Owning a parrot is a long term commitment. Most parrot species might be with you for 20-40 years, sometimes more. Whether you are getting your very first bird or are looking into another species to add to your flock, you need to be educated beforehand so that you will know what to expect.
The commitment you will be making to your new parrot entails much more than providing space for a cage for the duration of its lifespan – a parrot requires advanced skills in pet care that will take up a lot of your personal time. If it is your belief that parrots are a living form of home décor, you will be most displeased to find that parrot ownership can be just slightly less invasive to your lifestyle than parenthood.
They require a good deal of out of cage time that involves one on one interaction with the family. They require daily fresh foods that will keep you in the kitchen frequently. You will find yourself engaged in a level of cleaning you had not found necessary before – not only to the cage, but to any area your bird occupies.
Some owners of parrots with specialized nectar based diets, such as the lory, find themselves placing plastic drop cloths on the floor and on the walls surrounding the cages of their bird because their droppings don’t so much “drop” as they do “fly”. Some species of birds will require additional air filtration in your home and lots of dusting.
All of your parrot’s “belongings” will be expensive. An average toy for a large parrot can cost upwards of $50 and might last less than a week. An annual vet visit can run you between $200-$300 and that’s when your bird isn’t sick.
The bird’s cage needs to be selected with long term use and safety in mind. Your parrot, regardless of species, needs the very largest cage that you can afford that is appropriate for its size. Cages for large parrots might be twice the size of your refrigerator and about as expensive.
Then there’s the gram scale, play stands, cage accessories and costs for repairing the inevitable damage to your house, furniture and computer keyboard (yes, you heard that right).
The most important things for a parrot owner to have is the ability to problem solve creatively and a good sense of humor. Parrot ownership is NOT for the meek. Or for anyone obsessed with cleanliness. Or anyone with irreplaceable artifacts in their homes. Or anyone afraid of the beak or squeamish about bird poop.
If you are still on board with getting a parrot, read on for tips on how to find the right bird species for you…
The biggest consideration in selecting a parrot is not the bird, but you. Whatever bird you choose must be able to adapt to your lifestyle if it is going to thrive in your care. Not all parrots species are designed to be tolerant of constant excitement, if that is the atmosphere where you live, or can adapt to frequent moving, if that’s what your job requires.
You need to assess how much time and effort you have to offer a bird. While all parrots, big and small, require the same level of care, some are less needy than others.
It’s up to you to look in the mirror and be brutally honest with yourself about the level of care and stability you can provide, how much time you really have to spend with your bird and if you have the resources to financially provide for its many needs.
A lot of people recommend small birds for the first time owner. A cockatiel is a good choice for many. They are friendly and laid back, but pack a wallop in personality and charm. However, I have seen many people, through a lack of proper socialization and care, have cockatiels that turn into biting, screaming hellions. You can blow it with a bird of any size. I have also seen many people do well with a macaw as their first bird. It is entirely up to the indivdual – you will get out of your bird what you put into it.
Under NO circumstances do I recommend a cockatoo as a first bird. They sometimes fail to thrive in homes where the owners have years of bird experience. Cockatoos require a personality match with their owners as much as anything else.
Your very best course of action when selecting a bird, is to go online and read about the different species out there. When you find one or two that catch your eye, go to our Facebook page, or to the parrot forums (some are species specific) and tell the members that you are researching getting a sun conure, for instance, and ask questions. Most parrot enthusiasts will gladly take the time to tell you pros and cons and might even have a better recommendation for you.
If there is a bird club in your area, drop by a meeting and talk to the owners of parrots there. There will be a wide variety of birds to discuss. The people heading the meeting almost always are very experienced and can answer your questions and address your concerns. Listen carefully to what they have to say and understand that their opinions are meant with your new bird’s welfare in mind.
Don’t expect that all pet stores will be upfront with their information. Some have very knowledgeable personnel who wouldn’t dream of letting you leave with a parrot that they know will not do well in your care, but others will tell you that the african grey will be just fine living in a frat house environment or that a cockatoo is fine for the apartment dweller because they don’t want to lose a sale.
You might just wind up with an african grey that does fine in a hectic household, or manage to find the only quiet cockatoo on the planet, but the odds are that your bird will behave in a way typical for its species and not do well in these circumstances, resulting in a one way ticket to the local rescue.
Listen most closely to those who have experience with the species you have in mind. They have no gain in steering you wrong.
Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.