Providing the Right Light for Pet Birds

  • Parrots require at least 10 hours of sleep time each night.
  • Parrots need full spectrum UVB light daily if strictly indoors.
  • Ideally parrots benefit from time outside in their cage.
  • Parrots awaken easily from movement within the house.

Need for Light

Parrots are healthier, look better, and may behave better if they are exposed to natural or full spectrum light on a daily basis.  Natural sunlight or full spectrum lighting is necessary for a parrot to synthesize vitamin D, a nutrient which is essential for the proper regulation of calcium and phosphorus levels in the body.  By full spectrum light, we mean a light that has a similar range of light as sunlight, including the all important wavelengths of ultraviolet light-B (also known as UVB).  There are special bulbs that produce this good quality artificial light such as Zoomed’s Reptisun, Powersun, and a few other brands of bulb.  Shop wisely as there are many bulbs on the market today that lack any research or documentation that they actually provide the UVB that they claim on their packaging!
  • Problems associated with insufficient light:
    • Some parrots, such as African Grey Parrots, are especially prone to low calcium levels (hypocalcemia) if they have insufficient vitamin D as a result of not having adequate exposure to full spectrum lighting.
    • Inadequate light can lead to behavior problems such as feather picking, biting and screaming.
    • Breeding is often linked to the photoperiod (amount of daylight).  Parrots may not breed if there is inadequate light.
  • Solutions:
    • Provide a total of 10 – 12 hours of light on a regular predictable basis.
    • During mild temperatures, take your parrot outside in his cage, with the cage doors securely latched.  Safety is important, so do not leave your parrot outside unattended, and be sure the parrot has access to shade.  Late mornings hours are often best, when it is not too hot.
    • If your parrot can not go outside, provide several hours of full spectrum light with UVB.  Set a light timer to provide the appropriate amount.  Place the full spectrum fluorescent bulb about 18 inches above the parrot.  Bulbs such as the Powersun can be set much farther away, typically up to 3 to 4 feet away.
    • Note: Regular fluorescent bulbs do not produce the proper spectrum of light and the magnetic ballasts produce a flicker that is very irritating to some parrots who can easily detect it, when humans cannot.  If your bird appears distressed by the fluorescent lighting, a different style of UVB-bulb is needed.

Need for Darkness

Most species of companion parrots originate from tropical areas.  There, they usually experience 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of darkness.  As a pet, parrots require more sleep than we do, and most continue to need at least 10 hours of sleep time every night.  Lights and activity will keep a bird awake since its instincts are to stay awake during this time when predators may be present.  He may be able to sleep while there is noise, but movement will keep him on the alert.
  • Problems associated with insufficient sleep:
    • Insufficient sleep leads to stress and stress can lead to behavioral problems such as feather picking, biting, and screaming.  Think about how you feel when you are sleep deprived, now imagine that every day.  Your parrot is up with the earliest riser and awake with the last to go to sleep in the evening.
    • Health problems can also result from sleep deprivation, which can lower a parrots’ immune response to disease.
    • Insufficient darkness may signal some birds to breed.  Cockatiels are on species that is very sensitive to increased photoperiod, and may be prone to chronic egg-laying if exposed to long periods of light.
  • Solutions:
    • If the household is quiet with no movement for 10 – 12 hours, simply cover the cage with a light-proof cloth while the parrot sleeps.
    • If the household is active early in the morning and long into the evening, you need to provide a separate sleep cage in a dark quiet room of the house.  With a simple change of the light switch to a timed light switch, the room can be automatically brightened and dimmed at regular times each day.
By making some adjustments in schedules, obtaining some additional equipment, and using a little creativity, you and your parrot can be “rest-assured” that the proper hours of light and dark are provided for optimal health, fitness, and disposition.