Q. I have a hand reared African grey parrot and have just bought a bird lamp for the first time. I just wondered how many hours a day that I need to run the lamp and if I still need to use it in the summer when the parrot spends roughly 2 hours a day with me in the garden?
A. This is a fantastic question and one that does deserve some explanation. As we have seen in the recent series of articles in Parrots magazine the African grey parrot does have a marked requirement for exposure to the energy of the sun to help to keep it in tip top condition. Exposure to high levels of visible light not only sets circadian rhythm but it is also thought to help balance serotonin levels. Exposure to UVA as we have seen also helps, we think with balancing and maintaining good brain chemistry and of course activates tetrachromatic vision which in turn allows good visual communication among birds and reptiles. UVB is essential to life as it starts and maintains a reaction inside of the body that produces and maintains active levels of Vitamin D3. Vitamin D3 among other essential uses is the catalyst to Calcium absorption which is essential to bone and internal organ health and of course the production of eggs and feathers.
We have also seen key indicators in the wild parrot of its reliance upon the sun. Firstly its place in the eco-system (above the canopy and out into the scrublands and savannah) and we can clearly see large patches of bare skin on the face. For me these are all indicators of a species with adaptations to allow it to benefit from higher UV indexes in its wild range. Of course a species does not magically change its core requirements simply because it is now not wild. We as keepers cannot seek to override or even to second guess x million years of wild change and development. As always all of the secrets of great captive care are hidden in the wild animal.
We have also seen how the quantity or index of UV in the wild is utilised by a species in its home range and the importance of offering good areas of light and shade so that the bird can self-regulate its own level of exposure exactly as it would in the wild. We can see simply by looking at the weather patterns per species per home range the average requirement that a particular species has adapted to make full use of. In the case of the grey they could be exposed to massive indexes of UVB for most if not all of the year.
It is safe to say that an average dose would be almost twice of that which is common to the UK summer. Having said all of that putting your bird in the garden for a few hours a day even in the weaker indexes of the UK is by far one of the most useful things that you can do for its care. There will however be a potential shortfall of power when compared to the wild animal. If a species has adapted to utilise an index of 6-7 for much of the year and we provide it with 2-3 for a few weeks we have in theory underpowered or under provided for, for the bird. This is where good quality bird lighting can be very useful.
I would suggest that a captive grey is allowed to self-regulate its own level of exposure for 6-10 hours a day all year round. Please do place your bird with you in the garden in a safe way whenever the sun is shining. You can then allow the bird to self-regulate under its lamp for the rest of the day.
If we take the ParrotPro as an example of a system with defined parameters I would want to see a grey able to safely self-regulate under the lamps emission zone at a distance of around 12-15” from the lamp to the top of the birds head at the shortest point. This can then be provided for a large part of the day. I also see the sense in providing “down time” during the day where the bird is able to seek out some shade and rest. I use timers so that my birds/lamps rest for 1-2 hours a day over the lunchtime. We should seek to light a third to half of a cage which will leave plenty of room for the bird to seek out and to utilise shade and as such bring into effect the self-regulation of exposure per species.
Bird lighting is very safe and very effective but it can only be as effective as the dietary offering that is provided to the bird. A well balanced diet will allow the bird to seek out and obtain the minerals that it requires to stay at the peak of health and the UVB system will in some way allow the bird to assimilate that which we have offered as food. The underpinning key to the success of all of these systems is of course water. It is essential that our birds are very well hydrated at all times. A lack of hydration not only decreases the effectiveness of the D3 cycle but it has a hugely detrimental effect on the vital organs themselves.
John Courteney-smith March 2014.