By Vanessa Voltolina
While you may know them best from movies taking place on the high seas, parrots as pets are becoming increasingly popular, and may make good companions for the right owner. “Parrots are incredibly complex creatures,” said Jacqueline Johnson, manager of the Parrot Garden at Best Friends Animal Society in Utah. Unlike dogs and cats, parrots are wild animals, which means they come with a different set of responsibilities.
As with any pet, prospective owners should look for a bird that responds to them (not just focus on the breed) and then learn how to meet its needs, Johnson said. There is a very serious issue with parrot homeless and abandonment, she added, and strongly recommends volunteering at your local parrot rescue before making the plunge to commit to a pet parrot. Doing so can help you learn how to properly care for these birds, she said, since parrots can live anywhere between 20 and 50 years (or more!) and caring for a bird is often a life-long responsibility.
Consider a few of the below parrots as pets by learning more about their key personality traits and behaviors:
African Grey Parrot
Probably most-known for their ability to mimic human speech, African grey parrots are native to the tropical forests of central Africa, living in flocks of up to 30 and looking for fruit and nuts to eat, according to the Natural Wildlife Federation.
This type of parrot can be on the quieter side and is very intelligent, said Dr. Susan Kelleher, exotic pet expert, owner of Broward Avian & Exotic Animal Hospital and host of Dr. K’s Exotic Animal ER on Nat Geo WILD. While they are usually amenable to being handled by a variety of people, they are on the shy side when having new toys introduced to them. “Owners report having to put new toys next to the cage on a table first and slowly work them into the cage,” Kelleher said.
They are usually gentle; however, Johnson said that they can be aloof and may prefer one person in the home, so these are parrots that should go into homes with bird-savvy owners.
Additionally, African grey parrots must have adequate exposure to sunlight to ensure their bodies make vitamin D, enabling them to absorb calcium from their food. These birds commonly suffer from low blood calcium, so if these parrots are going to live indoors, they need to be provided with artificial sunlight. “They need natural UVB rays (as most of us do) to convert vitamin D to its usable form in the body,” Kelleher said. “Vitamin D is needed for the absorption of calcium in the intestines. They are prone to low blood levels of calcium if they do not get UVB lighting.”
Known for its intelligence, good vocabulary and singing voice, the Amazon parrot may be more vocal than the African grey parrot, according to Kelleher. These medium-sized, predominately green-colored birds like to be the center of attention, Johnson said. Both experts agree that when over-stimulated, this breed tends bite. Amazon parrots “bite like they mean it,” Kelleher said, and may often hold on and not let go, causing quite a bit of damage. Therefore, these birds may likely better as a one-person bird, Kelleher said. Also, these parrots have a tendency toward obesity and need a lot of out-of-cage time and exercise to keep them happy and healthy.
There are many species of macaw, from mini macaws such as the severe (or chestnut-fronted) and yellow-collared – small parrots with long tails that can perch on just one hand – to the Hyacinth, the largest macaw that needs a whole forearm on which to perch, Kelleher said. These parrots are native to Central and South America and can be distinguished from other parrots by their larger beaks, lighter-colored facial area and longer tails. In general, macaw parrots are “big birds with big personalities, big noise and big beaks,” Johnson said.
Kelleher, who has been working with macaws for over 30 years, said they are intelligent, decent talkers and are probably one of loudest parrots commonly kept as pets. That being said, this species isn’t a good apartment bird, or a bird for those who like a quiet household.
“Owners need to be prepared to get some training down early in their lives so the bird (nicely) knows who is boss,” Kelleher said. “I only use positive reinforcement training with my macaw, as negative reinforcement training doesn't work.” Macaws can be amazing companions, she added, but can be bullies if you allow them to be, which is why training is so important at the onset.
Parrotlets are “little birds with big personalities,” Johnson said, and they require consistent handling due to their interactive and intelligent nature (without frequent handling, they can become aggressive). Parrotlets are territorial, and their bites can be much harder than one would think for such a small-sized bird (about five inches from beak to tail tip). These parrots, which are among the smallest, generally come in blue, green and yellow, and can live up to 20 years, according to the Lafeber Vet website. These birds are also very quiet and can be a good fit for apartment living.
Tips for New Parrot Pet Parents
If you’re ready to make your next pet a winged one, keep these tips from Johnson in mind:
- Check shelters first. Many parrots of all kinds are given up to shelters for adoption, so be sure to check out your local shelter to see if a parrot needs a home. As with dogs and cats, some shelter birds will need extra training to get them adjusted to a new home, but most ultimately make terrific pets. Breeders are another place to look for a new bird. Similarly to buying cats or dogs from pet stores, pet store parrots may be the product of bird mills, so check with your local rescue before heading to a pet store.
- Get an expert vet. The only way to know if you have a healthy bird is by visiting an avian vet for complete bloodwork and disease testing. As with all pet care, visiting a specialist can come at a price but will help ensure your new bird is in good shape.
- Ensure proper air quality. Birds are very sensitive to their surrounding air and should never be exposed to tobacco smoke, chemical fumes (like hairspray, or cleaners), or Teflon-coated materials. Exposure to some toxic inhalants may cause immediate death, and chronic exposure can lead to premature death. So always keep your bird in a well ventilated area of your home.
- Expect vocalizing. The squawking, chirping and talking you hear from parrots is an important part of their social communication. Parrots in the wild screech at dawn and dusk. Bird owners can help train their birds to vocalize at socially acceptable hours, but if you’re going to own a bird, be prepared to accept some noise.
- Prepare for messy eaters. Birds eat continually throughout the day, dropping and discarding bits of food everywhere. Parrots – called hook-bills – are named as such because they are instinctively programmed to chew and shred wood and other materials, whether it’s a perch, toy, picture frame or furniture (even electrical cords, paper and curtains). So if you’re going to own a parrot, plan its surroundings accordingly.
- Let them fly. Birds were designed to fly, and parrots are generally active and inquisitive. An indoor or sheltered outdoor aviary or a flight-safe room (with windows and mirrors covered, no other pets or open doors, and no ceiling fans) that will allow the bird to fly is ideal to enable a bird to get adequate exercise. Some people, however, may choose to clip their birds’ wings to gain more control over them for training. Birds with clipped wings can get exercise by climbing, swinging and flapping and should be provided with ample space, toys and climbing structures.
- Provide a complete diet. All birds need a varied diet. While the basis of their diet should be pellets, they also should have a small amount of grains, beans, and fresh fruits and vegetables, too. Seed, previously recommended for parrots, is now known to be just fat and to lack most critical nutrients. Therefore, it should only be offered to parrots as an occasional treat or as motivation for training purposes.
Image: Tracy Starr via Shutterstock