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  • Writer's pictureSandra Witt

It's the little things...

Bacteria are especially good at adaptation; they are able to grow in diverse and adverse conditions, which is why they are found nearly everywhere on Earth.

Certain conditions of temperature, oxygen, moisture, and pH levels play a role in how quickly bacteria will multiply. Avoiding the “optimal conditions” that support bacteria growth can help prevent bacterial infections and food poisoning.

When we consider optimal conditions for bacteria growth, think about the “water bowl.” Even if you sterilize the bowl and put in sterilized water (boiled for 10 minutes), the second your bird dips its beak or foot into that water, hundreds or even thousands of germs are now deposited in an optimum growth environment. You fill the bowl and go about your day, your bird happily dunks pellets and chop, and slurps what is now a pretty disgusting bowl of parrot stew, and all the while those happy bacteria are 'livin large' and your bird is well on her way to a bacterial infection.

I see parrot owners who have issues with bacterial infections that could be prevented by using a sanitary water delivery method. This is why we have stopped using water bowls and moved to a more sanitary water provisioning system.

Even water bottles will grow bacteria but at least the contamination from the bird coming in direct contact with the water is reduced. This is better than the disgusting 'soup bowl' but in a traditional “ball stopper" water bottle the bird licks the ball, it spins around and comes into contact with the water in the bottle, thus introducing contamination into the water source.

I personally use and would recommend the Bird Butler water bottle. This system uses valve that releases water into a spout so the bird never touches or contaminates the water source. The stainless steel valve is a personal preference and if you have a medium to larger size bird then use the heavy duty valves. Water should be changed every other day (at a minimum); be sure to check down the nozzle and make sure to clean it when you refill the bottle.

You can order Bird Butlers and many other things for Parrots from the Bird Barn from which all proceeds go to support the birds in the rescue.

Now lets look at optimal conditions and phases of bacterial growth, and speed at which these little buggers reproduce.

Optimal Conditions for Bacteria Growth ...

As stated above, the factors that influence bacterial growth are temperature, oxygen, moisture, and pH balance. Let's look at each one ...


Bacteria thrive in warm temperatures, especially those close to body temperature. Certain strains of bacteria can grow at lower or higher temperatures. Since ideal temperature is dependent on the species of bacteria, don’t count on refrigeration or freezing to prevent all disease-causing bacteria from growing. In most cases refrigeration or freezing is sufficient to prevent disease-causing bacteria, such as staphylococcus, from growing. Thoroughly cooking meats to the correct internal temperature is also important to kill any harmful bacteria like Salmonella and E. coli. The “danger zone” for temperature is between 40 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit.


The presence of oxygen greatly affects the growth of bacteria even though some bacteria can survive without oxygen. This is why many commercial foods are vacuum-sealed; however, when the seal is broken exposure to the environment and oxygen limits the shelf life of the product before it spoils. Keeping food properly sealed while it is being stored is a good preventive measure against bacterial growth because it restricts the amount of oxygen available for bacterial growth.


Bacteria need water to grow and will die without a water source. Moist areas are particularly prone to bacterial growth so the water content in food also provides an excellent environment for bacteria to grow, so some foods can be freeze-dried to remove most of the water for long term storage without bacterial growth. Even the tissues in the body provide an excellent source of moisture for bacteria and are particularly prone to bacterial growth.

Environmental pH:

pH is a measure of acidity or alkalinity. Most strains of bacteria prefer to grow in conditions with neutral pH like the human body, but some strains of bacteria can live in slightly more acidic or more alkaline conditions (remember the discussion about adaptability). Cleaning solutions are typically highly acidic which kills bacteria because they cannot survive at extreme pH. More acidic foods can typically be stored longer without spoiling for this reason. Preserving agents that increase the acidity of food are commonly added to help prevent bacterial growth and allow for longer storage.

How Bacteria Grow and Multiply...

Bacterial growth is accomplished through cell division in a process called binary fission. Providing no mutational event occurs the resulting cells are genetically identical to the original cell.

Growth Rates:

Bacteria are among the fastest reproducing organisms in the world. In optimal conditions, bacteria can divide (double) every 4 to 20 minutes depending on the strain. So what does this really mean? Well, if we were to start with one single germ, for the fastest grower by 20 minutes there would be 32 germs; for the slowest grower you would have 2 germs.

Both cells from the division do not necessarily survive; however, the surviving cells typically are many so the bacterial population undergoes exponential growth. The speed at which bacteria grow is dependent on the on the bacterial strain and the growing conditions.

Using an example from ... for a germ with a 15-minute reproduction rate and starting with 1 germ, within 2 hours you would have 256 germs; by 3 hours you would have 16,382 germs; 4 hours, 65,386 germs; and by 5 hours you’d have 1,048,576 germs.

In your bird's water bowl you will likely start out with many more than 1 germ.

Four phases of Growth:

  1. The Lag Phase is where bacteria adapt themselves to the growth conditions. It is the period where the individual bacteria are maturing and not yet able to divide (reproduce).

  2. The Log Phase (sometimes called the logarithmic phase or the exponential phase) is a period characterized by cell doubling (described above). If growth is not limited, doubling will continue at a constant rate so both the number of cells and the rate of population increase doubles with each consecutive time period. Exponential growth cannot continue indefinitely because the conditions degrade and no longer support growth.

  3. The Stationary Phase is often due to a growth-limiting factor such as the depletion of an essential nutrient. This phase results from a situation in which growth rate and death rate are equal. So in this phase the bacterial colony has reached its limit but is very much alive and sustained.

  4. The Decline Phase (death phase) is when bacteria die due to a lack of nutrients, environmental temperature fluctuation aboveor below the tolerance band, or some other injurious condition.

Read more on the 10 most dangerous bacteria on Earth:

Bacteria images from the website Of Bacteria and Men.

Original publication May 5, 2016, reprinted and edited from the author's original work.

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