Updated: Sep 9, 2021
Why Is Natural Light Important to Birds?
Tetrachromacy is the term used to describe the addition of the all important fourth cone cell in the eye of birds, reptiles and some fish. The inclusion of these four cone-shaped cells, and the oil droplets they contain, effectively opens up a whole new world to these creatures. Humans using three rod cells (trichromacy) can only reportedly view the world in around one million colours. Tetrachromats with this fourth cone cell are able to see around 100 million colours, and allows birds to see wavelengths of light that humans cannot see, far into the red and blue spectrums and the ultra violet wavelength.
Birds can see these colours and markings all the time if their tetra chromatic ability is ‘activated’ by being outside in natural sunlight or having artificial exposure to UVA.
Florescent patches activated by UVA highlight the differences in the sexes (especially in monomorphic species), health, condition and breeding readiness. It has also been shown that UVA effects how birds view potential food sources too. Tetrachromacy in the wild helps birds find food. It seems that riper fruits are easier to spot in dense foliage with the benefit of tetrachromacy – with the bright waxy surface showing up like a neon sign, saying, “Here is food, come and eat me.”
So what is UVA?
UVA is described as the wavelengths of light ranging between 320 - 400nms. It is the blue end of the spectrum that goes into ultraviolet. This wavelength is not short enough to start the D3 cycle on its own, but has many other reported positive effects for birds and reptiles.
A balanced natural provision of the correct UVA wavelengths will allow a bird to view the world in a more natural way and has been linked to a better feeding response, a more constructive social behavioural pattern and is now also starting to be linked to the production of certain hormones and chemical responses in the brain.
A fully illuminated photoperiod which includes UVA has also been shown to aid in beneficial preening and daily cleaning.
We all know that UVB causes the production of vitamin D3 which is also commonly called the sunshine vitamin. Surely it is as important to allow our pet birds to see properly as it is for them to benefit from the intricate changes in the body attributed to exposure to UVA in the correct levels?
Results show almost immediately
Bird lighting is one of those products that if set up properly shows results almost immediately. As soon as the lamp is switched on you will generally see the birds become more animated.
Parrots will typically open their wings and open the breast feathers to allow exposure of the rays through to their skin.
Most household lamps emit a very small amount of UVA. Unfortunately, the percentage of UVA that these lamps emit is not enough to cause a real positive reaction in a bird. If the total output of light, including invisible light, is called 100 per cent, we at Arcadia recommend that 12 per cent of the total should be UVA. All lamps have inherent limitations, and UVA and UVB does not travel very far from its source.
So, it is no use simply setting up a bird lamp in the ceiling of your bird room. The birds need to be able to position themselves quite closely to the lamp to be able to utilise the emissions properly.
Safety is the key and as we all know parrots have large powerful beaks. All lighting equipment should be fitted safely and out of the way of the bird’s reach, as I know my birds will quite happily try and much and crunch through anything they can get their beaks around.
It is vital that we do not confuse full spectrum lamps that have a pleasing natural daylight colour with UV emitting full spectrum lamps as they are totally different!
UVA and UVB cannot pass through glass or plastics these materials block these wavelengths, even aviary mesh will slightly reduce the bird’s ability to obtain and absorb these wavelengths.
We have all placed our birds by a window, but other than providing the birds with a nice warm, bright environment in which to live, it will have little positive effect on the bird as far as UVA rays are concerned. Of course small amounts of energy will be transmitted to the bird if a window beside the cage is safely left open and the bird can benefit from direct exposure to unfiltered sunlight.
Vitamin D3 is essential to life in its own right.
The term the ‘D3 Cycle’ is used to describe the many cycles and processes that work together to allow animals, including humans, to produce and utilise preformed vitamin D3 in the skin after exposure to the full spectrum of unfiltered terrestrial daylight. This is a natural process that is self-regulated, self-limited and able to be recycled within exposure to this natural full spectrum.
Vitamin D3 is essential to life in its own right, working with and alongside almost all of the biological cycles and processes. Among these synergistic and vital interactions, it also allows the assimilation, storage and further use of the earth’s minerals including Calcium. Calcium is an essential element for life, its correct provision alongside the rest of the earths minerals, and in balance not only ensures naturally healthy bones and healthy hard eggs, but it is also used in the blood, nervous system, digestive system and is vital for organ function and muscle contraction.
This is a natural process that is self-regulated, self-limited and able to be recycled within exposure to this natural full-spectrum.
Without vitamin D3 being freely available in the correct levels calcium, alongside the other minerals simply cannot be absorbed into the animal’s system properly. To be fully bioavailable Calcium must be first stored in the bones before being sent back around the body in the blood. D3 is essential within these natural and very synergistic cycles and processes.
With access to the right vitamins and minerals birds will not only feel better in themselves, but they will be able to assimilate calcium just as they would in the wild. This will help to ensure good bone density, feather production and egg viability. There is also a feeling that a critical lack of D3 can cause birds to become emotionally stressed.
This can lead to unnatural plucking and bad behaviour. Fortunately, there does not seem to be a point of no return! As soon as Full Spectrum UV-B lighting is provided accurately, the subject seems to start to recover very quickly.
Exposure to the right levels of UV will also increase useful preening and stimulation of the preening gland.
There is another useful interaction here as the main preening gland is affected in a positive way by exposure to UVB and can itself produce preformed D3, this is then in part ingested while preening.
As with captive reptiles, birds require a usable gradient of light. This is very easy to achieve in captivity if the correct type and length of lamp is selected. We recommend fitting your bird lighting over roughly a quarter to one third of the total living space of the cages or flight. This becomes the “basking zone”. The rest of the enclosure will then have a gentle and gradual gradient into useable shade.
Birds are very able to ascertain how much exposure they require at any given moment and will readily move around the enclosure to self-regulate to the level of exposure that they require.
As with captive reptiles, birds require a usable gradient of light. This is very easy to achieve in captivity if the correct type and length of lamp is selected. We recommend fitting your bird lighting over roughly a quarter to one third of the total living space of the cages or flight. This becomes the “basking zone”. The rest of the enclosure will then have a gentle and gradual gradient into useable shade. Birds are very able to ascertain how much exposure they require at any given moment and will readily move around the enclosure to self-regulate to the level of exposure that they require.
Birds still need natural light
We can never truly harness the power of the sun or even replicate it. But, good UV emitting bird lighting, fitted correctly, does help captive birds immensely.
Where possible, and if it becomes warm enough, our birds should still be given access to unfiltered natural sunlight. So it is a great idea to place your bird cage in the garden when you are out there on a particularly lovely day.
Even a few hours once or twice a week will have a very positive effect on the bird. For the rest of the year, bird lighting can be a real asset. You can use bird lighting to start or delay a breeding season by simply lengthening or shortening the hours of illumination during the day. You can use good quality bird lighting to provide natural colour vision for the birds and aid in the production of vitamins and hormones in the bird’s body.
You can also use bird lighting as an aid in the fight against feather plucking and bad behaviour.
Full-spectrum + UV-B lamps produce and project light that contains Ultraviolet down into the living space of a bird.
This energy should be thought of as ‘essential’ as it both allows a bird to see correctly within the extended range of colours allowed for by the addition of the 4th ocular cell (tetrachromacy), but they also allow a bird to start and to maintain the self-limiting cyclical process of natural vitamin D3 production, storage and use. Having optimum levels of D3 will allow a bird to assimilate, store and use essential minerals such as Calcium.
This increases bone health, helps to balance blood chemistry, improves muscle function and organ function, aids reproduction and can reduce harmful plucking. Without having optimum stores of D3 within the body essential minerals such as Calcium simply pass through the body without being used. Yes, if you want your cuttle-bone to be effective, then the bird has to have adequate vitamin D3.
Full-spectrum+UV-B lamps replicate the energy of gentle terrestrial daylight and do contain ultraviolet (UV-A and UV-B), just as the sun. As we know, over exposure to UV can be very damaging to both the skin and eyes. In humans we call this ‘sun burn’. Full-Spectrum+UV-B lamps made especially for birds are very effective and safe to use if used in the correct way.
These lamps are not ‘tanning lamps’ and direct exposure to human skin should not be allowed. Birds should not be forced to sit more closely than 6” between the birds head and the lamp. Birds should be able to move freely around the cage and to be able to ‘self-regulate’ their exposure between optimum light levels and shade. They may climb closer than the advised distance stipulated on the product, but this will only be for a few seconds and they will only be exposed to a level of UV or ‘UV Index’ similar to midday daylight at this distance. There is very little risk to birds exploring their cages in a normal fashion.
Bird lamps should always be placed directly over the bird’s cage and never fitted to the side, at eye level or at an angle. Please follow the fitting instructions properly to be certain that your bird is receiving optimum exposure.
Is there a risk to human health? The honest answer is, only if the product is improperly used or the keeper remains under direct exposure to the lamp for very long periods whilst being closer than 12” 30cm from the exposed skin to the lamp. These lamps replicate morning sun and are very gentle. It is far more likely that a keeper would experience thermal burn before tanning or sun burn occurred.
It is advised that the lamp is switched off before any in-cage maintenance is undertaken. Keepers should also sit more than 12”/30cm away from direct exposure to the lamp. We have designed this fitting so that the greatest quantity of the energy within the lamp travels directly downwards. This means that any overspill travelling out of the sides of the cage will be very be low indeed.
UV potency should be checked with a solarmeter 6.5 index meter.
Certain medications carry warnings to avoid exposure to the sun. If you are taking one of the medications, please be careful to not allow direct exposure to this lamp and seek the advice of your doctor.
The risk of burns to humans is tremendously low, the benefits to the birds however, when used correctly are tremendously high.
This is an electrical product and as such it has an electrical supply. Care MUST be taken to avoid allowing birds to sit on the unit and/or chewing the cables. As example, parrots can easily bite through the cabling. If you have a chewing species, please ensure that you use suitable slide over cable armour over all cables. Please use the stick-on clips provided to keep cables away from the cage.
Do not allow your bird to sit on, access or chew the lamp fitting, glass lamp or cables.
Arcadia full-spectrum+UV-B lamps should be replaced once a year. Arcadia Bird lamps can be removed from the fitting once a month or as required after being allowed to cool and then wiped clean of any dust with a clean soft cloth. This will ensure that as much light as possible is being produced by the lamp.
Arcadia Bird lamps have been designed to be safe. As such, we manufacture our lamps within the highest quality standards. Arcadia Bird lamps are both UV-C free and free from the use of non-stick coatings linked to fatality in birds.