I was at the local hardware store replenishing my stock of padlocks (Fid my macaw killed my last spare) when I heard the word “macaw”. Naturally I found myself eavesdropping on the conversation that the three men nearby were having.
They were discussing a nearby robbery. One of them had a friend who owned a Blue and Gold Macaw. Apparently this friend lived just down the road and had been robbed a few nights before. Masked men had come over the fence during the night, cut a hole in an aviary and stolen the bird. The whole thing had been captured on a surveillance camera but due to the masks, the men were unidentifiable. The owner of the bird was distraught and desperately trying to get the media to help him because the bird had the same value as a child to him.
The men at the hardware store moved on to discuss how much these birds are worth and how they’d seen one at a local pet store for thousands and thousands of dollars. The store apparently even had a green talking thing for thousands at one stage too. (I think they were referring to a male eclectus.) These birds are worth so much that stealing them makes sense. It would be great to own one but who wants to pay that???
I was cringing for a lot of reasons when I heard that. Firstly, it was just one more bit of evidence that told me someone is stealing birds in my area and that is something I need to be aware of for the safety of my own birds. Secondly, it reinforced what people generally think when it comes to the price of birds.
I have met a lot of bird people that say they want a particular type of bird but it’s too expensive. They’re usually talking about the purchase price. To most people that is the main expense of a bird. This makes me even more worried for the birds that get stolen because that purchase price is there for a reason. It isn’t high just because that bird might be rare, prettier or harder to breed/raise.
I can confidently say that every single bird in my flock has cost me more than their average retail purchase price in care/setup expenses within the first week. I say that knowing full well that there are birds in my flock that are worth thousands. I’ve actually found the average purchase price to be a really good indicator of how expensive a bird is to keep. Here the expensive ones seem to have larger housing requirements and they’re often more destructive. In my house, the more expensive the bird, the more the maintenance costs seem to be.
The main initial expense of a bird aside from purchase price is an appropriately sized cage or enclosure. Then there is the initial vet bill; which ideally should be more than a regular checkup. The initial vet visit includes disease screening tests and general tests that will set up a profile for your vet to compare to if your bird ever becomes ill. This doesn’t come cheap. Other expensive items will include toys, a travel carrier, species-specific dietary requirements, a playstand or whatever you’re going to fit the cage out with. Ongoing costs will include training materials, high quality diet, vet care, property replacement (birds are destructive), toys, cleaning appliances (I wear out vacuums quite quickly around here) and other incidentals. It all adds up. A single bird adds thousands to your annual household budget. In a bird’s lifetime it is realistically going to cost you on average somewhere between $20,000-$50,000 to look after that bird properly. That’s scary to think about.
If you think I am exaggerating? Look at these rough approximations:
Vegetable/pellet diet: $30 per week. $1560 per year.
New toy/accessory: $15 per week. $780 per year.
Vet bill: $5.75 per week. $300 per year.
Cage (based on replacing a $450 cage every 3 years): $2.90 per week. $150 per year
TOTAL: $53.65 per week. $2790 per year.
Bird lives 15 years? You’re looking at $41,850 and that’s before you consider what property a bird might damage, cleaning equipment, training costs, bandaids, etc. It can easily be a lot more, especially considering that 15 years is shorter than the average lifespan for most parrots. Even if your costs are half my estimates, you’re still above the $20,000 in a lifetime mark.
So you can see why, when people think the purchase price of a bird is expensive and the main hurdle to owning a bird – that is something I find particularly scary. It worries me that people save up to get past that hurdle (or steal) and then they aren’t financially equipped to look after the bird afterwards. I hear stories of people who need financial help to meet a bird’s basic needs daily. It is heartbreaking. There is something that we as bird owners can do about that though. Be honest about the expense of keeping birds when you talk to others about them.
People often remark on the cost of my birds to me (especially if they see my macaw as they’re known for their purchase price here), I always intentionally explain that the purchase price is nothing – it’s the cost of keeping the bird alive that gets me. I explain that Fid had to see a specialist vet once a week for 6 months when I first got him just to get him through a common serious illness. Even when he’s healthy, he’s like a toddler. He gets in to trouble and is accident-prone. Toddlers swallow marbles and can end up in hospital; likewise Fid had a good go at swallowing the screws that hold his food bowls in. He is quite capable of breaking any budget with absolutely no warning.
I also comment on the time birds require. I could not begin to imagine the issues I’d have with Fid if he were alone while I was at work all day. I can’t lock him up (he breaks padlocks); I can only slow him down (so multiple padlocks). He fits into my lifestyle where I’m around most of the time, but not everyone has that lifestyle. My other birds are significantly more independent, so some species are less time consuming. That said time is still a daily requirement for all of them.
When someone looks at your birds and gushingly says: “Oh I’ve always wanted one of those!” Feel free to say how awesome your bird is, but take the chance to spread that little bit of education of the real cost of a bird. It might prevent someone from landing in an unexpected situation. Besides, if you’re at a hardware store – you never know who is eavesdropping!
Mel Vincent works as an animal rehabilitator out of Australia.