Is a Parrot right for you? Liz Wilson explains.
This question delights me because it indicates that people are thinking about this issue in advance; that they are not getting into the world of Parrots on a whim. That’s what most of us did: the dreaded Impulse Buy.
We fell madly in love with the Parrot’s spectacular beauty. Or we met a marvellously soft and cuddly creature than filled our arms with love and our souls with yearning. Or spending a lot of time alone, we became enamoured of the idea of an animal who could speak to us in our own language.
Great justifications for getting involved with an intelligent creature that could live 80 years, yes?
So let’s look at some of the likely side effects of living with a Parrot.
If you truly value peace and quiet, odds are you won’t appreciate living with any species of companion bird.
Birds make noise, and sound levels vary from the constant little beeping sounds of Finches to the window-shattering, psychosis-inducing screams of a large Parrot. (As far as racket in companion birds, Parrots win hands down.)
Before retirement, I was often approached to do phone consultations about screaming Parrots; but careful questioning often revealed the bird’s commotion was not excessive. While a Macaw in full scream is extremely unpleasant, that doesn’t mean a behaviour problem exists. Instead, the problem is that the human is expecting the bird to be something other than what it is – which certainly isn’t the bird’s fault.
One blatant example was a woman who’d suffered with migraine headaches for years. Then she got a Blue and Yellow Macaw… and she wanted to know how to teach the bird to be quiet! I was sorry about her migraines. However, even if I could teach her Macaw to be quiet (which I couldn’t), I would still refuse to do so.
A Parrot is a creature that is often ear-splittingly loud just for the joy of it. If people can’t live with that, they shouldn’t get a Parrot. Period.
Incidentally, psittacine (Parrot) species that are considered “quiet” are only quiet in comparison to species that are considered loud. This is rather like saying a beagle is quieter than a small terrier.
In other words, a “quiet” Parrot is not an animal that makes no noise – it is simply not as noisy as the birds considered to be loud. Noise sensitive people are generally much happier living with reptiles or fish.
Parrots have aptly been described as “nature’s composters.” Be it chunks of untreated hardwoods or an antique Queen Anne desk, many Parrot species can reduce such things to toothpicks and splinters in minutes. Again, this is a fact of life with Parrots, as this is a natural behaviour.
Chewing trees in the wild translates directly to chewing woodwork in captivity. But the way to deal with this behaviour is not to try to eliminate it. Instead, that natural behaviour should be channelled away from valuables and towards acceptable objects like chewable foraging toys. Giving a Parrot reams of wooden branches and toys to destroy will give it an outlet for that natural behaviour.
It is crucial to understand that a Parrot getting access to a priceless antique is the fault of a human, not the bird. Either the bird was not properly supervised or the bird was not properly caged.
Cockatoo owners who do not yet have padlocks on all cage openings are asking for trouble and at some point will likely get it. So if (when?) your Cockatoo escapes while you are at work and bustles about looking for things to do, that is YOUR fault, not the fault of the bird.
Cockatoos are not only extremely intelligent, they are also extremely mechanical. Should they so choose, they will eventually figure out how to open their cage door. A cage is, after all, simply a wonderfully complex toy to disassemble.
Find safe and secure cages here.
At a lesser but still impressive scale, Parrots are not for the neat freaks amongst us. Parrots have an unfortunate tendency to fling food, feathers, toy parts and seeds with joyous abandon and therefore tend to cause overly tidy people to have nervous breakdowns.
Even those of us who are not fastidious are discouraged at times with the ongoing mess. But mess is a fact of life with bird ownership. These natural behaviours can only be channelled into a somewhat controlled mess.
There are cleaning products and disinfectant here.
Allergies & respiratory problems
It is sad when people who adore their Parrots are then diagnosed with severe allergies such as allergic alveolitis (“pigeon breeder’s lung”) or respiratory difficulties such as asthma. There is no way around it; these nice folks need to place their beloved friends in another home.
Some species of birds are worse than others when it comes to such problems, with Cockatoos, Greys and Cockatiels at the head of the list. These species have specialized feathers called “powder-down feathers” which crumble into a powder that is similar to talc – not a good thing for compromised lungs.
I feel less sympathetic towards those people who choose a powder-down species of Parrot despite already having severe respiratory and/or allergic problems. This sets the Parrots up for the eventual loss of their home – and this is unacceptable. The birds deserve better.
Parrots are social animals that have strong companionship needs, so really busy people are unlikely to have time to fulfil their psychological requirements for social interaction.
Passerine or perching birds like Canaries or Finches require daily maintenance of a clean cage, fresh food and water, but do not seem to need as much attention from their humans. As a consequence, they make better companions for already over-committed people.
Space limitations are important. A companion bird needs the biggest cage possible (with safe bar spacing). Allowing for the room taken up by food cups, perches and toys, a horizontal space that is 2-3 times a bird’s wingspan is the minimum living space – and many species need considerably more than that. Large Parrots do not fit into small apartments.
Smaller, extremely active psittacine species like Lories and Caiques also need large cages in which to play – allowing more space than their actual size might lead one to think.
Small soft-billed birds like Finches and Canaries need cages large enough to allow flight, and birds do not fly straight up and down like helicopters. Just like people, they use horizontal, not vertical space, so the height of a cage is not as important as the width and depth.
Find the perfect Canary cage here.
If you don’t have room for the necessary cage, then you don’t have room for the bird. What you want does not trump the animal’s needs.
I quail at the people who purchase Parrots on credit cards so they can pay off the charge over months and years. The initial price of a Parrot is only a small fraction of the monetary outlay you will encounter, especially in the first year.
Proper caging can be expensive – often more expensive than the bird’s initial price tag. Then you need add in the expense of play gyms and toys.
Avian veterinary medicine is an absolute necessity for any bird, no matter what the bird’s financial value. A tiny Budgie deserves the same excellent care as a huge, expensive Hyacinth Macaw, and due to the specialization required, avian medicine is often more expensive than dog and cat medicine.
So if you are already strained to your limits financially, then you should wait for better circumstances before bringing home a bird.
Get the right cage for your feathered friend here.
Commitment is critical with Parrots. Most people think of birds as being short-lived creatures, but that is far from accurate. Even small birds like Canaries have the potential of living longer than most breeds of dog, and the medium-sized and large psittacine species have potential life spans equal to those of humans.
To consider Parrot ownership, you must be ready to live with this bird for years. This is NOT an animal to get as a companion until you get married and start a “real” family. This is a commitment that could last the remainder of your life, and on into the next generation.
Parrots are capable of forming incredibly strong bonds with their humans, and this is what makes them so appealing as companion animals. They are not creatures to be purchased on a whim, then tossed away when another hobby catches your eye.
Life with a “Wild” Animal
Most people are not physically or psychologically prepared to make the compromises necessary to happily share their homes with a “wild” animal like a Parrot, domestic bred or not. Most people are accustomed to domesticated animals like dogs; wild animals are totally different.
Parrots make up their own minds about things. For example, no one can make Parrots like someone they don’t choose to like. They may not like your new boyfriend, your new roommate, your mother, or even you.
Chris Davis said it well when she described living with a Parrot as being similar to living with a slightly crazed relative. You have your crazy Uncle Fred and you love him dearly, but you just never know how he is going to behave when you have friends over, or whether he is going to like the people you want him to like…. And infuriating though he can be, you love him just the way he is.
Also, Parrots may or may not be “in the mood” to do whatever it is the human wants to do, and that startles a lot of people. Most people are accustomed to dogs, and dogs are generally in the mood to do anything their human wants to do. After all, we made them that way.
A friend said it well when she commented that it is unlikely that people will enjoy living with a Parrot if they line up the paper clips on their desk and colour code the clothes in the closet. Parrots are unpredictable animals, and their humans have to be flexible people!
The “Right” Person to Live with a Parrot
Please excuse the pun, but the true Parrot person is a rare bird. True Parrot people recognize that Parrots are not an extension of themselves, and they require them to be nothing more than they are. They understand that no one owns a Parrot, since a Parrot is owned only by itself.
These people have self-esteem that is sufficiently resilient to withstand a Parrot’s changing moods and attitudes as it grows and matures. Their ego is healthy enough that they don’t need to use these animals to fill in deficits in their own personality, or to attract attention to themselves.
They are honoured to have their lives touched, filled with laughter, and vividly coloured by an extraordinary, ancient and wise fragment of our vanishing natural world.
There is more advice on choosing the right Parrot for you here.