Writing a Pet Bird Care Booklet

© Linda Seger

A Benefit for Client and Breeder Alike

Those who sell birds directly to pet owners will want to supply written care instructions. Most clients for pet birds will do plenty of research before making the decision to purchase, but their first focus will be on the qualities of the types of birds they are considering. Next, they will look into the availability of birds and the selection of a source. Breeders may sell their birds through pet stores or hand-feeders, or they may be contacted as a result of advertisement or via their websites. Offering free booklets to prospective clients can increase the breeder's sales, and this service can contribute to avian welfare in general. Although you may be happy to continue a post-sale relationship with your clients over the phone, your booklet can serve as a primary reference. It's always nicer to get a "Guess what cute thing my bird learned?" call than "Guess what happened to my bird?"

Some breeders prefer to suggest a favorite book, but a well-drafted booklet of your own lets your clients know you care about the future of the birds you breed. Writing the booklet gives you a chance to appreciate your own knowledge about bird care and to supply information tailored to a particular species.

Remember, no matter how attentive the new owner seems to be, the day the bird is taken home is not the best time to absorb detailed care information. Some of the most obvious cautions can be ignored, even if you repeated them just hours before. Whether the bird is being shipped or picked up in person, it is a good idea to make a bright sticker to go on the carrier which says "LIVE BIRD." It doesn't hurt to add other cautions, such as "No exposure to poisons, sprays or fumes." and "Do not leave the bird in the car." If the bird is to be transported in a cage, you can enclose the notice in a heavy plastic sleeve and attach it with a plastic cable tie, like ID tags for luggage. The cautions may seem too obvious to display so prominently, but there is no satisfaction in saying, "I told you not to do that!" when a bird's life is concerned. If this seems to be your routine practice, it won't seem patronizing to your clients.

Booklet Overview

Don't try to put everything you know into your care booklet. If you find you want to write several paragraphs or a full article on a topic, summarize it in the booklet and add the full section at an appendix or as a separate sheet. Check your facts. It is better to suggest additional reading material than to make statements based on a guess or "avicultural folklore."

Be specific about key issues, but allow your client some flexibility by offering more than one option whenever possible. If you want to either promote or warn against a certain product, make your comments generic so the client understands your reasoning and has the information to make a choice if new, similar products become available. Don't use your booklet to put down others in the trade, or to needlessly worry the client. Although your personal focus may be on breeding and hand-feeding, this publication will relate only to the pet bird being sold, so it is not the place to brag about your breeding successes or feeding skills. The overall tone should be positive and reassuring.

Write in your own style, but try to use common, direct words. Don't borrow snippets of scholarly text from other sources or use foreign words. If you have a humorous thought you want to include, consider whether your point could be misinterpreted.

Read the booklet aloud. If you have to take more than one breath to read a sentence, do some editing. Break up lengthy paragraphs. Ask somebody who doesn't keep birds to read your booklet so you are sure it is easily understood and keeps their interest.

Make your booklet attractive. Put boxes around warnings. This will make them stand out and will also break up the sections. Choose a size and format comfortable for reading. Choose a font which is easy on the eyes and easy to read. Avoid script or fancy fonts. For assembly, you may want to use a long arm stapler, a paper punch and binders, or slide-on binding strips.

If you are using a word processing program, you can add a background watermark to "brand" your booklet. If you will be supplying it as a download from your website, you can use a format which can't be altered by "printing" to pdf or adding document protection.

Where to Begin?

The following outline suggests a flow of information, topics and key thoughts you might want to include.

Cover

Put your aviary name, contact information and website address on the cover, along with an attractive photograph and/or your logo.

Introduction

  1. Congratulations: birds are exciting, interesting, good companions
  2. Responsibilities of owning a bird
  3. Safe Handling: fragility, biting, cleanliness, exposure to pathogens
  4. Special Warnings: protection from fumes, escape
Table of Contents
Species Information

This topic should be short. If you want to include more than a few sentences of species information, it may be wiser to create a separate handout or put the information in a section at the end. The main focus should be on the new pet, but, if you will be supplying the same booklets to buyers who have not decided on a species, you may want expand this information.

  1. Common name, Latin name
  2. Origin of the species or subspecies: climate, diet
  3. Interesting facts about wild populations
General Information About the Species in Captivity
  1. Variations: subspecies, mutations, genetics of color inheritance
  2. Vocalizations: potential vocabulary, mimicry, song, volume
  3. Temperament: gentle, excitable, shy, outgoing
Housing
  1. Cage recommendations: cage construction, bar spacing and strength, closures, mess containment, substrate.
  2. Perches: placement, safe woods, other materials, diameters, grooming perches
  3. Food cups: material, size, shape
  4. Water: cup, bottle
  5. Cage placement: safety, security, noise, privacy, companionship
  6. Cage furnishings: appropriate selection of swings, ladders, toys
  7. Warnings: insecticidal treatments of the cage and surroundings
Food
  1. Balanced diet (be sure to give more than one suggestion)
  2. Treats: preferences, good for training
  3. Fresh foods: safe preparation, spoilage
  4. Unsafe: toxic, fat content, inappropriate supplementation
Safety Out of the Cage
  1. Escape to outdoors
  2. Household hazards: fumes, access to cooking areas, open toilets, open doors
Entertainment
  1. Companionship: human, bird, other animal
  2. Toys: suggestions and cautions
  3. Sounds: talking or singing to the bird, radio, training tapes
  4. "Alone time"
Grooming
  1. Bathing
  2. Handling during inspection or grooming
  3. Sanitation of grooming instruments
  4. Clipping wing feathers
  5. Broken feathers
  6. Nails
  7. Beak
Other Tips
  1. Training
  2. Compatibility in a multiple bird household
  3. Traveling with a bird
  4. Pet sitting
Emergency
  1. Signs of a problem and what action to take
  2. Nothing to worry about: birds imitating coughing, birds which like to lie on their backs
  3. Carriers, transport cages
  4. Veterinary contact
  5. First aid kit
  6. Escape: get the bird back quickly, the net, get the bird wet
  7. Disaster preparedness: motels and shelters that accept pets
  8. Use of a small window sign to alert emergency crews of the presence of pets in general (details of type of pet and location should be inside the house, not be on the door for all to see)
Protection from Theft

See OPA's site at for details on protecting the Pet Bird Household. You may want to add some of the cautions to add to your booklet.

The Disclaimer - State Your Intent

Finally, it is important to remember that certain aspects of animal care may be considered "practicing veterinary medicine." You will also want to avoid suggesting diets, care, treatments or procedures which may be misunderstood by the pet owner. Do yourself the favor of including a disclaimer to say that your booklet is offered free of charge and that nothing stated in it should replace the advice or care of a veterinarian.

More Help

Include other useful items, such as OPA's Pet Bird Sitters information sheet. You may print and use OPA's form if you wish.

Suggest further reading, such as Birds for Dummies by Dr. Brian Speer and Gina Spadafori.

Suggest that your client join the OPA forum for Bird Welfare by filling out the form at http://birdwelfare.com. The experts on the OPA panel include professional aviculturists and behavior consultants. The forum is not the place to seek out specfic veterinary help; however, the OPA panel will answer your customer's general questions.