To start, I love parrots. I am from Australia, the land of parrots and have grown up seeing wild cockatoos and lorikeets. I now have parrots of my own, all natives; cockatiels, a budgie, princess parrots, a bourke's parrot and currently three crazy galahs I'm fostering. I love having them and couldn't imagine life without them.
Now if you're considering owning parrots, here are some things you need to know about these amazing creatures.
Many people who own parrots are really not cut out for it. A parrot is not a commitment you should take lightly, they are a lot of work and have needs and quirks that require a very specific lifestyle to be able successfully live with them.
Now, I'm actually not encouraging anyone to get a parrot. I know that may sound harsh but there is already enough encouragement everywhere that I don't feel I need to contribute. Also, with so many parrots being re-homed at a young age because their owners didn't realise the commitment and lifestyle changes a parrot requires, I just want to put it how it is; parrot owning is tough. They have a lot of basic care needs and require you to really think on your feet because of their high intelligence. This article is written for people who are wanting to know if parrot owning is for them so that they can make a decision with all the information in mind, because it's a lot more work than most people expect.
So, here are some important things to consider if you are thinking about keeping parrots.
The Biting Problem.
parrots bite. Many times have I seen an add for a parrot saying the bird doesn't bite. All parrots have the potential to bite and will bite when you misread their body language (which you will from time to time). If you are thinking about getting a parrot, look at the beak size of the species you're considering and decide whether you're willing to be bitten by that. I'm not saying that all parrots will bite all the time and we should be afraid of them. But as a potential parrot owner, you need to first accept the you will get bitten by your parrot, because if you're you're not willing for that to happen, a parrot is out of the question. You must also consider other members of the household. If you are in a household with kids that want to touch everything they come in contact with, for example, a hyacinth macaw (the bird that can snap broomsticks with their beaks) may not be the bird for you.
This is another thing that you shouldn't ignore when thinking about your parrot. If you can't handle any screaming of any form from a parrot, sorry but you're after the wrong pet. Not all parrots scream all the time non-stop at full volume, but all parrots can and will scream at times. Even if you can handle the noise, can the rest of your family? Can your neighbours? Also, keep in mind that larger parrots will have louder screams.
Now you can do things to discourage screaming and prevent a screaming problem in your bird. For example, a common problem many owners face is when their parrot screams, they go up to their bird and tell them off. By doing this you've just reinforced that screaming by giving them what they wanted; attention. One way to discourage screaming is to teach the bird to talk or whistle for attention instead, though I am not saying this will not fully replace screaming of any form and you still have to decide whether you can handle a loud animal. Screaming is a common reason people re-home their birds so please take this seriously.
You also need to be mindful that parrots can develop a lot of behavioural issues if not cared for right. Screaming and biting can turn into behavioural issues where the bird does these constantly.
Feather plucking is when a parrot over-preens and starts pulling out feathers leaving patches of bare skin. The causes are often boredom, stress, or poor health. The best way to stop feather plucking is to set things right first and prevent them from starting. You can do this by giving them a safe environment and toys to play with to prevent boredom and stress. Two of my rescue galahs have been feather plucking with one at a worse stage than the other. I have been trying to do things to encourage them to care for their feathers like bathing them or giving them other things to chew on.
Grace, my female rescue galah I'm fostering with a feather plucking issue.
Gerald, one of my rescues, is still a baby. Our training is about socialising and desensitising as Gerald is fearful of new things.
If you are taking on young parrots, you really need to focus on shaping their behaviour while they're young. Yes, right now they're sweet, they don't bite or scream, they're playful, they let you hold them in any way. But they all grow up eventually and then you have issues if you haven't shaped their behaviour from the start. In the wild, young parrots are always learning. They are learning off the older more experienced members of the flock. In the case of your parrot, you will be the older flock member, they will learn off you.
Socialisation and desensitisation.
Socialising is very important for young birds. If your young parrot never comes in contact with anyone or anything besides the comfort of their own cage, you will end up with a pretty phobic bird. It is important to let them meet new people, see new things, hear new sounds. Don't overwhelm them or scare them, but expose them to new things, teach them that it's okay if doors are slamming, it's okay if you're wearing a hat today, it's okay if someone else is holding them.
If they are scared of a new object, don't hide it away and let them retreat to your shoulder to never face it again. Hold them on your hand, show it to them at a distance, touch it to your face. If it's fine for you, they'll realise it's fine for them too.
How to hold your bird.
The best place to have your parrot is on your hand. Look at the above picture, see how I'm holding my galah. I have the bird on my hand with my thumb on their feet. this helps you have control of where you're putting the bird. With your thumb on their feet, you can feel the bird's intentions; whether they're about to race for your shoulder, whether they're frightened and about to fly off, whether they're about to attack you, and make decisions as to where to put the bird to minimise stress for everyone.
Parrots live for a long time. Even my tiny bourke's parrot is expected to live up to 25 years old. African grey parrots can live to around 40-60 years old and macaws can live 50+ years. Some cockatoo species can live up to 80+ years. These are large commitments to be taking on a bird that lives that long. Where will you be in 60 years? It's really important to consider even simple things like this.
Gabriel, my bourke's parrot, could live up to 25 years old.
Then there is the cockatoo problem. Now don't get me wrong, I love cockatoos. I have grown up seeing the wild cockatoos, galahs and corellas, but they are probably the most difficult animal I have ever worked with. They are very cuddly and cute with their amazing personalities but they seem to have the idea that the universe revolves around them 24/7. They are very demanding.
There are so many videos on the internet of cuddly, playful parrots having the best time with their owners. That shouldn't be your research if you're considering a parrot. That's just the fun, playful part of parrot ownership. These videos don't include the part where your cockatoo turns on you for 'no reason'. Perhaps research should include looking up cockatoo bites on the internet and listening to their screams on youtube with the volume turned up all the way.
There is also their basic care requirements. There is really no beginner parrot when it comes to this; They all need the same basic care whether a budgie or a macaw.
Aaron, my tiny budgie, still needs the same basic care as my galahs.
Your parrot will need a suitable cage. I keep my parrots in outdoor aviaries so that they get the sunlight that they need and so they can self-entertain when I can't give them attention. If they are kept inside in a smaller cage, they need to be let out daily so they can interact and exercise. You also need to make sure you have a secure cage, particularly if you get a macaw (they are notorious escape artists). You also need to provide your parrot with entertainment in the cage for when you aren't there. You should give them different types of toys to destroy and occupy themselves with, yes I did say destroy. Toys are supposed to be destroyed, that is a sign of a healthy, happy bird. I also provide my birds with native branches in my aviaries for them to rip up as it is cheaper and mimics natural behaviour.
Diet is a very important part of your parrot's well-being. A healthy parrot will feel better and behave better. Parrots can't just be fed a pet shop seed mix. They will become deficient in everything and get very sick or die. They should be fed a top quality pellet and veggies. I give mine a veggie mix every morning for breakfast that I make in large batches and freeze. I then give them parrot pellets in the evening. When you're buying pellets though, please don't go with the artificial coloured ones, they are no good for you parrot. I won't go into too much detail now about pellets (perhaps I'll save it for another article), but please, do your research, consult an avian vet, make sure your feeding your parrot only the best, because they don't deserve any less.
This is the veggie mix I feed my parrots. It looks so fun for them to eat.
I keep all my parrots flighted. Skye, one of my cockatiels, was clipped as a baby, but now he enjoys the exercise he can get in his aviary with full wings.
Parrots need exercise. You'll have to decide whether you'll clip your bird's wings or not. I don't clip their wings, I wouldn't recommend it either. I personally couldn't clip a bird that is meant to fly. Many parrots are clipped before they even learn to fledge. Parrots need to learn to fly, they can't just do it automatically. It can be damaging physically and mentally to prevent flight in flying birds. Flying is an instinct they have when there is danger, but if they physically can't fly, they'll take off, fall to the ground and injure themselves. My cockatiels were clipped by the breeder as fledglings when we got them and one of them ended up breaking all his tail feathers when he would try to fly but fall to the ground. So now that their feathers have grown back, I couldn't clip them.
Whether you decide to clip your parrots or not, you will need to provide them with opportunities to exercise in other ways.
They also need constant mental stimulation because of their intelligence. Larger parrots like cockatoos, have the cognitive ability of a four year old. Imagine having a four year old that lives for 80 years.
Training is very important for your relationship with your parrot. You don't have to have a bird for parrot shows to do simple training with them. In fact, training is a necessary part of owning your bird as even simple things like getting the bird out of it's cage requires training.
I am asking Gary, my galah if he wants to step up. Stepping up should not be forced.
Many parrot owners don't realise that stepping up is a trick that you need to train. Step up is not a command, it's a request. Offer your hand to the bird and if they reject, don't force them to step up. Respect them and what they want and you'll find them to be more willing to do it next time.
There is also the cost side. Parrots are expensive. I don't just mean the birds themselves (though a macaw or African grey in Australia will set you back $4000), I mean the cage; some parrots like macaws are escape artists and need a really secure cage which adds cost, the food; pellets, especially the good ones, are expensive, the toys, t-stands, vet bills; avian vets are not cheap. I could go on.
Eddie and Lex, my princess parrots.
Now there are some people who do an amazing job as owners and I congratulate them, because parrot owning is tough. I see and hear about so many parrots that are not cared for properly and end up re-homed more times than years old they are and that is just sad. My three galahs are all escaped pets I'm fostering while their owners are being located. They have many behavioural issues and I think it may be to do with the way they were kept. So I urge you, if you want to get a parrot, do your research, PLEASE, for the bird's sake. See if you can handle all their antics. Some parrots I wonder if they should even be in the pet trade *thinks of white cockatoos*, some people can handle them but many can't. I couldn't own a sulphur crested cockatoo. I get them wild at my house and imagining what a pet one would think seeing his wild friends with a better life is enough to stop me from getting one. They are some of the hardest parrots to own, I don't know if I could handle them.
I think I have gone on enough. I am not targeting anyone or being a hypocrite. I love having my parrots and though they are A LOT of work, I put in the work because I love these birds and want to do the best by them.
I hope this article has been helpful. I really felt I need to write this as I've seen the effects of people who have taken on parrots without being informed on the whole commitment, I was one of those people. I'm glad I was able to learn more about the care and improve the lives of my parrots. If you already have parrots and, like me, didn't understand the full commitment, this article can hopefully give you advice on how to improve your parrot's lives.
I really want to thank the members here on BYC who encouraged me to make this article and supported this. I particularly want to thank the people who shared their stories on the thread I originally made as it's important to share even our mistakes so other people don't have to make them too as we're all here to share and improve the lives of our feathered friends.