A questions that we often hear at BirdTricks is: “what is a good first bird to get?”. It’s a difficult question and one that I answer reluctantly. I will try to offer my opinion…
First, I want to say that I don’t really believe in “starter” birds. It is often said that a smaller bird is more suitable for the first time owner. I don’t entirely agree.
All birds are created equally. There is no one species of parrot that requires less care or commitment than the others. Every single species needs the same considerations to health and diet, enrichment and attention. In this regard, there is no difference between a budgie or a hyacinth macaw. Basic care requirements are not minimized because a parrot is smaller.
You might ask yourself why a larger bird is more appealing to you. Believe me when I tell you that a smaller bird is every bit the parrot that a larger bird is.They are as intelligent, interactive and demanding – they just come in a smaller, less intrusive package. A larger parrot is not a better parrot.
There are, however, significant logistical differences in the ownership of larger vs smaller birds to consider. Size is very relevant in the following areas:
Vocalization: It only makes sense that the larger the bird, the louder the voice. If your hearing is sensitive, or if you have nearby neighbors that own shotguns, you might reconsider getting a larger parrot (check THIS out).
Biting: As a new owner, you will find yourself at a disadvantage when it comes to adeptly reading your bird’s body language. If you harbor a fear of being bitten, and chances are you will be at some point, a smaller bird might be right for you. Birds can sense apprehension and some will use it to intimidate and manipulate you.
Housing: Do you have the space in your living room for a cage that is 3 or 4 times the size of your refrigerator? Don’t forget about the play stand.
Damage: The bigger the bird, the bigger the beak, the bigger the holes in your shirts/furniture/carpeting/doorways…
Certainly, there are species that are correctly defined as high maintenance, either behaviorally or in their special needs. For instance:
- The Lory owner needs to be well educated about their unique diet and will need to find creative solutions to the “messes” they make because of their nectar-based diet. They don’t so much poop as squirt and the wall behind the cage will not fare well. Nor will closely placed furniture, or the floor, for that matter.
- The African grey can be overly sensitive to its environment, can be phobic, and will mimic every sound emitted in your household. This can be endearing, annoying and/or embarrassing. Dad will have to stop swearing like a sailor and couples will not want to keep their African grey’s cage in their bedroom. (A discovery some friends made when their bird replayed the audio portion of the night before in the presence of their dinner guests.)
- Then there’s the cockatoo who might be best served by an owner that has some serious experience in parenting, as they require someone who is adept at dispensing tough love to keep them from developing bad habits. Cockatoos always seem to be wanting things that are not good for them.They are constantly seeking attention. Sometimes you must deny them and it is difficult not to give in at times. It’s easy to make mistakes with them and many should have the number of a local rescue tattooed under their wing.(Some will simply come with the number 666.) Cockatoos are my favorite species, but this is a bird that I really think belongs in the hands of an experienced bird person.
In the end, the answer to the question of which bird to get is more related to the person considering parrot ownership than it is to any parrot species. It boils down to what kind of potential bird owner you are, what your circumstances allow for and how tolerant you are to the behaviors that certain species are famous for. There is no patented “right” first bird.
I have watched people who wanted a macaw as a first bird do the “responsible” thing and start with small birds, eventually graduate to a medium sized birds, and finally get their macaw. The result is a house full of birds, all needing attention, when all they wanted originally was a single macaw to dote on. I think that people should get the bird they want, but ONLY when certain, beyond a doubt, that they are up to the challenge. Many new owners do very well with a large first bird. I have also seen people fail miserably with cockatiels, who are known for their friendly and compliant natures.
Know what you are getting into. Exhaustively research any species you are considering. Understand that ANY bird will be a huge, long-term commitment. Most importantly, be brutally honest about your limitations as a potential bird owner and don’t go for a bird that you aren’t able to give 100% to.
Author Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.