Copyright © 2005 by Margaret Madison All Rights Reserved
Parrots need UVB (mid-range UV light waves) for vitamin D synthesis. The UVB is much weaker than the UVA light which is the visible light and that is why the distance between the bird and the light source is a consideration.
These bulbs need replacing frequently because the light degrades. The UVB light needed for vitamin synthesis degrades 3 times faster than the visible UVA. So even if the manufacturer states the bulb doesn't need replacing for 5 years, you should replace it at least every 8 months to maintain it's effectiveness with your bird. After 8 months of 12 hours a day use, the bird will not reap as much benefit from this light and after 2 years of 12 hours per day use, the light isn't helping at all anymore.
If a manufacturer was to produce bulbs with greater UVB concentrations, the bulbs would become tanning light bulbs and therefore would need to be regulated as these bulbs can cause damage to humans and animals, as I'm sure you know. Those bulbs, after prolonged use, would cause retinal damage, cataracts and even calcium/bone disorders.
Another thing to consider is that it is not the most pleasant thing to have a fluorescent light bulb turned on and sitting a foot away from your face for 12 hours a day. At the office, I don't even turn on my fluorescent desk light because it bothers my eyes. Birds have excellent color vision and their eyesight is much better than ours, so I can only imagine how uncomfortable it might be for them.
Birds also use Vitamin A to produce oils in the cornea which help to filter out the bad UV light which helps prevent the birds from cataracts and such. The bad news is that if the bird that you are using the light on is already deficient in Vitamin A in their diet, then they do not have as much of this protection, so these full spectrum lights can actually damage their eyes.
So why do people use these lights for their birds? Generally, an indoor bird on an all seed diet is obviously not getting proper nutrition. Birds need the vitamin D & D3 which they can get from natural sunlight or these full spectrum lights. If they are already deficient in vitamins, such as Vitamin A, this puts their eyes at risk when using these lights. How can you avoid these problems? Get your bird converted to a pelleted diet. A pelleted diet provides the birds with the proper levels of cholecalciferol supplement and eliminates the need to provide supplemental full spectrum UVB producing lighting.
Providing full spectrum light definitely does do something for the birds. It helps them to process extra calcium which would be beneficial (on a temporary basis) if that bird was an excessive egg layer or if it had a problem metabolizing calcium for some reason. Overuse of full spectrum lighting, in addition to a fully balanced and nutritional diet which includes a sufficient amount of calcium, could be detrimental. The only time in which you may want to consider this special lighting is if the bird was overproducing eggs and depleting calcium or if the bird had some sort of calcium metabolism problem, and even then only used temporarily. A person whose bird does eat a good diet and uses full spectrum lighting may do well with a visit to the vet for a blood sample to determine if there is excessive calcium levels in the blood or if any other problems are the result of using this lighting.
Every individual can determine what is best for their own particular bird and I'm sure that anyone who cares enough about their bird to purchase full spectrum lighting is certainly not doing so to cause their bird any problems. People should be aware of the pros and cons though and then make their decision based on the facts. If a bird is provided with this lighting and its diet is insufficient in Vitamin A as well (the most common vitamin deficiency in parrots) then their birds can actually develop cataracts or other vision problems. I just hoped to bring attention to the possible problems with using full spectrum lighting (including cost and a relatively short life span of the bulb's effectiveness) and under which circumstances full spectrum lighting is beneficial (excessive egg laying or metabolism problems). My goal is to arm people with some facts that they could even take to their avian vet for further discussion and validation. Please feel free to discuss this the next time you visit your avian vet and I believe you will realize that you may just want to convert your bird over to a pelleted diet instead.