What are the pros and cons of having a pet bird? was asked on Quora. This answer motivated me to set the record straight.
If you do it right, you’re going to have a loving companion animal for the next 60 years.
If you do it wrong, you’re going to have a very unhappy bird for the next 60 years.
They can live sixty years or more.
They’re loud (a cockatoo’s scream has been measured at over 100db, compared to 130db for a jet engine at 100 feet).
They throw food.
They throw tantrums.
They can inflict a very serious bite; I have the scars to prove it.
These are not domesticated animals. They are only one generation from their cousins in the wild. They’re wild animals that have adapted to captivity and unpredictability is to be expected.
They aren’t potty trained and shit anytime the need arises.
They are extremely intelligent and require constant interaction, 6-8 hours a day… minimum.
Their cages need to be cleaned a minimum of once a day, preferably more, or you’re going to have a very stinky bird.
Their food and water dishes must be monitored several times a day and freshened up accordingly.
They need annual check-ups by a qualified avian vet, not your garden variety dog and cat vet. These check ups often cost hundreds of dollars.
They require roomy cages costing hundreds of dollars.
They must constantly be supplied with a variety of expensive toys, around $20 each.
They require specialized diets.
If I think of any others, I’ll make the necessary edits.
We need to look at this question rationally. Applying a list of bullet points to the term “pet bird” is naïve at best.
Call me crazy (and many do) when I think of pet birds I think of all the types of birds that are kept in cages by humans. That’s a lot of bird species, actually more than 500 species of birds and parrots.
Some parrots do live 60 years or more. Smaller species like canaries and budgies live 10 to 20 years.
When someone says a cockatoos scream has been measured at over 100 dB, to be clear that’s an Umbrella or Moluccan cockatoo and it’s actually 139 dB.
The naïve part comes in that there are about 30 species of cockatoos. There’s white cockatoos, salmon colored cockatoos (Galahs – Major Mitchells) and black cockatoos.
Major Mitchell cockatoos don’t make great pets I’m told but they’re also not very noisy. Goffin cockatoos are actually very sweet.
If you’re a purist you know that cockatiel’s were re-classified as the smallest cockatoo (see classification below). I’ve yet to hear a 100 dB cockatiel-too and I’ve heard a lot of cockatiel’s.
Scientific classification Cockatiel
Species: N. hollandicus
Scientific classification – Cockatoo
G. R. Gray 1840
We have a Senegal parrot – she’s 111 g. On a good day her screeches might wake a child up – or not. She throws no food, she just drops on the floor because she chooses to forage all day long.
She passes on her open feeder dishes of food for the most part.
In the mean time I’ll stop here and shift gears for a moment. In a former life I raised dogs for 25 years. I’ve had dogs rip up houseplants, destroy couches and in my mushing days they would bite me until I bled and threw me from my sled causing broken ribs, new frostbit fingers and fractured bones.
We, my dog sled racing partner, a veterinarian even clipped one of our dogs vocal cords because it wouldn’t shut up 24/7. Nothing would work including bark collars. There’s no ideal pet.
Turning back to the subject of birds again, we have a good friend recently got a Timneh African grey as her first bird. When somebody says they have an African grey I always ask them what kind (along with macaws and cockatoos because of the multitude of species and sizes) Timey’s are two thirds the size of Congo African Grey parrots.
She’s a good friend and we chatted about this for probably two years where I constantly injected doses of reality in the conversation. A few weeks ago she shows up with the bird. I smiled.
She looked me in the eye and said “I thought a lot about what you told me. But you know that I run a world-class daycare and have been taking care of 10 to 20 toddler’s every day for the past 25 years.
I don’t see the bird is a big challenge I see her as something to help bring more life into our home”. ’nuff said
I was recently at the Chicago Cage Bird Club rescue in Villa Park Illinois. They currently have 75 birds ranging from finches to Green wing macaws. I asked which ones with the problem birds?
The volunteer staffer said the biggest problem is plucking self-mutilation. I said what about the screamers? She said they all really keep each other entertained in a pretty calm day in and day out.
If a pet bird bites you, it’s your own damn fault. For some reason captive bird keepers feel that receiving a bite now and then is acceptable. It is not.
Peaches our Senegal is a one-person bird, she’s in love with me. We learned early on that when Catherine my wife walks by, Peaches will give me a warning peck if she’s on my shoulder.
Guess what? We learned to keep our separation when I was handling Peaches. We are now working to gently allow some sort of physical interaction between the two of them to reduce the biting.
A biting parrot needs to be trained not to bite and done so with positive reinforcement usually starting with clicker training. Birds and parrots (as well as dogs) are morally agnostic do not understand “no” or “bad bird”. The words were lost on them don’t waste your breath
Shifting gears if you really pay attention to your cage set up and I have set up hundreds of birdcages literally, you can create an environment where 100% of the poop lands on the floor of the cage.
Feathered factoid: Most birds when in their comfort zone i.e. not traveling poop every 15 minutes. Try returning the bird back to it’s cage or cage top during that cycle.
We have four budgies, many weekends we leave on Friday evening and come back on Sunday evening. The cage doesn’t get cleaned for two and half days – whoopdy do. The biggest issue is hulls from the two millet spray’s we leave them for the weekend.
editors note: you can not leave a dog alone for 2 days.
I keep a small wet vac under the budgies cage and a Hoover not far from the Senegal’s cage which also addresses the errant popcorn on the floor that I leave while watching TV at night.
If you want to make cleaning cages a chore at your choice. Here’s a video that I shot why cleaned to cages and six minutes. Don’t let that hold you back from getting a bird. Birds poop is not very stinky.
Peaches sits in a swing that I’ve strung under a reading lamp in our bedroom. I keep a dozen pieces of newspaper layered on top of the nightstand. When she poops I toss where the top piece of paper.
We do that in her cage too. A dozen layers of newspaper in every day or two we remove a layer of newspaper. No grate to clean.
Peaches who is learning to fly at the ripe old age of eight does poop anywhere. So we control where anywhere is. She’s always on her cage, a stand or accessory that has disposable paper under where she might poop so cleaning her poop isn’t much of a chore.
Both cages get fresh commercial bird food every other day and topped off in between. Water dishes get changed twice a day and I keep a tub of backup dishes for both cages so that I always have dry dishes to offer fresh water in the mornings and evenings
All the birds enjoy large romaine lettuce leaves daily
The budgies have a water bottle that we fill with bottled water and replace that every 24 hours but it also ensures that they have freshwater the 48 hours we are gone over the weekend.
The size of the cage is relative the lifestyle of the bird if the bird is out of the cage for many hours during the day it does need of the cage. A good-sized flight cage for budgies can be found for under $200 with the stand.
I don’t know anyone who interacts with the bird for 6-8 hours a day – minimum. What when I talk about with ta canary for six hours? Maybe play canary singing albums?
Peaches comes to work with me everyday weather permitting. She hass a cage for one there’s open doors in the shop.
She is a stand inches away from my left elbow and a very nice stand 6 feet in the air with gateways between the two and a swing in between.
Once you want some attention she climbs down or flies down to my desk and sidestepped slowly slipping her head underneath the palm of my hand forcing me to stop typing and provide scratches on demand.
So this a few minutes several times a day but not hours. You can tell by her chortles – she’s one happy little bird.
editors note: A large cage filled with finches is like a living breathing floral arrangement require little time care
Parrots need toys for privacy and interaction. They like to chew. You can spend $20-$30 or more on a bird toy for a big parrot or you can give that bird a phonebook. The result will be the same. The bird wants to chew and is just looking for an opportunity. Your Job Is a bird keeper is to avoid allowing the bird to chew furniture or something valuable as they don’t know the difference.
Unlike dogs and cats birds do need specialized diets. We sell 26 brands bird and parrot food and can work with any Bird keeper I’m providing the proper nutrition to your pet bird. Not only that will teach you how to keep the waste down.
A well bird checkup with a full blood panel with a qualified avian veterinarian will run between $200 and $300 which is what you’ll spend on a dog or cat once a year with all the tests, treatments and required shots and licenses.
The single biggest fact that is opaque to most people is house marked birds are. That’s the biggest challenge along with people not taking the time to learn how to “speak bird.”
They are special. I called three dimensional pets because they can fly. Feeling Peaches feathers rub against my ear and neck gives me the chills because it’s so soft and sweet.
Teaching her how and where to land is enormously rewarding. If having a pet bird was easy everybody would be doing it.
Pet birds even the small ones require a much broader learning curve the most mammalian pets. Feel free to message us on Windy City Parrot’s Facebook page for any care information you need on any species of pet bird 24/7
written by mitch rezman
approved by catherine tobsing
your zygodactyl footnote