhaust helps ventilate the house, but I’m also careful to set a timer and pay attention so food doesn’t burn while everyone is focused on socializing and eating.