Winter is here but that doesn't mean your parrot's need for natural sunlight is any less. This article is about how to get your parrot the natural sunlight it requires for its health in the midst of winter. How cold is too cold for your parrot to go outside? And ways of transporting parrots in winter are all covered right here.
Parrots require natural sunlight for vitamin D and calcium production. Also, it seems to play a role on their plumage, health, and overall well being. I have heard that they're requirement is 15 minutes of direct sunlight a week and it seems about right to me. In the winter it is difficult to get any, but some is still better than none.
Daylight balanced full spectrum light bulbs are supposed to help but I have strong doubts about them. Neither my nor other parrots I have seen that were in proximity to these bulbs match the plumage of parrots that spend time outside (I'm comparing mine before and after I started taking them outdoors as well as other people's birds). I know someone that keeps multiple Senegal Parrots and uses the expensive daylight bulbs that are specifically meant to simulate sunlight, and yet none of her Senegal Parrots have the rich yellow in the eyes like Kili does. Furthermore Kili's eyes did not become like this for over two years until I began regularly taking her outside. Thus the bulbs are something you can try, but their effect is somewhere between barely helpful to none at all whatsoever. Actual sunlight is what is really needed (and luckily cheap to have).
So given the importance of sunlight, yet thwarted by the coldness of winter, it takes some effort to get sunlight for my birds to get them through these dark months. I wait for the warmer bright sunny days and when I encounter one, I take them outside during the warmest time (between noon and 2PM). If I'm lucky enough that temperatures are over 50F, I don't sweat it and just take them out on a normal outing. Since they have feathers and aren't out terribly long, this works out fine.
If the temperature is between 40F-50F, I take Kili & Truman out but more briefly. Usually in this kind of temperature I only take them out on extremely sunny days where it already feels 10 degrees warmer just standing in the sun. A good way to gauge that the weather is warm enough to be safe for your parrots, go out wearing just a sweatshirt or light jacket. If you have to wear a warm coat, it may be too cold or you'll be so warm that you don't realize when it's been too long out. If you are dressed for 55-65 degree weather, then you'll be more in line with how your parrots feel and when you get cold, you'll know it's time to take it in.
If things get more desperate where the weather stays below freezing for weeks, I'll take any chance to get the birds out above freezing. Between 35-45 degrees, I make sure that there is no wind and that it is super sunny. I'll wear a warm winter coat and only take one bird at a time. I zip my jacket only 2/3 of the way up and keep the bird tucked underneath. I have the bird's head stick out and orient myself so the sun beams down on its head. Since a lot of the sunlight absorption happens through the skin on the head and around the ceres, this is a way of getting some sunshine for the parrot without letting it get too cold. I stay out this way for about 15 minutes and then take the other bird out for some sunlight too. I only take one at a time because I don't want them fighting under my jacket. For temperatures between 45-55F, I'll usually let a bird sit on my shoulder or hand while tucking the other under my jacket and they take turns. This way they are exposed but get to warm back up again under my coat. They actually enjoy the warmth and it's a good means for teaching them to be cuddly toward being held.
Taking the parrots out on winter days that aren't sunny is pretty pointless because they'll just be cold and not get the most important part of getting them outside. However, it's still good to do this from time to time just to keep them used to wearing harnesses and being out if there are no sunny days available.
If there simply are not any days above freezing where you live, another thing to consider is taking your parrots on a short vacation some place warmer. Check forecasts for warmer regions near you (even if they aren't really warm but at least match above criteria). It will do your parrots a lot of good to have an interim burst of sunshine to get them through the remaining winter.
If you need to transport your parrot during the winter, it's a good idea to run your car for a while before bringing the parrot out to get it warm. Cover the parrot's carrier with a towel at home for 10-30 minutes beforehand so that the heat builds up inside the carrier to keep it warm. I actually place the carrier on top of a warm (but not hot) radiator with the cover to make it even warmer inside. Pull the car up as close as possible and bring the parrot in. Make similar arrangements on the destination end to keep the parrot outside as little as possible. Run the heat up hotter in the car prior to opening doors so that the temperature doesn't drop too much.
To recap, the lower the temperature, the more picky I am about the conditions outside and the shorter the time we spend out. I try to feel the temperature with the bird by not over dressing unless the bird is going to stay warm under my clothes too. I don't let warm winter days go by without taking the birds out because these are far and few. Finally if I can't find a single warm enough day in a very long time, I drive or fly south to some place warmer with them so they can get some sunlight to get them through the winter months.
My cockatoo, Wilson ,has a winter coat that she wears over her harness. It was an extra small dog coat with a rain repellent top over a serpa lining, that I adapted with my sewing skills and some velcro. She is very willing to wear it when it is cold out (which isn't very often here in southern Alabama.)
What if I don't want my Senegals eyes to turn yellow? I read and heard that some Senegals' eyes just don't turn yellow, and when I found that Yui's eyes were still a stunning grey after the age that they were supposed to turn yellow I was thrilled. I mean of course I would still take her out for her health and of course I would still love her even though her eyes are yellow! But I'm asking does that always happen when you take Senegals outside often? (She's not harness trained yet therefore can't go outside just yet)
[quote="LightFlashA":1jydvrle]What if I don't want my Senegals eyes to turn yellow? I read and heard that some Senegals' eyes just don't turn yellow, and when I found that Yui's eyes were still a stunning grey after the age that they were supposed to turn yellow I was thrilled. I mean of course I would still take her out for her health and of course I would still love her even though her eyes are yellow! But I'm asking does that always happen when you take Senegals outside often? (She's not harness trained yet therefore can't go outside just yet)[/quote:1jydvrle]
Taking your bird outside to get sunshine has nothing to do with their eyes turning yellow. That is genetics and no one knows why some Senegals retain their grey eyes instead of them turning yellow. They do refer to them as blue eyed Senegals as opposed to yellow eyed Senegals.