Is a parrot the right pet for you?
Maybe you saw a cute bird at a pet shop, or in a video, and you were wowed by its gorgeous colours and playful demeanor. Or maybe you have met a bird of someone elses' and decided you wanted one of that species, too. However, each bird is an individual, and they often differ in quality from breeder to breeder, so know that you may not get a bird that behaves the same way as another without significant effort and training on your part, if at all.
Parrots are often considered 'starter' pets, especially for kids. There are many misconceptions when it comes to correctly managing a parrots' physical and mental health, and it can sometimes lead to impulse purchases without understanding the whole scope of their care. Are you thinking of adding a new feathered member to your family? Take some time to consider the following points to help you make an educated decision:
Are you able to cope with being bitten? One thing that is common among all parrots is that they all bite. It is unreasonable to assume that you will never get bitten by your parrot, and new owners need to understand that they will at some point get bitten by their bird no matter how tame they are. Oftentimes owners misread the body language and miss subtle clues that indicate that the parrot is feeling threatened, is upset, in pain, or just not liking the situation. We may be intimidated by the size of their beak, and this is relayed to the bird causing fear induced behaviours like biting.
Do you have enough time to dedicate to your bird every day? Parrots are typically a socially dependant and needy pet, and require several hours per day of interaction outside the cage. This may be simply sitting on your shoulder as you do the meal preparation, fold laundry, working on the computer or vacuuming the floors. To a bird, you are an integral part of their 'flock', and extended separation from you can cause them significant stress and anxiety.
Are you a neat freak? Can you deal with a high level of mess? Parrots make quite the mess: they flick their food all over the walls, spill it on the floor, and shred their toys into tiny pieces. They dump food in their water (conures are especially renowned for being "pellet dunkers" and even throw their dishes off the wall of their cage. And then there's the poop; they poop on their perches, your couch, your floor or any conceivable surface.
Are you prepared to clean out their cage tray every week? You will also need to scrub down the cage once a month and replace soiled and shredded perches as required.
Do you hate noise? It is true that smaller birds make less noise, but that does not mean that they won't make any noise. Parrots are not a pet that is suitable for most people, they do screech and communicate in an audible way. The more parrots you have, the more noise they seem to generate. Your parrot may call for you if you leave the room without them, when they have been left alone for extended times, in the morning and evening (flock calling) and even when they drop a toy that they wanted. Poorly socialised birds will often screech excessively when things don't go their way, out of fear, or when they are trying to get your attention. It is their way of speaking to us and their fellow flock mates, and communicating their needs.
It is important to know what you need to provide for your bird for their optimal health, and to be continually improving on that knowledge.
FRESH WATER DAILY
Are you prepared to change their water bowl every single day? The general rule is, if you wouldn't put it in a cup and give it to your child, it's not good enough for your parrot. This might mean changing it several times a day if they tend to soil their water dish with food or other debris.
Are you able to provide them fresh food multiple times a week? In the wild, our parrots' ancestors soar the sky and explore vast areas of land each day to find the food they require for the day. This natural behaviour shows us many aspects to how birds feed: they have to find it (flying around), work for it (ripping open seed pods, stripping trees and plants), and they don't eat the same thing every single meal for every day. When we consider what is most commonly supplied to captive parrots, it simply doesn't provide the same variety and stimulation they need. To meet their nutritional needs, it is necessary for us to serve our parrots fresh vegetables, at least every 2-3 days, if not every day. Are you able to fit this into your schedule to cut up food, or add to your budget each week?
Are you prepared to purchase new toys regularly for your bird, or to make them yourself? Shreddable and interactable toys are very important for your birds mental health, especially if they remain caged for long periods during the day. It can be frustrating if your bird is destroying their toys and chewing them to toothpicks, leaving you feeling like you have wasted your money, it couldn't be more the opposite. The more time your parrot spends chewing specifically designated items is less time they could potentially be chewing themselves. A bird that is unfulfilled in its natural desire to chew, shred and destroy, will ultimately try to exhibit that behaviour in its only available avenue: their own body. Feather plucking, or self mutilation, can be a serious behavioural issue and can intrench in habits that are not so easy to correct.
If you decide to have a non-flighted bird, are you able to trim their wings yourself correctly, or do you have a service available to do this for you? Their nails will also require routine trimming, usually once a month that needs to be accounted for also.
Where will your bird's cage be kept at your home? Is there space to place it where the birds can be a part of the home, not just a dark corner in the back of the house? Where will you store their food, accessories, spare toys? Will they have two cages, one inside and one outside, and if so what parameters do can you implement to ensure they cannot escape? A bird cage (or two) is not a glamorous Pinterest-ready addition to a home, accompanied by the mess, so if this is something that is particularly important to you, a parrot may not be the right pet for you.
The Right Kind
Have you researched different species of parrots to narrow down which will suit your social and financial needs? Not all parrots are alike, and they vary widely from species to species. Some are clingy, some are loud, some will bond exclusively to one person. Some are more hormonal than others, some have different dietary needs. Take the time to work out which species' fits best for you. Some people think a bird that is super clingy, crawls on the keyboard while you type, raids your cereal bowl and hangs off your hair is the perfect bird, but to others they prefer a calmer natured parrot.
The true purchase price of a parrot is much more expensive than simply the price of the bird itself. Take a second to count the cost of the 'world' that you will create by having them: bird purchase price, plus cage, plus food, plus toys, plus accessories, plus bird stand, plus annual veterinary checkups or appointments should anything go wrong or even pet insurance. The funds required can often stack up into the thousands. Nothing lasts forever; food gets eaten, toys get destroyed, and cages start to flake, rust and deteriorate. These things will need to be replaced in varying intervals. Should your bird become ill and require treatment, where is your nearest veterinarian that specialises in birds? What first aid products need to be on hand for emergencies?
If you have children in the home, this can add insurmountable challenges to owning a parrot. Often children have difficulty reading bird body language which leads them to be bitten or stalked/chased more often. Kids don't handle well to bites, they react in a way which can then panic the bird, especially when they were most likely bitten out of fear, this will compound the problem and can make them fearful of humans in general. Children move much more quickly and spontaneously than adults, which makes it difficult for the parrot to read and gauge the child. They are also more likely to taunt and tease a parrot, in some kind of intended "play", which sends mixed threat signals to your parrot. It is your responsibility to educate and teach with your children about caring for birds and interacting with them in an appropriate way.
Sometimes people are allergic to dander; the white powdery substance that covers the new feathers. As birds preen themselves it flakes off becoming airborne, triggering allergic or similar reactions to that from cat and dog allergies. Birds that are particularly 'dusty' are cockatiels, cockatoos and African Grey parrots. Allowing your bird to bathe daily will help to curb the amount of dander, but there are some bird species that are considered 'hypoallergenic'. These include: budgerigars, Eclectus parrots and Pionus parrots.
Long Term Commitment
And saving the best for last, this would have to be the most important question to consider of all: Are you prepared for a long term commitment? Most parrots live upwards of 20 to 30 years, and some even as long as 50 to 70 years. While parrots are the third most common pet owned in the world, they are the most common REHOMED pet. When you choose to add a parrot to your family, you are making the conscious decision to provide for all the needs of that bird for the rest of its natural life, not just until you get sick of them or fail to have time for them anymore.
It pains me to see the countless ads on Facebook or Gumtree stating: "Don't have time for these anymore" or "Unwanted Christmas/birthday gift" or "Need gone now". Where is the commitment to these birds that they deserve, what was promised to them when they were purchased? Just like puppies and kittens, parrots tend to go through a "terrible twos" cocktail of hormones and boundary-pushing behaviour which needs to be managed and trained. So many birds are surrendered to rescues and sanctuaries for no fault of their own, or for behaviour that may have been avoided on the part of a careless owner.
Consider where you are at in your life stages at this moment and in the coming years. Are you about to go off to university? Move house? Get married? Are you of mature age and will a parrot outlive you? Where are your priorities and how will a parrot fit in to your life should things change? What will happen if you were to fall ill, or even pass away; is there someone that is prepared to care for or even take on your bird? Animals are not a possession to be discarded when it becomes inconvenient.
So why own a parrot at all?
With all the negatives above, one might wonder what point there is to even owning a bird at all.
INTELLIGENCE: From the largest macaw down to the smallest budgerigar, we are continually learning how intricately intelligent these creatures can be. They are easy to teach tricks, they can talk/mimic and even learn to navigate simple problem solving activities, all with a brain as minute as a pea.
COMPANIONSHIP: A parrot naturally lives its life as part of a flock, and when we share our home with them, we become an integral member of that flock with them. They bond to us, creating a beautiful connection of understanding, trust and respect.
LESS MAINTENANCE: Compared to dogs and cats, birds take up significantly less space. They don't require a large backyard, a weekly bath appointment or daily walk around the block. Instead, a monthly toenail trim and twice weekly spritz with a misting bottle is sufficient, if they don't already bathe in their water dish. On the most part, parrots take care of all their grooming needs.
LIFESPAN: Most of us have, or will in the future, experienced the deep pain of losing a beloved pet. So why not choose a companion that will live in excess of 20, 30 or even 60 years with you? With adequate care and nutrition, there is no reason why your feathered friend can remain by your side for a large portion of your life.