Lighting and Bird Health: Sunlight and Full Spectrum Lighting Considerations

Very few people think about lighting when they get a bird, but it is extremely important to birds’ health and well-being, and there are several factors to consider.

Sunlight requirements for birds

Birds need natural sunlight for Vitamin D production, hormone balance, and organ, skin and feather health. While we can try to emulate natural light in captivity, there is no substitute for the real deal. A minimum of 30 minutes of direct sunlight exposure per week is recommended for adequate Vitamin D production, but the more you can give them, the better. You can do so by building an aviary in your yard, or by training your bird to load into a travel cage or carrier and taking her outside with you on outings or just hanging out in the yard.

If you do not have predatory raptors like hawks or eagles in your area, and if your bird has very strong recall in a variety of settings, including outside, then you can also choose to take your bird outside with you without any sort of enclosure at a minimal risk. Just bear in mind that choosing to do so otherwise carries with it a high risk of your bird getting carried off by a bird of prey or a strong gust of wind.

When taking your bird outside isn’t an option due to extreme temperatures or incomplete training, make sure your bird is getting enough pellets (50-70 percent of the bird’s diet), which have synthetic Vitamin D, and/or is getting enough foods that are high in natural Vitamin D. Making sure that birds live and play in rooms with lots of natural light can also help psychologically, but will do nothing to help them physically, since window glass filters out the ultraviolet (UV) rays that are necessary for vitamin synthesis, organ function and hormone production.

Indoor full spectrum lights for birds

Not only do birds see a larger portion of the color spectrum than we do (they’re able to see ultraviolet light), they also see light faster than we do. Light hits our eyes in waves, and when those waves get fast enough, our brains perceive it as solid light. Birds see light faster than we do, which means that the waves have to be faster for birds to perceive them as being solid. This means that the regular light bulbs we use in our homes, while appearing to give off solid light to us, appear to be flickering to our birds. Imagine living in a world of flickering light bulbs. How irritating! How disorienting! How headache-inducing! It’s no wonder that our birds can seem agitated and cranky so often.

The measurement that indicates the speed of light waves emanating from a light bulb is called the Color Rendering Index (CRI). Birds start perceiving light as being solid at a CRI of 91, so the CRI of the bulbs in the rooms of your house where your bird will live or visit needs to be at least 91. Most full-spectrum (FS) light bulbs meet that minimum requirement, but you can also find photography light bulbs with a CRI of 91-plus at much cheaper cost than FS bulbs.

Another note about FS bulbs: They are not a sufficient replacement for natural sunlight. Further research into these bulbs has shown that the UV rays only extend about 18 inches from the bulb itself, but keeping the FS bulbs that close to a bird’s cage tends to cause corneal scarring in their eyes. Also, the bulbs only produce UVB for about six months, so after that they aren’t even providing the physical benefits they claim to. Nevertheless, they are quite useful as replacements for regular light bulbs in terms of allowing the birds to see their full color spectrum and in solid light instead of flickering light.