Lighting plays a big role in the behaviors and overall health of birds. Sleep cycles, feather quality, moods, and reproductive hormones are all dictated by photoperiods and light cycles.
How Much Light Should Birds Get?
Pet birds should get 12 hours of light and 12 hours of dark sleep each day. Dark sleep means no television or night light on in the background, and birds need to sleep in a room that is not heavily trafficked in the household during the time they sleep. For some homes, this means having a daytime cage and a nighttime cage in a different location in the house.
Birds that get less than 10-12 hours of sleep nightly can be more irritable, can be prone to feather plucking and other medical conditions, and this can trigger their reproductive hormones, making your bird more sexually active and more aggressive than usual.
Ultraviolet light plays an important role in birds. UVA light is important because for birds, UVA rays are in their visual spectrum, meaning they can actually see UV light! By not providing UVA light, the birds will essentially be colorblind to this vital light.
This can contribute to problems such as feather plucking, mood swings, and will impair your bird’s mental well-being. UVB lighting is also very important to provide for birds. UVB light is necessary for the production of Vitamin D3 in the skin in both humans and animals such as birds. If Vitamin D3 is lacking, then low blood calcium levels can result, and the effects of this could mean an increased risk of seizures, an increased risk of reproductive problems such as egg laying, and lower bone density with an increased risk of fractures.
Birds can get exposed to broad spectrum UV lighting by two methods: natural sunlight, or with a broad spectrum UV light. Both work well, and you just need to figure out which is best for your bird. You can give your bird the benefit of ultraviolet light by purchasing a broad spectrum UVA/UVB bulb and placing it about 12-18 inches above the cage. Our favorite brand of UV bulb is Zoo Med’s Avian Sun lamp. Make sure the light is high enough that curious beaks cannot get to it! Some fluorescent ceiling lights are also made to include broad spectrum UV lighting.
Make sure if you choose to have your fluorescent lights as your UV source that you remove the plastic cover from under the ceiling lights – they cover will block the UV light and not allow it to reach your bird. Leave this light on during the day for about 4-8 hours. The amount of time will depend on the bird and on the strength of the UV light – start with 4 hours a day and then slowly increase the time from there.
Can There Be Too Much UV Light?
Birds can get overexposed to UV light, which can cause skin conditions (think birdie sunburn), so if you notice your bird began to have feather or skin problems after increasing the UV light exposure, reduce the number of hours you leave the UV light on. Remember that windows will reflect UV rays, so even if your bird’s cage is next to a large window they do not get the benefit of ultraviolet light. Change your light bulb every 6-8 months. The UV part of the bulb will wear out after this time period even though the light may continue to work.
If your bird is kept under a fluorescent light, then there is an additional step that needs to be taken to ensure your bird’s environment is ideal. First, let us explain the flicker-fusion theory. The flicker fusion theory is the concept that our brains cannot detect certain flickering lights if the flickering is at a frequency higher than our brain can separate the individual flickers (much like how separate movie frames are flashed quickly in succession to create motion pictures). The flicker fusion threshold is the frequency at which our brain goes from being able to separate these individual flickers to seeing them as one constant image.
Household lights on alternating current (the default electrical setting in homes) flicker at a frequency of 100-120 Hz. This is typically above the flicker fusion threshold for people (which ranges from 60-75 Hz), and we cannot detect the flickering (unless there is a faulty fluorescent bulb, and we all know how annoying that is!). Our pet birds, however, have flicker fusion thresholds that are higher (80-100 Hz and up), and so it has been shown that they may be susceptible to the flickering of household lights. This would be equivalent to living under a strobe light your entire life! Screaming, aggression, feather plucking and other stereotypical behaviors can be exaggerated by this flickering effect.
Fortunately, there is an easy fix to this problem. Simply go to your local hardware store and ask to purchase a DC dimmer switch. You will need one dimmer for each circuit which has lighting near your bird’s cage or in any additional rooms your bird frequents. The DC dimmer switch automatically changes the circuitry from AC (alternating current) to DC (direct current), thereby eliminating any flickering.
You will also need to purchase light bulbs that are designed to be used with a dimmer switch on a DC current to extend the life of the light bulb and prevent electrical shorts. Compatible lights are made for both overhead fluorescent lighting and single bulbs. It should say on the bulb packaging which ones are compatible. We recommend consulting with an electrician to switch your electrical currents if you are not familiar with this process.