Many people get a pet parrot with the idea it's an easy pet compared to a dog or cat. Nothing could be further from the truth! Let's discuss the five things you NEED to know before getting a pet parrot!
1. Not all Parrots are created equal
So first things first - it's important to remember that different types of parrots are actually different species. This may sound obvious, but it means when considering parrot species you have to remember comparing a cockatiel and a macaw is like comparing a dog and a monkey!
So which parrot is right for you? Well that's a tough question and depends on many factors such as time, space, other family members and money. As a general rule smaller parrots like cockatiels are 'easier'; they can be left to their own devices for longer periods, are more easily entertained and have less specific dietary requirements. A larger parrot, such as a macaw, will need new toys every day, a special home made diet to supplement bought food and will need A LOT of attention. That being said smaller parrots still need time with the family and require considerable effort to be well looked after pets.
2. Parrots have wings
Once again sounds obvious, but so many people clip their birds flight feathers taking away a huge aspect of their birds life. Imagine if I put your legs in casts and told you it was for your own safety? Not nice right?
Birds need to fly, it is instinctual and not only do they enjoy it but it's a great form of exercise. Larger parrots need more space to fly. Inside bird cages should provide enough room for your bird to flap their wings easily, turn around in a full circle with out their tails touching the edges and climb around the cage for fun. But this cage is not enough! Parrots also need a larger flight aviary or outside of cage time to truely allow them to stretch their wings!
How often should they be able to fly? Ideally when ever they want, but that's not always possible so it is important to ensure they have flight time at least once a day.
3. Parrots have species specific dietary needs
Did you know in the wild eclectus parrots are predominantly frugivorous (fruit eaters) while black cockatoos feed predominantly on marri seed and banksias. A formulated "bird seed" will not meet the nutritional requirements of every parrot any more than a "mammal feed" could safely feed all mammals!
Parrots main diet should consist of a formulated pellet made specifically for their species or natural diet type. Depending on the species this should be supplemented (sometimes by up to 80%) with fruits and vegetables. Nuts and seeds should only make up a small portion of the diet.
4. Parrot behaviour is complicated
Just like humans, parrot body language is complicated but having a good understanding of what your parrot is trying to tell you will ultimately make their life and yours a lot happier!
So bird body language 101. First let's look at the eyes. When you birds is very excited, fearful, angry or interested in something they will rapidly dilate and constrict their pupils - this is known as pinning. To be able to interpret if they are excited to see you or about to attack we need to interpret he remainder of the visual cues. If your bird is pinning his or her eyes, with a flaired tail, wings slightly out, low body position and is hissing it means they are scared or angry. If they are pinning their eyes with a very erect posture they are interested in what you have or what you are doing. If they are pinning their eyes, bobbing from side to side a little or are fluffing up it likely means they are excited to see you or what ever you have.
But just like people different birds will display different body languages - I highly advise spending some time with the species you intend on getting before hand so you can learn to interpret their visual cues.
As we have already mentioned birds are extremely intelligent. This makes them very fun pets, but also means they need a lot of toys, puzzles, family time, attention and can be a lot of work! It also means problem behaviours can get out of hand very quickly!
Let's focus on the example of the screeching parrot. You bird starts screaming, you run into the room to see what's going on and your bird thinks hhhmmm I scream and mum comes running... interesting.... the next time it happens you wait a little while but it's pretty annoying and eventually you go in. This just reinforces for your bird that screaming means you come. This is a common behaviour that escalates very quickly and there is only one way around it. First ignore the screaming. Second reward the times your bird is quite - even if it is only ten seconds with out a sound get your bum in there and give them some attention and a treat. As we have already discussed birds are intelligent and will learn quickly what gets them the outcome they desire.
For more information on bird behaviour and training check out this great article "10 things your bird wants you to know about behaviour".
Last but not least if you want a happy bird you must provid Enrichment. So what is an enrichment? Enrichment is any activity you provide that helps make you birds life more interesting. In the wild parrots spend up to 80% of their day foraging for food, when we place all of their food for the day in an easy to reach bowl that takes five minutes to eat what are they meant to do with all of that extra time!? So increasing eating time by feeding your birds multiple times a day, hiding food around the cage and in toys and providing a small amount of food outside of the cage is an easy and successful way to provide enrichment. Environmental enrichment is also very important and includes the cage set up, toys and outside of cage areas. People often ask how big of a cage should I Get? The truth is as big as can fit in your house! A bigger cage means more areas for perches, toys, natural branches, food trays and over all more fun for your parrot! You can also provide outside of cage environmental enrichment in the form of swings, ropes and branches around the house. Finally you also need to provide social enrichment for your bird - the means quality family time with their flock. The flock can be made of any species including humans, birds and in so,e cases other family pets like dogs. For some great enrichment ideas check out "The Parrot Enrichment Activity Book".
5. Parrots live a long time
Parrot lifespans vary amongst the species, but even our small cockatiel friends can live for twenty years! Then looking at larger species like cockatoos we are talking up to seventy years of age! This means if you get a large parrot in your thirties you are potentially making a life long commitment.
So now you know the Top 5 things people need to know before getting a parrot. Have you ever owned a parrot? If so what else do you wish you knew? Let us know in the comments so even more people can learn about being good Parrot Parents.
If you love animals check out the Chuffed Adventures episode where we head out to for an enrichment workshop at a zoo in panama!