Parrots as Pets: What You Need to Know Before You Get One

Did you know some parrots can live longer than you? Find out their life span and more in this article before buying or adopting a parrot.

Parrots are pets that love to be social.

Parrots are often sought after for their entertaining and comical personalities as well as their vibrant colors. Different species of parrots can live from 10 to over 100 years, so keeping a parrot as a pet should be considered a lifetime commitment.

A Balanced Diet Is Key

Most new bird owners will grab a bag of bird pellets or seed and think this is all their parrot needs for proper nutrition. Parrots need a more balanced diet than this, but there are some foods to avoid. Improper diets can lead to problems with feather growth, strain on the body, vitamin deficiencies and illness. Always offer clean water and food in dishes that will not foster bacteria, and clean them regularly.

Standard pellet food can vary in quality and be high in fat. The best diet for a parrot should include 50% pellet food and seed and 50% supplemented food. Supplemented food can include table scraps, fruits, vegetables, cooked eggs (once per week or less), lean cooked meats and nuts for larger birds. Some pet owners will include a whole apple or hang carrots from strings to make meal time fun. If you choose to feed your parrot nuts, ensure that the nuts are fit for human consumption. Some wild or unprocessed nuts can be toxic to your bird.

Very young parrots that are weaning or older birds having trouble eating can benefit from custom mixes made just for birds. Two popular product lines listed by parrot owners and breeders include Bird Street Bistro and Goldenfeast. Usually when birds won’t eat anything else, they will eat this! Slowly start incorporating other foods and pellet food into the mix to achieve a balanced diet.

Avocado, salt, alcohol, raw potato, chocolate or anything with caffeine could be toxic to your parrot. In addition to these foods, many household items and indoor and outdoor plants can be toxic, as well as certain types of cookware. Check the toxic items to see if any need to be evaluated or removed from your home.

Even Birds Need to be Groomed

Trim your bird’s nails similarly to trimming a cat’s nails. Regular clippers can be used on smaller birds and guillotine- or scissor-style clippers are advisable for larger birds. Trim the edge of the nail to remove the sharp edge and be careful not to cut the quick; this area houses nerve endings and can bleed if cut too deep. You can stop the bleeding with styptic powder if needed. If you feel uncomfortable clipping the nails yourself, bring your parrot to a professional groomer or your avian veterinarian.

Normally a bird’s beak will maintain itself through daily wear and tear while climbing, feeding and playing. If an injury, illness or unknown problem is causing the beak to reach an unusual length or grows to the side, it’s time to visit the vet. Do not try to remedy or trim the beak yourself.

Do you need to clip the wings? This is a personal and sometimes controversial topic. Many breeders and owners of indoor-only parrots prefer to clip the wings to avoid flight. This helps reduce injuries within the home and outside if they happen to escape. Consider your parrot’s environment and accessibility when making this decision. Improper clipping can severely affect the bird’s balance and flight, so always leave this task to a professional.

Parrots bathe in the wild in rain showers or shallow water. You can include an area with shallow water in the cage or mist the bird with a spray bottle. Always use clean water from the same bottle designated only for this use, and never add any products, soap or oils in the water.

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The Social Circle

Large parrots can make a lot of noise, whereas smaller parrots (such as cockatiels) generally aren’t as noisy. Parrots are known to be more vocal when ignored or bored, so ensure that they have things inside their cage for entertainment and spend play time each day with your bird. Exercise care when allowing your bird around children and other animals; children may unintentionally mishandle the bird, and other animals may view it as mealtime.

The placement of the cage is important too. Your parrot will enjoy being around family areas, but avoid high-traffic areas. The location of the cage should be free from drafts and direct sunlight and maintain a consistent temperature (around 70 degrees).

Parrots need enough space in the cage to be able to spread their wings horizontally and allow for head and tail clearance. They also need space to hop on perches and fly horizontally, so width should be larger than height. Avoid keeping your parrot’s cage near a kitchen; toxic fumes from certain cookware coatings can be deadly to birds.

Keep the bird’s area dark and quiet at night and airy and light during the day, or your parrot can become depressed or stressed. Always check the cage doors for secure closures and fix any loose or broken access points immediately. If you purchase a used metal cage, make sure there is no rust that your bird can ingest, and clean it thoroughly. The bird should also be allowed out of its cage every day under supervision.

Deciding on a Species

There are many varieties of parrots to consider before getting your new pet. Lovebirds are a smaller species of parrot that boast big personalities but are fairly quiet companions. These attributes make them great for apartment living, while the larger home might be more ideal for a vocal cockatiel or African Grey parrot. You can also train parrots, although some are more likely to whistle and sing while others mimic sounds or speak words.

Carefully consider the aspects of each species before making a decision, and remember that some species can outlive their owners (you will need to make arrangements for their future care in advance). Cost can vary significantly also; a budgie or cockatiel may only cost $20 to $50, while larger or rare parrots can run in the thousands of dollars.

Parrots Hide Illness Well

Birds have a natural tendency to hide any signs of illness to avoid being targeted by predators. There are certain signs that your parrot is sick, so prepare to make a trip to the vet if you notice these symptoms:

  • Excessive sleeping
  • Sleeping differently or changing balance when sleeping
  • Feathers are ruffled or puffed up
  • Change in diet (eating too much or not enough)
  • Behavior changes
  • Heavy breathing
  • Discharges from the eyes, nostrils or vent
  • Residue on feathers or body might indicate vomiting
  • Change in fecal matter/droppings
  • Chewing on feathers or patches of bald areas

Monitor your parrot daily and take notice of anything out of the ordinary. If any of the above symptoms are present or your bird is acting differently without a recent change in diet or surroundings, an illness might be to blame. If your parrot is exhibiting splayed legs, there are ways to try to correct the behavior (more effective in younger birds) and your vet can offer suggestions for treatment.

Are You Ready for a Parrot?

Parrots can live long lives, sometimes longer than their owners. They need daily care, entertainment and a close eye to watch for signs of illness. They are also very intelligent animals that require socialization regularly. They do reward you with songs, words, funny impersonations, companionship and so much more, but this must be consistent or your parrot can become overwhelming (read Dr. Deb’s experience with Ozzie the parrot). If you are willing to commit to what might be a lifelong friend, consider a parrot for your next pet.

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Photo: barbourians/Flickr