By Dr. Laurie Hess, Dipl ABVP (Avian Practice)
Too many people rush out and buy birds impulsively because they see colorful, interactive animals and just have to have one without actually knowing what they’re getting into. These people often get the new bird home and, while they initially enjoy it because a bird such a novel pet, become frustrated with the complexity of the bird’s care and end up losing interest in the animal. Over time, with little attention from the owner, the bird often develops habits like feather picking, screaming or biting, which makes the owner like the pet even less, perpetuating the cycle of decreased interaction.
Ultimately, many birds that were once lots of fun end up being returned to the store or left at shelters to be rehomed. To avoid this scenario, it’s important to do your research and consider if a bird is the best pet for you. If any of the following scenarios apply to you, you would likely do better with another type of pet.
With rare exceptions for very small birds, like finches and canaries, most birds (and certainly all parrots) are very social and need several hours a day outside of their cages to interact with their owners. Without a great deal of handling and interaction with their human flock-mates, parrots will not be socialized properly, may become bored and may start to scream or pick at themselves. So, if you don’t have the time to play with a bird every day, you should choose a less demanding type of pet such as snake, turtle or hamster.
Parrots, both big and small, all squawk without exception. Some smaller birds, such as conures, can be even louder than larger ones, so size is not correlated with volume. In addition, birds like to vocalize at dawn and dusk.
While pet parrots can be trained to minimize the squawking to some degree, you can’t stop them from making noise altogether, so if you live in a small apartment with sensitive neighbors, a quieter pet, such as a bunny, guinea pig or reptile, might be a better option.
Parrots are messy. They chew up their food and throw half of it on the cage bottom. Much of it inevitably ends up getting stuck on perches or on the floor around the cage. Some birds dunk their food in the water cup before eating it, making the wasted food even messier. Many large parrots also shred and tear up toys, throwing pieces of toy everywhere. If upsets you, opt for a fastidiously clean pet rat or cat over a pet parrot.
Unlike reptiles or certain other types of pets, parrots can’t be left alone for more than a day or so, as they need fresh water daily (they frequently soil it with food or feces, necessitating a daily water change). Plus, many will develop behavioral problems, such as biting, when they are left in their cages for prolonged periods and not handled. So, if you travel often, unless you have a caretaker who will come daily to play with the bird, best to choose another, less socially-needy pet.
Parrots are called hookbills because they have sharp, pointy beaks that can puncture, crush and inflict significant damage, especially to tiny fingers stuck in cages. Even little birds, such as parakeets, can cause injuries to small children. Therefore, if you have little kids and want a pet bird, better wait a few years until they’re older and less likely to carelessly touch the bird.
All pet birds have costs associated with caging, cage accessories (such as food bowls, perches and swings), food (both commercially available pelleted food and fresh produce), toys (that may literally be chewed up and destroyed daily, depending on bird species), and veterinary care. In addition, birds are no different from other pets in that they need preventative medical care. Just as dogs and cats require annual veterinary check-ups to stay healthy, so do birds. Most people are not aware of this when they get pet parrots, and while they are often willing to spend money on buying the bird, they are often reluctant or unable to spend funds on taking care of it.
If you don’t have the finances for taking care of a pet—bird or otherwise—you may want to get your animal fix by volunteering at an animal shelter or visiting a zoo.
Many people choose birds as pets because they are allergic to fur. However, many individuals allergic to fur are also allergic to feathers or to feather dander (the white, powdery substance that coats the feathers of certain parrot species, such as cockatoos and cockatiels, and that wafts through the air off feathers). So, before you bring a parrot into your home, be sure that no one has a bird allergy.
Many parrots live for decades. In general, the larger the parrot, the longer the lifespan. Even small birds, such as cockatiels, can live between 20 and 30 years. Therefore, if you’re not interested in having a pet long term, opt for a shorter-lived pet, like a hamster, gerbil or rat.
Birds have so many wonderful characteristics. They are social, interactive, attractive and often can learn to speak human language. They can make great pets, but they are not great for everyone. If you have the time, space, finances and lifestyle to support owning a bird, these incredible creatures can make loving lifelong companions.