Birds and Reptiles

Husbandry, Feeding, Behavior and Physiologic Data – Birds & Reptiles


Birds: African Grey Parrot Psittacus erythacus, Cockatiel Nymphicus hollandicus, Chicken Gallus gallus domesticus

Reptiles: Corn snake Pantherophys guttatus, Bearded dragon Pogona vitticeps, Hermann's tortoise Testudo hermanni

Goals of this lesson

  • Know how to keep the main species at home
    • Housing: litter, substrate, shelter, out/indoor
    • Feeding: do we have to feed in a bowl?
    • Which are the most common mistakes?
  • Know the range of normal and abnormal behavior
  • Know the main physiologic data
    • Lifespan, rectal temperature, respiratory and heart rate… , reproductive data…





It’s easy to remember that indoor and outdoor housing carry advantages and disadvantages. So, with this slide, it is a reminder on how to think about it, whichever is the species considered.


Outdoor housing

Indoor housing


-       UVB: vitamin D synthesis, immune system, well-being

-       Heat: be careful with heat stroke. Cooler temperature can be well tolerated if the change is made slowly and housing and diet are adapted

-       Natural daylight = natural photoperiod. Better for hormonal production and breeding.


This lacking leads to hypocalcemia in herbivores (chelonians, lizards) and in parrots. It is suggested to be associated to dental disease in rabbits and hystrichomorphs rodents.

Temperature is usually constant

Artificial light leads to excitation and behavior problem in parrots, it is an important predisposing factor to adrenal disease in ferrets.

Natural soil: foraging and weel being (look for food, dig a burrow) but infectious risk (virus and parasites)

Household danger are poisoning (birds and avocado or fume from antiadhesive pan or heavy metal toxicoses ; ferrets are also very inquisitive). Foreign body ingestion ; gnawing of electric cable

Predation if not protected or checked

Run away

Run away is possible but less common

Socialization is more difficult

Socialization is facilitated





Behavior and physiology are extremely differents between species of birds.

  • Psittaciformes are prey-species

African Grey Parrot,



Budgie, cockatiel, Agapornis

  • Passerines are prey-species


Finches (ex: Gouldian finch)

  • Galliformes are prey-species

Chicken, quail

  • Raptors (birds of prey) are predator and prey-species
  • Columbiformes are prey-species



Maximum lifespan observed

Median lifespan observed

African Grey parrot

60 years

15 years (50 - 60 years)


80 years

(> 50 years)


60 years

20 years (Galah)

15 years (40 - 60 years)

8 years (Galah)


75 - 100 years

(50 - 80 years)

15 years for smaller varieties

Loris and lorikeets

20 - 30 years

15 years


25 - 40 years

10 years


32 years

5 years (10-12)


18 years

6 years (5-10)

Gouldian Finch

7 years

4 years


12 years

3 years


20 years

(6 - 12 years)

Dove, pigeons

26 years

(4 - 8 years)

From Harrison BOOK & Exotic Formulary 3rd ed




  • Flight
    • Lightening of the body
      • Reduction of the number of bones
      • Beak instead of teeth
      • Pneumatic bones
    • Lifting surfaces
      • Feathers instead of hairs
      • Stiffness of bone structures


  • Respiratory system
    • Well-developed sinus
    • Lungs: small and little stretching, attached to the back
    • Air sacs in pneumatic bones (cervical, thoracic, abdominal air sacs).


  • Urogenital tract
    • 2 internal testicles connected to cloaca, no penis
    • 1 internal ovary (leftside), connected to oviduct and cloaca
    • 2 kidneys connected to cloaca through 2 ureters
    • No bladder
    • Uricothelic species


  • Different type of beaks
    • According to food preferences

Ex: Hooked beak of parrots (break the nuts)

  • Digestive tract
    • Oesophagus and crop
    • Proventriculus and ventriculus
    • Duodenum, ileum, rectum
    • Cloaca
    • Liver, pancreas, spleen



Outdoor aviary are preferred for breeding birds. It can be used for companion birds if the owner can take a seat in the aviary and stay at rest with his bird.

Cages and rooms dedicated to the pet bird are usually preferred. Be careful with indoor danger: heavy metal toxicosis, avocado poisoning and PTFE (fume from antiadhesive pan) and foreig body ingestion.

--> Realize a quick internet research and criticize what you can find…



Foraging for food is an important activity

Bowl should be removed and replaced by

foraging activities

Too much food = boredom & selective feeding & obesity = unbalanced diet and fatty liver disease!



  • Psittacus erythacus
  • Center Africa, Gabon
    • Countries, forests
    • Colonies: 100 to 200 individuals
    • Couples for life
  • Rare mutations
  • One of the best talking parrot
  • UVB light needed - very sensitive, will develop calcium deficiency
  • Physiologic data

Weight: 450-600g

No sexual dimorphism (sexing on feather or by endoscopy)

Sexual maturity: M 2-3 years ; F 4 years.

2-4 eggs by clutch, incubation 28-30days

Rearing period: around 84days. Male will feed young in nest. After fledging, fed by both male and female.

Heart rate: 200-350bpm

Respiratory rate: 35-50cpm

Common diseases

Feather picking

Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease



Hypovitaminosis A


Proventricula Dilatation Disease

  • Screenings

PBFD, Psittacosis, Bornavirus

Worm & mite treatment according to risk

Yearly blood sample




  • Nymphicus hollandicus
  • From Australia
  • Numerous colored mutations

Poor health status

  • Physiologic data

Weight: 90g

Sexual dimorphism M Orange cheeks, melodious song

                                   F Clearer cheeks, more agressive

                                   > 1yo: Barred tails persists in female

Sexual maturity: 9 to 12months. Both parents incubate.

4-7 eggs by clutch, incubation 18-23d, rearing until 30-35d (fledging)

Heart rate: 400-600 bpm

Respiratory rate: 60-100 cpm


Common diseases



Egg retention


Sinusitis et conjunctivitis



  • Screenings

PBFD, Psittacosis, Bornavirus

Worm & mite treatment according to risk

Yearly blood sample



Protected from predation

Free access to grasses. As much spaces as possible. Move the enclosure when possible (less parasite pressure, more nutrients in environment)



  • Prefer laying hen granules instead of seed mixture
  • Don’t give too much (overfeeding) and not too much corn, not so healthy
  • Restrict foo quantities. They have to look for food!!!
  • Give free access to grasses: free range!


  • > 400 breeds in France
  • Lifespan: 7-8 years
  • Gregarious, constant exploration, scratching, very fine hearing, developed taste, good vision of bright colors
  • Important vocalizations
  • Medical care

Deworming: Entry and before winter. Be aware of interval time between treatment and egg consumption.

Mite and insects treatment: Natural pyrethrum. Environment: biological control with predator.

Heart Rate: 100 bpm & Respiratory rate: 20-50 cpm


Common diseases

  • Dermatitis
    • Lice Menopon gallinae
    • Mite Dermanyssus gallinae, Cnemidocoptes laevis
  • Arthritis, pododermatitis
  • Syngamus trachea
  • Avian Coryza
  • Salmonellosis, colibacillosis, helminthosis
  • Problems in egg production






  • > 7000 species: Turtles, Tortoises, Crocodiles, Lizards, Snakes
  • Poikilotherm & ectothermic

= Cold-blooded, totally dependent on their environment (cold-blooded is not exact because they are WARM!!!)

POTZ (Preferred Optimal Temperature Zone)

Warm and Cool end in the terrarium

  • Vomeronasal organ
  • 3 cavities heart
  • Lungs +/- archaic, air sac
  • No diaphragm, coelomic cavity
  • Cloaca
  • Kidneys: uricothelic & renal filtration ; bladder in chelonians and some lizards



  • More than 330species, 14 families

Tortoises: terrestrial & generally herbivores

Turtles: aquatic & herbivores to omnivores

  • Long life expectancy
  • Heliothermic
  • Shell= plastron + upper shell
  • Horny beak, no teeth
  • Bilobed bladder
  • Sexual dimorphism


Hermann's tortoise

  • Testudinidae family – Testudo hermanni
  • Mediterranean area (Spain, Italia, Sardaigne, Corsica, Greece, Albania, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Turkey…)
  • Geographic origin & subspecies
  • Water, well-exposed area, grassed area are needed near pinewood, bush…
  • Legislation

Annexe II du CITES

Annexe A (CE)

  • Sexual physiology

Obvious sexual dimorphism

Male acts as « sex addict »

2 annual clutch, 2 to 6 eggs per clutch

Sex determination according to incubation temperature

  • Digestive physiology

Strict herbivore (90% grasses and veggies, <10% fruits)


General recommendations about Hermann's tortoise

Strict herbivore

Terrarium or suitable enclosure (outside if possible)

POTZ, UVB, substrate

Clinical exam and antiparasitic drugs before hibernation


Eurotestudo sp

Hermann’s tortoise

Testudo graeca

Mediterranean Spur thighed tortoise

Supracaudal shield

Divided (2)


Posterior thigh spur


Yes (only one)

Horny claw at the tip of the tail



Scales on anterior

Small on wrist

Bigger and overlapped

Upper shell

Less curved

More curved

Posterior part of the plastron



Dark strip on plastron

Well defined, continued or not

Irregular streeks

Vertebral scales

Narrow, as long as wide in adults


Spots on the head

Common, behind the eye

Sometimes, forehead





  • Various diets
  • Abdominal ventral vein
  • Regular moulting (skin flap)
  • Bladder, in the majority of lizards
  • Sexual dimorphism
    • Kidney’s sexual segment
    • 2 hemipenes
  • Salt glands Iguanids


Bearded dragon

  • Agamidae - Pogona vitticeps

Endemic species of the australian continent

Arid lands and rocky desert

  • Legislation

Exportation from Australia is prohibited

Individuals born in captivity

  • Lot of varieties

Golden, sandfire, albinos, blood, citrus,


  • Behavior

Hierarchical groups

Many postures of communication

Curious & very familiar


Lifespan : 10yo

  • Digestive physiology

Insectivore, omnivore

Captivity => obesity, hepatic lipidosis

  • Sexual physiology

Sexual maturity around 18 months

Several clutches a year, 10 to 30 eggs are laid in nest dug in sand, hatch 60-80d according to environmental temperature

  • General recommendations

Desert terrarium

Hot spot, photoperiod, substrate, UVB


Leopard gecko

  • Eublepharidae - Eublepharis macularius

From arid area Pakistan, India, Afghanistan

Eublepharidae = only gecko with eyelid

  • Lot of varieties
  • Behavior

Gregarious and nocturnal

Territorial (male +++)

Social interaction (licking, tail vibration)

Friendly, easy to keep

Lifespan: 20yo

  • Environment

Low intensity 2% UVB lights are important for calcium metabolism and general well-being

Be careful with albino: burn risk

  • Tail: fat storage

If handled roughly, autotomy

  • Digestive physiology

Insectivore, carnivore (small vertebrates)

Living prey

  • Sexual physiology

Sexual dimorphism (femoral pores, penile bulges)

Sexual maturity: M 10 months ; F 15-18months

Eggs can be seen through the skin

Incubation 1month and a half to 2 months according to sex & T°C

Oviparous, up to 5 clutches per season, in wet vermiculite, sand or peat.

  • General recommendations

Wet box, well ventilated

Photoperiod and nocturnal rythm to respect

Substrate choice and feeding uses


  • Always check shedding (digits, tail)



  • Carnivores
  • Regular moulting, entire
  • Spectacle
  • No bladder
  • Sexual dimorphism

Tail is larger male (2 hemipenes)

Probing or ultrasonography

M : around 6 to 15 scales

F : around 1 to 3 scales

  • Oviparous, ovoviviparous


Corn snake

  • Colubridae - Pantherophis guttatus

Endemic from USA

Dense vegetation

  • Many varieties
  • Moulting

Every 6 to 8 weeks (adult)

More often in youngs

  • Behavior

Tame, easy to breed

Terrestrial species, burrower

Adult: 1.20m

Lifespan: 15yo (22 yo)

  • Digestive physiology

Carnivore: various rodents

  • Sexual physiology

Spring and summer

12 to 24 eggs in 1 clutch

« Incubation » 8 weeks

Oviparous, sex mature at 2yo


Ball python

  • Pythonidae - Python regius

Ball python = Royal Python

Africa (Senegal, Uganda, Northern Congo)

Savannas, meadows, zone sparsely wooded => hideout +++

  • Legislation

N° de CITES et facture d’achat obligatoire

  • Many varieties
  • Can refuse to eat for a long time

Adult: 1m20

Lifespan: 20-25yo

  • Behavior


Quiet but fearful

Common anorexia

  • Sexual physiology

Females are slightly bigger

M & F : pelvic spurs

Oviparous, sex matures around 2-3yo



  • Husbandry and feeding account for around 80% of the problems encountered in exotic species.
  • Nurses have an advisory role. They can correct some mistakes or alert the owner.
  • Enrichment and well-being have to be kept in mind for every choice made for the individuals.