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PROPER BIRD CLEANUP IS EASIER WITH THE RIGHT TOOLS

When my first parrot died a few years ago, I was grief-stricken. Patrick's loss wasn't a total surprise: He came to me as a homeless, feather-picked disaster, and he'd had health problems throughout his short life. But just because a loss isn't a shock doesn't mean it isn't difficult to bear, and I very much missed having him around.

But then, I guiltily noticed I was enjoying all the time I didn't have to clean up after all the poop dumped, feathers dropped and food flung far and wide. Parrots are like that, for all their charms, which is why I went a half-dozen years before adopting another.

Eventually I decided the mess was worth it, so about a year ago another parrot, Eddie the clownish caique, joined my household. I still don't care for the mess, but I adore my parrot, so I'm once again cleaning all the time.

Cleaning isn't just about neatness -- it's also about health. Clean, fresh food and water are essential to pet birds, and so, too, is keeping their environment as free as possible of bacteria, fungus and molds, all of which can lead to disease.

Eddie's cage gets taken outside and scrubbed every week, but in between times I've learned to keep things relatively neat with a few supplies kept close to the cage and used on a constant basis. Among them:

Newspapers. Bird lovers go through a lot of newspapers, so it's a good thing I like to read enough to subscribe to three of them. I put all the glossy inserts in the recycling bin and stack the rest for use in the cage tray and under Eddie's play area.

Cloth towels. In addition to cleaning, old towels are great for protecting clothing from bird poop -- just drape a towel over your shoulders. In addition to a few worn-out or faded bathroom towels, I also have some shop towels I bought at an auto-supply place.

Paper towels. I keep a roll by the bird cage at all times, and I'm thinking of putting a dispenser on the wall nearby. With a multipet household, I buy paper towels in bulk when I see good prices.

Spray bottle with cleaning solution. Kept next to the paper towels. Since birds are sensitive to fumes, I know to skip the ammonia, bleach, pine solutions or any other strong cleaners. Simple soap and water are fine for everyday touch-ups, although I also like Poop-Off, a product developed just for bird cleanups.

Handheld vacuum. I have one just for the bird room, for snarfing up food pellets and feathers.

Mats for under the cage. The heavy, clear plastic mats intended for under desk chairs and sold at office- supply stores keep most of the gunk off the floor. Newspapers catch the rest.

Hamper. I keep the bird towels separate from the others in the household by using a hamper placed next to the cage. I wash all the birds towels together when I have a full hamper.

Trash bin. Again, right by the cage. Every time I change the cage liner, I just lean over and put the old newspapers in the trash.

I find a few minutes spent cleaning a couple times a day keeps things in good order and makes the weekly cage scrubbing easier to accomplish. I change cage papers daily, at a minimum, and clean everything else as soon as I see the mess hit.

Eddie is the smallest pet in the house, but he's by far the biggest mess-maker. By cleaning constantly, a few minutes here and there, I find I don't mind at all.

In addition to this syndicated column on pet advice, a locally written column is often prepared as a public service by the Niagara Frontier Veterinary Society. Send questions to Pets, P.O. Box 1252, Buffalo, N.Y. 14205 or to the Web site at nfvs.online.org. Sorry, personal replies cannot be provided.

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