Light is one of the three natural elements necessary for life. However, unlike the clean air we breathe and pure water we drink it gets overlooked as something necessary for good health.
Natural sunlight affects people and pets in myriad ways — most notably is the production of Vitamin D. It is estimated that Vitamin D affects 10 per cent of all genes. Vitamin D is known to reduce the risk of certain cancers, reduce blood pressure, improve cognitive function and enhance one’s mood.
The ultraviolet B (UVB) spectrum in natural sunlight converts good cholesterol into pre-Vitamin D compounds, which are further synthesized into beneficial Vitamin D. With most parrots, pre-Vitamin D compounds are released with the oil of the preening gland, which they spread over their body while preening their feathers. With exposure to UVB rays, the secretions are converted to Vitamin D3, which is then ingested with subsequent preening.
Exposure to natural sunlight enhances the capacity to deliver oxygen to tissues of the body, similar to exercise. This is particularly beneficial for parrots whose ability to exercise is greatly reduced due to being caged for most of the day or having their wings clipped.
Natural sunlight increases the production of lymphocytes, or white blood cells, which play a major role in defending the body against infections. Natural sunlight also kills bacteria and can help disinfect and heal wounds in addition to reducing fungal infections of the skin.
How much natural sunlight is enough?
Over the past several decades exposure to natural sunlight has been frowned upon to the point of paranoia. Now, we are beginning to discover more and more benefits to moderate daily exposure. But how do we determine how much sun is enough?
Unfortunately, there is no scientific information to answer this question for birds. But, with the information we know about humans and tropical birds’ natural environment, we can estimate how much natural sunlight is safe for your parrot.
The average human requires about 10 to 15 minutes of natural sunlight daily to reap the benefits. People with dark skin, living in northern climates, require up to six times that amount. Given that the natural habitat of dark-skinned people and tropical birds are similar we can estimate that parrots require about the same amount of natural sunlight daily, approximately an hour to an hour and a half.
Parrots, in their natural habitat, are exposed to direct sunlight in the morning, while foraging for food and frolicking with their mate or siblings, and in late afternoon before they head back to their roosting spot. They take shelter from the intense sun in the early afternoon.
If your parrot can be outside for about an hour that’s great but any amount of time your parrot is exposed to natural sunlight is better than none at all. A short walk when weather permits or sitting outside while having lunch are great opportunities to get your parrot outside.
Things to keep in mind when taking your parrot outside
- While natural sunlight does not pose a risk to parrots, extreme heat can be dangerous. If you plan to hike on a hot day, bring along a water mister so you can cool yourself and your parrot.
- Predators are always a risk when you take your parrot outside. You can protect them by using a travel carrier or a body harness designed specifically for parrots.
- Although we must rely on supplemental indoor lighting during the cooler months, Mother Nature does it best and we should take advantage of this.
- The benefits of natural sunlight far outweigh any risk and if you are smart and take appropriate precautions you and your parrot will be better for it. Just remember how great you felt the last time you vacationed in a tropical climate. That is how your parrots should always feel.