Choosing Your Bird
starting to look personality breeder or pet store? if you have children, read this finding a breeder lifespan a hand raised baby male or female? weaning noise level captive bred vs. wild caught talking ability imported or domestic price leg bands one bird or two? type of bird choosing a cage how parrots bond health guarantee large vs. small signs of a sick bird (purchase)
When you first start to look at birds, and have decided that you want one for a pet, the temptation is to go shopping and buy the first one that grabs your heart. This is the reason why pet shops have always been so successful. You fall in love with the looks, personality, and cuteness of a baby animal, you feel a personal bond with it, and you can't think of leaving without it! Many people have bought a bird this way, and found out later that it is noisy, aggressive, not handleable, or doesn't get along with their children. However, the most common reason people end up selling their bird is that the time and commitment involved in caring for a bird exceeds their ability or interest. Then they feel guilty about the bird being stuck in the cage all the time, and they decide it would be happier in another home, or they end up buying another bird to keep it company.
Do you have room in your life for a bird? They are relatively easy to care for, needing feeding and fresh water daily, and the cage will need cleaned once or twice a week. There will be an increase in dust in the room where the bird is kept. There will be some pieces of food and feathers on the floor around the cage on a daily basis. But beyond this, there's a good deal of time involved with owning a parrot family member. They are very social, and when someone is home, the bird will want to be out of its cage to play and be near you while you go about your activities. Can you picture yourself doing a lot of things with your bird? Do you see yourself taking the bird out of the cage as soon as you get home from work, to join in with the household activities? If not, then the bird will likely become resentful of being forced to stay in his cage while you are busy, and he can develop some bad behaviours as a result, making you feel guilty, and causing you to question the decision to get him in the first place.
At first you may be overwhelmed by all the different types of birds available, but as time goes on you'll begin to decide on a group of birds that most closely fits your idea of a good pet. I believe there is a suitable bird for almost any lifestyle or family situation. The problem occurs when the potential pet owner is too eager to buy before learning about the responsibilities of bird ownership, or the type of bird they are buying, and when there is a retailer all too eager to take your money without taking the time to really talk to you about the bird you're considering.
If there's one piece of advice that I could give you, it would be to take your time in your search for the right bird. Please don't rush out and buy a bird because it's cute, or climbed across its cage to be near you. There's so much to learn, and all of us are learning still, and I hope that the following will help you make a great choice, for the bird's sake as well as your own!
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or Pet Store?
Now that I have (hopefully) persuaded you to take your time to look at various birds and discover their attributes, where do you go? Pet shops are convenient; they pay big bucks for their location just around the corner. Some of them have state-of-the-art bird rooms and equipment, and knowlegeable staff. Breeders are sometimes difficult to find because they may live out of town, or don't have a lot of money to spend on advertising.
But there are some definite advantages to seeking out the breeders. First, you get to see the environment the babies are raised in, and what the parent birds are like. After you have been to several places, you will begin to get an idea of who is taking good care of their birds, and who is the kind of person you'd want to buy a baby from. Second, chances are that the breeder will be knowlegeable about the types of birds they breed. They will likely still be there for you year after year, and be willing to support you with advice. Third, it is safer to buy your bird from a facility that doesn't deal in birds from lots of other facilities. When you bring various birds together from different locations, and there is a high turnover, there's a higher risk of disease. Finally, the breeders only charge a fraction of what the pet stores do. They don't have the expensive location, employees, and advertising costs of the big stores, and that savings will get passed on to you.
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Finding a Breeder
Before the advent of the Internet, breeders were hard to find, because advertising was expensive, and many breeders do this as a hobby, rather than a business. Yellow page advertising is even more expensive still. But the internet is basically free, and searches there will turn up sites (like this one) with names and locations of breeders in your area. You may have to drive a bit, but visiting aviaries is definitely worth it if you like birds. A good breeder will take the time to answer your questions and help you decide on the right bird for you.
Also on the internet are e-mail lists or groups where people can join to promote their birds for sale or wanted. One such group is abird4sale, which is a Canadian list comprised of over 800 members who are mostly breeders. To join, first go to Yahoo groups at www.groups.yahoo.com . You will need to sign up with Yahoo (pick a name and password) if you haven't already done so. Then type in abird4sale into the search bar, and join the group. You can set your preferences to receive individual e-mails from all members, a daily digest, or to view all e-mails at the Yahoo site. There is also an archive of posts you can browse through to see who has advertised certain types of birds in the past.
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A Hand Raised Baby
Not too many years ago, there were very few hand raised babies available. You couldn't go into a store and find one; you could only get one from a breeder. Now, they are everywhere. A hand raised baby parrot is one that has been removed from the nest and raised by humans, instead of the parent birds raising the baby themselves. This results in a baby parrot that is very tame and people oriented. A hand raised baby is a pet the day you take it home. It will sit on your hand, let you pet it and cuddle it, and should not try to bite.
Some breeders let the parent birds raise the babies. Usually this is done so that the offspring will not be too tame or people oriented, and might make better breeders. There are also breeders who don't hand raise their babies because it is too time consuming, and these babies might show up in a store at a bargain price. Usually it is not a bargain to pay less and get a bird that may never become as tame as one that was handfed.
When you're looking at a potential pet bird, it's very important that you ask to handle it. Sometimes, birds that are hand raised can go wild or skittish again when they wean, if they are not being handled very much. Most places will handle a baby a lot while it is being handfed, but then it begins to eat on its own, and often it gets put into a cage with other birds and begins to become more bird oriented. These birds will run when someone tries to take them out, and may bite if handled. A bird like this should cost less than the same kind of bird that is just weaned and still very handleable, because it will take more work on your part to retrain it. Some never become as tame again.
Also, the younger you can get your new pet (as long as it is weaned, see Weaning below), the better. Just like buying a puppy, the older the animal is, the harder it is for it to adapt, and the more likely there will be problems that you don't have any control over. A younger bird will adjust better to your home and family, your other pets, and it has a much better chance of learning to talk and do tricks.
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We discourage people from buying a baby before it is weaned and finishing the handfeeding themselves, as the bird will be just as tame if weaned at the breeders' aviary, and it is a bigger risk to the baby to move him during the already stressful weaning period. Veterinarians will tell you that babies that are moved just prior to weaning are at higher risk of illness, and this risk is compounded if you have other birds in your house, and you are introducing the baby to these new birds. The stress of the move, in combination with the invisible pathogens which your flock (however small) may have in the carrier state, will increase the likelihood of the baby becoming sick. His immune system is much stronger after weaning.
When babies are small, they have a higher risk of mortality. At some point their immune system has to kick in, and if they have a weak immune system, they will be more liable to get infections. These infections can come from the food or the air, or the bedding material in his container. A sick adult bird is hard enough to recognize; in small babies, it's even harder. The main sign of illness in an adult bird is that it sleeps more than normal, and babies sleep almost all the time! As well, it's harder to tell when they are not feeling well because there is no normal routine of vocalizations, perching, preening, and playing like there would be in an adult.
If you are inexperienced, handfeeding is risky. It may be that you know someone who did it, and everything was fine, but some babies are harder to feed and are more susceptible to error than others. For example, slightly overheated formula can cause an irritation to the lining of the crop, and an infection can set in. By the time the baby stops eating and his crop stops moving food through, it's too late. It takes experience to recognize when this is happening so that it can be treated early.
Some of the people who advocate getting your bird before it is weaned are trying to save themselves a lot of trouble, and passing the trouble on to you at the risk of the bird's well-being. As well, if you hear that the baby will bond better, or love you more, common sense will tell you that a baby is bonded to his parents (be they bird parents or people parents) in a different way than they will be bonded later on. If early bonding was permanent, then baby birds would want to bond and then mate with their parents or siblings in the wild. So, first they go through an independent stage (like a teenager!), and then, when they come to adulthood and breeding age, they form a permanent adult bond to someone, most often the person they are around the most. It may even be that in order for wild parrots to be genetically diverse, they may select a mate who is most unlike their parents and siblings in some important ways! We see most of our babies (that we have lovingly raised) shortly afer they go to their new homes, when their owners bring them back to visit and get their wings, beaks, and nails trimmed. I can tell you that they love their owners, not us!
It has come to my attention that certain stores and breeders are promoting the sale of unweaned babies to customers who are inexperienced in handfeeding. These stores and breeders make the claim that they will be better bonded to their owners. This claim of better bonding is false, as explained above.
One particular store notice states:
"Once chicks arrive at ******** stores, associates are trained to continue twice-daily hand feedings until the chicks are weaned or purchased by a customer. Stores train inexperienced customers on care, including how to hand-feed chicks."
"Inexperienced customers" cannot learn how to properly hand feed a baby in a just a few sessions. It takes breeders years to learn, and in the beginning, even they make mistakes. However, after the first few clutches of babies, breeders at least have some experience. A policy of pushing unweaned babies on first-time hand feeders would seem to me to be greatly increasing the chance for something to go wrong.
".......... and (potential buyers) must sign documents that commit them to provide proper care. ******** believes this helps ensure that it sells birds only to committed, responsible owners, and helps create a stronger bond between owner and pet."
Read: if the bird dies, it's not ********'s fault, and your money is gone. The document is also an acknowledgement on your part that if the bird dies, you do not get a refund. For both the bird's sake and the new owner's sake, I believe it is a terrible mistake to be promoting stronger bonding as a reason to advocate selling a baby to a novice on 1 or 2 feedings a day, and then make the customer sign a waiver that if anything goes wrong, the store isn't liable. You don't have to sign a document for buying a fish, a gerbil, or a weaned baby parrot. This leads me to believe that they know the chance of something going wrong is greatly increased, but they won't tell the customer of the risk because they want to make a sale with less work involved, and make room for new babies to sell.
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Captive Bred vs. Wild Caught (also see Leg Bands, below)
There are still a lot of birds in Canada that were caught in the wild, quarantined first in Europe or the U.S. and then in Canada, and shipped to stores, to become potential pets for people. Not too many years ago, this was the usual way people bought a parrot, because not very many were being bred in captivity. Some of these birds still come up for sale, usually by owners that can't keep them anymore for one reason or another. Almost always, they are older birds that were brought into the country during the years of massive importation, which ended around 1992. Most of these birds that didn't tame satisfactorily ended up in the hands of breeders, who then gave them mates and set them up to hopefully breed. This is where most of the breeding stock for captive-bred parrots in Canada originated.
Some of the ones that did become tame are still kept in peoples' homes as pets. When going to look at one of these birds, the low price may entice you, but being an older bird, it will be set in its ways. It may scream for attention, pluck its feathers, or be aggressive towards certain members of the family. You must be aware that it is unlikely, if not impossible, that you will change the habits of an older bird, and therefore you have to accept the bird "as is". If there is something that you strongly object to about the bird's personality, don't buy it! A good deal is no deal at all, if both you and the bird are miserable. If you have an opportunity to purchase one of these older birds, you might want to ask the current owners some of these questions:
1.) Is the bird bonded strongly to only one person in the house?
Certain types of birds are known for becoming "one person" birds. If the bird you are considering was previously owned and really liked the woman in the house but not her husband, and you are a man, then this bird will in all likelihood bond to your wife, or the woman it sees the most of, and will dislike you. These preferences, once shown, can last for the life of the bird. (See How Parrots Bond, below)
2.) Does the bird scream? Does it bite? Does it like to sit on your head?
Sometimes people make mistakes with birds, either by good intentions (spoiling) or perhaps by accidentally reinforcing a bad behaviour. These behaviours can be picked up very quickly by the bird when he gets his way, but can be very hard to get rid of when he knows they work. The bird may be alright for a while in your home while he is adjusting, but as soon as he realizes that he is in a place where the bad behaviours might work, he will try them again. Then it will be up to you to not give in and let him get his way. This can sometimes take a very long time, especially if the behaviour was reinforced for a number of months or years.
3.) How old is it? Where did you buy it?
I usually ask this question when I'm looking at a bird I'm interested in acquiring for a potential breeder. Most of the time, if the people bought the bird from a store, it was probably fairly young and an original sale. This may give you a good approximate idea of the bird's age. But if they bought it from another person, it becomes more difficult to figure out. You might try locating the previous owner or perhaps the current owners were told how old they thought the bird was when they bought it. I find that ages are usually understated by most people to make the bird sound better, and depending on how many owners the bird has had, the stated age and the correct age can be way out of whack with each other.
4.) Does it talk?
For some people, whether a parrot talks or not doesn't matter. For other people, talking is the "essence" of owning a parrot. If you are one of the latter and you are considering an older bird, you should know that the younger a bird is, the easier it will be to teach it to talk. An older bird that isn't talking already has a much lower probability of ever learning. This doesn't mean that an older bird can never learn to talk, just that it is more unlikely.
5.) Can I get a health guarantee in writing?
If you are new to buying birds, you may not recognize a health problem if one exists. For example, lots of people think that a bird that is plucking out its feathers looks like a baby, whereas a vet or a person experienced with birds would recognize this condition. Also, there are some very serious diseases which can affect the plumage of the bird. I hate to say it, but there are people who will sell a bird because they have learned it isn't healthy. Maybe they just bought it from someone else and discovered something wrong, and they are trying to unload it (to you) to recover some of their money. These things do happen. It is very important to get a professional to look at the bird and check its health before you are totally committed to buying it. Possibly you can give the owner a post-dated cheque for the next day, or get them to give you a written guarantee, allowing you enough time to have the bird examined. Then you can make an informed decision about whether or not to buy it. (See Health Guarantee, below)
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Imported or Domestic (also
These are the two types of parrots that are captive bred. Imported young birds still come in from other countries, and are mostly sold to breeders as parent stock for their breeding efforts. These birds are not hand raised or tame, and vary in age between a year to two years old. Some may end up in the retail market to be sold for pets, but their age and wildness make them less than desirable. Purchasing a bird that is young, but not very tame, is risky, because the bird will probably never become as tame as a hand raised domestically bred one.
Domestic baby parrots, bred and raised by a local breeder, are younger when they're sold, usually fed a proper diet, and have not been through the stresses of shipping and relocating numerous times. Breeders in Canada do not mass produce them to be shipped to another country. If your baby is properly banded, you don't have to worry about whether or not it was legally imported. In most cases, you can visit and get to know the person who bred your bird, see whether the aviary conditions are good, if the bird was raised on a good diet and introduced to a variety of foods, and play with your baby while it is being raised.
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Banding is the most commonly used method of identifying birds, and from a band, you may be able to determine the origin of your bird. If the bird that you are considering purchasing doesn't have a band, then you have no way to know for certain if the bird was captive bred or wild caught, or whether it was legally imported or smuggled. You also would have no way to tell for sure how old it is.
However, if the bird does have a band, then you'll need to know the different kinds you might see, so that you can figure out what kind of band you're looking at, and what the information on it means. There are two main types of bands: open bands and the closed (seamless) breeder bands.
An open band is one that is clamped onto the bird's leg, and can be put on a bird when it is an adult. I have seen two types of open bands used. The first is a European import band, which is an aluminum band that is flat and rectangular in cross-section, with a pin at the split to hold it together. When you see one of these, it either means that the bird was bred in Europe and banded for export, or it was wild caught, imported into Europe, and then banded for export. This really doesn't give the purchaser very much information as to the age or origin of the bird. (See Photos Below)
FRONT...........EUROPEAN IMPORT BAND.............BACK
The second type of open band is circular in cross-section, and I believe is steel. These bands were mainly used for two purposes: as import bands issued by the USDA for quarantining in the U.S., and as sexing bands used by veterinarians to indicate the sex of a bird when surgically sexed.
The USDA quarantine bands had 3-letter codes followed by 3 numbers, as in FTR 034, where the first letter signifies the state into which the birds were imported. Originally, F was Florida, C was California, and H was Hawaii, but when they ran out of numbers, they went to alternate codes. These bands were applied to a large shipment of birds, where the banders had to make sure all of the bands would fit every bird (of that type) in that shipment, so they made them somewhat larger than they should have been. Many times the bands were not closed at the seam, or were way too big for the bird's leg. (See Photo Below)
IMPROPERLY CLOSED IMPORT BAND
In the past, veterinarians and groomers used to routinely remove import bands because of the hazard they presented to the bird. The open split could get caught on things (such as toy parts, links from chains, cage bars or the threads from a cage cover or cotton rope), causing the bird to thrash and potentially break its leg. Also, once legally imported into a country, the quarantine band was not necessary.
However, as laws are changing and some States in the U.S. are requiring some form of banding to transport parrots across State lines, it has become advisable not to remove a band unless it is absolutely necessary for the safety of the bird.
The sexing band, also an open band, is affixed to the right leg for a male and the left leg for a female. When the veterinarians began using these bands, they had to use either a 2-letter or 4-letter code with three numbers, so as to distinguish their bands from the USDA import bands. Usually the letter code refers to the vet's name, or the name of his clinic. Sexing bands, because they are carefully put on by a professional, and sized according to the individual bird's leg size, usually fit nicely and are completely closed at the split. (See Photo Below) If you see a sexing band that looks way too big for the bird's leg, or that is not closed properly, the band could be suspect as to its validity. Some people will take a band from another bird, and reapply it to a smaller bird, to make it appear to have been surgically sexed.
PROPERLY CLOSED SEXING BAND
CLOSED (SEAMLESS) BREEDER BANDS
Your best assurance that you are buying a captive-bred domestic baby is to look for a closed, seamless band on the baby's leg. These bands are flat and rectangular in cross-section (see photo below). In order for a closed band to fit well, it has to be put on the baby's leg, by sliding it over the foot, when it is very little (about the time its eyes open). For the average parrot family member this would be only about 10 to 14 days old, and because of this, it would be virtually impossible to smuggle baby parrots into this country in time to get them properly banded.
On the breeder band, there is usually this information: a letter and number code, the year, and sometimes even the country or province where the baby was hatched. Bands can be different colours to help the breeder distinguish between the different ages of their birds at a glance.
Some breeders belong to a club, and order their bands through their club, in which case, they might say "32 AAC PPN 99", where 32 is the individual bird's number, AAC (written sideways) stands for Avicultural Advancement Council", PPN is the breeder's code for their aviary, and 99 is the year. In the year 2000, the AAC put a maple leaf logo in place of the AAC on the band. These bands can be traced back to the breeder by contacting your local bird breeding club and asking the ring secretary to help you.
Other breeders might order their bands through a band company. These bands are somewhat harder to trace, but more personalized. For example, one of my own 2000 bands would read "PF ONT 00 123", with the "ONT" and "00" being written sideways across the band. "PF" is the abbreviation for my aviary (Parrot Farm), ONT is for Ontario, 00 is the year (2000), and 123 would be the 123rd band in my order for that year. (See Photo)
PARROT FARM BREEDER BAND
The only suspicious bands of this type that I've seen have been bands that were so large that they could be squeezed on over the foot of an adult bird. Some of these bands also have suspicious codes such as "67", with no other information at all. I suspect that the person who crammed these bands onto the legs of adult birds did not want to identify himself or his aviary, for obvious reasons. This sort of thing would be done to make an older, wild caught bird appear to be captive bred, or to disguise a smuggled bird. I have also seen breeder bands with the numbers ground off and then reused.
There are a number of totally legal baby parrots hatched in Canada that do not get banded. Some people are new to breeding, and aren't even aware of banding and its advantages. Some of these newcomers don't know how to get bands. Sometimes breeders (who regularly band their birds) might miss the critical 2 or 3-day period when the baby has to be banded, and then the foot is too large for a proper band to fit on. This, sorry to say, has happened to me. And then there are the people who don't believe in banding, although there's no evidence that it's harmful in any way. I know of a couple of breeders who openly spoke of their disapproval of banding, because they were selling other people's babies and telling everyone that they had bred them all. They didn't want to band their own babies because everyone would know that some of the birds they sold were not born in their aviary. They were also cutting the bands off of the babies that came from other breeders. It was an ego thing.
Buy a baby with a breeder band if at all possible, and if for some reason a baby is not banded, ask why, and would you be allowed to see if the rest of the clutch is banded. If a breeder has 3 babies from one nest, all about the same age, and one isn't banded, it's pretty certain that the third baby is exactly what it appears to be. But if all 3 are not banded, or there is only one unbanded baby there to look at, then perhaps the baby didn't come from this person, or it is not a baby at all, or perhaps it was smuggled.
If you need to identify a breeder band, you should try both of the following:
The Yahoo! Group at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/LegBandNumbers/ and also the National Leg Band Registry at http://buddysfriends.com/registry.html
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Type of Bird
Try to decide ahead of time what your priorities are in owning a pet bird. Everyone wants a bird that is perfect for all qualities, but as usual, there are trade offs. Some birds that are excellent talkers have more aggressive personalities. Parrots that are affectionate and sucky can be demanding and take a lot of time. Huge birds look impressive, but they are harder to carry around, and usually are more destructive and noisy.
Having your priorities in mind will make it easier for breeders to help you make the right choice. Here are some things to consider:
- Do you want a good pet to interact with on a regular basis, or just a nice bird in a cage? (See One Bird or Two, below)
- How much time do you have to spend with the bird? (See Personality, below)
- Do you live in an apartment? Are you a shift worker? Do you share your house with others? (See Noise Level, below)
- Are you single or married? (See How Parrots Bond, below)
- Do you have children? (See If You Have Children......, below)
- Do you have other pets in the house? (See Other Pets in the House on the New Bird Owner page)
- Do you travel or take a lot of vacations? (See Travelling and Boarding on the New Bird Owner page)
- How important is talking ability? (See Talking Ability, below)
- Do you want an active, energetic bird, or a calm, mellow one? (See Personality, below)
- What is your price range? (See Price, below)
- How much space do you have in your home for a cage? How much can you afford to spend on a cage? (See Choosing a Cage, below)
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In this section I will use examples of how parrots behave in the wild, and then relate that to what we see in captivity. That's the easiest way to predict and explain how parrots behave as pets in our homes, because they think of us as their flock mates!
The vast majority of birds in the parrot family pair bond with their mates in the wild. This means that as they mature, they bond to one other bird, they are monogamous, and they stay with that mate year after year. Some will aggressively defend their mate and their territory.
In captivity, most parrots will try to bond to one person. Parrots make good pets for us because, in the absence of a mate, they will bond to humans. They begin to think of us as their mate when they sexually mature. This bonding can range from simply liking one person a bit more than others, to the opposite end of the spectrum, where the bird can only be handled by one person and attacks everyone else!
I have heard it said that male birds pick women to bond with, and female birds pick men. I don't find this to be true. But because women, on average, spend more time in the home than men, and there are more male parrots than females in many species, a male parrot bonding with a woman is somewhat more common than other combinations. This may lead to a false conclusion that there is a connection in some way other than who the bird happens to be around the most when it reaches sexual maturity.
Once a naturally aggressive type of parrot picks a favourite human for a mate, it will then pick someone else in the family to dislike and defend their chosen mate from. Usually it's the opposite-sex adult that is at home the most. I like to say that the parrot now thinks of it as his "job" to protect his chosen person. So, if the bird bonds with the wife, it will usually choose the husband to defend her against, and vice-versa. This behaviour, in the eyes of the "victim", is totally uncalled for, and can cause resentment, and even marital strife. Many times, I've heard a spouse say, "I never did anything wrong, but the bird acts like I abuse him". I've also heard lots of people say that a particular bird hates men (or women) so much it must have been abused by them at some time in it's life. This is usually not true, but instead it is our interpretation of the reason why a bird might go after one person so aggressively.
When you see baby parrots in the store, they are all cute and cuddly, but it is hard to tell what they will be like when they grow up. Aggressiveness, breeding behaviours, and the one-person tendencies usually start to show up in adolescence, which in parrot family members can range from 6 months to a year, or up to two or three years of age, depending on what age that particular species comes to full breeding maturity. Larger birds generally mature later.
Different types of birds are known for their differences in the degree to which they bond. If, in the wild, they are loosely bonded to their mates, are gregarious and social, and do not become aggressive and territorial in the presence of other flock mates during the breeding season, then this should be the kind of bird that is not as one-person oriented or aggressive in captivity. On the other hand, if the pair moves away from the flock during breeding season, and sets up a territory to defend, then this bird would seasonally, at least, become strongly bonded to one person and aggressive to other members of the household. (See the different types of birds for a description of their bonding characteristics.)
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Large vs. Small
It is certainly more impressive to have a large parrot, but what are the true advantages and disadvantages? There are many types of small to medium-size parrots that make wonderful pets. The advantages of having a small bird are: they are easier to hold and carry, they don't need a huge cage, they are less destructive, generally quieter, easier to discipline effectively, and droppings are smaller. The advantages of having a larger bird are: they generally live longer, when they talk the voice is louder (more like a human's voice), and they are sturdier.
Bigger birds usually cost more than smaller ones, except in the case of a rare bird which may be small but very expensive.
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Some people want an active, clownish, outgoing, cheeky bird bubbling with personality, others want a quieter, calm, mellow, sweet bird. Some want something in between. There are birds of all these descriptions, but it is important to understand that certain traits go together.
For example, talking ability and aggressiveness usually go hand-in-hand. It would be hard to find a bird that was a superb, outgoing talker and performer that was also very gentle and sweet. A partial exception to this is the African Grey Parrot, which is an excellent talker but fairly non-aggressive. But African Greys are not noted for performing; they are not show-offs. So the shy nature of the Grey manifests itself in the reserved way that they talk. Amazon Parrots are great talkers and performers, but have a reputation for being the epitome of a one-person bird who will not hesitate to attack someone they don't like. Don't get me wrong, not all Amazons are aggressive one-person birds, just a higher percentage of them.
Another example would be noise and talking ability. A good talker is not likely to be a quiet bird. He will probably be rowdy, with lots of screams and noise, because he loves attention! Active birds are more fun, but they take more effort to keep them out of trouble; some of them are quite a going concern when they are out of the cage.
Very affectionate birds that like to be touched, petted and cuddled need a lot of attention when you're home. They usually suffer if everyone in the house is gone for long periods most days, or if you are home but too busy to spend time with the bird.
We have a pet Blue-headed Pionus that is wonderful for being a non-demanding bird. He spends most of the day happily sitting on his cage or play-stand, watching the goings-on in the household, and doesn't want or need much attention at all. He is totally reliable to put on strangers' hands; he has been petted by over 3000 people over the years at the shows we do at various places like libraries. He doesn't chew on things when he's out, he's "potty trained", and most of the time he's quiet. He can be very affectionate, loves to go for car rides when the weather is nice, and have a bath on the lawn with the spray from a garden hose.
Before you say, "Wait!!! Where can I get one?", I must also tell you that he doesn't talk much (says 3 things), he doesn't do any tricks, and he sits and does nothing a lot. He would be too boring for some people who want their bird to be active and playful. But for us right now, as busy as we are, he is a great pet bird.
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Parrots are long-lived, as you may have heard. Some of the reports are exaggerated, I'm sure. If someone asked you "how long do people live?", you wouldn't say "120" because you heard that some lady in Russia lived that long. Realistically, people live on average about 75 years, but there are lots of people who die in their 50's, just as there are people who live to be in their 90's.
Parrots can live a long time if they live a safe, healthy life, but the statistics vary widely depending on the source. Some birds have been very long-lived, but then others die before expected. One big factor to a long life is getting prompt veterinary attention if your bird gets sick. Don't "wait and see", because these birds are small and have a high metabolism, and it doesn't take long for something to drag them down. Other important factors are diet and attention to safety issues.
To an extent, larger birds have a longer expected lifespan. To give you a general idea of how long a certain type of bird might live, if it lives a long, safe, healthy life, see the list below:
Large Parrots (Macaws, large Cockatoos, Amazons, African Greys).................40-50 year range
Mid-size Parrots (small Cockatoos, Pionus) ...........................................................30-40 year range
Small Parrots (Conures, Caiques, Poicephalus)........................................................20-30 year range
Parakeets and Cockatiels.............................................................................................late teens to early 20's
Budgies, Lovebirds, Parrotlets...................................................................................early to late teens
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If You Have Children......Read This
By the time they're 6 months to a year old, a majority of parrots will become basically unhandleable by children. This isn't necessarily because the kids tease them or do anything wrong, but because children usually aren't firm or consistent enough to keep the bird from taking advantage of them. I find that the best pets for children under, say, the mid-teenage years, are the Cockatiel and Budgie. Anything bigger than that, and the beak is powerful enough to intimidate children, and the bird gets his way, which only reinforces the behaviour of biting.
If you are thinking of buying a bird for one of your children, please consider how the child will feel if after a year or so, only Mom or Dad can handle it and he or she can't. Also, teenagers get to a point where they're not home as much and out more with friends. If you get the kind of bird that bonds strongly to just the child and no one else, then it will be miserable if the child's interest wanes as he/she gets older and more independent. Because these birds can live such a long time and get so attached to us, you must also consider that when children go off to college, or get an apartment of their own, they may not be able to take the bird with them, and it will become your bird anyway. This is the point at which a lot of people sadly give up their child's pet because they can't handle it or don't have the time, and "it just isn't fair for him to be locked up" in a cage all the time.
It would be far better to get a bird that makes a good family pet; one that is unlikely to become a one-person bird, and then everyone can enjoy it. For these reasons, I recommend the Cockatiel and Budgie for families, and suggest that teenagers wait to get a parrot until they are at least in their early to mid-twenties. By then they will likely have a place of their own, and know if they have the time to devote to such an intelligent and loving pet.
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Because most people start out learning about birds with a Budgie or a Cockatiel, they hear that "males make better talkers than females". With Budgies and Cockatiels this is true, along with several larger Parakeet family members. In Cockatiels, males make better talkers because they are more vocal naturally. The male Cockatiel whistles for its mate in the wild, and this vocal nature tends to make them better mimics. However, in the vast majority of other parrot family members, there is no difference in talking ability between males and females. Their vocal abilities are equal.
In some types of parrots, males are more outgoing, independent, and aggressive; they will be bolder and attempt to dominate the person they bond to. The females of these particular types can be a bit sweeter and more affectionate, but also are somewhat more demanding for attention. Then there are the types where the females are the bossy ones, and they are usually known for biting harder and being more domineering. (See the Types of Birds page for a more detailed description.)
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Most Parrot family members naturally make a lot of noise. This raucous nature is part of the reason they make good talkers. If the type of bird you buy is one of the noisier types that someone in the house can't tolerate, then the bird can become a major source of resentment.
Consider your living environment (an small apartment vs. a large house) and the people in the family (if there is a baby, an elderly person, or a shift worker living there). Also consider your neighbors, especially if you live in a townhouse. Then make sure you visit a place such as an aviary where you can observe the noise level of an adult bird of the type you are interested in.
Some parrots are fairly quiet, but if you are interested in one of the noisier ones, then there are things you can do to control the noise level of your bird, to a point. (See Noise on the New Bird Owner page)
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The ability to mimic the human voice is the characteristic that parrots are best known for. It's probably the reason why most people get interested in parrots in the first place. Those of us who know parrots well sometimes get a bit annoyed when someone wants a bird that can talk, and talking seems to be their only criteria for buying a bird. We get frustrated because we know that parrots are so much more than just mimics....we know that they are intelligent, affectionate, playful, and chock full of personality. Most breeders wish that potential pet owners would place less emphasis on talking ability, but we also know that it's a fact that it's very cool when the bird talks.
Part of the problem is that there is never any kind of guarantee that the bird you buy will talk, even if it is one of the ones known for exceptional talking ability. We hope that you will love the bird anyway, even if it doesn't talk. And that's the bottom line: buy a pet first, one that you like the personality of, and if it talks, you have a bonus!
Here are some notable talkers and a brief description of the talking characteristics they display:
Budgies For your money, there is no better talker than a young male Budgie. They are fairly reliable at learning to say at least some words and phrases, and some of them say dozens! They are usually not very loud and you have to be up close to them to hear and understand what they are saying. They sometimes tend to jabber and run their words and phrases together.
Peach-fronted Conures, Blue-crowned Conures, Mitred Conures These three types of Conures have a notable talking ability, in that they are fairly reliable at learning a fair number of words and phrases, and are fairly easy to get to perform their talents. Outgoing and boisterous, these birds love attention and will talk to get it. Voice is medium-loud and fairly clear.
Amazon Parrots These birds are known for their ability to talk and perform. They are outgoing in nature, and love to get excited and try to get attention. Their clarity and number of words is excellent, and some will sing entire songs. They are very good at talking for an audience.
African Grey Parrot Thought by many to be the best talker in terms of clarity, volume, and having the most human-like voice. They are known for showing their intelligence by saying appropriate things, and showing an ability for word association and reasoning. During their lives most learn an astounding number of words and phrases. They are usually not good performers, preferring to speak only when people they know well are around.
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At first it may seem that parrots are pretty expensive. But when you stop to consider their long lifespan, the difficulties in breeding them, the amount of work involved in caring for the breeders year-round, and all the hours devoted to hand raising the babies, it starts to sound more reasonable.
The stores have a bigger selection than most breeders do, but if you take the time to find a reputable breeder who has the type of bird you are looking for, you will find that the cost of the bird is only 1/2 to 3/4 of what you would pay for it in a store.
In general, bigger birds cost more money, and they need bigger cages which cost more, as well. Prices range from under $100 for Budgies, Cockatiels, and Lovebirds, to over $1000 for some of the bigger, or rarer, birds. There are a large number of birds in the $250-900 price range which make wonderful pets.
For a list of our current prices of the types of parrots we breed, see Current Birds for Sale.
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Bird or Two?
When people go to look at birds, sometimes they see babies together in a cage and think that they would be happier if they were kept together. Parrots make good pets because of their propensity toward bonding to people in the absence of others of their own kind. If you put two tame birds together, at first they might be jealous of each other and the attention the other gets from people. There may be aggressiveness because of this jealousy. But if you leave them together long enough, eventually they will likely bond, and each will have less potential as a pet (not as tame), had you only bought one. They would certainly not have the same talking ability, because they will talk "bird talk" to each other rather than mimicking you. Also, if these two birds were from the same clutch they would be related, and when they became mature, they may have the desire to breed. If successful, then this would be inbreeding, and not recommended for genetic reasons.
Some people have managed to keep two tame birds together, even of different kinds, but it is because they spend a lot of time with them. If you're thinking about getting a second bird because you have enough time for two, then this might work. But if you're considering it because of a feeling of guilt for lack of time for the first bird, then it would be a mistake, because if you don't have time for one, both would go wild and be unhandleable before long.
"Forest" and "Emerald"
(Senegal Parrot & Hahn's Macaw) "holding hands".
If you think you don't have enough time to devote to a bird as a pet, and you would rather just have a nice bird in a cage, then you can and should go ahead and buy another one to keep it company. Parrots are very social, and need contact (touch) as well as verbal and visual interaction. If you purchase two birds as breeders or buddies, then this is okay, provided that you buy two unrelated birds of compatible species, give them a big enough cage or separate cages, and you're prepared to accommodate them with a nest box if they are an unrelated pair of the same species and they want to breed.
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Choosing a Cage
It has been said that there is no such thing as a cage too big for a bird. I agree with this thinking, and I would like to add some recommendations to help you choose a cage that you and your bird can be happy with for a long time.
Round cages look nice, but they are impractical for many reasons. They ruin the feathers of the bird when they climb because the cage wraps around the bird, and as they fan their tail or spread their wings for balance, the bars interfere. There is not much room to hang more than one toy. If there is room for two perches, they cross over each other, and the bottom one gets poop on it, which the bird steps in. Without the corners, there is much less space for the bird to climb and stretch its wings. The bottom has no bars (grill) to keep the bird out of its mess. Most of them are designed with a solid slippery top that the bird can't sit on when he's out. The solid top also makes the interier of the cage dark. And lastly, the bottom is round, so it's hard to fit paper into. Hopefully I have just talked you out of a round cage.
That leaves us with a square or rectangular cage to consider. It is far more important for the cage to be wider or deeper, than taller. Height does nothing to give a bird more room, other than giving him more climbing room up and down. The most benefit comes with horizontal increases, where he can have more perches, more room to flap his wings, and more room for toys to hang. The cage should be big enough for the bird to stretch out both of his wings, at least in one direction.
Bar spacing and thickness is important to consider, as well. The bars should be narrow enough that the bird can't stick his head through, because this will wreck his feathers, and he could potentially get his head stuck. But they should be wide enough that if he were to accidentally get his wing out through the bars, he can easily pull it back in. For example, a Budgie cage with 1/2 inch spacing between the bars is hazardous for a Cockatiel, because the Cockatiel can get his wing caught. A Cockatiel cage with 3/4 inch spacing is hazardous for the budgie, because he could get his head stuck.
The wider the bars are spaced, the thicker they are. Some mid-sized parrots are okay in a large Cockatiel cage if they are not big chewers. But other mid-sized birds might bend Cockatiel bars if they have strong beaks. The following is a general guide for bar spacing and thickness, using an approximate size range of birds:
- 1/2 -inch bars: Suitable for Finches, Canaries, Budgies, Lovebirds and Parrotlets.
- 3/4 -inch bars: Suitable for Cockatiels, small to large Parakeets, Conures, Poicephalus, Caiques, Pionus, and Timneh African Greys (these are borderline, and could go into a 1-inch bar, also).
- 1 -inch bars: Suitable for Cockatoos, Amazons, Eclectus, African Greys, basically all large parrots, although Macaws can be in 1 1/2 to 2-inch spacing, as well.
Styles of cages are almost endless. Some of the newer finishes are very durable, and won't tarnish the way the brass cages did. Look for a cage with food and water cups than can be serviced from the outside of the cage for convenience. If you can get a cage with a grill on the bottom, then you have the option of using it if your bird likes to go to the bottom and rip up his paper. Other features may include a top that opens up, wheels on the base, or a seed guard (flared metal around the bottom). Look for a cage with a big enough door to easily get your bird in and out.
Choose a cage that you can afford, but go as large as you can. After you have put a bird in it, it is considered "used", even if it is only for a short time. A used cage only sells for about 60% of what a new one would, and that is a lot of money to lose if you should change your mind and want something more roomy for your bird.
If you decide to save some money and buy a used cage, you have to make sure the cage is clean and disinfected before you put your new bird into it. Even if the bird that was in the cage previously was apparently healthy, I have to tell you that it might have been carrying a disease to which it was immune, and the new bird isn't. If you have a young bird, it is more susceptible to diseases because its immune system is not as effective as an adult's. Also, your bird will have just gone through a stressful move to its new home.
Javex (Clorox in the U.S.) bleach is the safest, most effective all-around disinfectant you can buy. It kills a wide variety of organisms very effectively. There are other more expensive disinfectants, but they usually target a specific group of organisms, not a broad range, and they can be dangerous to use because of toxicity.
Organic materials neutralize bleach, so you can't disinfect wood, leather, or cotton rope. Throw the old wooden perches away and get new ones. (See "Safe Wood for Perches" on the "For the New Bird Owner" page.) If there are any toys that came with the cage, they can be disinfected as long as they're made entirely of metal and plastic. Throw away any mineral blocks or cuttle bones that might be hanging in the cage.
First you need to wash the cage with hot soapy water to remove any dirt, dust, food particles, or fecal material and then rinse it. Then, if the cage will fit in the bathtub, put about 2 inches of cold water in the tub, and add about a quarter of a bottle of Javex. Let the first side of the cage soak for 15 minutes, and then rotate the cage so that all sides and the top get a 15-minute soak. While you're doing that, if there is a base that can't be covered by water, sponge the Javex water over it and keep it wet. Put the cups in there too. Then rinse the cage and towel it dry, and if you can let it sit in the sun for a few hours (rotating it occasionally), this would be ideal.
If the cage won't fit in the tub, then you will need to repeatedly sponge it, keeping it wet for 15 minutes at least. Out on your driveway is a good place to do this, so the bleach won't kill your grass.
|Choosing Your Bird Index|
Another important thing to consider, when deciding where to buy your bird, is whether the seller has an adequate health guarantee. It is reasonable to expect that if the bird is not well when you buy it, that you should be able to return the bird for a full refund. I know of one place that gives no health guarantee whatsoever, and if you don't ask, you won't find out until it's too late. I'm sure there are many more places like this.
It has been explained to me that most laws protect the seller, and it's "buyer beware"! Unfortunately, according to the law, it's up to you - the purchaser - to prove that the seller knew that the bird was sick when he sold it to you. If it ever went to court, proving this might well be impossible for you to do.
Some sellers, such as myself, give a guarantee that covers you for this lack of protection in the written laws, as long as you have the bird checked by a vet within a reasonable length of time after you take the bird home. My own guarantee states that you must have the bird vet checked within two working days of purchase. If the veterinarian determines that the bird has a previously unknown problem, then you can return the bird for a refund or replacement. This also applies to lab tests that might be done at the time, but may take a week or more for the results to come back. Find out whether the retailer will only refund your purchase cost in merchandise. Some places will not hand you cash back when you return the bird due to illness!
Occasionally someone will ask me, "what happens if the bird dies a short time after I buy it?" Years ago, I thought about this and came up with a solution that seems fair to all. Remember that the retailer has to be protected as well, because sometimes people who buy a bird are neglectful. All breeders have heard stories, like the one where the people buy a bird and on the way home stop to buy a cage, leaving their bird in a car in the baking sun. Then they call up the seller and say that the bird must have been sick when they bought it, because it is dead. Or they take the bird in to their local pet store or a friend's house (who also has birds) to show it off, and it catches a contagious disease and becomes sick.
This is my own policy: If within 6 months of purchase your bird dies, you must get an autopsy to determine the cause. If it is shown that the bird had a condition that likely originated before it was sold, even if no one knew about it, then we pay for the autopsy and you get a full refund. If the autopsy comes to no definite conclusion (and to be truthful, this does happen in some post mortems), then we pay for half of the autopsy and offer a replacement at half price. If it is determined that the illness occurred after the bird was sold, then there is no compensation. This guarantee helps the purchaser out, and covers him where the law doesn't.
Be sure to get your guarantee in writing!
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Signs of a Sick Bird (Purchase)
When baby birds are very young, it's difficult for an inexperienced person to tell if they're sick. Babies normally sleep a lot, and huddle with their nest mates, and can't do very much yet, like walk around or perch. But as they near weaning age, when they are almost ready to go to a new home, you should look carefully at their behaviour and appearance to determine if they are robust and healthy. Here are a few warning signs that the bird might not be healthy, that you should be on the lookout for:
1.) Is the baby in good feather? Some inexperienced potential bird owners think that a baby parrot should be small and fluffy. Actually, by the time a baby is weaned, it is perching, basically full grown, and has all of its feathers. If the plumage of the bird is a bit dishevelled, that is normal, because babies are kind of hard on their feathers. But if the baby has patches of down poking through the coloured feathers, then it may have been picked on by its parents or it may have started plucking itself. Other causes may be that it's too young to be weaned, or worse still, have a disease. There are at least two very serious illnesses which can affect the feathers this way.
2.) Is the baby active and playful? If the baby is off in a corner sleeping, and hesitates to wake up for your visit, it may be sick. Healthy babies do sleep somewhat more than an adult bird, but they usually wake up when there is something interesting going on. You might want to visit the baby another time to see if it is more active.
3.) Are its eyes large and clear, and are the nostrils clean? Sometimes infections show up as conjunctivitis (eye infection) or sinusitis (nostrils plugged or with discharge). These infections can be minor and clear up quickly with the proper medicine, or they can be a sign that there is something more serious going on.
4.) Is the baby fully weaned? The baby should be eating totally on its own, without any supplemental hand feedings, before it is sold. Some babies take longer to wean than others, but delayed weaning can be a sign of a problem, and it is definitely best to wait until the baby has been eating on its own for at least a week. Ask how long it has been since the baby had to be hand fed.
5.) Is the weight good? Ask the seller to show you how to check the baby's weight. Down the belly of the bird, from the chest to just above the legs, there is a bone called the keel bone. On a turkey (if you'll pardon the example), it is the sharp bone that runs down the center of the breast. If you check for this bone with your thumb and index finger, you should be able to feel it. On an adult bird of normal weight, this bone should be even with the flesh, not sticking out. Babies will usually have a keel bone that is slightly protruding, because they have just weaned and gone through the slimming down phase, and also they are very active, so they're not likely to be overweight. If you feel the bone sticking out more than an eighth (in a small bird) to a quarter of an inch or so (in a big bird), you might want to hold off taking the baby home until it has picked up a bit more weight.
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