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CHOOSING A BIRD SPECIES

Buying a pet bird can be confusing. Your avian-enthusiast neighbor has his opinion, the pet store clerk has his opinion, endless pet publications have all kinds of opinion - so how do you sort them all out and determine what's right for you and your household?

The choice is essentially subjective. It depends on your own time constraints, and economic and environmental realities, but even with unlimited options in those critical areas, not every bird is for every person. Your goals, personality, experience and yes, patience are all key to making a wise decision. Don't rush out to buy a certain type of bird just because your friend down the street recommends it. You have many options - canaries, mynahs, cockatoos, finches - the list goes on forever and within a species, you have even more variety. The names are fascinating - American Singer Canary, African Gray Parrot, Greater Indian Hill Mynah - and each bird species is beautiful in its own way. Whether you are a busy family of four or you live by yourself, there are some guidelines to help you choose which species of bird is right for you.

Why are you getting this bird?
The answers vary from hobby to companionship to breeding. There are almost as many reasons why people get birds as there are birds to get! If you are a first-time bird owner and not sure about what's involved in owning a bird, start small and simple. Lories tame easily, finches are easy to care for and cockatiels are happy birds with soft whistles. Any of these would be a good choice for a hobby bird, a companion bird or a bird for a home with children.

How much time are you planning to devote to your new pet each day?
Your new bird will need regular food, water, discipline, entertainment, attention and more attention every day. Try to gauge the amount of time you think this bird will need, and then make sure your expectations match the bird. The important thing is to take a good look at your household's time commitments and be honest when talking to the breeder or pet store associate. The better you can define your own timeframe, the more the breeder or associate can help you find the perfect bird, one that will grow and thrive with your love and care.

Where will the bird live?
Every pet needs a place to call home. Your bird will need a place for his cage to hang, near light during the day, and with quiet and darkness at night. You should also consider the size of the cage, since a large parrot will not fit in a cage designed for finches.

A good rule of thumb for cages is that you can't buy a cage that's too big for your bird. Cage sizes run the gamut from large (36"W x 36"D x 60" H - a good size for a macaw) to small (24"W x 14"D x 18"H - an excellent choice for a finch). A medium cage (24"W x 24"D x 30"H) would be ideal for a conure. With any animal, it is the best to provide the largest cage possible. The bird should be able to spread his wings without hitting the sides of the cage. Ideally, you want a cage that will allow an entire wingspan on either side. The bars should be close enough together that he can't fit his head through the space or get his wings caught between the bars.

Depending on the species, your bird may need time out of his cage for socialization as well. Don't count on keeping your bird in his cage all the time. Think about a bird's behavior when choosing a room for him. While you want him to have a good view, sometimes a prominent place in the formal living room is not the best choice. Parakeets, macaws and lovebirds love to chew which could result in a messy floor! Choose a room where this won't bother you, or choose a different kind of bird such as a canary or finch. Although they like to chew, they don't chew as aggressively as other species of birds.

You should also consider personalities when choosing a bird, much the same way you would consider the temperament of a puppy. Some birds talk, some sing and some whistle. Many birds are messy and some have destructive tendencies when left alone.

Do you want a talking bird?
Talking birds can't really talk, but their ability to mimic is incredible. A bird repeats what he hears. However, you can't always find out if a bird is a "talker" simply by watching him for a few minutes in a pet store or breeder cage. A bird can be quiet and subdued when faced with unfamiliar surroundings or people; he may begin vocalizing his opinions much later. Be sure you want a bird that talks before buying one. The best talkers by far are African Grey Parrots, Amazons (double yellow headed, blue fronts), and macaws (Blue and Gold, Military). Next are parakeets (budgeridgars) and cockatiels. The latter group is not as strong in the talking department, but can still make excellent pets.

What noise level can you tolerate?
Picking a bird depends entirely on what you are willing to endure. There are birds that simply talk, such as the African Grey Parrot, Military Macaw or parakeets. Other birds may whistle and scream along with a bit of talking. Think about the noise level you're willing to accept on a daily basis and then make sure you find out exactly what to expect. Parrots, macaws and Amazons are the best "talkers." Conures (jenday or nanday) are not as proficient, but are nevertheless very noisy birds. All of these parrots and larger birds will scream loudly enough to make all but the most tolerant of neighbors pick up the telephone to complain.

What is your price range?
Cost is not something to ignore, and besides the initial cost of purchase, you need to consider the maintenance costs involved in owning a bird. Estimate the cost of food, health care, housing and equipment for your pet before committing to bird ownership. Sometimes a less expensive bird can be much more enjoyable and easier to raise.

First-time bird owners should not buy expensive or high-maintenance birds, such as large macaws and cockatoos. As much as you might like a scarlet macaw, if you've never owned a bird before, it's a good idea to try a less expensive bird to see how you and your bird get along and to see how manageable the ongoing expenses of bird ownership are.

You're the Best Judge

Different people prefer different birds, and your answers to the above questions are going to result in different combinations of characteristics. So what bird should you buy? Ask anyone whose opinion you value, read and study. If you're serious about getting a bird, you should consider searching for an avian veterinarian now and asking for his or her opinion before you begin. Review the list of common bird types below, and educate yourself more about the types that seem to be the most compatible with your lifestyle and preferences.

Finches are the smallest of the pet birds. They chirp frequently and are relatively easy to care for because they don't make much mess and do not like to be handled. Finches do need the company of other finches so will want to keep at least two or more. Also, finches require space to fly so a flight cage is strongly recommended. Canaries are also small and a member of the finch family. While they are quieter than parrots, they have beautiful vocalizations, especially the male birds. They can be kept singly or in pairs; however, male canaries should not be housed together. Canaries do not like to be handled which makes them relatively easy to care for. They do need room to fly so a flight cage is strongly recommended.

Parakeets, also called budgerigars or budgies, are small members of the parrot family and are the most popular species of pet birds in the United States. They are easy to care for and some can even learn to speak! Parakeets are active and need daily time out of their cage to interact with their family.

Lovebirds are considered the most beautiful of the small parrot family. They are curious, energetic, charming and can be territorial. Lovebirds have a unique chatter and a naturally loud call. Single birds bond best with their owners; however, if you do not have time every day to interact with your lovebird, it is best to have a pair.

Cockatiels are small, crested members of the parrot family and one of the most popular pet bird species. Their gentle personalities and easy care make them great pets. Cockatiels bond easily with their human companions and will follow them everywhere. They are known for mimicking repetitive sounds and noises. Conures, a small to medium-sized bird, as a whole are playful, affectionate and intelligent. They can be noisy, often screaming for attention or to communicate their feelings or emotions. Conures are good-natured, easy to train and require lots of toys to chew on.

African Grey Parrots are outstanding mimics of human speech and everyday sounds. They are alert and highly intelligent as well as gentle and affectionate. African Greys love to learn tricks and games and, because they are so intelligent, they require lots of stimulating toys.

Amazons are the quintessential "parrot" of literature and cinema. They are excellent talkers, playful, gentle and like to be the center of attention. Amazons are also very intelligent and like to learn tricks and require lots of toys to keep them busy. They form strong bonds with humans and need lots of daily interaction outside of their cage.

Cockatoos are one of the most affectionate and loving of all parrots. They are highly intelligent and inquisitive which may be why they are known to be "escape artists" as they are adept at getting out of their cage. Cockatoos require a great deal of attention, interaction and playtime with their human family, and can become stressed and ill if left alone too much. Their crest can indicate their mood.

Small macaws, such as Hahn's and Noble, are intelligent, affectionate, playful and one of the best talkers of all the macaws. They are fast learners, and like to show off. These macaws can be taught many tricks and need many stimulating toys. They are aggressive chewers and can be quite loud.

Large macaws, such as Military and Scarlet, are among the largest members of the parrot family. They are sensitive, affectionate and intelligent birds with a loud voice. These macaws are social and adapt well to human interaction; therefore, they need a lot of time outside of their cage. Large macaws bond easily with their primary caregiver. They, like their smaller counterparts, are aggressive chewers and need a lot of stimulating toys.

Lorikeets/Lories differ only in the size of their tails: lorikeets have longer tails than lories. Both are intelligent, active, playful and friendly. Lories and Lorikeets are very clean, affectionate birds that need the company of other birds. They require daily attention and a variety of toys. Because they are intelligent and playful, they can be taught tricks. However, because their nectar diet can cause runny stools, they can be messy.