WATER INTAKE FOR NORMAL, HEALTHY BIRDS
KRISTEN REEVES, MEADOWLARK FARMS AVIAN SUPPLY, INC.
In my aviary, every species drinks a different amount of water. I track it daily and keep detailed notes. Consistently, birds in flights tend to drink less - no matter the species or mix of species – while pairs tend to drink more, with or without chicks.
The intake varies greatly from one species to another...
My specialty lies in Australian species so I have limited data for some other species. I’ve only recorded averages for species I currently keep or have kept in the past, so if you keep a species not on the lists below, be sure to monitor them closely to gain your own averages.
Finches & Waxbills
For nearly two decades (depending on length of time any particular species was kept), I’ve tracked everything from seed hulls to the water intake of my flock. Seed hull counts are another article entirely, so here you will find I have referenced only water intakes for a wide range of normal, healthy, captive bird species.
One of the ways we can measure good health in the aviary, is to monitor their water intake. A dehydrated bird will act sluggish and often display what I refer to as "squinty eyes". Just like humans, birds need water to make their bodies function properly. When something is wrong, their intake will change - sometimes drastically. For instance, birds with Candida or any type of protozoa will almost always drink MORE water, while birds with AGY or bacterial infections will often drink less. You must know what is normal for your birds in your environment. Once you know what's normal, you'll begin to notice a pattern when they start to come down with any type of bug. Monitoring their water intake is one of our first indicators of overall health.
Know your environment -
Before you can begin tracking average intake, you must first know what's average for your environment. Light, heat & humidity will vary depending on whether you have the furnace or A/C running, the windows open, the season, whether you have a humidifier or dehumidifier running, etc. The foods you feed your birds will also affect their intake. A higher salt or carbohydrate intake will usually cause them to drink more, while wet foods such as greens, sprouts, egg food or chitted seed, will often cause them to drink less - they drink less with wet foods because they draw the moisture from those foods. You have to take everything into account before you can decide what is average for your own flock.
For instance -
In my aviary, foods are less likely to affect their intake than the environment. Average temperature in my bird room ranges from 65-72 degrees during the spring, summer & fall months, 48-68 during the winter (give or take a few degrees in any direction). Humidity is always a bit on the high side, right around 50-55%, but often much higher because my bird room is located in the basement which, while dry, tends to have a higher humidity because it is underground. I will occasionally run a dehumidifier when the humidity is higher than 55%, but not often. I prefer to allow the birds to acclimate to their environment and build up immunities to issues that would be present during high humidity times.
However, in the late Fall of 2017 and early Winter of 2018, the bitter cold outside temperatures sucked all the humidity out of the air, leaving my normally high humidity almost non-existent. No amount of added humidity helped to keep the flock's water intake steady. It was so dry that in most cases, I was changing drinkers out at least twice per day, sometimes more often. The birds are healthy, but due to the dryness they were drinking far more water than was "normal" for this aviary.
So What's Average?
Understanding that these totals have been meticulously derived from my own aviary, you can use them as guidelines. But you must also understand that your averages may be very different, dependent on your environment .Always be sure to check and CHANGE their water DAILY!!!
Other Finches & Waxbills
Taking into consideration that a medication or supplement may taste or smell bad, these amounts may vary greatly depending on what is added to the drinking water. Gouldians here, for example, will totally refuse to drink for up to 48 hours if they don't like the taste or smell. By then they are wobbly and looking dehydrated and will finally give in and drink, but in very small amounts averaging less than 1/4 oz. I have seen similar behavior in all of the species I've kept over the years, but to a lesser extent than with the Goulds.
A Rehash of the Obvious Plus...
Remember, these totals also change dramatically depending on the foods offered. Salt content and wet foods affect intake – salt causing higher intake, wet foods causing lower intake. Changes in diet will also affect consumption, usually seeing it rise as much as 5x the norm until they’ve acclimated to the new diet, so obviously these totals may be very different from one aviary to the next.
Overall health of the flock also plays a large role in consumption. In my experience, ill birds, or those with mild issues tend to drink more than those with strong immune systems and no outward signs of illness. And, of course, heat and humidity play a large role as well.
One Important Reason
An important result of tracking water intake is that you know whether a bird has received enough of a water-based supplement to actually complete their nutritional system, or of a medication to actually stop an issue. Of course feather quality and outward appearance will tell you in most cases if they are receiving enough supplements (eventually), but medications are another business entirely.
In the past making sure the birds get enough of any given medication has been a problem here, and is what prompted me to begin tracking intake in the first place. Unless I closely monitor their intake, I may not know for sure they are getting enough of any given medication to actually kill the pathogen it was designed to eliminate. When I do not monitor the water intake, my only other recourse is to check droppings and run crop washes (depending on the issue) to ensure treatment has worked.
I have to change their drinkers daily anyway - it is far easier and a lot less work to merely track the amount of water they drink in a day than it is to take the bird in hand and subject it to the abuses of a crop wash!
In the End
Once begun, this tracking has now become part of my daily routine. It has proven to be an outstanding resource for tracking the overall health of my flock, and has worked as an early warning system to determine faltering health. All water intake is now tracked meticulously, regardless of cycle and/or health of the flock. ~k