I want to start that by saying that there should be no such thing as a ‘first bird’ or so-called beginner parrot, and this post was sparked by reading Patricia Sund’s essay ‘I don’t believe in “starter birds,” ‘ many moons ago. Her writing brings up several wonderful points, first and foremost that every single species is similarly messy, loud, and challenging, but owning one species of bird will only ever teach you one thing… how to work with that particular species. Parrots are demanding pets no matter their size.
Parrots as pets are often compared to children, babies that never grow up, which you bring into your home for life. And I think it’s unfair to compare them to one another in terms of size alone. Even a very small parrot needs a lot of time, and will cost you quite a bit in terms of vet care, toys, housing, and food.
So what parrot species is right for me? Answer – the right parrot for your family is purely about you, and what you need and want from a companion animal. Consider these six questions:
- Do you want a pet that cuddles? Unfortunately, no parrot is truly suitable for that. Cuddles are a huge trigger of hormones, and will result in your parrot turning on you in frustration, amongst other negative behaviours. Cockatoos are infamous for their cuddles, which makes them one of the most difficult birds to own. If you want a cuddly pet, try a cat or dog instead.
- Do you want a bird that talks? Many birds will never talk, but some are known for being better mimics than others! African Greys are renowned for their speaking ability, but it’s not uncommon to see Greys that don’t say a single word. A budgie actually holds the world record for best vocabulary, while Amazons are also praised for their speaking ability.
- How much time do you have to devote to it each day? Even a parrotlet, lovebird, or budgie needs three or four hours spent out its cage each day, plus regular training and one-on-one time. Larger parrots require exactly the same things. The difference between them is that a macaw makes itself noticed when it is unhappy. There’s no such thing as a low-maintenance parrot. Birds who are unhappy will scream, bite, and pluck or mutilate their feathers.
- How old are you? This might seem crass of me to mention, but cockatoos and macaws (just as examples) are known to live for well over 60 years. The longest lived macaw is about 111 years old, according the the BBC, and there’s a cockatoo recorded alive at 80. So it stands to reason that your bird might well outlive you – you need to ask how you will care for it, and what happens to it if you pass on.
- Do you want a quiet parrot? If you need a quiet home, say, because you have neighbours, consider a smaller species of parrot. These are, however, still very noisy themselves… If you need absolute silence, a parrot will not be a good match. They all have the potential to produce some ear-splitting noise.
- Scared of the beak? All birds bite, but some are more nippy than others. Steer away from very small birds, as these tend to be the nippiest of all (aka lovebirds and parrotlets), but also beware of the big ones like macaws or Amazons, whose beaks can be devastating.
When searching for the right match for you and your home, it’s easiest to define, I think, what isn’t a good one for new owners: cockatoos. They’re parrots, yes, but I think of them as in a class of their own.
If you’ve found this article because you’re interested in buying or adopting a Moluccan or Umbrella ‘too especially, please, visit mytoos.com. There is a brief slideshow of what happens when inexperienced owners fail to cope with the complexities of these beautiful parrots, as well as a sound clip that you should turn to full to preview the kind of experience you will suddenly have 24/7. The site is filled with horror stories from well-meaning, but unsuspecting owners who found themselves deep in a world of cockatoo tantrums, wicked bites, and endless screaming. Moluccans and Umbrellas and all other cockatoos, too, are the most commonly relinquished birds to rescues. They’re sensitive, demanding, highly intelligent animals, and they’re noisy as hell, too. Did you know that their cries carry for miles, even those of smaller species?
Multiple parrot rescues I’ve talked to say that if they could take one species out of the pet trade and one species only, it would be cockatoos. They are extremely difficult to live with – as an example, the Island Parrot Sanctuary turns away 4-5 cockatoos alone per week. Our own experience with an umbrella cockatoo was tough. They are not easy birds to handle and they are actually dangerous.
We all think that we will be the one to tame this wild creature (even I did, once), but the truth is, we can’t. Not because we humans aren’t good, loving owners, but because the animal itself is a creature of instinct. No one can overcome that fully.
How do I get experience if I’ve never met a parrot before?
Whether you’re considering a cockatoo or a budgie, the best way to gain experience is by volunteering with an avian rescue. It’s a lot cheaper for you if you come to the conclusion that being a virtual slave for the next 20-60-odd years isn’t for you. Volunteering is a lot of fun, and you’ll learn important skills, such as how to prepare food for your parrot, and how to restrain him or her when spring hormones strike.
Talk with other owners, join online groups and forums, and educate yourself. Knowledge is power.
Small birds are not disposable:
They are just as intelligent, sentient, and emotive as any large parrot, even the common budgie (sometimes called a parakeet). No parrot should be looked at as something to cast aside – they’re living creatures, not objects.
It’s often said that bigger birds are harder to take care of than many smaller ones. If nothing else, their beaks are enormous and capable of delivering great damage. The hyacinth macaw, for instance, is the largest parrot in the world. Their huge beaks can cut through the bars of a cheap cage. Hyacinths are known as gentle giants, but that doesn’t mean that they won’t bite – and when they do, they break bones.
You might follow a logical line of thought and decide that if a large species is a problem, you’ll find a smaller species. A quick Google search later, and you find yourself looking at lovebirds and parrotlets – both very small.
The feisty little bird:
I keep saying it: Little birds are just like big parrots in a smaller package. They are intelligent, loving creatures who deserve a big cage, good diet, empathy, and lots of toys to chew. Some owners label them as having ‘small bird syndrome,’ which I think is a bit of a disservice. There’s no such thing as small bird syndrome, because ALL small birds have enormous personality. That’s why they are my favourites!
They come with their own unique set of challenges, however. Parrotlets and lovebirds, for instance, are nippy, bossy little birds who know what they want and are not afraid to bully someone many times their size to get it. For that reason, they are far from good ‘starter’ pets, and definitely not good pets for children. Due to their tiny size, people tend to underestimate them. That’s the problem. Small birds are extremely territorial by nature.
The truth of it is that you simply can’t go into ownership looking for an easy bird. There’s no such thing.
No matter what parrot you bring home, you’re going to find yourself dropped into the whole new realm of parrot ownership.
Because of the complex demands of owning any bird, new owners are wise to do their research. If you have honestly no idea what you’d like, enjoy doing your research and talking to owners and rescues. You can browse through the 350 or so species of parrots in the world here at www.parrotspecies.org (not all are bred in aviculture). When looking at species profiles, you have to remember that this is a broad view quite possibly written by someone who stands to make money from bird sales, and that the pet you end up with will be an individual. The general information available online is not representative of real parrots. Your best bet is to meet real people with real parrots.
Some species are said to be more difficult to care for than others, such as cockatoos and their infamous aggression once they mature. Greys are renowned for their anxiety issues and plucking, Amazon parrots typically have issues in males with hormones, while parrotlets are often territorial. When you look at all parrots overall, however, you’ll find that every species has its ‘drawbacks,’ and every one of them can be worked through with a whole lot of hard work and training.
If you decide a parrot is right for you:
Once you’ve considered everything and chosen a species of bird that you feel suits your lifestyle, you may find yourself stuck wondering whether you need to work up to your desired species. What if you’re eager to buy a scarlet macaw, for instance, but you’ve never seen one in your life?
People will argue it both ways. I say no, you don’t need to work up to a big parrot, simply because it is so disrespectful to the smaller species. Don’t treat a budgie as a castoff just because it cost $25 at the store. It’s still a living creature that can feel pain. Did you know that parrots grieve? Yes, a budgie is a parrot.
Buy a small species because you love it, not because you want to discard it later for your ideal bird. Buy a big one if you are prepared for hospital visits, enormous messes, and some ear-splitting noise. Prepare yourself by volunteering. That is the safest way for everyone if you feel you’re not ready for your dream parrot.
Remember that two wonderful yet often overlooked pet parrots are cockatiels and budgies. For someone not sure what kind of bird is best for them, these delightful parrots have the full personality of a macaw, but won’t take your fingers off. Budgies are NOT good starter birds, because there should be no such thing as one. But they are still wonderful companions.
All parrots are created equal – and while they may be noisy and messy, they will also bring a lot of joy to your life if you have the patience to put up with one.
Bestinflock blog – best parrots for families with children.
Parrot Nation – I don’t believe in ‘starter birds.’