So, your child is insisting on having a pet parrot. Hopefully, you feel some relief that they aren’t begging for a pony! But, what exactly goes into owning a parrot?
The idea of bringing a bird into your home can seem overwhelming, especially if you’ve never owned an exotic pet before. When it comes to choosing any pet, it’s important to consider what the pet needs to be happy and healthy, and then to consider how well your family’s lifestyle can accommodate those needs. You want to make sure it’s a good match for your family.
What are parrots like?
Parrots are very social animals that form bonds with other parrots in the wild. They are entertaining, musical, and very smart creatures, maybe even as smart as monkeys! Although people have been keeping birds for thousands of years, parrots still aren’t considered domesticated species. This does not mean that they can’t live well in a house with a responsible owner and the right care and attention. But, it does mean that parrots haven’t lived with humans to the extent that dogs have, for example.
What does this mean for you? As the owner, you can’t always expect your child’s parrot to adapt easily to your lifestyle and you may need to make a few adjustments to your home and schedule, to keep your child’s bird happy and entertained.
Read on for list of some important things you should consider before you commit to getting a pet parrot for your child:
- Your child’s parrot will need time and attention to meet its social needs and it may even want to live with one or more birds, depending on the type of parrot you bring home. Without social interaction, your bird can become stressed. Just as stress wears on our health, stress and anxiety can be bad for your bird, too. If your family is out of the house most of the day, or your child doesn’t have the time or attention to interact with the bird, you may want to consider a more independent animal for a pet, like a cat.
- You’ll need to invest time in creating and maintaining a good home for your child’s parrot. Parrots will need a cage made of safe materials, one that is a good size for the specific bird that you pick. Their cage will need to be cleaned very regularly, and you’ll have to provide your new friend with perches, toys, fresh food and water. Remember, parrots are birds, and they need to fly! If their cage is not large enough to allow flight, you’ll need to allow your bird out of the cage for supervised flight time each day. Check out this article to learn more about what cages to buy and how to parrot-proof your home.
- Your child’s parrot likes to stay challenged: Parrots are smart and quick-witted. To improve your bird’s welfare, you’ll want to provide toys and objects in their cage. Parrots in the wild spend a lot of time foraging, or searching, for their food. Pelleted bird foods usually have the best nutrition for your pet parrot, but, unlike your dog who might happily chomp away at his kibble, your child’s parrot might get bored eating pellets. You can try giving them oversized pellets that create a bit more work for them, use puzzle-feeders that make it more challenging to find their food, and/or supplement pelletized food with fresh fruits and greens for variety. Consult with a veterinarian or reputable feed store regarding what feeds and feeding devices are safe.
- Parrots are prey animals in the wild. This means that quick movements or threatening gestures like a young child’s grabbing hands can be scary for them. A bird that is scared might bite or fly away. For these reasons, parrots might be better-suited for older children who can understand how to calmly interact with an animal. It’s important to have conversations about normal animal behavior with your kids prior to bringing home any pet. You’ll also want to keep your prey bird away from your “predator” pets like your dog and cat so that your child’s parrot isn’t constantly stressed. We always recommend adult supervision with any interactions between animals and children. It is safest for everyone if an adult stays nearby since all animals are unpredictable and younger children may need to be reminded to be gentle with their pets.
- Just like any animal, parrots can spread germs. Some bacteria and viruses can spread from animals to people, and children can be more at risk than adults! It will be important to talk with your child about practicing good hygiene. They should always wash their hands before and after handling the bird, feeding the bird, or cleaning the cage. You’ll also want to keep your child’s parrot away from any chickens you have in the backyard, because the parrot can spread germs to other birds, even if it doesn’t seem sick!
- Parrots can live a long time! Most parrot species can live a long time (anywhere from 15 to 50 years in captivity) depending on the type of parrot, its care, and well-being. . It’s important to understand that owning a bird can be a long-term commitment, potentially much longer than owning a dog or a cat.
You can find more detail about parrots and parrot welfare here.
Which types of Parrots are best-suited for a family environment?
There are actually many different types of parrots! They all have different sizes, different colorations, and different personalities. Some birds talk a lot, and some actually don’t talk all that much (or maybe only if you offer a treat!) While your child may be tempted to pick the bird that has the best colors, it’s important that you consider other very important factors such as a bird’s size, personality, activity level and bonding habits. See this summary of pet bird characteristics for more information on different bird types written by veterinarian Dr. Peter Sakas. The following is a list of birds that are within the parrot family and may be good for a family with children. Click on each type of parrot below for a link to a great blog on choosing a parrot for a child:
- Cockatiels: Small parrot, relatively less energetic, enjoys attention without being needy, relatively quiet and non-chatty, can live in smaller spaces so a great option for apartments
- Parakeets: Small parrot, gentle and eager to please, less willing to try to “outsmart you” than some of the larger companion parrots
- Pionus: Medium-sized parrot, gentle and mature, needs attention like all parrots but relatively content to sit and observe, can bond with multiple people rather than just one person, which can be good for a family
- Poicephalus (Meyer’s Parrot): Medium-sized parrot which is relatively quiet and less talkative and could be good if you prefer not to have a loud, noisy bird. They enjoy attention, but are relatively independent. They can bond with multiple people rather than just one person, which can be good for a family.
- Amazon Parrot: Great talkers but can be very loud, especially when they want attention. Will go through a hormonal aggression phase between the ages of 5 and 12 that make them less suitable for children. They are known to be as smart as a human toddler, so they may be a challenge for a young child to manage. It’s best to buy a bird that has been hand-reared and handled properly from a young age, to minimize aggressive behavior. They need a lot of interaction and stimulation, otherwise, they’ll display behavioral issues. Amazon might be a better option for an older, mature child or teenager, or as a bird for a second-time bird parent.
Remember, you want to first consider if a parrot is a suitable option for your child given their age and maturity and schedule. Then, you’ll want to make sure you find the type with the right personality and behaviors for your child. Check out this quick video from the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) to get you started on how to pick the right bird for you and your family. AVMA also publishes a helpful list of introductory considerations.
Where to find a bird?
You can look for a parrot in pet stores that specialize in birds, or you can find a non-profit organization that rehomes pet birds. You can also look in shelters, rescue organizations, or directly from previous owners. However, when taking on a rehomed bird, it’s important to get information on why the bird was given up in the first place. Was it just a bad fit, or did that bird have unique behavioral problems? Contact a local avian veterinarian or companion bird club for recommendations about what reputable places are in your area. You want to make sure your bird was bred well and was exposed to humans as a chick. Be wary of purchasing a bird without having seen it.
Veterinarians suggest checking for the following:
- Bird’s eyes should be bright and clear (no ooze or goo)
- Feathers should be clean and in good condition (not ruffled or puffed)
- Legs, feet and toes shouldn’t be too scaly
- Adult birds shouldn’t have their eyes closed, and should seem alert
- The bird’s tail should not bob when it breathes
We strongly recommend that you bring your new bird to a veterinarian for a check-up before bringing it home.
Take your time in choosing a pet that will be a good fit for your family! Unfortunately, many parrot owners decide to give-up their bird to a rescue organization or shelter because they didn’t do the right research beforehand; they didn’t have enough time for a bird or enough space, they picked a bird that didn’t bond well with the family, and they weren’t prepared for just how talkative and noisy parrots can be.
With good preparation, the right bird, and good care, you will surely find a pet that is a great fit for your family. Do you have a positive experience in finding a pet bird for your family? Do you have advice for others starting on this journey? We would love to hear from you! Leave your thoughts and comments below.
Association of Avian Veterinarians. Bird Owner Resources. Accessed June 16, 2020. https://www.aav.org/page/birdowners
American Veterinary Medical Association. Picking the Right Bird for a Pet.; 2012. Accessed June 16, 2020. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QGNqhddDD48
American Veterinary Medical Association. Selecting a pet bird. American Veterinary Medical Association. Accessed June 16, 2020. https://www.avma.org/resources/pet-owners/petcare/selecting-pet-bird
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Birds Kept as Pets. Healthy Pets, Healthy People. Published October 28, 2019. Accessed June 16, 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/healthypets/pets/birds.html
Clarice Brough, CAS. Amazon Parrots. Animal-World Pet and Animal Information. Accessed June 16, 2020. https://animal-world.com/encyclo/birds/amazons/Amazons.htm
Health Service Executive. Birds and child safety. Published June 28, 2019. Accessed June 16, 2020. https://www2.hse.ie/wellbeing/child-health/pets-and-child-safety/birds-and-child-safety.html
Laurie Hess, DVM, Rick Axelson, DVM. Recognizing the Signs of Illness in Pet Birds. VCA Hospitals. Published 2019. Accessed June 16, 2020. vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/recognizing-the-signs-of-illness-in-pet-birds
Liz Wilson CVT, Andrew U. Luescher, DVM, PhD. Parrots and Fear. In: Manual of Parrot Behavior. 1st ed. Blackwell Publishing; 2006:225-231. Accessed June 16, 2020. http://biology-web.nmsu.edu/~houde/Seibert_2006_parrot_social_behavior.pdf#page=21
Mench J, Paul-Murphy J, Klasing K, Cussen V. 16: True Parrots. In: Companion Animal Care and Welfare: The UFAW Companion Animal Handbook, First Edition. 1st ed. John Wiley & Sons Ltd; 2019:338-244.
Niklos Weber, DVM. Foraging Behavior in Birds – Whispering Pines Pet Clinic. Behavior, Birds, Home Care. Accessed June 16, 2020. https://whisperingpinespc.com/foraging-behavior-birds/
Peter S. Sakas, DVM. Characteristics of Pet Birds. Accessed June 16, 2020. https://nilesanimalhospital.com/files/2012/05/Characteristics-of-Pet-Birds.pdf
University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine. Birds Need Social Interaction, Too! College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences. Published March 30, 2010. Accessed June 16, 2020. https://aces.illinois.edu/news/birds-need-social-interaction-too
VCA. Fruits and Vegetables in Bird Diets. Nutrition, Pet Services. Accessed June 16, 2020. vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/fruits-and-vegetables-in-bird-diets
Victoria State Government. Your bird’s welfare needs. Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources. Published January 28, 2020. Accessed June 16, 2020. http://agriculture.vic.gov.au/pets/other-pets/birds/your-birds-welfare-needs
5 Best Parrots for Families with Children. Best in Flock – A Parrot Blog. Published November 8, 2008. Accessed June 16, 2020. https://bestinflock.com/2008/11/20/best-parrots-families-children/