There are many benefits for providing proper UV lighting to pet birds. By simulating natural sunlight with an Avian Light, for birds that are housed indoors, you are providing environmental enrichment and helping your bird to see his indoor world as it would in nature.
Very often, during the daylight hours, pet birds do not get proper or adequate lighting which can significantly affect their behavior and overall health. Reproduction & hormones, feather vibrancy & structure, sleep cycles & moods are all influenced by light cycles and photoperiods. Proper cage lighting is an essential element that should be considered when setting up your pet birds cage.
Exposure to natural sunlight is ideal. However, it involves taking your bird outside and this is not always convenient or an option. Simply placing your bird by a window will not work since light filtered through glass loses the necessary wavelengths. The next best thing is to bring the outdoors in! You can do this by setting up cage lighting that emits simulated natural sunlight conditions, including ultraviolet rays.
- Optimal UVA/UVB output for health and wellbeing
- Benefits the 4-cone receptors in avian vision to detect a broader palate of colours and perceive UV colours invisible to the human eye.
- UVA enhances a bird’s perception of its indoor environment to be more like nature. It stimulates appetite, encourages foraging and food recognition, motivates mating and can reduce psychological behaviours such as feather plucking.
- UVB facilitates assimilation of vitamin D3 for optimal calcium absorption.
Avian Light for Tetrachromatic Vision
A bird’s retina contains four types of higher-intensity light receptors with different absorption of spectra. Birds can better distinguish colour and have a higher colour resolution. Not only are birds able to perceive familiar colours as well as parts of the UV spectrum, but they also have better visual acuity and see subtle differences between similar colour shades. Meaning birds see wavelengths and gradations of colour beyond those of typical human vision. Humans do not see what birds are able to see.
How Do Birds Detect Ultraviolet Light?
Humans can see millions of colors, but birds can see even more. In our eyes, humans have three types of colour receptor cells, called cones, which detect red, blue, and green. The colours we see are a combination of those three primary colours. Birds are tetrachromatic, this means they have four cones, that fourth cone lets them see in the ultraviolet part of the spectrum. Humans cannot see UV light; it is out of our visible spectrum. With four primary colours, the colour combinations birds see are much much greater. Humans can’t tell the difference, but birds can.
So Why is Ultraviolet Vision Important for Birds?
Being able to see UV light is a vital part of how birds see and interact within the world. For years, scientists believed that birds saw the same colours as humans. Many aspects of bird behavior were not able to be explained until it was realized that birds are able to see UV light. The ability to see ultraviolet light changes the way birds see many objects, even though humans cannot see those differences.
In order to ensure pet birds are getting enough of the sunshine they need for environmental enrichment and good health and if they have time and are home, bird owners who live in warmer climates can house their birds in an outdoor aviary throughout the day. However for the rest, most companion birds owners will still need to substitute natural sunlight by using UV lighting. Because window glass filters out ultraviolet rays, having pet birds near a window is not enough.
By not providing UV light, birds are essentially colourblind to this vital light.
Ultraviolet Light Effects on Feathers and Mate Selection
It turns out that many bird species that appear sexually monochromatic to humans (males and females looking identical), look very different in UV light. Birds can use those UV markings to help select mates or tell individual birds apart. Having UV vision may also serve as a useful indicator of the health of a mate. In this research article, Quantifying avian sexual dichromatism: a comparison of methods, it is noted that “several cases of ‘hidden’ UV dichromatism have also been discovered, in which the sexes are monochromatic in the human-visible portion of the spectrum, but dichromatic in the UV-region, such that the sexes appear identical to humans but different to the birds themselves. UV reflectance is important for mate choice and mating success in several species of birds, such as the zebra finch, bluethroat and blue tit.”
Ultraviolet Light Effects on Food and Foraging
It’s not just bird feathers that appear different in ultraviolet light, many things reflect UV light, humans just can’t see it. For example, the high phosphorus in urine makes it glow vividly in ultraviolet which allows birds of prey to track and detect small prey such as mice. Some fruits have coatings that also reflect UV light, making them stand out vibrantly making foraging much easier. Some insects and flowers also reflect UV light, giving birds a clear advantage for finding those food sources.
Video content: Mathieu Stern
Ultraviolet Light Effects on Vitamin D and Calcium Absorption
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that is essential for the regulation of calcium and phosphorus in the body.
Birds excrete a “preen oil” that contains a precursor of vitamin D; this precursor is converted into vitamin D3. In the wild, most birds synthesize their Vitamin D3 from the UVB component of sunlight. Pet birds that are housed in outdoor flights or aviaries that get exposure to natural sunlight are rarely Vitamin D deficient. Birds that are kept indoors with little natural sunlight and/or fed a seed only or plant-based diet may require added vitamin D3. Vitamin D can only be absorbed when there is enough fat in the diet. When birds are fed on a diet of 70% extruded formula and 30% enrichment foods, they often get the right amounts of vitamin D3. Vitamin D3 can also be given in powdered form to birds on a mostly seed or plant-based diet. Supplements such as PRIME can be added to moistened vegetables or soft foods such as egg or fruits. Using a UVA/UVB avian light to mimic natural sunlight in addition to supplementing with a vitamin such as PRIME can facilitate the assimilation of vitamin D3 for optimum calcium absorption.
Bird lighting can be safe and effective, but it is only as effective as the nutritional diet that is provided to the bird. A well-balanced diet will allow the bird to absorb the minerals that it needs and the UVB system will allow the bird to assimilate what is offered as food. It’s also crucial to mention that it is essential that pet birds are always very well hydrated. A lack of hydration has a hugely detrimental effect on the vital organs themselves. It’s always best to consult with your avian veterinarian to determine if you feel that your bird needs further vitamin D3 supplementation.
A note on possibly the most important reason for you to re-assess the ways you illuminate your bird and its environment. Small changes in your bird’s appearance or behavior, cage damage, a dirty cage, and many other problems are easily missed in a dimly lit environment. Some changes are very subtle; an oddly colored dropping, a leg that does not grip the perch well, or an out-of -position wing are all conditions that need a little “enlightenment” to pick up! – Louise Bauck, DVM, MVSc
But can we provide too much UV light?
When birds don’t get enough exposure to UV light, problems such as feather plucking, and mood swings can also impair their wellbeing. All by itself, UV light won’t cure a bird of behavioural or health issues, but it can certainly help in combination with other factors, including nutrition and training. If a bird is exhibiting hormonal behaviors, biting, and aggression, an Avian Light combined with the right diet and plenty of exercise will help a bird feel and look better. It can take some time to fully see the benefits of using UV light, but one must always use caution and a little common sense.
It’s important for bird owners to understand that over-exposure to UV light (over eight to twelve hours a day – this includes mixing natural sunlight and indoor lights) can trigger hormones which may cause chronic egg-laying or hormonal behavior problems like aggression (they very thing we are trying to avoid). Unless you’re a breeder, somewhere between seven to nine hours of UV exposure should be enough for a pet bird, including natural sunlight from the bird’s environment.
Companion birds should get 10-12 hours of dark sleep. Dark means no television, noise, or visible light in the background (for birds that have a history of night fright or night thrashing, a low light night light is recommended). Having a daytime cage and a nighttime cage in different locations in the house is often a good idea. When a bird gets get less than 10-12 hours of sleep or if sleep is interrupted, the bird can become quite irritable. They are more prone to feather damaging behavior (feather plucking) and other undesirable bahaviours that can lead to health issues possibly leading to territoriality and aggressive behaviours or chronic egg laying. A shorter sleep cycle or one that involves more light is often used for breeding.
The UVA/UVB Avian Light Can be Used for all Caged Birds.
Research your bird species and what country and climate they are typically found in. Check temperatures for daytime and nighttime. Use this temperature range as a guide when setting up lighting for your pet birds.
Some things you may want to research along with the species of your bird are:
Birds typically found in dense rainforests will be exposed to many gradients of UV light, with high levels at the tops of the forest canopy and very low UV-levels on the forest floor. In the wild, when at rest, where does your bird’s species spend most of its time?
Time of Day
In the wild birds will seek out areas of shade to self-regulate or may only spend time in the early morning or late afternoon basking in the sun. The sun is at its highest in the sky around noon. During this time, the sun’s rays have the least distance to travel though the atmosphere and UVB levels are at their highest. In the early morning and late afternoon, the sun’s rays pass through the atmosphere and their intensity is greatly reduced.
Location & Time of Year
The sun’s angle varies with the seasons, causing the intensity of UV rays to change. UV intensity tends to be highest during the summer months. The southern hemisphere receives more solar energy at the peak of its summer than the northern hemisphere. Peak UV should occur within the tropics (high sun, low ozone), at a high-altitude site, in the Southern Hemisphere. Near the Tropic of Capricorn,
overhead sun occurs during the period when the earth-sun separation is a minimum. UV intensity increases with altitude because there is less atmosphere to absorb the UV rays.
Weather Conditions & Reflection
If your bird species lives in an area that is typically cloudy, this too plays a big role in the amount of UV reaching them. Some clouds can absorb and reflect 35-85% of the sun’s radiant energy, this can prevent all but a negligible amount of UV from reaching the ground. Some surfaces can reflect much of the UV that reaches them. Because of this, UV intensity can be deceptively high, even in shaded areas.
The ozone layer absorbs some of the UV radiation that would otherwise reach the earth’s surface. Ozone levels vary over the year (even throughout the day) and from one geographical location to another.
Once you have figured out the amount of lighting you need to provide to your species of bird, look at the chart below and place the Avian Light the recommended distance from the top of the cage. The Avian Light base fits most standard sized lamp fixtures.
Caution: Ensure that the Avian Light is bulb turned off during the night. Every type of bird has slightly different needs but a general rule of thumb is to keep the Avian Light source on for 7 to 9 hours and also provide “down-time” during the day where the bird is able to seek out some shade and rest, a programmable timer can manage the time rotation.
Always double check to ensure that any cables & cords are not within reach of your pet birds. Be sure to always provide your birds with an area inside the cage that is shady and away from source of heat and light.
Fluorescent bulbs lose their UV radiation and approximately 50% of their lighting output quality within one year. Changing your Avian Light regularly ensures optimal light conditions and UV radiation to keep your birds healthy.
The Avian Light is a pet care bulb for use with caged birds only!
More to Explore
Visit these pages for more information on bird vision and UV lighting for birds.
- What Birds See, Timothy H. Goldsmith
- The Essential Nutrient Your Pet Bird Could Be Lacking, Dr. Karen Becker
- Benefits of UVB Lighting for Companion Birds, Louise Bauck, DVM, MVSc
- True colors: How birds see the world, Cynthia Berger – National Wildlife Federation
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