The amount of thought parrot parents put into the food, water, habitat, and everything else they offer their bird may seem strange to someone who has never been responsible for one of these fascinating and delicate creatures. In reality, it’s almost impossible to over educate yourself concerning your bird’s needs and this concern is well-founded.
Clean water is an absolute necessity for all parrots, but what exactly constitutes clean water? Most tap water in the U. S. and U. K. is safe for birds to drink.
Well water can go either way—it may be better than city tap, or it could be dangerous. If you feel comfortable drinking your tap water, it’s probably fine for your bird as well, but there are a few complications to consider.
The truth is, not all tap water is created equal. Across most of the U. S., tap water is carefully processed and considered safe to drink, but exactly how safe brings up a bit of a debate. To give you a good understanding of the basics behind this debate, let’s take a look at where tap water comes from.
How Tap Water is Processed
In the United States, most tap water is drawn from rivers, lakes, or underground water sources. It’s then passed through a filtration system that removes particles, parasites, and most bacteria.
Chemicals like chlorine are then added to kill any remaining bacteria or viruses present in the water. It’s now considered clean.
For homes that have well water rather than city water, the water is drawn from a well on the property. It also passes through a filtration system, but whether or not chemicals are added for additional protection is up to the well owner.
What’s in Water Besides Water
Besides the elemental components of water—hydrogen and oxygen—tap water also contains any chemicals that were added for antibacterial purposes, minerals that have dissolved in the water and were not filtered out, and sometimes fluoride. Water also may contain minute traces of nitrate, lead, pharmaceuticals, bacteria, and other contaminants that weren’t entirely removed during the filtering and treatment process.
With rare exceptions, the minerals and chemicals still in your water by the time it reaches the kitchen sink will not cause any negative effects. The water is safe to drink. And if it’s safe for you to drink, it’s probably safe for your pets, right?
Yes and no. Although your parrot is unlikely to have any kind of immediately negative reaction to trace minerals and chemicals in city tap water or well water, they are more sensitive to these contaminants than we are, and too many minerals or chemicals could contribute to health issues with long-term use.
Water Testing Options
It’s a fairly simple and inexpensive process to have your city tap or well water tested for a comprehensive overview of its mineral and chemical content. You can purchase a test kit to use at home or have it done by your county health department or a state certified laboratory. You may test for a single element like bacteria or nitrate or go for a more in-depth sample.
Once you have had your water tested, it may be best to have an expert like an avian vet go over the results with you to determine if your tap water is safe for your parrots to drink. Water with high metal content or trace amounts of pesticides or other dangerous chemicals should not be given to your bird without going through a secondary filtration system—and you probably shouldn’t be drinking it either!
If you decide against giving your bird straight tap water, what kind of water should you be offering? There are a surprising number of options out there, some of which are good choices, others not so much.
Many people choose to filter their tap water before drinking it, using a reverse osmosis (RO) system, Brita, or Zero water purifiers. This helps clean the water a bit more without turning it acidic and it’s a safe option for parrots as well as people. If you have tap or well water that’s heavier on mineral content, this is a good way to ensure your bird isn’t getting too many of these elements.
Bottled water is another generally safe option for ensuring that your parrot gets clean, uncontaminated water. However, it’s best to stay away from water with added vitamins, minerals, or flavors, except as a special treat now and then.
One issue with using bottled water is that it can get expensive and may not always be readily available. Your parrot should never go without a fresh water change simply because bottled water is pricier or unavailable.
Distilled water is evaporated and then returned to its liquid form, ensuring that every bit of anything that isn’t H2O is completely removed. Sounds good, right?
Actually, it can be dangerous to give your bird distilled water on a regular basis as the process makes it acidic. Over time, it will harm your bird’s internal organs and cells. It can also have a flat, tasteless quality that may discourage your bird from drinking it.
Open Water or Rainwater—No
Although birds in the wild can drink from puddles and lakes without noticeably adverse effects, outdoor water or water that’s been collected and sitting in an open bucket or container is not a safe option for your bird. This water contains microorganisms and pathogens your bird may not have had a chance to develop an immunity to and water left sitting in the open will quickly collect more bacteria and contaminants. Rainwater and unprocessed water also may contain pesticides, fertilizers, or pollution drawn from the air and surrounding land.
Whichever water option you choose to provide for your parrots, here are a few more tips to keep in mind. They will ensure your parrots get the maximum benefit and fewest possible negative side effects from the water provided.
Additives and Supplements
Whether you’re using tap, filtered, or bottled water, it’s best not to add any additional vitamins, minerals, or sanitizing agents to the water unless you’re specifically instructed to do so by an experienced avian vet. Nutrient-rich water can cause bacteria to grow more quickly and the taste of additives can cause your bird to avoid drinking, which is very dangerous. It’s best to simply provide clean, fresh water and make sure your bird is getting the nutrients it needs through its diet.
If you are traveling with your parrots, you may wish to bring water from home or purchase bottled water to use for your bird while you’re away. You don’t want to assume that tap water in the area to which you are traveling will be okay for your bird unless it’s been filtered.
How to Offer Water
No matter which kind of safe water you choose to offer your bird, it’s important that it is always fresh and clean. If you are providing water in a water dish, make sure you wash the dish thoroughly each day before adding fresh water. A simple rinse won’t be enough to get rid of any bacteria that is clinging to the sides of the dish.
Place a water dish high enough that your birds will never be perched above it, so it doesn’t get contaminated with droppings. If you do notice contaminants in the water, change it immediately. Bacteria can develop quickly, and parasites and pathogens can be passed along far too easily via contaminated water.
Most birds will also take to a water bottle with little difficulty. While water bottle water still needs to be checked and changed frequently, it’s less easily contaminated by droppings and airborne particles. Make sure to place the water bottle where your bird can easily access it and watch to make sure he’s learning to use it. One way to encourage this is to place it near or over the existing water dish and allow a little water to drip out. A curious bird will be quick to catch on.
In conclusion, if you feel comfortable drinking your tap water, it’s likely safe for your parrot as well. However, birds are slightly more sensitive to water contaminants than humans, so if in doubt, it’s best to have your water tested and evaluated by an expert or choose another option. Well water can be a bit iffier than city tap as it may contain higher amounts of dissolved minerals and you will need to treat and test it yourself.
Additional filtering systems to make sure your tap water is safe for consumption are readily available, or you may choose to purchase bottled water if you’re still not happy with your tap water’s mineral or bacteria content. The most important aspect of the water you provide for your bird is that it’s fresh, clean, and always available.