This article appears in Pets 2018 magazine.
More than 68 percent of American households own pets, the most common being dogs, cats and freshwater fish, according to the American Pet Products Association. For a person who wants something a little different, pet birds can be friendly and affectionate additions to the family.
“Birds can be loving, funny creatures when given proper care to thrive. They are very personable and give much companionship by way of their chatter and outgoing personalities,” said Cyndi Wheeler, spokeswoman for Lafeber, a bird and small-pet food company said to have developed the first commercial bird food pellet in the 1970s.
From a small zebra finch to a stately white-crested cockatoo, there are plenty of pet birds to choose from, but right now parrots and the smaller parrotlets are growing in popularity.
“Do the research on the kind of parrot you want in your life. When doing this research, also take the time to read about how to properly care for these gorgeous creatures. There are so many websites and books that finding information is almost effortless,” Wheeler said. “Just remember that they need time invested daily to flourish, and are beautiful and rewarding to have in your life.”
For a happy home life, a pet parrot wants the largest cage possible with proper bar spacing for safety.
“This will be your parrot’s home, and you want to be sure they have room for perches, toys, water bath and a favorite hangout spot,” Wheeler said.
Add perches of different materials and shapes plus toys of various materials, such as those to shred, chew and prevent boredom.
Don’t forget a cover for the cage.
“Birds do best with no more than 10 to 12 hours of daylight and activity,” Wheeler said.
A proper diet
“A common misconception for many new parrot owners is that birds can do well on loose bird seed alone,” Wheeler said.
Just like people, parrots and small birds such as canaries and finches need a balanced diet, including manufactured and fresh foods.
“Foods such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains and tree nuts such as walnuts and almonds should be approximately 20 percent of their diet. Treats and fruits should make up no more than 5 percent of their diet,” Wheeler said. “Keep in mind that their metabolisms are very high and they should have food available at all times.”
Expose your bird early to all kinds of foods that are bird-safe, as some are not, including avocado and rhubarb, she said.
Malnutrition can surface in the forms of liver and kidney issues, overgrown beaks, constant eating, infections and fatty tumors, Wheeler said.
Clean cage required
“Since birds are by design nature’s replenishers, they are bound by evolution to make a mess and populate seeds for new vegetation to grow,” Wheeler said. “Birds in captivity today have not been domesticated and hold fast to their wild instincts.”
Parrots can throw food for fun to satisfy their needs, but many tools are available to keep messes contained, such as food cups and seed skirts for cages.
Cost of care
Avian veterinary care is more costly than dog or cat care, as it requires further learning and because veterinarians who specialize in birds are farther apart geographically, Wheeler said.
“Driving an hour or two for an appointment is common,” she said.
Because parrots are masters at hiding illness (they would be banned from the flock if ill), having a yearly exam and baseline blood work is a good proactive measure, as you can keep track of any issues detected before they become an untreatable problem, Wheeler said.
Time for play
“Parrots benefit greatly from daily interaction and time out of the cage,” Wheeler said. “This helps them build their trust in you and gives them happiness.”
Types of pet birds, from lafeber.com:
— Pet birds with shorter lifespans (up to 10 years) include budgies/parakeets, canaries, doves and finches. Birds with the longest lifespans (30-plus years) include parrots, macaws and cockatoos.
— Birds communicate by whistling and chattering. Noted whistlers include cockatiels; chatterers include doves and finches. Parakeets and canaries do both. Parrots, macaws and cockatoos are among the more vocal pet birds, and yes, you can teach them to talk.
— Highly social species include parrots, macaws and cockatoos while canaries, doves and finches prefer not to be touched.