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Finding the Right Pet: Parrot Edition

Posted by Briana Graber on

Blue Geeen and Orange Parrot

Here's a very not-so-well-kept secret: I'm a bird person.  I adore dogs and like cats and bunnies just fine, but in truth I'm a bird person.  From their gorgeous coloration to their intelligence to their very natures, I love birds.  Particularly smaller breeds like budgies and lovebirds, but any time there's any kind of parrot breed around it's just be-still-my-heart.  Thing is, though, that I had to learn through childhood tragedy how much work they are.  It takes for more effort, patience, and dedication to raise a parrot than almost any other kind of pet.  Anything you don't think is a big deal probably is, and birds are some of the most social creatures on the planet, demanding almost twice as much in daily attention than any other pet.  They can be excellent pets and companions, but consider everything before buying or adopting one.  It could be the difference between a life-long pet and a few-months pet.

One of the first things you need to realize is that different parrots are entirely different species, not just different breeds.  It's the different between a housecat and a cheetah, not a corgi and a coonhound.  Not every parrot species requires seed-based diets, and some should only have fruit once a week while others should have it every day.  There are broad-sweep notions that are more-or-less true across the board, but this is one pet where not doing your research could mean a very unhealthy bird.

First, birds are intelligent.  We are familiar with the concept of parrots that can learn to speak (though this is not true of all species, and many individual birds simply prefer not to), but bird brains are complex.  They can learn to use tools and solve puzzles, and should be given the opportunity to do so.  General parrot-keeping convention says that you'll have better luck if you consider your parrot as a very intelligent, very curious toddler.  Who need to be kept mentally stimulated for the same reasons a toddler does.  They will find things to do, it probably will be destructive.  Give them a range of toys to play with and teach them how to solve puzzles to keep those bird brains working.  On a similar note, birds do not come pre-trained.  They are intelligent, but need to be taught favorable behaviors from bad.  And because they have stronger mental capacity than most other pet animals, you shouldn't give parrots reward within a full twenty minutes of a bad behavior, even if they do something good after, because it might reinforce both.  Expect to spend a lot of time training them.  The upside?  Once they learn that good behaviors get rewarded, they'll start thinking of creative ways to entertain you for a treat all on their own.

Second, birds are built for flight.  Everything about their bodies is made to fly.  This may seem like a no-brainer, but a common practice is to clip a parrot's wings.  Please don't.  Your pet bird won't truly be happy unless they can spread their wings.  When you purchase a cage, make sure at the bare minimum that it can accommodate their wingspan.  If you can dedicate a whole room to your bird, that's even better, but if you can't, you should bird-proof a room in the house a few times a week and let your bird fly free for an hour or two.  Flight is normal, natural, and healthy for them.  They'll thank you for the ability to stretch their wings.

Third, birds are social.  Not only do they need mental stimulation, they need social stimulation.  A lonely bird will pluck its feathers, sulk, and develop health or behavioral issues.  Lonely birds also tend to be the screamers, because, just like a toddler, that's when they finally get the attention they crave.  Consider buying or adopting multiple birds at once for companionship (but research first! Two male parakeets is more advisable than two females, for instance).  Even so, expect to spend a couple hours with them each day in dedicated attention.

Last, birds are sensitive to just about everything.  I still grieve for Mango, Tsunami, Weeds, and Mr. Goodibar (my parakeets) because I didn't realize the nearby window had a draft.  Drafty windows, paint fumes, drywall dust.  Anything that involves their little nostrils needs to be kept under tight control.  Bird physiology is quite different from mammal physiology, too, so you'll need to find a certified avian vet for your feathered ones.  It is a specialty, so visits won't be the cheapest, and just like humans and any other pet, they need annual checkups (I would say they need this even more than other pets, considering their temperamental health needs).

Bottom line, birds are amazing to share companionship with, but it's much like taking on a toddler.  Lots of work with lots of reward, but still lots of work.  If you open your home to them (and I hope you do), just make sure to do your research first.

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