During the winter months, humans have learned to live with less sun-filled hours in the day. When I wake up, it’s dark. When I go home after work, it’s dark. It’s the way of life for many areas on our planet, and we learn to survive. While humans may develop Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), we have found ways to overcome this health issue and continue on with our lives. However, I never realized birds suffer from many of the same symptoms of SAD during the winter months.
I was visiting a friend the other day who owns an African Grey parrot named Smokey. Being a dog person, I was intrigued to spend more time with Smokey while hanging out with my friend. I last saw this beautiful bird back in the summer and remembered her to be really perky and vocal. I also remembered Smokey having her own bedroom, and I was surprised to see her cage in the front living room near the picture window. There were also some tall lights around her cage that I didn’t remember before.
After my friend and I caught up on our news, I brought up the topic of Smokey now living in the living room. My friend started to explain that Smokey had developed some health issues due to a lack of natural sunlight. While her bedroom was fine in the summer, Smokey was having difficulties getting enough natural light in that room during the winter, hence the move to the front room where Smokey could be by the picture window. It was interesting to learn that African Greys can develop a vitamin D3 deficiency, just like humans. In fact, many of the symptoms Smokey was experiencing sounded a lot like a human with SAD.
For Smokey, or any other pet bird with a vitamin D3 deficiency, moving her cage to an area that receives better sunlight and purchasing some avian lights helps her survive the winter blues. Sunlight and avian lights accomplish this task due to the way exotic birds get vitamin D. I guess parrots have something called a uropygial gland, which is a gland at the base of the tail that produces oil. Smokey spreads this oil over her feathers when she preens. When this oil is exposed to UVA and UVB rays, which can be found naturally through sunlight or artificially through avian lights, it converts to vitamin D3. Smokey then ingests this vitamin D3 when she continues to preen. It helps her maintain a healthy mood and have an upbeat social behavior while working to prevent the development of any psychological disorders.
Knowing my dog likes to sit in sunbeams, I asked my friend if heat from the sun or lamps had anything to do with the vitamin D3 process. I noticed that while Smokey’s cage was near the light, it wasn’t sitting in front of the window. It was interesting to learn that the rays of UVA and UVB in the light were the important parts, not the heat. In fact, putting Smokey’s cage in front of the window could actually harm her if she received too much heat for too long a time.
Luckily for Smokey, my friend knew that something was wrong when her African Grey became really finicky with bird food, stopped playing with toys, and starting plucking feathers too much. Getting Smokey the full spectrum of UVA/UVB lighting she needed improved her health and well-being so she could return to the social, happy go lucky bird I remembered.