Is a Parrot as a Pet Right for You?

Is a Parrot the Right Pet for You?

Eolophus roseicapillus
Article by By Marcy Covaul, President, Pyrrhura Breeders Association

The below contains information that will help you decide whether a parrot is the right for you.

 So You Want a Parrot as Pet?

Article by By Marcy Covaul, President, Pyrrhura Breeders Association

We encourage parrot owners to enjoy the quality of experiences that we know are possible with our avian companions

Did you know that parrots are usually:

Intelligent Affectionate Loving Joyful Curious PlayfulActive Long-lived Messy Hormonal Noisy Demanding

How are parrots different from other pets?

Parrots are highly intelligent creatures that enjoy mental stimulation. Because they are prey animals, unlike cats and dogs (and humans), which are predator species, a bird will react differently, e.g., flight preferable to fight in most cases. They stress more easily, and when they can’t escape because they are in a cage and/or have flight feathers trimmed so that they can’t fly, defensive behaviors develop, such as biting, extensive vocalizing, and feather picking.

You should not expect a parrot to be a feathered kitten or puppy.

Household harmony is critical to birds. It is important to protect the trusting nature of your bird by keeping it safe from other animals, or from being handled by those who would mistreat it, including small children who may not have the motor control necessary to handle birds safely.

Are there differences in temperament among species?

There are mannerisms common to all species, but there are also variations in temperament among species and individuals. Some are more laid-back, and some are more hyper. Some are louder, and some are quieter. Some are more outgoing, and some are shy. Do your homework to see which fits with your expectations and lifestyle.

Choosing the Right Pet Bird for your Lifestyle

What’s my commitment going to be?

Most parrots are fairly long-lived, and therefore a strong commitment on the part of the person buying the bird is required. It’s not quite as easy caring for an exotic bird as it is a dog or cat, but your extra effort for these feathered angels will not go unrewarded. You will have many years with a very special companion!

What housing do they need?

Cage furnishings:

perches and toys—Perches should be of various sizes and shapes to allow some variety for your bird’s feet. Parrots are active and intelligent, and like inquisitive children, they need stimuli in their environment to channel excess energy into fun, “lively” activities. Sufficient toys (even some that you can switch out from time to time) will provide amusement and exercise. Educate yourself on which toys are safe and which ones aren’t, and check your bird’s toys regularly for dangerous loose threads that can trap toes or beaks

What do they eat?

Basic diet—Offering a varied diet is not only physically healthy, it is also a form of psychological stimulation. Fresh water is a must. Depending on species and what they’re fed from the time they are small, most parrots appreciate fruits and vegetables and should have them regularly. A good maintenance pellet, high quality seeds and sprouted seeds (sunflower, etc.), should provide a nourishing diet.

Sprouted or germinated seeds are usually more easily accepted by “seed addicts” than fresh fruits and vegetables.

  • Sprouted seeds are healthier as the sprouting changes and enhances the nutritional quality and value of seeds and grains. Sprouted seeds are lower in fat, as the process of sprouting utilizes the fat in the seed to start the growing process – thus reducing the fat stored in the seeds.
  • Sprouted seeds will help balance your bird’s diet by adding a nutritious supply of high in vegetable proteins, vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and chlorophyll.
  • Soaked and germinated “oil” seeds, like niger and rape seeds, are rich in protein and carbohydrates; while “starch” seeds, such as canary and millets, are rich in carbohydrates, but lower in protein.
  • It is an invaluable food at all times; however, it is especially important for breeding or molting birds. Sprouted seeds also serve as a great rearing and weaning food as the softened shell is easier to break by chicks and gets them used to the texture of seeds.

Cooked rice/bean mixes and “birdie” breads are other good foods.

Certain species (such as loriesand toucans) have specialized diets, so you need to become familiar with what a particular species requires for maintenance and best health.

Table food—Some table food in moderation is fine, but no caffeine (coffee, chocolate), very salty or sweet foods, or avocados.

Home Sweet Home—Because most parrots are active and “mouthy,” like a human toddler, they will taste just about anything. Many household plants can be toxic, so you’ll need to learn what’s safe and what’s not—and control their environment.

Other common home dangers are electrical cords (shock) and containers of liquid (drowning).What about grooming and vet visits?

Flight feathers—Some species are exceptionally strong flyers. Depending on their environment, you should consider trimming their flight feathers to prevent accidents or escapes, but have a pro do it or show you how, so that you don’t clip too short (where they “fall like a rock” and can crack their beak or sternum), or too long (so they can get up speed and fly into a plate-glass window or out the door).

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    Even with some flight feathers trimmed, it is not advisable to take birds outside unless in a carrier or cage.

    Nails and beaks—Nails should be trimmed as necessary. (Using a grooming perch will reduce or eliminate the need to trim the nails.) If you do need to trim your bird’s nails — here are the instructions.

    Only in rare instances does a beak need trimming, and that should be done by an avian professional only—the beak has many nerve endings and is very sensitive.

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      Vet checks and vaccinations—Discussing your bird and its health with your avian vet is good preventive action, can set a baseline for health, and gives you a contact in case of emergencies. Find out what you need for an avian emergency kit.

      Illnesses—Since parrots are prey animals, they instinctively hide illnesses (weaknesses), so being observant as to normal behavior and when there’s a deviation from that behavior is important. Learn to recognize signs of illness and how to contact your avian vet quickly.

      Is it better to have one or more parrots?

      Birds are naturally “flock” creatures, so if you have a single bird, you should provide a rich environment to prevent boredom and undesirable behavior. Many parrots are in single-bird households and adjust fine.

      Parrots are often possessive of their person, and they may maintain a better relationship with you if they are not paired.

      If you can’t give daily personal attention or are gone for extended periods during the day, providing either a same-room companion animal/bird or music/TV will be welcome company.

      When you return, expect them to greet you NOISILY and JOYFULLY!

      So You Want a Parrot as Pet?


      Pet Macaw
      Satire by Elizabeth Garnett
      Pet Macaw

      This is Blu my Blue and Gold Macaw after his first shower in his many more to come showers that we enjoy together for almost 3 years now. All together, not just one shower because, well that would be one long shower.

      Blu insists that I stand off to the far corner of the shower when he’s bathing with me. He doesn’t want me to have any of the water he’s using, and is insistent on me staying away from all shower activity or else he will, and does, bite my toes back into their rightful place against the wall.

      I don’t mind really, it’s not like I don’t get clean without water. The mist gets me clean enough, and  if we stay in the shower as long as Blu likes, it’s always long enough to make me plenty prune clean by default.

      Am I spoiling him, maybe, but at least he doesn’t smell and, at least, I have my toes.  Besides, I’ve learned never to argue with your parrot. For one, he will always win, because he never listens to what you have to say, his words are what’s gospel.

      Ask anyone who really knows their parrot, they will confirm my reasoning that, if you want to make your parrot do anything at all, let him be the one to decide what it is.

      Otherwise, you might as well not even have a parrot, they don’t really consider you anything but their amusement and source of food. So think twice before deciding on a parrot as a pet.

      They may tell you they love you, and anyone that’s heard their parrot say those little three words to them, I LOVE YOU, will tell you, it’s worth any abuse or unpleasant mess your parrot has to dish out, he, after all, said HE LOVES YOU. Even if he didn’t mean it, he did say it. We, humans, are kind of stupid when it comes to having those three little words said to us.

      We, unlike parrots, can be fooled into thinking we are liked, just by hearing t he words I LOVE YOU. No matter where it comes from, if it’s breathing and the words are directed at you, that’s enough to hook us; like a fat cat fish on a sleepy fishing venture stuck to a hook that seemed harmless at the time. just floating there in front of it’s mouth, harmless. Harmless as a bird. Not a parrot.

      Parrots are not birds, they are Parrots. They have special rights. Even the global community recognizes a “Parrot” as something that is against the law to kill.

      All over the globe, this little rule applies, you can’t kill a parrot on purpose. Not like a pigeon or a duck. Any other bird in fact can be killed, excluding the endangered species like eagles and the like, but I think most would agree, it’s probably easier to think about killing an eagle, than it is a parrot.

      Why? Well, for one, they can talk, or at least most of the larger one’s can, and the ones who don’t talk, still are parrots nonetheless, and when you think of a parrot, you think of a talking bird with special rights. Rights that humans have.

      Humans talk. Sometimes not so well, but it doesn’t’ make it any easier to think of them as easy kill. No. Parrots won’t allow thoughts of harm aimed at them, not as long as they come armed with I LOVE YOU and other utterances that keep them safe, and keep us slaves to their every need. It’s amusing and sad at the same time. Humans might think they have the upper hand, but parrots know that they do.

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        In fact, this would be a good time to tell you the story of how Blu came to be our family parrot.

        It started back in 2005, early 2005, the first few weeks of it in fact, my two kids, 15 and 13 at the time, accompanied me to the pet store for our weekly cat and dog food trip when we noticed a huge colorful blue and gold bird in the pet store display, scratching it’ own head, and looking mighty pathetic. Almost like he wanted to tell us something, something oh, maybe like, I LOVE YOU.

        But I’m old and not quite a fool, so when my son begged me to buy the pretty parrot that looks like he needs a good home, I simply told him NO. And continued to do so for the next three or four trips to the pet store we took. Until that faithful time.

        That one time I had my guard down and my “NO” didn’t find its way out of my mouth in time. One “well maybe” turned into a , we will see and then quickly into a yes I guess so…but only if you promise to take care of it’s daily keep up, and play with it……why I even went through the motion of uttering those empty words “I don’t know.”

        It must be the same reason why any parent thinks anything they say has clout or meaning to their kids. It’s a lot like living off the last time you heard your bird say “HE LOVED YOU”.

        When your kids make you crazy, the utterance of “I LOVE YOU, MOM” waggles in the back of your active memory and keeps you from killing or selling your kids and – like a parrot – kids don’t really see you as anything but an amusement and source of food to them.  Well, maybe they really do love us, and just as your parrot might drive you crazy sometime, they also know how to pull your strings and get their way. And we keep on coming back for more. Time after time, when we think we have all the answers to the hard questions in life. It always comes down to caving into those who tell us we are loved. 

        It helps that both kids and parrots are cute. The cute factor has a lot going for it elf, teenagers – for instance – loose some, well a lot of the cute factor and, accordingly, become less adorable – making them easier to stand up to…until that is, they utter, I LOVE YOU MOM…It’s not just me, it’s all that’s decent and worth while in life. I LOVE YOU is right up there with the best of them.

        Ok, so now we have a large parrot coming home with us.

        A parrot we know nothing about the care or handling of, a big parrot with a really big beak, coming to live with us.

        A bird we will have to pick up and carry on our arm, with his big beak sitting on his colorful face, big big beak. Sharp and really strong – we were warned as we carried him off the pet store property. Sharp and dangerous, we were hollered to as we eased his feathered hugeness into our open vehicle.

        The uneasiness of my sons face as this new member of the family sat on his head and squawked like a victim of a violent assault was starting to become apparent. The warnings were sinking in. The warnings of the dangerous beak. The beak that can snap a finger off in a split second.

        We were all in shock, I now realize, as I look back on that trip home for the first time with our new Parrot. We knew more about dinosaurs and Egyptian pyramids than we did about parrots. We new more about everything but anything to do about parrots we were lost.

        Being the adult, I decided to take the bull by the horns, or the parrot by the beak and read a book or two about these mysterious birds. After I finished the first few pages I realized the importance of getting this bird back to the pet store as soon as possible, before it does bodily harm to us, before we had to pick it up again along with its beak and carry it somewhere.

        The pet store had a 14-day return policy and I made sure it wasn’t a misprint in the parrot owner contract we signed – so I called the pet store the next day. Yes, you have 14 days to bring him back, but don’t you think you should let at least 24 hours go by before you start to panic?

        “Have you taken a close up shot of this parrots beak? I asked the lady at the other end of the receiver. “Have you seen it eat a whole unshelled walnut? Well, I didn’t think so, I’ll just call you back when we decide.

        Feeling more secure of my place in this whole parrot adoption fiasco I eased up to the new curiosity in a feathered suit and smiled. Then, without warning, the beak spoke. “Where’s the cat” it said…..Oh my god, did you hear that, the parrot spoke, the beak was magical and it uttered human language.

        The family scattered up out of the woodwork to witness the mysterious talking powers of this large beaked beast. Wow mom, can we keep um? It can talk it can talk…yes, but was that enough to justify ownership and responsibility of such a large beak.

        “Whereas the cat” it repeated again, this time with a new accent, like a foreigner with the magnetic twang that earned him respect from the natives, respect he did not deserve, not for having an accent anyway, but nonetheless respect he got. 

        And suddenly, the terrifying properties that the beak once held, seemed now to only be a distant unpleasant memory, a memory of the before time, the before-the-beak-spoke-human.

        It was human. It was no longer a weapon to be feared, respected yes, it’s hard not to notice a can opener when worn on the face, but it was no longer an obstacle somehow, now that it spoke English, it sort of earned its right to be in the family, alongside others who spoke words, humans and parrot co-existing under one language, one law, one large beak.

        It’s been almost three years now and the beak no longer terrifies us as much as it did. Sure, we still respect its power and cutting ability, but now we except it as we would a pair of lips. Except lips don’t chop of fingers if provoked, so let me rephrase: we except it as one of our own, just more dangerous.

        Well actually, my daughter bit me so hard once I thought my finger fell off, but it didn’t, and she didn’t have a big beak like Blu does, so it’s nothing like anything Blu could do….but let’s not travel down that road again, it will only ignite the fear the beak ensues, and learning to handle a dangerous weapon makes the weapon less dangerous. 

        Let’s face it, I’ll be scared of the beak on Blu until the day I die, I just don’t let him know it.

        There’s second nothing to a parrot’s enjoyment and entertainment value as a human that’s afraid of its beak. A parrot has the time of its life when it thinks someone is afraid of it, and acts accordingly, striking out it pretend beak attacks just for the sheer joy of watching a human flinch, pull away or simply run screaming, never underestimate the power of the entertainment value inside a fear of the beak. 

        Sometimes I think I have the whole scary beak thing under control as I offer an assured arm to Blu, and just as sure as my confidence in handily him is he’ll screech so loud it sends chills up my spine and fear in my heart. He knows this and finds pleasure in my pain. Until that is, I give him a dirty look and walk away from his view.

        I’ve learned my own trick to get attention from my parrot, ignoring him when he’ s bad. They hate that as much as we hate being bit or screamed at, they hate it even more.

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          One thing you can count on as an owner of a large parrot, that you will be bit at some time or other, and that your parrot hates to be alone. They are social creatures,  not unlike humans in their flock behaviors. Think about it. When you walk into a crowded coffee shop you’ll notice groups of people huddled together inside a larger group of their sum totals.

          Cliques, groups of two, three, four or more, but rarely one alone. Same as for the parrot. A flock of birds may be many, but within that mass their exists a subculture of groups, if we were to observe our behavior and the behaviors of that of the parrot, observe from afar as an alien from another planet would do, humans would seem allot like parrots in their social behaviors.

          You would conclude they were both flock creatures, and you would be right. That’s why parrots do indeed coexist well with humans, humans that is, that allow them to be part of the flock, part of the family.

          The best way to train a parrot to behave well is to ignore or shun it from the family activities.

          Unfortunately, allot of people aren’t aware of this and often unknowingly teach their parrots to misbehave by leaving them alone or out of the family social life.

          That is why their are so many parrots without homes, parrots given up to sanctuary’s or put into a backroom of the house with the door closed on them.  Not because they are loud and unruly, but because they are lonely and want to be included in the social circle. So they make it known, loudly most of the time, and allot.

          Parrots talk in human language not because they think the English language is pretty, but because they learn they can get their needs met if they do. They learn the language of the “flock” to insure their needs are met.

          That’s what humans do to. Anything to belong. Even if it means misbehaving, unfortunately, humans aren’t ignored because of their deep need to belong to a group, but parrots are.

          What a shame it is to see a parrot ignored, not because his beak is scary, and this would be understandable to some degree, but because it never had a chance to , when in Rome, do as the Romans do.

          They never got a chance to get inside Rome in the first place. Don’t get a parrot if you cant’ include him in your daily life, it’s more dangerous than the beak on his face to leave him out of the group he see’s as his flock, his human family, the only flock he knows.

          With that said, let me put down my violin and dry my dripping cheek. Ok, let’s address the issue of why anyone would want a parrot in the first place. Now that you know more about parrots, assuming you read what I just wrote, I don’t think having a parrot is as appealing as it once might have been. Before you knew you were responsible for it’s well being and not just for its feeding and housing.

          Sure parrots are beautiful to look at, and amusing to watch and listen to if they talk, but oh how much more miserable they are if they are ignored. It’s like having a constant nag with a really loud voice remind you day in and day out just how miserable they are. And rightly so, they were born flock creatures, and like humans, aren’t cut out to live alone or alone for very long.

          And unless you commit to what it takes to keep a parrot happy and feeling like they belong, don’t get one. They make horrible ignored pets. The worst. But so would we if we were invited into a new home with a new family just to be locked up in a room away from your new company, away from what you live for, others, to be with and live aside others.

          I remember the first year Blu joined our family how much they all complained about how much I carry him around with us, in the house, at mealtime, even on our family vacations. 

          Well, I reminded my flock, parrots are not people but close enough. They are special, globally they are respected enough to allow that to kill a parrot is unlawful, and the world obliges, not because they are afraid of their beaks, that would only prove to be a good reason to kill them, but world wide we do not condone it.

          Why, because deep down we see the similarities in our social behaviors and respect them as social creatures, such as we are, and admire their capability to fit into our lives, if we let them. All we have to do is let them. Nothing special, no song or dance, just a open invitation to belong to our family.  Period.

          I make it easy. I just lug Blu with me were I go. I keep a perch on wheels with a tray attached to catch the poop (you can purchase one anywhere parrot supplies are sold) and I roll him around while I do the laundry, or make the beds or cook a meal. When I watch tv, so does Blu.

          When I shower, he showers with me. (Whether allowing) when I eat, he eats with me. And sometimes we just sit side by side, him on his perch on wheels and me in a chair talking on the phone.  Just being together in the same room is enough for a parrot. Is enough for a human.

          Your not alone when there is someone else around. You don’t even have to like that someone else very much, I know my son doesn’t like Blu that much and Blu doesn’t exactly like my son either. Then there are those who can give or take blu’s company, in which case they can take it, because he will be with me, and when your with me, your with Blu. 

          I don’t expect people to like Blu just because he’s there, but I do expect them to respect his presence as they do mine.  Given the choice between having company or being alone, I would bet a large Parrots bite that most of us would choose the former.

          Company, no matter how bad, is sometimes better than no company at all, and I’m realistically talking about long periods of solitude. Parrots and People both agree on one thing.

          One is the loneliest number that you ever knew. Two is much better than one and the number one is much better with two……you get my point. You don’t. Ok, time to put you in the back room by yourself….see…..not much fun in that huh?

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