Buying a parrot some dos and don’ts.
You are thinking of buying a parrot? Congratulations… Here are ten pointers that may be helpful in making the best choice for you and for the bird.
Are parrots different or difficult pets?
The answer is yes in both cases. They are not mammals. You cannot treat a parrot like a dog or a cat. And they are super intelligent. The derogatory epithet ‘bird brain’ has been disproved by scientist’s years ago. Not only for the ability of some species to communicate in human language but also for their problem solving abilities and their long term their memories parrots, are way up near chimpanzees, elephants and cetaceans like orcas and dolphins.
They are difficult because unlike dogs and cats they are still essentially wild animals and nearer in their intrinsic nature to their wild cousins than dogs are to wolves or cats to tigers. And they can bite.
Which parrot will you choose?
Some species like the kia or lear’s macaw are generally found only in specialist collections. Others like the largest macaw the magnificent blue Hyacinth can be obtained as a pet bird. The cost of parrots of ted to their availability, not necessarily their suitability. The large macaws, the rarer conures are very costly. Some cockatoos like the Australian gang-gang , the Pesqet parrot are never on the open market and can only be seen in collection like Loro parc in Tenerife.
What a prospective parrot owner needs to do is to look carefully at their home environment and decide what sort of bird would be able to fit in. Have you got the space for cage aviary and home that cold accommodate busy beaks. A well socialised African Grey could be happy in an ample kitchen enjoying family time. A cockatoo who wants to chew wood, paper or anything else, would be a disaster in an elegant sitting room furnished with antiques. Yet I have seen a sad Goffins confined 24/7 to a cage in such a room.
If you live anywhere near a sanctuary or a zoo which keeps parrots getting to know various species and chatting to their handlers is invaluable. The best breeders will also let you meet and greet prospective young parrot pets.
Working out the cost – Parrot Cage
The biggest cost after the purchase of the bird is the cage. It is now illegal to purchase a cage too small for the bird to flap its wings. Many cages are too small. And many cages contain little more than a perch and a feeding bowl. Try to see the cage from a bird’s eye view. Wouldn’t you want it to be furnished with swings and suitable toys and have room to move around? Toys do not have to be a great expense since lots of parrot toys are made from simple household objects. Old paperbacks, egg boxes, tree branches and so on.
Food costs need to be factored in. Nowadays the choice is immense, ranging from the pelleted diets to the seed mixes. Because I like to stay home with the birds I get all their supplies from the internet. And of course you will be adding the fresh fruit and vegetables. My birds love flowers roses, lilac and for gardeners or walkers, weeds like dandelions, docks and chickweed. The list is endless. Hawthorn berries and rosehips are favourite snacks for my flock. It is fun in a multi bird household to discover different favoured items. Benni macaw loves sea shells, Casper Grey loves clumps of grass. Perdy Cockatoo loves a sunflower head.
Small is beautiful
Speaking with an avian vet at the 2015 Think Parrots show, he told me that many of his clients are going for the smaller species because homes are smaller and the upkeep is easier. Most of us know the budgerigar and the canary and the cockatiel. Breeds like the smaller conures, the exquisitely beautiful parrotlets or any lovebird species can provide you with hours of entertainment. Among the medium sized birds the African grey and the Timneh are the most popular followed closely by the Amazons. However, Greys can develop plucking habits if everything is not quite right for them and Amazons need careful handling in their breeding mode when they can become aggressive.
First time carers beware
Cockatoos are beautiful birds – every single one. They do not make good pets unless they have been properly reared and the new carer knows what they need. When they are unhappy they bite, scream and pluck and the hapless owner does not understand what happened to that teddy bear baby they used to cuddle. Macaws are less sensitive than cockatoos but here again their size makes them extremely difficult to keep in an average house or flat. They need a large aviary to exercise those magnificent wings. Most sanctuaries or bird rescues have many cockatoos especially males, who have been unable to adapt to our cramped style of living.
One, two or many
Birds are flock animals. In the forest, a parrot, unlike an owl or a hawk, will never be alone. Yet many domestic parrots have to spend half their waking hours in solitude. This goes against their nature. A young parrot adopted into a household will, if treated kindly, accept the human family members and even the dogs and cats to be his or her flock. Such a bird will often bond to one family member and consider that person to be his mate. A problem arises. When in breeding mode he or she may attack anyone who comes near to their mate. My own lesser sulphur crested cockatoo Perdy has been sure for ten years that Wal is her mate. If she is in his office on his shoulder I would not dare to approach either of them. Away from her beloved, Perdy is a charming bird.
The answer is that a sole bird can adapt well but most expert opinion states that birds should have bird companions.
Training: How much do you need?
If your bird comes from a conscientious, caring breeder, it will probably know a few basic commands. I think that it is essential that every pet bird understands the basic request of step up. We need the step up to take the bird in and out of the cage for its recreational time with its family. Positive reinforcement training which is based on the well tested principles of behaviour science makes the best way forward. In the UK we do not yet have parrot training classes as we have dog training but you can find good DVDs and books to help gain an understanding of the basic principles.
I hope this unnecessary and in my opinion cruel practice is in decline. However there are still people who advocate it and still people prepared to do it. Bobo an Umbrella cockatoo came to me with her wings AND tail cropped off. When you see something that exaggerated you wonder at the owner’s common sense. Without flying a bird cannot fulfil one of its basic instincts. As Rosemary Low once remarked, if you do not want a flying pet, get a rabbit.
Most parrots will not die in the home of their first carer. This is because a parrot can live for 20 in the case of the smaller birds, up to 50 or 60 in the case of Greys, Amazons, cockatoos and macaws. Before acquiring a long lived parrot are you sure you have someone to take care of it when you no longer can.
Do your research, choose the right species and adapt the environment to suit both of you, and your bird will repay you a thousand fold.
Helpful Resources for Parrot Owners
Parrot and Bird Care Guide for Companion Pet Parrots
A Parrot For Life
Good Bird DVD 1 – Parrot Behaviour & Training
Good Bird DVD 2 – Training Your Parrot
Good Bird DVD 3 – Understanding Parrot Body Language
For the full range of DVDs and Books visit ParrotEssentials.co.uk