How to Choose the Best Pet Bird for You
You've decided to get a pet bird—a new feathered companion for yourself, your family and your home. Now it's time to choose one. There are a number of factors to consider before you adopt or purchase a bird. These factors and the particular traits different types of pet birds have, will help you determine which is the best pet bird for your family before you bring them home.
When you’re ready to learn more about if a pet bird is right for your family and the best type of bird to welcome home for your particular situation, keep in mind the questions below.
What is the time commitment for a pet bird?
This is probably the most important question. Birds are intelligent, playful and, most important, social animals. Are you ready to commit to the time you will need to interact with your bird? When they first come home with you, getting your bird comfortable and socialized within their new environment takes dedication – and days – to achieve. And, the work doesn’t stop there! Birds need continual stimulation in their habitats and some types of pet birds can become frustrated or bored if they are not allowed time out of their habitat every day for interaction. You should set aside a specific time for you and your bird to interact, play with toys and even work on teaching them different tricks or cues.
Habitat cleaning is also an important task that requires dedicated time from pet parents. While it may seem like a chore, it is one that must be done on a regular basis. The habitat structure, substrate (or habitat liner), perches, dishes, toys and grates should be cleaned out at least weekly. Food and water dishes should be cleaned and refreshed daily as well.
It is also important to consider the time commitment you will have with your bird in a different way. Birds are very long-lived and will be lifelong companions. For example, a cockatiel can live up to 25 years, an Amazon or an African grey up 60 years. There are documented cases of some birds living to be 100 years old! Can you commit to that? It's not unusual for birds to be passed to the next generation, so preparing for that possibility is important.
What personality traits do pet birds have?
Birds tend to have distinct personalities. Some species attach themselves to one family member and shower that person with all their devotion. That person may or may not be the one who loves and feeds them the most. Other birds will divide their love among all family members equally. Decide if you want a tame bird that will cuddle with you while you relax at night or if you prefer a bird that remains in his habitat most of the time. Some species prefer minimal to no handling, while others crave attention to the point that they will become upset if they don't receive it. Be sure to take that into consideration.
Are you ready for a messy roommate?
All birds make a mess. Careful planning of the habitat and surrounding area can make things neater and easier to clean. Even a potty-trained bird has accidents. And, birds also produce dander. Remember, sharing a home with a bird can be like having a two-year-old-forever.
How chatty is your ideal pet bird?
Different bird species have different "chatters" and noise levels. Some, like budgies, are known to chatter, while cockatiels can whistle (sometimes quite loudly) And if you’ve ever been around a macaw, you know that some can get quite loud. If you're looking for a quite bird, finches or female canaries may be a good option.
What type of bird (or birds) will be best for your family?
While each species of bird come with different characteristics and personality traits, there remain other factors to consider including the way a particular bird was raised and what age the bird is.
Hand-fed vs. parent-raised birds
Generally, hand-fed birds will be gentler from the start with everyone in the family since they are more used to human interaction during feeding times from the early stages of their lives. Hand-fed birds may require less training and hand-taming when you welcome your new pet into your home.
Parent-raised birds, however, relied on their mother for feedings and may require additional training and patience before they are fully comfortable with human interaction.
While many birds for sale have been hand-fed, it is important to confirm a bird’s personality with a store partner, or understand its history if you are adopting a pet.
Should you get a male or female pet bird?
It is often difficult to tell if a bird is male or female while looking at it since some pet birds do not have any external differing characteristics and the species will be the same size, color and shape no matter which sex they are. While many behaviors are also similar across male and female pet birds, you may notice a different in terms of the level of noise they make. For instance, female canaries are typically quieter than male canaries.
However, identifying a male or female bird in a pet store may be difficult since special testing methods are required to differentiate between the sexes. Consult with a veterinarian that specializes in avian medicine to determine the sex of your pet bird.
Should you get a young bird or an older one?
Most bird pet parents tend to choose young birds, so they are able to train it from the start and know more about its personality. Although adopting an older bird can be more challenging in some ways, there are also rewards and advantages. Older birds may actually be well trained and friendly; and they tend to be less expensive.
If you choose to get an older bird, be sure to check their background, and gather as much information as possible about their previous pet parent, diet, medical history, age and personality traits.
Remember to keep your expectations realistic. Some older birds may have developed behavioral problems, such as biting, screaming or feather picking, which could be the reason the bird is up for adoption. Sometimes a bird's problems will moderate, or even disappear, in a new environment; a lot of TLC can help with that. Other times though, some birds will retain their habits for the remainder of their lives.
Patience is an important requirement if you adopt an older bird. Some may bond with you right away, while others may take months. Some previously owned birds may have been neglected by uncaring owners or due to ignorance. Worse yet, some may have been abused. Birds raised under these circumstances will most likely require an extra dose of TLC to adjust properly.
Some older birds may require a dietary change. This should be made gradually so that you can be sure your bird is eating enough to maintain a healthy weight. Although an older bird may be finicky, continue to offer the new food to him. Even if he refuses to eat it at first, he may come around eventually.
Should you get one or two pet birds?
The answer to this question cannot be made without careful consideration and planning. Keep in mind that:
- By nature, birds are flock animals, forming strong bonds with other members and raising birds in pairs can help foster their flocking instinct.
- If you purchase or adopt a pair, they may bond to each other, and not to you. If you were looking to create a special connection with your new pet, or wanted to train him to talk, you may want to consider one vs. two.
- If two birds are kept in the same habitat, one will prove to be more dominant, which could lead to problems.
- If you are looking to have multiple birds, it is important that the species should be the same, so keep canaries with canaries, parakeets with parakeets, and so forth.
- The younger the birds, the greater the chance of successful mixing. So, introducing multiple birds sooner rather than later is a good idea, but introducing an older bird may be more difficult.
- Introducing a new pet to an existing one doesn't always work out; birds have their own personal preferences and might not be compatible with one another.
- The birds should be allowed to get to know each other from separate habitats initially; within a short time you can begin to move the habitats together.
- The birds' first encounter should be outside their habitats; observe their behavior and be prepared to separate them. Never leave the area until you are certain the two birds will be compatible.
- Even if your birds cannot occupy the same habitat, they can still enjoy each other's company.
Should you get a bird with or without leg bands?
Most commercially sold birds will have metal bands around the lower portion of their legs. These bands are used for identification and to indicate where your bird was bred. These bands will become very important if your bird should get out of their habitat.
The decision to remove the band is not a simple one. Closed bands should never be removed because they serve as the bird's birth certificate. However, removing open bands may help prevent injuries because bands can catch on habitats, wires, toys, and other objects. If your bird's leg is injured and swells, the band can cause additional damage. If you decide to remove the band, never do it by yourself; have your avian veterinarian remove the band. Be sure to save the band, or copy the information, for safekeeping.
Picking out your pet bird
Purchasing any pet can be an emotional decision. When selecting your bird remember to choose from your head, not just your heart; both you and your bird will be happier for it.
To ensure that you have enough time to make a good decision when picking out your new pet, call ahead to the pet store, breeder or shelter and find out when their feeding and adoption times are so that you have ample opportunity to observe and interact with potential birds.
If a child is helping make the selection, remember their choice is usually based on sight and emotion. They also can be easily overwhelmed by too many choices. If it is vital for your child to pick the pet, pre-select several options based on which pet would fit best into your family’s lifestyle and let your child choose from these options.
Making a Healthy Choice
With careful observation and the help of the following checklist, you should be able to tell if the particular bird you are singling out is healthy. A healthy bird should look alert when you approach them, those that appear dull and have fluffed-up feathers may be ill. Don't be misled by the plumage of a young bird, as young bird’s feathers rarely are as sleek as adult birds.
Other health factors you should pay attention to include:
- Nostrils should be even in size and free of blockages
- Eyes should be clear, without discharge or a whitish opacity
- Bill should be a normal length with no signs of abnormality, such as the upper portion curving into the lower
- The feathering around the bill and on the head should be clean
- Locate your bird's breastbone by running your fingers down his underside to the mid-line; distinct hollows on either side indicate poor condition, possibly a result of a chronic illness.
- Legs should be smooth; heavy scaling can be a sign of old age
- Overgrown claws will require clipping
- Check for swelling on the bottom of the feet, the result of a bumble foot infection
- Your bird's toes should all end in claws, although on occasion, a claw may be missing
- Check the vent area for soiled feathering that could indicate a digestive disturbance
- Feces color can vary depending on the type of pellets the bird is eating, but lime green feces can indicate a serious health concern
How much will your pet bird cost?
How much pet birds cost varies depending on the type of bird you choose. Design a budget for the pet bird you wish to get, and don’t forget all of the bird supplies that will also be needed. Beware of "bargain birds" as there could be some underlying issues. While exact prices will vary based on where you are located and other factors, you can expect costs similar to the below:
- A pair of finches can cost between $20 and $100
- A budgie is usually about $25
- Cockatiels range from $80 to $150
- Amazon greys can be between $700 to $1,500
- A hyacinth macaw can command more than $8,000!
Welcoming your new pet bird home
Now that you have purchased your bird, you have to transport them safely home. Bring your new bird home in a box or travel bird carrier rather than in full size habitat. This will be less stressful and should help your bird settle down instead of flapping about and possibly becoming injured. Pet stores can supply suitable carriers, but if you are purchasing your bird from a breeder, you may need to bring one.
You should arrange to visit your veterinarian on the way home from picking up your new bird. The veterinarian will check your new bird to be sure it is healthy and answer any questions you may have.
Don't wait until you bring your bird home before setting up their space. Have everything ready so that when you come home you can attend to your bird. You should learn how to properly handle your bird before you attempt to put them in their habitat. The store, rescue, breeder or your veterinarian can show how to do this. Even a tamed bird is likely to be nervous, so allow your bird to settle down on their own. Allow for an adjustment period once your pet is safely in their habitat. Leave yourself adequate time for introductions if you have other pets. Your new addition will need to be left alone for a while they can acclimate to their new surroundings in peace.
An advance in domestic breeding and rearing of birds has resulted in healthier, tame young birds. Their increased availability has made birds even more popular as pets. For many, the company of these magnificent, unique and, in some cases, talking pets can make birds an attractive family addition.