Our love of bird-watching often translates into wanting to keep a bird as a pet. With their colorful plumage and friendly chattering, feathered friends make popular pets. However, they're also a big responsibility and sometimes those aspects of birds that seem cute at first — like constant singing — can become a burden.
If you're considering getting a bird, these questions can help you select the right kind of bird for your lifestyle and enter ownership with your eyes wide open.
How much care can I provide?
Different species have different care needs. Ask yourself what you're capable of giving. Do you have only half an hour a day to care for your bird, or do you have several hours to spend?
Parrots can be appealing, for example, but they may be a poor choice for some pet owners. They require an exceptional amount of care and mental stimulation, and since they live for decades (some live past 70 years old), they're a lifetime commitment. Meanwhile, other popular birds like society finches are low-maintenance and low-mess, and so can be wonderful company for a busy household or a family with children.
An online quiz, such as this one by AllPetBirds.com, can match your personality and lifestyle to the best bird species for you. Take a few quizzes from bird- and pet-oriented websites and talk to experts in bird care as you decide what kind of bird to choose.
How much can I afford?
There is more to owning a bird than buying a cage and some seed. The cost of owning a bird depends in large part on the species, but being aware of these costs can save you some headache down the road.
Costs to consider:
- veterinary care and medications
- healthy food, which may include fresh fruits and vegetables
- the correct cage, the cost of which goes up with the size of bird
- interactive toys for mental stimulation, which staves off behavior problems
- cleaning supplies
- grooming supplies
The cost of the supplies alone ranges from $500 to $2,000, not including the cost of the bird and the ongoing monthly costs, which vary depending on the species.
As PetYak notes, "While the cost of owning a small bird is relatively inexpensive, the cost of owning a medium to large parrot usually exceeds that of owning either a cat or dog."
Knowing how much you're willing to spend each month will help you decide if you want a smaller, low-maintenance bird or if you can handle the expense of a larger one.
Where is the bird coming from?
If you've decided on the kind of bird you'd like for a pet, the next important questions to ask are: where is the bird coming from, and is your choice affecting the species as a whole?
Some species are going extinct in the wild because of the illegal pet trade. Parrot and parakeet species are hit especially hard. And the African gray parrot, famous for its intelligence and a popular pet, is almost extinct in the wild due to the pet trade.
A 2016 study showed that in Indonesia alone, 13 species and 14 subspecies of bird are threatened with extinction — and five may already be extinct in the wild — due to the illegal pet trade. Some of the species at risk include the yellow-crested cockatoo, scarlet-breasted lorikeet, Javan green magpie, black-winged myna, Bali myna and Java sparrow.
“The number one thing I want people to know is that the bird trade is an incredibly urgent issue that needs addressing,” Chris Shepherd, one of the study’s authors and the Southeast Asian regional director for TRAFFIC, a wildlife trade-monitoring organization, told National Geographic. “It is a conservation crisis that is being ignored.”
As you research what kind of bird you want, it's important to know where that bird is coming from and if your choice contributes to the decline of the species in the wild.
It's best to look into sourcing a pet bird from a reputable breeder, or better yet...
Should I adopt a bird?
Yes! There are lots of birds out there in need of a home. Just as shelters are amazing resources for finding the perfect dog or cat for your family, you can find and adopt the perfect bird from rescue groups.
Large organizations including the Humane Society and Best Friends Animal Society have birds listed as available for adoption. You can also use PetFinder to search multiple rescues in your area or country-wide.
Can I keep a bird healthy?
Aside from keeping a cage clean and paying attention to your bird, your feathered friend also has health needs. Proper grooming and keeping a pristine cage, including changing the water twice a day, can help prevent many health problems, but a wide range of issues can pop up.
Birds can become host to worms, mites and lice, and need to be monitored regularly for such parasites and treated when necessary. Diseases such as Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease, Egg Binding, Polyomavirus, Candidiasis infections and others can affect pet birds.
Some illnesses can be difficult to detect, with subtle symptoms such as a decrease in preening, a change in the bird's droppings or less vocalizations. Paying very close attention to your bird and its routine is critical for detecting possible health problems.
"Signs of illness can be subtle in birds...The health of pet birds is a specialized area and resolving health problems can be difficult. Checking your bird’s health regularly is a key step in ensuring good welfare and preventing disease," the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals notes.
It is also important to note that birds can cause health problems in their human owners — feather dust can cause asthma flare-ups or more serious issues. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes, "Germs from birds can cause a variety of illnesses in people, ranging from minor skin infections to serious illnesses. These illnesses are rare in the United States, but it's better to be safe and take steps to keep yourself and your birds healthy."
Is a bird compatible with my kids and pets?
Selecting the right pet bird also means considering whether or not a bird is safe to have around pets and children.
Birds can become stressed when taunted by other pets with a prey drive, such as dogs and cats that aren't exactly friendly with the birds. Even if kept safe in a cage, the stress can lead to illness for the bird. You may need to consider gradual and supervised introductions to other pets — or keeping the pets separate entirely.
Birds and children don't always make the best of friends either. Petcha notes, "Because parrots and birds are prey animals, quick movements, loud noises and grabbing hands are all seen as threatening to them. A parrot might respond to this by biting or trying to fly away, so a child that has lots of energy and not much self control over his or her movements or desires would not make a great pet bird owner."
When children care for birds or play with them, it's a good idea to supervise them. This puts safety first both for the child and for the bird, which can become accidentally injured when let loose in the house.
If you have a household with children, it may be best to consider smaller birds or those that don't require much socialization when looking for the most compatible species.
How much do I value quiet time?
One of the most common reasons birds are handed over to shelters and rescues is because of noise. As No Feather Left Behind, an avian rescue organization notes, "Parrots are LOUD. Even the small parrots are loud. That's what parrots are made to do, and we cannot fault them for it. Whether it be the bird guardian who is at his wit's end, or the neighbors, noise levels are a major reason people give up their parrots."
It's not just parrots that are loud. Finches, canaries, budgies and other species are talkative, and potential bird owners should realize the noise level they're committing to when bringing birds home. Even if you find it comforting, your neighbors in an apartment or condo complex might not and noise complaints are a possibility.
If everything else about bird ownership seems doable, this last issue is something to seriously consider before making that final decision. Thanks to all the due diligence, you'll be a wonderfully prepared, responsible and happy bird owner!