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Providing the Proper Type and Amount of Light to Pet Birds

Those working with birds in zoological collections, commercial aviaries and poultry farms have long recognized that the behavior and health of the animals under their care seemed influenced by the quality and amount of light that they received. It many cases, breeding behavior and egg production also seemed linked to light in some way. Observant hobbyists also realize that parrots, canaries, finches and a host of other birds seem to do much better when exposed to natural sunlight. Perhaps you have noticed that birds housed in outdoor exhibits at zoos, or observed in the wild, seem more vigorous, active and brighter in color than individuals of the same species kept indoors?

Details concerning the specific needs of captive birds as regards light quality and quantity are still lacking in some respects, but a great deal has been learned. Much of this information has come as a byproduct of the exploding interest in captive reptiles, many of which fail to thrive if not provided with appropriate lighting regimes.

We now know that most commonly kept bird species rely upon ultraviolet light of a specific type (UVB with a wavelength of 295-310 nanometers) in order to synthesize Vitamin D (if experience with reptiles is any guide, nocturnal species such as owls and nightjars are likely able to obtain adequate amounts of Vitamin D from their diet). Exposure to UVB in this wavelength is also critical to normalization of the calcium/phosphorus ratio. Birds also sense ultraviolet light of another type, commonly known as UVA, as well as the colors red, green and blue (in this regard they are said to have tetrachromatic vision). UVA light provides the aforementioned colors, when viewed by birds, with a certain “tone” that we humans do not sense. Without UVA, birds will not see these colors properly, and their behavior and health will be negatively affected.
Most birds have the number of ways of assessing the quality and duration of the light to which they are exposed, and of conveying that information to the brain. Details concerning light quality are sensed by the retina and relayed to the pituitary gland. The Harderian Gland, locating near the eye, sends information concerning wavelength and photoperiod to the pineal gland. The pineal gland, thyroid gland and hypothalamus use this information to affect the functioning of other organs and of behavior in general. Insufficient or inappropriate levels of UVB or UVA, and daylight periods that are too long or to short, can lead to a host of problems in the functioning of these glands. So, if the quality of the light is not sufficient (i.e. “full spectrum”, or similar to that supplied by natural sunlight), critical glands will malfunction and will, in turn, negatively affect a number of important organs and processes.

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  1. avatar

    Hello Frank
    I have several parrots and finches, and also will be getting collared doves in the future from a neighbor who breeds them. I have spent much time and money, but never really gave much thought to UVB or A light. It’s difficult to bring them outside most of the time, so I am looking into buying the lights. My question concerns UVA, I’m not sure I understand about birds seeing differently than we do, can they see things that we cannot? Also, are any of the lights advertised in the bird products section better than others? My parrots are a Sun Conure, 2 Amazons, and I have hooded nuns, spice finches and will be getting dove. Any expert advice you can offer would be greatly appreciated. Thank you, Lynn.

  2. avatar

    Hello Lynn,

    Frank Indiviglio here. Thanks for your interest in our blog.

    Birds do, in the presence of UVA, see in ways that we cannot. For example, feathers on the male budgerigar’s cheeks reflect UVA, and females gauge mate suitability by accessing the color of the feathers. To a female budgerigar, the color of these feathers differs greatly from what we see. The same holds true for other types of parrots. Knowing this is important to breeding programs, especially as concerns rare species of birds, as mate selection may be affected or reproduction curtailed if appropriate signals are not present. You can read more about UVA and parrot reproduction at:

    Other animals, from insects to mantis shrimp to desert iguanas, rely upon the presence of UVA or light of other wavelengths in order to find food and mates…I’m sure much new information will be published on this topic in the coming years.

    Thank you for asking about our products. The technology is fairly straightforward, and the required wavelengths are well known..the Zoo-Med Bulb would be fine. There are hanging and floor models available, so you should be able to accommodate your collection.

    Please let me know if you observe any changes in your birds’ behaviors once the lamps are installed. Thank you.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

About Frank Indiviglio

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I believe that I was born with an intense interest in animals, as neither I nor any of my family can recall a time when I was not fascinated by creatures large and small. One might imagine this to be an unfortunate set of circumstances for a person born and raised in the Bronx, but, in actuality, quite the opposite was true. Most importantly, my family encouraged both my interest and the extensive menagerie that sprung from it. My mother and grandmother somehow found ways to cope with the skunks, flying squirrels, octopus, caimans and countless other odd creatures that routinely arrived un-announced at our front door. Assisting in hand-feeding hatchling praying mantises and in eradicating hoards of mosquitoes (I once thought I had discovered “fresh-water brine shrimp” and stocked my tanks with thousands of mosquito larvae!) became second nature to them. My mother went on to become a serious naturalist, and has helped thousands learn about wildlife in her 16 years as a volunteer at the Bronx Zoo. My grandfather actively conspired in my zoo-buildings efforts, regularly appearing with chipmunks, boa constrictors, turtles rescued from the Fulton Fish Market and, especially, unusual marine creatures. It was his passion for seahorses that led me to write a book about them years later. Thank you very much, for a complete biography of my experience click here.
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