As the popularity of keeping pet birds increases, it is becoming more and more evident that many people are purchasing birds for the wrong reasons, or making uneducated and inappropriate selections when choosing their new pets. Owning a bird can be a wonderful experience, but it is also a huge commitment, one that requires a dedicated owner. There are numerous factors to consider before deciding on a new pet.
Know your bird species
There is quite a large range of bird species that make good pets. Most birds will probably fall into one of two orders of birds: psittacines (parrot-like birds) and passerines. Some of the more popular psittacines include budgerigars, cockatiels, lovebirds, lorikeets, parrots, conures, cockatoos, and macaws. Finches, canaries, and mynahs are all passerines. It is important to find out which species of bird is most suitable for you and your household, and which species you are most drawn to.
Keep in mind that the species you are most drawn to may not be the bird that is most suitable for you. There are a few questions people should ask themselves in order to determine the most appropriate bird to select:
How much am I willing to spend?
If you think a bird is a cheaper option than a bird or cat, you could be seriously mistaken. While budgies and finches are relatively cheap, some of the larger, hand-raised parrots and macaws can cost several thousand dollars. Plus, other factors such as diet, cages, and veterinary bills can significantly contribute to the cost of a bird’s upkeep. Compare the price of maintaining a budgie for about 10 years, to that of keeping a parrot for 50 years!
It is essential to familiarize oneself with the current prices for birds before purchasing one from the local pet shop. If a bird seems unusually cheap, you should be suspicious. The bird may have health problems (e.g. psittacosis), behavioral problems, or it may have been illegally smuggled into the country. Sometimes it is wiser to pay extra for a bird that has been domestically hand-raised, especially if it is your first bird.
Experience with birds
It is strongly recommended that first-time purchasers of birds do not select one of the larger psittacines (e.g. parrots, macaws). These birds are a large responsibility and it is very easy to go wrong with the housing, diet, hygiene, etc. Budgies, finches, canaries, and cockatiels are generally regarded as being appropriate first birds for beginners.
How much time am I willing to commit to my new bird?
Many people buy birds because they mistakenly believe that birds are “low maintenance pets”. This could not be further from the truth. Birds with shorter lifespans, such as finches, canaries, budgies, and cockatiels, can live 10-15 years. When buying larger parrots and macaws, pet owners should realize that their life expectancy can range from about 40 years for a cockatoo, to as long as 80 years for an Amazon parrot! Such birds are truly a lifelong commitment.
Furthermore, the amount of time a person has to devote to their bird will probably increase with the size of the bird. Not only do birds require time for husbandry activities such as feeding, cleaning dishes, cage cleaning, but they also require a lot of personal attention. Parrots have been likened to two or three year old children. If they do not receive regular attention they can develop serious behavioral problems such as feather plucking.
Another important consideration is where to house your bird, and in what kind of cage. The larger the bird, the larger and more expensive will be the cage.
Outdoor aviaries may not be a possibility in areas with cold winters. The size of the cage must be adequate to allow the bird to move freely about the cage and get enough exercise. Also, birds require time outside of their cage for exercise – decide if there is an area in your home that is appropriate for your bird to fly around safely.
The sex of the bird will affect its personality and behavior. In some species of birds, only the male sings (e.g. canaries). Similarly, in some species of larger psittacines, the male is a better talker than the female. However, the females may be less aggressive and better adapted to captivity. While it is relatively easy to determine the sex in some species of birds (e.g. budgerigars), most of the larger psittacines are sexually monomorphic (i.e. it is impossible to determine gender purely on physical appearance). If you plan to breed from a bird, have a pre-purchase screening performed to determine its sex and health status.
If you wish to form a close bond with your bird, it is advisable to select a younger bird. Younger birds are usually more amenable to training and taming. Plus, they are more likely to become good talkers. Older birds may have already developed undesirable personality traits. It is recommended that smaller birds such as budgies and canaries are bought before the age of 3 months, and larger psittacines before the age of 1 year old. Though it is difficult to be certain about a bird’s age, eye color is a useful indicator for some species (e.g. cockatoos, African Greys, macaws).
Selecting a bird from the pet shop
For people who are unfamiliar with owning pet birds, knowing which bird to select from the pet shop can be a difficult task. Do not be afraid to question the pet shop employees about where the birds came from, whether they were hand-raised, their age, gender, and any known health conditions. Examine the birds in the pet shop. Look for a bird that is bright, active, and looks to be in good condition. Avoid birds that are quiet, dull, have a fluffed-up appearance, or seem to have difficulty breathing. These birds may be suffering from psittacosis, a common disease of birds kept in pet shops.
Birds can make intelligent, loving and fascinating pets. Choosing a suitable bird is a difficult and important decision. Spending the time to research the various kinds of pet birds before selecting the most appropriate bird for yourself will pay off in the long-run.