Lighting for Your Pet Bird – the importance of the photoperiod

In a recent article I reviewed the basics of light quality as it relates to the health of pet birds. Another aspect of lighting deserving careful consideration is your bird’s photoperiod, or the length of its day and night. The vast majorities of birds kept as pets are native to tropical habitats, and are exposed to 10 to 12 hours of darkness within each 24-hour period. Birds ranging into temperate areas will, in the wild, be exposed to photoperiods that vary with the seasons. Your most prudent course would be to carefully research the natural ranges of the bird species that you keep, and to provide them with a photoperiod that approximates that of their natural habitat. By using light timers, you can gradually increase or decrease daylight throughout the year in a natural, cyclical pattern. This was one of the first lessons I learned when working with birds in zoos, and I found that careful research definitely resulted in healthier birds and in increased breeding successes.

A common problem for pet birds is the fact that they are, in most cases, tied to their owners’ schedules as concerns day length. We are, as a rule, awake much longer than most tropical birds should be. Parrots and many other birds need at least 10 to 12 hours of sleep each night. All species with which I have worked proved to be very light sleepers, quick to awaken with the slightest disturbance. Depriving your pet of sleep will very likely weaken its immune system, and render the animal susceptible to a host of ailments. Chronic sleep deprivation has also been linked to behavioral problems in parrots, such as feather picking and screaming. As many species are stimulated to reproduce by the advent of longer days, chronic egg-laying may occur in birds that are not given enough hours of darkness each night.

In order to accommodate your bird’s needs, you may need to move the cage to an isolated room for sleeping. This room should be as quiet as possible and the windows equipped with thick curtains to limit outside light. By setting the room lights on a timer, you can control your bird’s photoperiod so as to make it relatively independent of what is going on in the rest of the house.

Day length manipulation is a breeding tool that has long been used by hobbyists and in the zoo and poultry breeding industries. I will cover specific techniques in a future article.

An interesting article concerning avian photoperiods is posted at:

To read more about bird lighting, check out this article from Frank’s archive:

Providing the Proper Amount of Light to Pet Birds

The Natural History and Captive Care of the Hill Myna (Myna Bird, Indian Hill Myna), Gracula religiosa – Part 2

Click here to read the first part of this article.
Fruit comprises a major portion of the myna’s diet, with figs being a particular favorite. Mynas also consume seeds, buds, insects, spiders and other invertebrates, lizards and tree frogs. They will occasionally raid the nests of other birds, taking both eggs and nestlings (a habit that has rendered them unpopular in mixed-species zoo exhibits!).

The myna’s breeding season varies, being timed to weather conditions across its extensive range, but is usually between April and June. Mynas form monogamous pairs, and remain in close contact with their mates even when foraging in large flocks. Like many starlings, mynas nest within tree hollows, usually choosing a site high up and at the edge of a forested area. The cutting of dead trees leads to a shortage of suitable nest sites, and severely impacts myna populations in some areas.

Both sexes build the nest, using twigs, leaves and feathers, and both cooperate in brooding and in feeding the young. Two (occasionally 3) brown-spotted blue eggs are laid. The eggs hatch in 15 days and the young fledge within 1 month. When the weather and food resources cooperate, female mynas may produce 2 or even 3 clutches each year. Pairs are usually territorial, but multiple nests are sometimes built in a single tree – although not been substantiated by field studies, I would imagine this occurs only in habitats with large food resources.

The European starling, a close relative of the hill myna, has been widely introduced here and abroad. It usually out-competes native birds, such as woodpeckers, which rely upon tree cavities as nesting sites. The entire North American population (it is likely the USA’s most numerous bird) originated with the release of 100 starlings in NYC’s Central Park in 1890 – part of a misguided effort to establish, in the USA, all the birds mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays!

I once became quite familiar with a starling kept in the education room of the American Museum of Natural History (she was “un-stuffed”, in contrast to her neighbors!). She had a repertoire of several words, and imitated dogs and cats as well – all as clearly as any parrot. Injured starlings were often brought to me over the years for rehabilitation – one learned to differentiate a fastened and unfastened cage door lock, and would not bother to attempt an escape when the door was properly secured.

Hill Mynas as Pets

General: Mynas are exceptional mimics, arguably the bird world’s best, and respond well to humans if acquired when young. Individuals with vocabularies of over 100 words are known. They are intelligent, active and curious, and must be kept “busy” if they are to thrive. Pet mynas bond quickly to people, even strangers, if treated kindly but definitely remember mistreatment and may avoid people who “remind” them of frightening incidents.

Space and Other Physical requirements
Mynas are large, active birds and require a good deal of space – something along the lines of a parrot cage such as this cage or larger would be best. An outdoor aviary is ideal, especially for a breeding pair.
Although not quite so fond of toys as are parrots, individual mynas will take quite well to them. Those that encourage the bird to “work” for treats, such as this treat will provide both you and your pet with hours of enjoyment.
Light, Heat, Humidity, etc.
Your myna’s cage should be lit by a bulb specifically designed to provide full spectrum light to birds, such as This or a similar model.

Hill mynas are native to areas of high rainfall and humidity, and appreciate a light misting of warm water as well as a good-sized bathtub. If your home is overly dry, a small humidifier might be needed.

Normal room temperatures suit mynas well, and they are quite cold tolerant if acclimated slowly – in southern England, it is common practice to winter them outdoors in aviaries equipped with small, heated shelters. Indoor cages should not be placed in drafty areas, however.

Approximately 60% of your bird’s diet can be made up of commercial myna pellets with the balance being comprised of fresh fruits, including figs, oranges, papayas, apples, plums, grapes and seasonally available varieties. Your bird may also enjoy prepared fruit treats.

Mynas relish insects, but these should not comprise more than 5% of the diet, unless you intend on breeding your birds. A variety of live insects such as crickets, mealworms and wax worms, as well as canned insects marketed for pet reptiles should be offered.

Social Grouping/Compatible Species
Pet mynas are most easily trained when housed alone, but also do well in pairs. They will attack most other birds, even those larger than themselves.

Captive Longevity
Captive longevity exceeds 20 years.

Mynas are less easily bred than are other cage birds – I will go into specifics in a future article. A breeding pair should ideally be housed outdoors in a spacious, well-planted aviary, with access to large quantities of live insects.

Some years ago I hill myna under my care at the Bronx Zoo learned a number of phrases while in a small cage, recovering from a bad molt. Later, the bird was released into a large walk-through aviary. Unfortunately, the zoo’s director decided to record bird calls in this marvelous mini-jungle, and was quite perturbed to hear, upon playing the tape, the unmistakable voice of the myna crying “Help! Let me out!” The myna in question was moved to the children’s zoo, where he remained a great favorite for many years.

Several related species, including the pagoda myna, Sturnus pagodarum, and the Malabar myna, S. malabaricus, occasionally appear in the trade. I have kept Malabar mynas and found them to be similar to hill mynas in some regards, although not nearly as willing to approach people.

Additional Resources (Status of myna populations and conservation) (Captive reproduction)

The Natural History and Captive Care of the Hill Myna (Myna Bird, Indian Hill Myna), Gracula religiosa – Part 1

Exceeding even the most gifted parrots in their ability to mimic human voices and other sounds, hill mynas are the most popular cage birds in Asia, and have long been in demand in the USA. Responsive and inquisitive, mynas make endearing pets for those with the time and space to devote to their care.

Hill mynas belong to the family Sturnidae (the starlings), which contains over 110 species including, it may surprise you to learn, the ubiquitous European starling, Sturnus vulgaris. Note the species’ name!…starlings have quite a bad reputation in some places – roosting by the thousands on buildings, devastating crops and displacing native hole-nesting birds such as woodpeckers. However, they are also valued as important insect predators and have other redeeming qualities. Other family members are quite rare – the brilliant white Rothschild’s myna, Leucopsar rothschildi, for example, occupies only in one small forest patch in Bali, Indonesia.

Physical Description
At least 10 subspecies of hill myna, ranging in size from 10-15 inches, have been identified. All are glossy black, tinted with purple, green and turquoise, and have white wing patches. The bill is red with a yellow tip, and fleshy yellow wattles decorate the face.

Range and Habitat
The hill myna occupies a huge range that stretches from eastern India (with an isolated population in the Western Ghats), Nepal and Sri Lanka east to southern China and south through Southeast Asia to Borneo, the Philippines and Flores. It prefers forest edges and cultivated land in areas of high rainfall, and rarely descends to the ground.

Status in the Wild
Habitat loss and collection for the pet trade threaten populations in some areas of the range, while populations are expanding in places where small scale agriculture has created edge habitat and forest clearings. Listed on Appendix II of CITES.

People in Assam, India set out nest hollows to induce mynas to breed in easily accessible locations, so that the young may be removed for sale. A project in Thailand is exploring the possibility of large scale breeding in outdoor enclosures.

Check Back Friday for the rest of this article.

Indian (Blue) Peafowl, Pavo cristatus and American Turkeys, Meleagris gallopavo – an uneasy relationship

Indian (Blue) Peafowl
Indian peafowl, often referred to as “peacocks” (in truth that name should be applied to males only) are one the earliest species to have been established in aviculture, and still among the most desired. Despite their great space requirements and the loud calls of the males (one community in a NYC suburb passed an ordinance requiring surgical “silencing” of pet males’ vocal cords!), they remain quite popular in this country.

A group of 60 or so has roamed the grounds of the Bronx Zoo for decades. Although equipped with well-developed powers of flight, the birds simply do not leave the zoo grounds. Perhaps it is the un-inviting Bronx streets that dissuade them – although such did not deter a huge saurus crane, but that story is for another time!

Wild turkeys also inhabit the forested areas of the zoo’s 265 acres. Some years ago I noticed that a young turkey, separated from its mother, had taken up with a brood of peafowl. He followed the female about as if she were his own mother, and roosted with the family at night. Turkeys and peafowl, despite hailing from very different parts of the world, are related (both are members of the order Galliformes) and share many traits.

As the bird matured, he began sparring with male peafowl as opposed to male turkeys. One day a visitor alerted me to a “murder” in progress – a male peafowl stood over the turkey, pummeling the prAmerican Turkeyostate bird and drawing blood with his sharp leg spurs. The turkey was fully alert and turned out to be not badly hurt (when I rescued him, receiving a gash for my efforts), but had seemed paralyzed and unwilling to fight back.

An older bird keeper provided an explanation of this odd behavior – as do many animals, turkeys utilize a submissive posture when they have lost a battle, thereby ending hostilities without serious injury. The turkey had apparently lain flat on the ground in an attempt to give up, but this had only spurred his enemy to further aggression. Peafowl and turkeys are related enough for males to view each other as rivals – yet not so close as to recognize each other’s behavioral signals.

As for the turkey, the lesson seemed only to confuse him further – he soon found small children easier targets than peafowl, and began running them down during the breeding season! He eventually found a home among a group of domestic turkeys at a local nature center where, hopefully, he sorted out his identity crisis.


Keeping the Northern (Virginian) Cardinal, Cardinalis cardinalis, In Outdoor Aviaries – Part 2

Northern Cardinal

To view part one of this article, click here
Northern cardinals are best housed in pairs with only one pair to a cage, as males are extremely territorial (wild birds will beat themselves senseless attacking their image in shiny hubcaps or windows). They usually become the dominant birds in the aviary, and so are best housed with large, robust species, or alone. Studies of wild cardinals indicates that their diet varies throughout the year to include differing amounts of seeds, buds, fruits, insects, spiders and other invertebrates. In captivity, they fare well on high quality softbill diet (some diets have added carotenoids to help maintain color), a mix of seeds including millet, canary, hemp, buckwheat and some sunflower, berries and other fruits and insects. The insects sold for use as reptile food, including waxworms, mealworms, crickets, earthworms and silkworms are all readily taken by cardinals – their reaction to such foods will leave no doubt as its value to them. Light-based insect traps are a fine way of adding variety to the diet. You can also attract insects to the aviary by planting a wide variety of shrubs and flowering plants and by enclosing ripe fruit in mesh bags (out of reach of the birds). Budding twigs and sprouting grain should also be offered.

Cardinals prefer to nest in thorny bushes or dense shrubs, but will use open fronted nest boxes as well. Both sexes construct the nest, a process which takes about 4 days, of grasses, moss, twigs and root fibers. The eggs, numbering 4-5, vary in color from white through shades of gray, yellow and blue, and are blotched in red, gray, orange or violet. Two clutches may be raised each season.

Only the hen sits on the eggs, and she is fed by the male during the 14 day incubation period. The hatchlings spend 15 days in the nest, and are fed by both parents for an additional 12 days after fledging (leaving the nest). It is important to add extra insects to the diet of breeding cardinals. Old timers such as I also utilize hard boiled egg and a bit of meat and cheese, but a “breeding formula” softbill diet will simplify matters for you.


Information on becoming a wildlife rehabilitator is available from your state Department of Environmental Conservation (name of agency varies a bit from state to state).

An interesting article concerning the effects of diet on cardinal plumage is posted at:

Scroll To Top