Ultra Violet Lighting Scare

UV LightingIn February 2011, I received an e-mail from a fancier detailing his concerns about the level of lighting in our aviaries.

He had a “gut” feeling that the level of lighting some have randomly installed, could be more important than we think. However, being an amateur when it came to understanding the physics of the variable sources of such lighting, he was still in the process of researching the matter more fully.

On a personal basis, I also have no experience at all on this subject. I have read that all forms of ultraviolet (UV) light, whether from the sun or an artificial source, can trigger the formation of Vitamin D when it falls on our bare skin. But what about the effect on our birds? Perhaps some experienced fancier can advise me?

The matter was dropped until I was spoken to by a leading Red Eye breeder. He had built a new aviary and installed UV lighting – such as has been described in magazines around the world and is normally used by those who illuminate their aquariums containing reptiles or related species.

To his dismay, he found some red eyes going blind with these lights. Significantly, with three rows of breeding cages, there were more cases of blindness in those sited in the top row, than those in the bottom row. To date 13 high quality red eyes have gone blind and long term there could be more. Perhaps some still sighted birds have sustained some visual damage. Who knows?

This news of course relates to lutinos and the like and perhaps cinnamons. I stress I am no expert, but my feeling is that many fanciers in their rush to breed better birds with greater fertility, could run into serious problems in using this type of lighting. Here we have a fact of serious damage and loss of birds as a result of going blind. All I can add to the hobby worldwide is to be careful in the use of sources of UV lighting before such effects have been thoroughly researched by those who know far more about this subject. The normal black eyed varieties, so far, seem to be unaffected but one cannot be totally sure about such a statement.

As humans, we are continually warned today about long exposure to the sun – causing skin damage and cancerous melanomas arising at any age. This is because the UV strength has increased following the thinning of the atmosphere. We are also encouraged to use sunglasses to prevent eye strain and long term damage. So the dangers of UV are a fact we should all take on board – especially us as bird fanciers, who in some cases have rushed to install this type of lighting unaware of the dangers involved.

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About the Author: Gerald Binks began breeding budgerigars when he was 12 years old and is now arguably the most knowledgeable budgerigar fancier in the world. He has bred his fair share of Best in Show birds, judged in no less than 20 countries, founded the World Budgerigar Association, and has published two of the three classic books on the hobby. His stud in the UK attracts fanciers from near and far and is always high on the list for those wishing to purchase BA23 quality budgerigars.

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  1. Dear Gerald

    Thank you.

    An informative article and the word ‘Scare’ attracts me to read!

    I would like to say UV rays are all around us all of the time – even in the ‘nest in dark’ and they are helping in the development of ‘chrome’.

    We need more work on this vital issue.

    Best Regards
    Habib Ur Rehman, Pakistan.

  2. Martin Digby D3703 says:

    Gerald,

    Last year I decided to invest in UV lighting.

    Initially, I was very impressed with the change in my birds. This year they have appeared very healthy and have bred well.

    However, I have now discontinued using them.

    I breed all colours including Lutinos.

    Recently I noticed a small number with sore and irritated eyes. Most are Lutino and Cinnamon – however a few Normals were also affected.

    Remembering this article, I reverted back to normal lights to see if there was any effect at all.

    I will not be going back to UV lights, as in a very short period of time their condition has improved tremendously.

    I believe in time that this type of lighting may be beneficial.

    However until further research has taken place I would suggest that we show caution before we introduce them to our birdrooms.

    Martin Digby, UK

  3. Camelle Lamb says:

    Thank you for this article.

    I was going to purchase this type of lighting myself shortly, but will hold off now as I do breed many albinos, lutinos & lacewings.

    This season I have have larger clutches in my breeding room than for a long time – many having 6 in a clutch and a large number with 5 and the many others the usual 4.

    Fortunately, I had some maiden hens down with only 2 babies, which allowed me to foster and the babies are healthy & some the best I’ve bred.

    If I am having this success without the UV tubes I would not like to risk adverse affects by using them.

    Camelle Lamb,
    Queensland, Australia

  4. Kelli says:

    I am wondering if the UVA lights they are using are intended for birds or if they are using ones intended for reptiles – the reptile lights are made completely different than the ones made specially for birds and the reptile ones WILL burn the birds eyes.

    Also even the ones made especially for birds should be placed 12-18 inches away from the birds perch and placed overhead and NOT directly pointing at a bird.

    Regarding UVB, researchers have found that most birds benefit from it. Exposure to UVB allows birds to synthesize Vitamin D3 in their skin, or through a special process involving the preen gland. Vitamin D3 is essential for proper calcium metabolism. This is necessary for normal growth, maintenance of strong bones, and egg production.

    Concerning UVA and “Visible Light” – birds have specialized retinas that enable them to see UVA. This helps them to recognize mates, locate food, and identify different species. Using lighting that emits UVA can help to curb feather picking and other destructive behaviors. Without UVA, birds are deprived of the full color spectrum they see in nature and are colorblind! UVA is necessary for the psychological health of your bird.

    Just some food for thought!

    I know many breeders who use the UVA lights made specially for birds and they’ve never had any issues with the birds going blind or any other issues. In the end, if the bulbs are not UVA and UVB they’re not going to do any good for the birds.

    Kelli,
    Indiana, USA

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