Pet Talk: Parrots as pets

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Parrots are unique, complex, and entertaining birds. They are smart, can learn tricks, and provide excellent companionship for some people. Parrots have become increasingly popular as pets in the United States, but it is important to recognize the responsibility involved with caring for a parrot.

Parrots come in hundreds of species. Therefore, pet owners should be careful not to make generalizations about the physical, nutritional, and emotional needs of parrots. Body type, feather pattern, personality, and diet are just a few of the potential differences between different species of parrots. It is important for potential parrot owners to understand their particular parrot species and their individual parrot’s personality.

According to Dr. Ian Tizard, distinguished professor and director of the Shubot Exotic Bird Health Center at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, well-trained parrots make good pets. More specifically, parrots that have been tamed and hand-raised from a young age are pet owners’ best bet in finding a great companion bird. In addition, potential owners should be aware of parrot intelligence and their susceptibility to boredom.

“Parrots can make excellent pets for the right people, but caring for a parrot is not easy if they have not been tamed,” Tizard said. “Parrots are incredibly smart, and they get bored easily. Owners need to keep them amused or they can be quite messy, loud, and destructive. They are also not a pet you can essentially leave with a bowl of food and go away for the weekend. They are, I would argue, a much greater responsibility than dogs or cats.”

Like other companion animals, it is important for parrots to interact and play with their owners. Well-trained parrots can sit on your finger, crawl onto your shoulder, talk, and play with a variety of toys that can be purchased at your local pet store. If you are thinking about owning a parrot, consider your daily schedule and if you have enough time to interact with your parrot on a daily basis and whether you can keep up with the required cage cleaning.

“You’re going to have to play with the parrot every day,” Tizard said. “Besides the usual hygiene, food, and water, you will have to spend time with the parrot daily to keep it socialized with you. You cannot simply put it in a cage and talk to it once a week. This is especially important for the bigger species of parrots. They are even more intelligent and they need more company, conversation, and playtime. If you ignore your pet parrot, they can become unhappy.”

In addition to these considerations, potential parrot owners should know that parrots could out-live their owners. Macaws can live up to 100 years old, while smaller species of parrots, such as cockatiels, can live up to 20 years.

Unless you are planning to breed parrots, a parrot is not an expensive pet. Bird food, hygiene items, veterinary care, and toys are affordable necessities for parrot owners. However, Tizard warns that purchasing bigger species of parrots, such as a scarlet macaw, may be costly. “Although food and hygiene products aren’t expensive, the bird itself might be,” Tizard said. “There’s an enormous price range from little birds that you can get from pet stores for around $130, up to a scarlet macaw that could cost you around $5,000.”

What type of parrots make the best pets? Tizard offered his advice: “If you’re looking in this country for a parrot, then small birds such as budgerigars and cockatiels are the best, especially for people living in apartments and have limited space. The bigger birds, such as African Greys or macaws, are expensive and smart. You need good space to keep them; they will not do well in small apartments.”

If you are thinking about owning a pet parrot, be sure to consider the time commitment, cost, and responsibility. Not everyone makes a good parrot owner. Tizard stressed that parrots are still wild animals, even if they are kept in a cage for most of their life. Hand-raised, well-trained, and tame parrots make the best companion birds.

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University.

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