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Should I Get A Pet Parrot?

Updated: Apr 28, 2019

Copyright © 2005 by Margaret Madison All Rights Reserved

Think carefully before you buy a bird. You cannot compare it to owning a dog. Birds are a lot more work and they require a lot more attention. Cockatiels can live to be in their 30s, although their average lifespan is around age 15, and larger parrots can live into their 80s. Are you prepared for such a long term commitment? No other pet will change your life like owning a bird.

The Ways Pet Birds Have Changed My Life

I no longer use scented candles or aerosolized cleaners. No longer do I wear jewelry, most of my shirts have tiny holes in the shoulders and polo shirts and flannels are missing buttons. All my handy no-stick Teflon and Silverstone pots and pans are gone. I do weekly shopping for fresh foods and veggies for the bird’s breakfasts. You have to be careful what you use to clean your home and if you plan on doing any home renovations, you can’t just use any type of paint to paint the walls. Beware of new carpet as the fumes from the glues or even Scotch Guard on new furniture or carpet can be deadly to your birds. Water bowls have to be disinfected daily, and usually changed a minimum of two times a day, or your bird runs the risk of bacterial infections.

Cockatiels are very dusty birds so you must be vigilant about dusting – and not just in the room where the cockatiel resides, but in all the rooms on that floor because the dust will go everywhere. With that in mind, never keep a cockatiel in a bedroom, they need to be out where the activity is. They need to be out of their cages at least 3 hours a day for mental stimulation and interaction with the people. You will be his flock and they are very social birds. They need that interaction with you, especially if they are a lone pet. If you ignore your cockatiel, they will call to you for your attention. Some people call this screaming. It can be loud and persistent at times.

Gizmo, a loud, but sweet 15 yr old black capped conure.

Proper Diet For Your Pet Bird

A good diet for a cockatiel consists of fresh greens, veggies, and whole grains, a high-quality pellet food, and a high-quality seed mix. The mix should be roughly 50% pellets, 30% fresh foods, and 20% seeds. My birds have at least two different kinds of pellets in their cages at all times, fresh water, a variety of fresh foods in the mornings and a small amount of seed or millet spray as a treat for about an hour before bedtime. The pellets are expensive and many of them end up on the floor around the cage and on the cage floor itself. These pellets can also go stale, so only put in the food cup what your bird will eat within 24 hours.

Proper Care For Your Pet Bird

Their wings can be trimmed once a month or so, as needed. This not only helps with their attitude but also ensures that they stay where you put them, such as on their play gym. That helps you control where they leave their droppings too. If you don’t get their droppings soon, they turn into a cement-like substance that really needs soaking and scrubbing to remove. The droppings will also eventually mold and then turn into dust, which will also end up everywhere, including being breathed in by humans and birds alike, and this can cause illness. Cleanliness is very important to everyone in a home with birds. I sweep twice a day, each time followed by my HEPA-rated vacuum cleaner. I run a HEPA air filter constantly in each of the bird rooms which happen to be my dining room and living room. You also may need to trim their toenails. If you don’t, they can become tangled in their toys and the bird may actually lose toes or their entire foot if circulation is cut off long enough.

A parrot room with an Austin HEPA air filter, cross ventilation and exhaust fan (out of view) and live parrot-safe plants.

They need 10-12 hours of uninterrupted sleep each night. Proper diet, in conjunction with the proper amount of sleep, contributes to good behaviors in our avian companions. Birds will also nap in the afternoons while most owners are away at work. Many people turn a radio on to play softly during the day and keep in mind that since your bird will nap in the afternoons, you don’t want loud rock-n-roll playing the entire time you are gone at work. Some people leave a children’s TV program on (funny and interesting noises, happy human faces, and repetitive songs). Timers can be very handy to use and if you observe your birds on the weekends, you’ll be able to determine a good time for the TV or radio to turn off for a couple of hours. Be careful with Animal Network programs as some scenes may be disturbing such as predatory animals flashing on the screen and close-ups of their faces. Cockatiels are very flighty birds and can break a “blood feather”, which is a new feather that is growing in, if they become startled and begin to thrash. Bird’s blood doesn’t coagulate as easily as ours, so they can actually bleed to death if a broken blood feather goes unnoticed. They don’t have much blood to lose in their tiny bodies.

Also, take time to find a nearby avian vet now. You don't want to wait until your bird is in the throes of an emergency to wonder where an avian vet is in your area. Take your bird to see this vet as soon as you get him. Not only might this help prove your case if you get a warranty with the bird, but it also gives you a chance to see if you even like this vet. Not all avian vets are created equal and a dog/cat vet is not an avian vet. Look up a vet near you here

Cockatiels can develop respiratory illness from their own feather dust and they can become sick from living in a cage dirty with their own feces. You must change cage papers daily. The entire cage, all perches and any toys that are soiled must also be cleaned and disinfected on a weekly basis. Again, be careful with what you use and make sure you rinse everything well and allow it to dry before piecing things back together. Birds like cockatiels need a bath/shower at least a couple of times a week, while other species such as those from South America need daily showers and baths. Not only does that help keep their feathers and skin in good condition, but that also helps control the feather dust. Let me stress that even with frequent showers, cockatiel dust gets all over. Other dusty birds include the African grey and the cockatoos.

Life With Your Pet Bird

One might ask why so many people own birds if they are all this trouble. Bird people will tell you that the joy they bring outweighs the work they also bring. If you truly enjoy the creature, then all the work seems small in comparison. So many people fall in love with the "sweet, baby birds" that all species are when they are young. Cockatiels generally stay that way for the most part, but the other larger species are much more difficult especially during their hormonal seasons. Some hormonal adult birds cannot be safely handled much of the time. Those birds still need your love and daily attention. You may not always be able to scritch them when you want to, but you can spend lots of time calling to each other using special whistles. Provide them with a wonderful diet and plenty of sleep.

I think many people want the young birds and once they reach age 3 to 8 (especially with the larger parrots), the people realize that these birds aren't the sweet lovable babies they once had. Anyone that owns parrots WILL BE BIT by a parrot eventually. Birds get hormonal or frightened and it will happen. Most macaws, cockatoos and the other larger parrots that are looking for new homes will be around that age when they have come into the hormonal stages. Of course, breeders and pet shops want to sell you those birds. That is how they stay in business and make money. If they told you the truth, you might think twice and reconsider owning a bird, especially one of the larger birds. Many birds are put up for adoption or have been rescued from very sad situations.....proof that many people get birds without weighing all the pros and cons and doing the necessary research first. Of course, many pets are given up for adoption due to no fault of their own. People’s lives change, people become too sick to care for their beloved pets or they die. Even the ornery parrots need someone to love them and care for them and it takes a special person. You need to make yourself aware of the signs of a hormonal bird who will bite if approached. You will notice their feathers are all fluffed up, the tail feather is fanned out, or the eyes are flashing and pinning. You will actually see the pupils dilate and this is the sign of a very excited parrot, one likely to nip you if you stick a body part close enough. Some birds will pretend to be sweet and pretend to solicit some loving only to chomp on you with lightning speed when you get close enough. So it depends on the bird’s personality as well.

Some birds can learn to talk and communicate with their owners, often saying just the right thing at the right time or will show their sense of humor by laughing at an appropriate moment. They will learn your body language and your moods better than a dog will. They are very intelligent, they are beautiful and they don't always cooperate with you. You can teach them tricks, but they'll only "perform" when they want to and will make you look silly in front of family and friends at times. They will bite you more than a dog will and most bird people have the talon scratches and beak puncture wounds or bruises on their hands and arms to prove it. Birds are amusing and are fun to watch. They are interactive pets with their whistles and chirps. Some are more demanding for love and attention than others.

Birds are good for people that have a consistent amount of "spare time" in their days. Birds need an owner with patience and a high tolerance for noise and mess. Some birds, such as cockatoos, are good for people whose days are completely empty as a cockatoo needs to be with their owner ALL the time. Some cockatoos are worse than others though and I'm sure some people have a cockatoo or two that can keep themselves or each other entertained while the people carry on with a LITTLE bit of life outside of the home. Cockatiels, however, can stay relatively tame without consistent daily handling, but they do still need your emotional support and daily attention, especially if kept as a solitary pet. By nature, they are not solitary birds and if the people are gone most of the day, you might consider getting a pair - but that means twice the mess and everything else, so make sure you weigh that decision carefully. You’d be much better off getting two of the same sex also, especially if these are your first pet birds, or else you are opening yourself up for a lot more work and worry. It isn’t recommended to house different species together, especially if there is a considerable size difference and any play time together between different species needs to be heavily supervised.

I am currently owned by 16 pet cockatiels. I do not breed and I do not show. The cockatiels keep each other occupied and entertained for the most part, but a few are quite demanding as far as cockatiels go. They each have their own personality and can be quite different from one another. Just because they are not the most demanding birds for my attention, they are however the birds who keep me the busiest when it comes to cleaning. No doubt about it. The live in my dining room and my South American pet birds live in my living room.

I also have two white-capped pionus, one female Barraband (otherwise known as a Superb Parrot, another Australian species that stays in the dining room with the cockatiels and who has actually bonded with another female cockatiel), a sun conure, a green cheek conure, and a maroon belly conure hybrid. The conures will actually carry on conversations with me, argue with me, kiss me and cuddle into my shirt with me. They'll roll over onto their backs in my hand and demand lots of attention and love. They ask me to chew on their footsie and can talk up a storm. They’ll back talk you and tell you “That’s right” or say “No” and then “No Way” when they want you to stop whatever it is that you’re doing. They will laugh at you or with you – all at appropriate times. Of all my birds, the conures keep their cages the cleanest as they prefer to hold their poops until they are removed from their cages (and oh, what BIG poops they give me then too!).

I would like to encourage you to continue researching the particular species of bird that you are interested in and to correspond with those who own that species for a good idea of what it is like to be owned by such a bird. Owning a bird can truly change your life, and it should if you are doing it right. Good luck finding the right avian companion for you.

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