Some people think of parrots as low-maintenance pets, a step up from fish and hamsters, but much less trouble than a dog or cat. Anyone who gets a pet bird under that assumption is in for a rude surprise. The truth of the matter is that parrots have a lot of needs encompassing everything from attention to diet. Parrots are not merely decoration that can be content sitting in a cage.
On the other hand, no one knows the satisfaction of being loved and trusted by an animal quite like a bird owner. If you do your research and know what you’re getting into, bringing a parrot into your home could be the most rewarding decision you could make.
If you’re just starting to think about taking a parrot into your home, here are five things to consider:
1. All Birds (May) Bite
Even tame birds can bite. Unlike dogs and cats, parrots are prey animals, which means they are hardwired to be suspicious of many things us humans take for granted. Parrots will bite if they are scared or threatened, if they are trying to communicate something and, counter-intuitively, even when they are trying to protect you from something. A biting bird is not a defective bird, but simply one that would benefit from the right kind of training. There are many things you should do to avoid getting bitten and to discourage aggression in your bird, but understanding that there is no such thing as “a bird that doesn’t bite” will help you deal with the inevitable. Are you ready to commit to understanding and training your new companion?
2. Birds Are Messy
Sure, parrots don’t need to be taken for walks in the rain, but that doesn’t mean you don’t need to clean up after their poop. Besides bird droppings, parrot owners also have to contend with food all over their floors and walls. Rarely does a cage or play stand contain the mess of seeds and other food that gets dropped and flung during meal time. One of Stewie’s favorite games is to stick his beak in his bowl and make a scooping motion in order to toss his food as far as he can (right after I’m done vacuuming). Will you be patient with your bird as it exhibits these natural behaviors?
3. Parrots Need Fresh and Healthy Foods
Aviculture has come a long way in the past few decades when most people thought a bag of seed mix was sufficient to meet the nutrition needs of parrots. We now know that an all-seed mix contains too much fat and not enough other nutrients to keep our feathered friends healthy. Avian experts now recommend daily offerings of fresh veggies, organic fruits, whole grain pasta and all the best that your local Whole Foods has to offer, as well as specially formulated parrot pellets. Thanks to my bird, I now cook a lot more fresh foods than I used to. Will you take the time to prepare a proper diet to keep your parrot healthy?
4. Parrots Are Noisy!
Are you ready for some noise? One of the first things a new large bird owner realizes once their new fid (feathered kid) settles in is that birds like to vocalize. Birds like canaries and budgies (parakeets) have voices that could be considered quite pleasant, but there’s nothing musical about the screaming of a cockatoo or even a conure. While attention screaming can be discouraged, it’s quite natural for parrots to yell loudly, especially in the mornings and evenings. If you don’t like a lot of noise, or your neighbors are looking for an excuse to have you evicted, your best bet is a small bird that is relatively quieter like a parakeet or cockatiel. Have you done research into the noise levels of different species and what works for your household?
5. Birds Can Live a Long Time
Smaller birds tend to live as long as an average dog, while larger parrots can have the lifespan of a human. That means there’s a chance that the baby bird you get today could very well outlive you. Like a child, they need a lot of attention. Unlike a human child, your feathered kid won’t grow up and move out of the house – for better or worse, you’re making a lifetime commitment. If you’re still expecting your life to change due to moving, relationship changes, extensive travel, etc., think hard about whether you can make that level of commitment, not just in terms of length of years they live but the quality of time you need to spend with them. A long-lived animal companion could enrich your life like you can’t even imagine, but are you ready for what that might entail for five, ten, twenty years or more?
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Bonus Point: 6: Since writing this article in 2008, I’ve been spending a lot more time volunteering for Phoenix Landing and learning how all the above points together combine to lead to an important fact: There are many more parrots in rescues, sanctuaries and foster homes than there should be. If you’re looking into bringing a parrot into your home and family, please consider adopting rather than buying from a pet store or breeder. An adult bird who has been under the knowledgeable care of a Phoenix Landing foster home is going to be a great first (or second or third) bird for your family, and will come with a fantastic support group for those times when you just need to chat with other “parrot people”.
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Parrots, unlike dogs and housecats, are not domesticated animals and aren’t going to fit neatly into your model for an “ideal pet.” They require a lot of attention, mental stimulation and out-of-cage time. Parrots are also extremely smart, and a happy parrot will delight you with its companionship and personality for many happy years to come. Before getting a bird, do plenty of research about what type of bird suits your lifestyle and what it will take to keep your parrot healthy and happy. If you’re looking for a “low maintenance” pet, please reconsider.