It is easy to understand why people become attracted to the idea of owning a parrot. They are beautiful, they can talk to us, and as many YouTube compilations showcase, they can have hilarious personalities. Before making any spur of the moment decisions to buy that brightly colored sun conure or the dancing cockatoo though, it is very important that you do your homework on whatever bird species you are thinking of purchasing. Here are just a few things to consider before welcoming a feathered friend into your home.
Birds have long life spans: Even some of the smallest birds, such as the parakeet, can live into their mid-teens while larger species can live 40+ years. Due to their longevity, it is not uncommon for us to see birds who have been re-homed numerous times after the original owner was no longer able to take care of them. It is often hard for these birds to adjust to their new surroundings and sometimes they never fully settle in. Before purchasing a bird, it is extremely important that you understand that you will be committed to this animal for many years and that you feel that you can provide a home for them for that amount of time.
Parrots are smart!: The same personality that often draws people to the idea of owning a parrot in the first place can also lead to problems if not properly managed. Dr. Pepperberg has shown us through numerous studies in her avian lab at Harvard that some birds are smarter than the average 4-year-old. It is understandable then, that these incredibly intelligent animals are not content to be locked in a cage their entire lives. If you are considering getting a bird, you must ensure that you have ample time to spend with them every day, and you must provide them with copious toys and other forms of stimulation to keep them busy while you are away. Birds who are frequently left alone in their cage often become bored and frustrated, which quite often leads to self-destructive behaviors such as feather plucking or causing trauma to their wings and toes.
They can be destructive: Due to their lack of hands, birds experience the world through their beaks. Unfortunately, this leaves whatever the beak touched a little worse for the wear. It is not uncommon for birds to destroy electronics, linens, and furniture within their homes. While chewing is a natural behavior for birds, this can lead to expensive home repairs or even cause major health issues for the pet if they ingest harmful metals. Destructive behavior is another common reason why we see birds getting re-homed or getting sentenced to a life cooped up in their cage. In order to avoid this from happening, it is very important that before you buy a bird, you consider ways in which you can bird proof your home. As previously mentioned, birds are very smart, so it is also helpful to think of ways to keep their minds, rather than their beaks, busy. Resources, such as Lafeber.com supply information on how to provide activities for your bird and how to train them.
They are often not ideal pets for young children: Many bird owners can attest to the fact that getting bit by your bird is not a matter of if, but when. Even the most well-mannered parrot can reach his tipping point and give us a little peck to let us know he has had enough. Sometimes accidental bites can happen too, such as when they get too interested in our earrings or decide they need to use their beak a little more than usual to step up. While most adults can handle the idea that bird ownership will come along with a few bites here and there, this is something that not all children are physically and mentally prepared for. On the flip side, it can be very hard to protect your bird from a curious toddler. Although parrots have big personalities, they are packaged into delicate little bodies. Their wings and legs are especially prone to fractures which can occur if they are handled incorrectly, are stepped on, their perch gets knocked over, or a toy accidentally hits them. While birds can be great companions for older children, and can certainly teach them responsibility, it is very important that your child is mature enough to handle a bird before you bring one into your home.
Parrots are not mammals: Birds have very unique anatomy and physiology, and because of this, they have health problems that we do not have to worry about in mammals. A commonly known difference is that birds, unlike mammals, lay eggs. What is not always realized though is that females can lay unfertilized eggs when there is not a mate present. Egg-laying can result in a number of problems such as egg binding, egg yolk peritonitis, and calcium deficiency, which can lead to fractured bones. Due to their thin, pneumatic bones, it is also not uncommon to have bones break even when they do have adequate amounts of calcium in their body. Additionally, birds have a very specialized, and very sensitive, respiratory tract consisting of air sacs as well as their lungs. Unfortunately, this makes birds very vulnerable to normal household products such as Teflon pans, bleach, and aerosols, all of which can cause serious illness or death in birds. The fact that birds are so different from their mammalian cousins can make it extremely difficult to find a vet willing to see them. We are very fortunate at Wright Veterinary Medical Center to have 3 avian doctors. Sadly, many practices simply do not have the proper equipment to see birds, and most veterinarians do not feel comfortable treating these highly specialized patients. This forces some of our clients to drive over 2 hours to our clinic to have their birds examined. If you plan on owning a bird, it is important to make sure you will have the proper resources you need before purchasing your new pet. Parrots often hide their illness for a long time. When they finally do display clinical signs, they require medical attention quickly, leaving little time to seek out a qualified avian veterinarian.
Families who have given thorough consideration to all of these topics and have chosen a bird species that fits well with their home dynamic often form some of the strongest bonds I have seen between animal and owner. A little pre-planning can make a huge difference in your life and in the life of your new pet!