If you’re planning to add a new pet to the family, it’s very important to give careful consideration to the subject ahead of time.
You want a pet that will fit in with your lifestyle. For example:
- Apartment living makes some pets more attractive than others.
- If you can’t or don’t want to take a pet outdoors for walks and playtime, a dog may not be the best idea.
If you’ve decided a dog, cat or other fur-covered creature isn’t right for you, you might be intrigued by the idea of an exotic bird as a companion animal.
There are lots of reasons to recommend birds as pets, but it’s important to learn all you can about owning one before you take the plunge.
Deciding what type of pet to add to your family is actually a bit more complicated than choosing one you think will fit into your lifestyle.
It's a two-way street.
You should make sure your lifestyle – especially the time and energy you're willing and able to devote to a pet – is sufficient for the animal's needs as well.
Many people mistakenly believe pets kept in cage habitats require little more than food, water, and clean surroundings. The fact is no animal is designed by nature to be confined to a cage, and certainly not 23 or 24 hours every day.
Even pocket pets like hamsters and rats need lots of time outside their habitats to be balanced, healthy animals.
This is also the case with birds. And exotics in particular, like parrots, cockatoos, and macaws, require a great deal of daily attention and interaction with their owners.
Let's take a closer look at About.com's Top 10 Reasons Why a Bird Could Be the Best Choice for Your Family, and I'll offer some additional food for thought to help you make the right decision.
10 Reasons Why a Bird Might (or Might Not) Be a Good Choice for a Pet
- Birds are extremely intelligent. They have a remarkable capacity to learn new things, and in fact, we've only just scratched the surface in understanding all the ways they use their brains. As such, they make delightful, fascinating pets for owners dedicated to constantly enriching their bird's environment. How much fun would it be to have a pet actually talk to you!
But keep in mind … Exotics that aren't given the opportunity to interact for several hours each day with their human family, and that don't receive frequent, consistent mental stimulation and environmental enrichment, are sure to develop emotional problems and self-destructive behaviors.
- Birds are easier to care for than other pets. Unlike the family dog or cat that has the run of the house, a bird can be popped into its cage while you're away during the day or busy around the house. Birds also don't need walks outside, and housebreaking isn't an issue. Cleaning a cage each day is more appealing to many people than scooping litter or taking Fido outdoors constantly to potty.
But keep in mind … While it's true a bird is more easily confined in the house than other types of pets, this doesn't necessarily mean he will be any less demanding. Many birds are extremely vocal and noisy, so even if yours is hanging out in his cage on the other side of the house, chances are he'll be hard to ignore.
In addition, as I've pointed out, birds aren't cage ornaments. So while the cage is convenient confinement when necessary, it's not healthy for your bird to spend hour upon hour in a cage unattended. Many bird owners, me included, only confine their pets to their cages at night.
Also, a bird's mess is rarely confined to the cage even when he's in it. The area under the cage will get its share of discarded bits of food, water and bird droppings as well. As far as your bird can toss things from his cage will be the floor area under it that will require daily clean-up. In my house, the birds are the messiest family members I commune with.
- Birds are easy to train. Birds love to learn and love attention from their humans, so training them is often a breeze and just plain fun. And let's face it – a bird is a whole lot easier to manage for training purposes than a large dog.
But keep in mind … Depending on the bird, she is apt to learn things you didn't plan for her to. Certain types of birds, parrots for example, pick up words, phrases and sounds they hear around the house. You might be surprised one day, while entertaining guests, to have your pet start loudly swearing a blue streak from the next room. Or your mother might be over for dinner one evening, and your bird suddenly gives forth with a loud noise that sounds remarkably like a belch.
It's important to keep in mind that interacting with your inquisitive exotic bird, which is essentially how you train her, is not an activity you need only do once in awhile when the mood strikes. It's true many birds are easy to train, but in fact, if they are not given regular opportunities to interact with you and learn new things they will develop emotional problems and harmful behaviors. It’s also important to understand that some birds may never learn to speak, no matter how much human time and attention they receive.
- Birds don't require much grooming. Birds are naturally clean creatures and when they are healthy and happy, they do a good job of keeping their feather coats shiny through preening. All you'll need to add on a regular basis is a mist spray, a shower or a bath for your pet in plain, tepid, clean, filtered water. You'll also need to trim your bird's beak and nails routinely, or arrange to have it professionally done.
But keep in mind … Many birds not only preen themselves, but also their owners. And not always gently!
- Birds are very social. Many birds have the capacity to bond just as closely with their humans as dogs and cats. And in fact, birds are much more socially inclined than kitties.
But keep in mind … Again, this can be a bit of a double-edged sword if you're not prepared to spend significant time interacting with, training and socializing your bird. Many exotics do best treated as members of the family in the fullest sense – allowed outside their cages for several hours each day, and included in most at-home family activities. Many birds also bond with one member of the family, not equally with everyone. Some birds can become aggressive to certain family members.
On the flip side, if you prefer to keep your pet in his cage most of the time, his need to be social and stimulated by family activities will not be met. This can result in a very unhappy bird that becomes self-destructive.
- Birds are inexpensive to feed. The smaller the pet, the less the pet eats. Certainly keeping your bird fed is less costly than feeding a dog or most cats. Generally speaking, it's best to feed a high-quality diet of species-specific commercial pelleted food (not seed mix), fruits, veggies, and sprouted grains.
But keep in mind … Overall, you shouldn't think cheap-to-keep when it comes to a bird as a pet. Owners of large exotic birds spend around $100 a month for food, toys and other supplies. And feathered pets need annual medical exams from an avian veterinarian to make sure they are healthy. Birds are masters at hiding disease, so it's critically important that your pet has regular blood workups to check for any problems with her health.
- Birds can be kept in a small space. Smaller species like budgies, canaries and finches, and their smaller cages, can make perfect sense for people who live in an apartment or condo.
But keep in mind … Regardless of the size of the pet, constant confinement is not healthy. In addition, small birds have lots of energy and need space to burn it off. If you plan to allow your smaller bird outside his cage most of the day, then a smaller size cage for sleeping at night is acceptable. If your finch or canary lives solely in a cage, I recommend the cage be the largest cage you can afford, not what cage fits in the smallest area.
- Most landlords don't collect pet deposits or extra monthly charges for pet birds. Birds aren't thought of by most landlords or rental management companies as pets that cause damage to property like dogs or cats. So a bird could be a good choice for someone who doesn't want to pay those extra fees.
But keep in mind … If you own a large bird, she can cause plenty of mess and damage in her own right -- often even more than a housebroken dog or litter-trained cat. Keeping her confined to a cage is not the answer, as I explained earlier.
Another consideration is the noise level. If you live in a multi-unit building or in close proximity to others and your bird is prone to shrieking – which many big birds are -- you'll be as unpopular with your neighbors as the pet owner with the dog that barks for hours on end. I actually had to pay extra for my cockatoo to live with me in my apartment years ago. The landlord indicated that birds could be more destructive to the property than dogs or cats.
- Birds are attractive and interesting to have around. Many birds have feather coats that are incredibly beautiful and vibrantly colored – it is a joy every time you look at them. Bird behavior is also fun and interesting to observe, and can even lower your stress level.
But keep in mind … Birds should never be considered as pretty cage ornaments or part of a home's decor. Pet birds are not the feathered equivalent of brightly colored aquarium fish. They are every bit as high maintenance as other more common types of pets, and indeed require a great deal more time and attention than many other companion animals.
- Many birds live a very long time. A long-lived pet can be extremely attractive to a person who has suffered the heartbreak of losing a dog, cat or other companion animal -- even if the pet died at what is considered a ripe old age for his species.
But keep in mind … Depending on your age and the age and species of the bird you bring home, your pet might easily outlive you. Contemplating who will take care of your beloved bird after you're gone can be as difficult as knowing a pet is destined to leave you long before you're ready to say good-bye. A decision about what kind of pet is best for you should always include considering what is also best for the pet.
Adopting an Exotic Bird
If you're interested in acquiring an exotic bird as a pet and are prepared to make a substantial and lifelong commitment to it, I highly recommend you contact your local animal shelter and/or exotic bird sanctuaries in your area. The latter, in particular, are often overwhelmed with beautiful, wonderful abandoned and rescued birds in need of new forever homes.