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A Bird’s 5 Senses

 February 18th, 2010
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Have you ever wondered how your parrot’s sense of smell, touch, taste, sight and hearing compare to your own?


A bird’s eyesight is the most important of its senses to its survival.  Our bird’s vision, while not as acute as that of raptors, is vastly superior to our own and is adapted to the survival needs of parrots.

Predatory birds, such as the eagle, the owl or the hawk, have wider skulls allowing for forward facing placement of their eyes.  This positioning gives them heightened depth perception which allows them to judge the distance and speed of other birds and animals, which they do with incredible precision.  This advantage helps them locate their next meal.

Parrots have more narrow skulls with the eyes placed on either side of the head.  Since they are a prey animal, this positioning gives them great peripheral vision which allows them to flee to safety when necessary. This advantage helps them avoid becoming the next meal.

In addition to their keen vision, birds also see a different spectrum of color.  Human retinas have cones that see red, blue and green wavelengths.  Birds have an additional cone detecting violet and some ultraviolet wavelengths, making their perception of color much broader than ours.  This allows them to determine the sex of each bird in their flock and is used in mate selection. They also have a receptor called the double cone which allows them to detect motion.

Did you know…

  • that your parrot is able to detect the individual oscillations of a florescent bulb while it looks like a constant flow of light to us?
  • that when a parrot sees something worth studying, it will bob its head allowing it to see the same subject rapidly from different angles?
  • that the avian eye uses a lens of oil to filter out all but certain ranges of light, like sunglasses?

Congo African Grey Parrot


A bird’s range of hearing is similar to ours, although it is more sensitive.  They hear what we hear differently than and perceive it in different ways.

Birds recall absolute pitch.  If you try to teach your bird a song on a piano and always play it in the same octave, they will recognize the song.  If you play the same song, but in a higher or lower octave, they may not.

Birds can hear shorter sounds than we can.  A human can hear a single sound, a musical note for instance,  that is 1/20th of a second long, whereas a bird can hear in increments of 1/200th of a second.  So this means that where we perceive one note, a bird could hear ten.

Did you know…

  • that some birds use echolocation like bats and dolphins?
  • that a barn owl can track its prey audibly without any visual reference?


Birds have a poor sense of taste.  Humans have about 10,000 taste buds, birds have fewer than 100.  Still they are able to discern flavors and do have their preferences.  This is why food texture is so important to many parrots. They make some food choices based on how it  feels, since they may not fully taste it.

Did you know…

  • that parrots love bitter foods?
  • that parrots can’t sense capsaicin in peppers, the chemical that puts the HOT in habanaro?  They can bite into them and not feel a thing!  Just don’t let them kiss you afterward.

Toco Toucan


A sense of smell is better developed in some groups of birds.  The turkey vulture is known to have a strong sense of smell in locating their food: decaying flesh.  Some birds use smell to locate their roosting spots.  Parrots are not among the groups with extraordinary sense of smell, but it is better than that of humans.

Did you know…

  • that some engineers that were trying to stop leaks in a pipeline filled it with fumes that smelled like rotting meat and then watched along the 42-mile pipeline to see where turkey vultures gathered?  They found their leaks.


This is the only sense where a human is on equal footing with a bird.  They have sensory nerve endings that allow them to feel pressure temperature and pain, just like us.

Did you know…

  • that penguins and auklets use feathers to touch?  These birds have evolved using these feathers to navigate in dark or cluttered environments and use them much like cats use their whiskers.

Why Proper Lighting Is Important For Our Indoor Birds

 May 10th, 2009
Posted By:

Umbrella Cockatoo

Natural sunlight varies as seasons progress and ebb.  It is the intensity and duration of light that tells a bird that it is breeding season, and when to molt – it regulates it’s cyclical clock and adjusts metabolism. Ultraviolet light strengthens the immune system and works with the glandular system in the synthesis of vitamin D, which through a series of processes, increases calcium absorption.  This means healthier and stronger bones and beaks, and improved feather production.  Additionally, a bird’s vision and perception is dramatically enhanced.  Our parrots can see into the near ultraviolet range. This gives them the ability to, for instance, to see colors that we cannot, and to see things from a different perspective than we do.  In the wild, it is how they select mates and identify other flock members, and predators.  It assists in their search for food. Have you ever been outside with your parrot, when she suddenly cocks her head to the side and stares upward in horror at something that is a mere black speck in the sky to you?  She has likely identified a hawk.

Umbrella Cockatoo

Birds love the sunshine. Linus would spend all day outdoors if he could.

Natural sunlight is the best thing for our parrots. But it is impractical (and often unsafe) to roll their cages outside each day to give them this advantage.  Being in tuned with the seasons makes for a more psychologically well-balanced bird.  The health benefits are many. As 90% of the sun’s beneficial near ultraviolet rays are filtered out through modern window glass (even aluminum screening will filter out 30% or more), simply placing the cage by the window is ineffective. The next best thing we can offer as an alternative is full spectrum (FS) lighting in our indoor cage areas.

What is FS (full spectrum) lighting?

Full spectrum is a term that is used in the marketing of bulbs that replicate natural sunlight.  It radiates near ultraviolet light that, while not equal in quality to sunlight, it is the best artificial light that we have at this time and is very effective.

Where can I buy these bulbs and which ones are the best?

FS bulbs are available in many pet stores and online.  They come in two varieties: tubes that vary in length (like the ones you might have at work and bulbs like the high-efficiency bulbs we have at home (the curly ones).  The tube bulbs require fixtures that hold those particular bulbs in a length equal to the length of the bulb you are purchasing (usually 24″ or 48″) and the screw in bulbs will fit into any regular lamp base.

Some brand names are Vita Lite, Chroma, BioLight and Lumichrome.  The bulbs, to be effective,  should have a CRI (color rendition index) of 90 or more, and a color temperature of 5000k or more. Be sure to get bulbs specified for avian use.  Reptile have different lighting requirements.  Logic tells me that the tube bulbs would distribute light more broadly and would be a better choice.  If you elect to go with the screw in bulbs, I would consider using two of them.

If you get a parrot cage by cages by design, their cages come with full spectrum lighting.

Where do I place the lighting in the room and how long do I keep it on?

To maximize the benefits of FS lighting, the bulbs need to be placed about 12″ to 18″ from the cage. The heat generated by these bulbs is minimal and it won’t cause overheating. Try to place them over the top of the cage (if there’s a tray covering the top, you can either remove it or angle the light in from the highest possible point). Since we are trying to duplicate nature, shoot for high-noon.  Put the lights on a timer that will turn them on at sunrise and off at sunset, or as close to that as you can to work within your schedule.  Remember to adjust the timer to mimic the seasonal sun.

Umbrella Cockatoo

As I was doing research for this, I learned that my own lighting system is inadequate in one room. I need to add at least two more light sources to fully cover the needs of all the cages.  Hopefully, one day, I will have the outdoor aviaries I’ve always dreamed about and FS lighting will no longer be an issue.