By: Cate Burnette
There are many different types of birds, and all sorts can make wonderful pets. Many birds enjoy close contact, which makes many of them nice, social and sometimes cuddly friends. Some just love to talk or sing to you, giving you friendship and relaxation. A lot of parrots will enjoy sharing meals with you, napping with you, and even showering with you. Pet birds love to interact with their human companions.
If you decide you need a feathered family member, there are some facts you need to consider before bringing home an animal that requires a lot of attention and that can live for many, many years.
This “bird primer” can start you learning on the first steps of your avian journey (we’ve provided web links to sites that can give you more information). However, we recommend that you research further, talk with other bird owners, and discuss your potential new pet with an avian veterinarian before making a final decision about bringing a bird into your home.
Types of Domestic Birds
Some of the more common types of domestic pet birds include the following species:
- African Grey Parrots have an amazing ability to talk and mimic environmental sounds. These birds are inquisitive, love to communicate with their birdy parents and can make charming companions. Highly intelligent and social, the African Grey needs continuous human interaction and mental stimulation to alleviate boredom. This bird lives best with a highly committed owner that can provide socialization and ongoing training for the many years of life available to this pet.
- Amazon Parrots, stocky, medium to large-sized birds, are primarily green in color with short wings and rounded tails. There are various types of Amazon Parrots, but all are very social birds that make affectionate and loyal companions. Very long-lived (50+ years in captivity), Amazons need good socialization and training when young, and continuous relationships with devoted, experienced parrot parents. According to the Animal-World website, Amazons can mix very successfully with children if the parrot gets used to the child. However some Amazons can become extremely jealous of small children. It’s best to always be on your guard and supervise them when together.
- Caique Parrots are considered the clowns of the parrot world. A small bundle of energy, these birds are constantly playing, climbing and chewing in their aviaries and love hanging from their bars, ladders, ropes and toys. Caiques are known to roll on their backs and play with toys on their feet. Cuddly and affectionate, this parrot will interact with other birds, toys and people, but are best suited to environments where their loud calls are not a bother.
- Canary Varieties – These little, colorful birds do well in captivity and are ideal for families in small living quarters. All male canaries can sing; some females will also sing, although they do not have as strong a voice as the male. These birds come in a wide variety of colors from yellow to white, blue and white mixes, light red to deep orange. The hardy Canary is an excellent pet for beginning bird parents as they are docile with low maintenance requirements.
- Cockatiels are intelligent and known to make great family pets. Gentle and even-tempered, they are considered by avian experts to be the best bird of choice for families with children. Both sexes are friendly and non-dominant and are less prone to develop the nervous habits or other psychological disorders that can affect other domestic birds. Training begins best when your cockatiel is about 12 to 14 weeks of age. Not the best talkers, males (more than females) can be trained to speak in high-pitched voices with patience and repetition. Active and curious birds, cockatiels come in many colors.
- Cockatoos are smart and comical and love displaying their wings, tossing their heads and raising their erectile crests in a proud display of their beauty. Friendly and loving, Cockatoos need physical attention and crave pets, hugs and snuggling. These birds absolutely require that you spend playtime with them daily or they may resort to uncontrollable screaming or feather picking in an attempt to get your attention. They are not the best talkers but exhibit a quick ability to learn and take on tasks.
- Conures – The name “Conure” means cone tail. Conures are noted for their tapered tails and slender, small to medium-sized bodies. They are found in many colors with large heads and powerful beaks, typically resembling the much larger Macaw. This bird is energetic with a playful personality and quick brain. Very outgoing and social, the Conure adapts well to a new environment and can live for up to 35 years.
- Lories and Lorikeets are colorful, smaller birds known to be very good talkers with super personalities. Very playful, they will frolic with toys, their people and whatever else they can get grab onto. These birds are typical showoffs, swinging upside down on the bars, swings and perches in their cages or aviaries.
- Lovebirds live in communal flocks while in the wild and need other Lovebirds to remain social and happy. Individual Lovebirds will often pair up and mate for life, staying very close and constantly grooming each other. They show a very loving affection to their mates and their bird parents. Lively flyers and climbers, these smaller birds come in bright and muted color mixes and are noted for their beauty.
- Macaws are medium to large, brightly colored birds with large beaks that demand respect. Very intelligent, the Macaw interacts with her bird parent on many levels and easily learns tricks. Only some of these birds learn to speak, but all are known for their loud calls. Very outgoing, they can form a close, life-long bond with their owners that can last anywhere from 35 to 60 years. Animated and comical, Macaws use their beaks as tools that will need regular trimming to remain healthy.
- Parakeets are small to medium sized parrots with long, tapered tails and slender bodies. Very colorful, the parakeet is energetic and loves being social with each other and with people. As flock birds, parakeets prefer to live with other bird companions to remain healthy and emotionally happy. The parakeet needs a stimulating environment with lots of activities, including climbing areas and chewing toys.
- Pionus Parrots gain color as they reach full maturity. They are curious and quite intuitive, able to talk and learn a variety of tricks fairly easily. These birds are affectionate and undemanding and avian vets often recommend them as a great choice for beginning bird parents. They are also typically a fairly quiet bird if one is not used to “bird speak.”
- Types of Finches – Finches are small, quiet little birds that don’t require the daily interactive attention of the Parrot species. Very easy to care for, finches are the perfect bird for people with limited time and space. They come in a variety of colors and patterns with differing personalities.
For the uninitiated bird parent, learning how to take care of a pet bird takes work, education and common sense.
All birds needs a birdcage or aviary with one or more perches, and bird feeders to accommodate the appropriate feed and/or birdseed. Water bottles, cuttlebones and various toys are also requirements to help pet birds remain psychologically and emotionally healthy.
You’ll need to determine the needs of your individual bird regarding nutrition, the cage environment and specific species/breed health concerns. Some birds require more warmth and sunlight than others. Diet varies from bird to bird. Whether to have a single pet or more than one is a concern that needs to be addressed.
Every bird is different, but with the correct knowledge, caring for a pet bird can be an enjoyable, stimulating experience for bird and human alike. Do your research before you bring a bird into your home. There are websites and forums you can go to online to garner more information.
Like most animals, a pet bird will hide sickness until it’s too late, so you’ll need to recognize the signs of illness as early as possible. Those symptoms of illness include:
- Sitting on the bottom of the cage, balance difficulties, and/ or a tucked head or limb
- Decrease in weight of more than 10 percent
- Inability or reluctance to eat normal amounts of food
- Open-mouthed breathing, tail bobbing with breaths
- Eye and/or nasal inflammation or discharge
- Rapid beak growth or malformations, cracking/breaking of the beak
- Lack of muscle definition in the keel (chest area)
- Skin inflammation or discharge
- Torn or tattered/missing feathers
- Visible parasites on the skin under the feathers
- Matting or fecal material around the vent (anal region)
- Blood or color changes in feces and urine not explained by diet
- Absence of feces/increase in urine output
Should you notice your pet bird signaling any of these symptoms, contact your avian vet immediately.
Pet birds can suffer from a variety of diseases. Typical eye disorders in birds can result from injury or infection, and often signal another underlying condition. Respiratory tract infections are common and can be bacterial, fungal or viral in nature. Highly contagious to other birds, some respiratory diseases can be passed to their human caretakers and must be treated and carefully monitored. Avian skin problems can be parasitic (feather mites), fungal or bacterial infections. Birds, like other animals, develop cancers and tumors, become infested from intestinal parasites, and have nutritional deficiencies and hormonal disorders. For a good overview of avian diseases with a listing of symptoms and veterinary treatments, visit the PetMD website for more information.
Be prepared for small emergencies that you may need to handle at home before transporting your bird to your veterinarian for complete treatment. Prepare a first aid kit expressly for your pet bird. Some items to include are: a cauterizing agent (such as Kwik-Stop, flour or cornstarch), scissors, gauze, hemostats, needle-nosed pliers, a small hospital cage (an aquarium or brooder), a heating pad, a towel, extra bird food and bottled water.
Please remember, if you notice any sort of illness or trauma involving your pet bird see your veterinarian immediately for care.
Birds need a good, balanced diet that includes a variety of grains, birdseed, fruits and green vegetables. Minerals and proteins in the form of supplements can be added to the diet. Your pet birds also needs plenty of clean, free-choice water to remain healthy.
There are many types of food available for all the different types of pet birds. Most packaged bird food specifies the type of bird it was designed for and has all the necessary components for a healthy meal. Foods available for birds include;
- Bird Feed Mixes – Mixtures can include formulated foods, seeds, nuts, and dried fruits with specific mixes typed for specific birds. Typically, mixtures contain supplements of additional vitamins and minerals.
- Formulated Diets – Formulated diets consist of all the necessary vitamins and minerals, so supplementation is not necessary. However, formulated diets do not contain the phytonutrients (antioxidant pigments) that are found in vegetables, fruits, grains, and seeds. Phytonutrients are believed to boost the immune system, help a body to heal itself, and to prevent some diseases. Many birds also become bored with a formulated diet due to the lack of variety. Offering supplements can help provide the phytonutrients and help offset boredom.
- Bird Seed Diets – Seed only diets offer more variety but require additional vitamin and calcium supplements. Seeds are a major portion of the wild birds’ diet and contain proteins and oils. To provide a balanced diet, minerals, amino acid, vitamins and trace elements can be added as a supplement to seed or water.
You’ll probably want to provide additional foods to any of the above diets. These foods can be comprised of
- vegetables, greens and fruits (apples, pears, plums, cherries, grapes, oranges, bananas, mangos, papayas, and even berries such as strawberries and blueberries, carrots, cucumbers, zucchini, many garden vegetables, and dandelions and chickweed),
- protein supplements (cottage cheese, hard boiled eggs, and even canned dog food can be added every 10 days or so),
mineral supplements (cuttlebone and calcium blocks), and
- bird grit is an aid to digestion for birds that eat seeds unshelled. Grit also contains valuable minerals and trace elements, and though not necessary for digestion will aid some birds if offered in limited amounts.
You’ll need to watch out for chocolate, avocado, onions and garlic, the herb comfrey, fruit pits and apple seeds (they contain cyanide), peanuts, sugar-free candy, high-fat, high-sodium, high-sugar foods. Make sure not to give your pet these items as they can be toxic to birds.
Is a bird the right pet for my family?
Veterinarians will tell you there are at least 5 questions you need to ask yourself before bringing a pet bird into your family. Those questions should include:
1. Are you willing to clean up a constant mess? Birds are NOT neat. They leave copious amounts of food and nuts in their wake and do not use a litter box. Food and water bowls need to be changed daily and cages cleaned on a regular basis. Cleanliness prevents disease, so maintaining a neat environment is necessary.
2. Can you handle a noisy pet? A happy bird can be noisy with its constant calls and chirps. The larger the bird, the louder they noise they can make.
3. Are you able to accommodate a large cage or aviary? The size of your bird’s home is dependent on the size and number of birds in your flock. Cages should have various sized perches and platforms and room for toys, food and water bowls. If your bird is unable to move around, the cage is too small. Can your house or apartment handle a large living area for your pet?
4. Can you spend time daily engaging with your bird? Most pet birds require interaction, training and play with their bird parents on a daily basis to remain healthy, happy and mentally stimulated. Without that communication, your bird may develop both physical and emotional problems.
5. Can you commit financially and emotionally to an animal that can live up to 80 years? A pet bird, particularly one of the Parrot species, can live a very long life if given good nutrition, proper veterinary care, and daily contact with its owners.
Bringing a bird into your life should not be a decision based on whimsy. These are thinking and feeling creatures that benefit from a healthy environment, diet, and interaction with people. Their lives depend how well we take care of them, and such a decision should not be made without considering the long-term responsibility that goes along with it.
Cockatiel (image by Lafeber.com)
Lovebirds (image by Cutagulta.com)
Finches (image by BirdCage.com)
Cate Burnette is a semi-retired registered veterinary technician with clinical experience in small and large animal medicine. With 30-plus years of journalism experience, she went back to school after 9/11 to work with her first love: animals. The pet parent of four cats, three dogs and one ex-racehorse, Cate is a certified rescue volunteer with the American Humane Association’s Red Star Emergency Services and served with the group in New Orleans doing animal search and rescue after Hurricane Katrina. She is also a horse safety and horse management expert, and has volunteered with US Pony Clubs as a district commissioner and horse management judge.