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Are You Ready for a Pet Bird?

Until you’ve lived with a parrot, you may think it will be content as long as it receives regular food and water and has a few toys to play with, and that it won’t mind sitting alone in a cage all day. In truth, parrots are intelligent, very social creatures that crave your attention and need interaction. They require a specialized diet and regular veterinary care, both of which can be expensive. Before you bring home a pet bird, ask yourself the following questions:

Do I have the time to take care of a bird?

Parrots need fresh food and water every day, even when you are working late, or out with friends, or on vacation. Sometimes you’ll need to tend to their food and water dishes more often than once a day, like when they dirty their food or water cups with waste or they turn them over. You may want to spot-clean the cage, toys and perches everyday, and you’ll definitely need to do a through cleaning each week. You’ll also need to vacuum and dust more often.

Can I give my bird the attention it needs?

A happy, well-adjusted bird is one that spends time with you each day. Plan for about an hour of hands-on time, which can include training, petting, or just snuggling while you read or watch TV. You should also provide additional attention throughout the day, such as talking to your bird as you clean the cage and refresh the food and water. Be sure to say hello when you walk by and goodbye when you leave the room. You can also keep the bird in a room where the family spends most of its time. (But not the kitchen. There are too many dangers in there.) Parrots are flock animals that would never be alone in the wild. Can you make time for your bird every day, even if that means spending less time on your favorite activities?

Can I afford a bird and its accessories?

A sturdy, safe cage may cost more than the bird does, and you may be surprised at all the products and accessories you will need. There’s the ongoing expense of food and treats, as well as new toys and perches to replace those that have become dirty and worn. Accidents and illnesses do happen, leading to veterinary visits, so be sure to budget for both annual checkups and the occasional emergency visit. Even with all these expenses, caring for a parrot is unlikely to cost more per year than caring for a cat or dog.

Is there a smoker in my household?

If you answered “Yes,” a bird isn’t the pet for you. Here’s why: Birds have highly efficient lungs that allow them to take in oxygen quickly and process it more thoroughly than other animals. As they take in oxygen, they also breathe in any other compounds in the air, including secondhand smoke. Exposure to smoke of any kind can lead to respiratory disease and early death. Another way that pet birds are harmed by owners who smoke is by being exposed to nicotine and other chemicals that remain on a smoker’s hands (even after washing). When a smoker pets his or her bird, or when a bird perches on a smoker’s finger, these toxins are transferred to the bird. The bird’s feathers and feet are irritated, leading to highly destructive feather-picking and intense chewing of the feet. This can lead to infection and even death.

Once you’ve answered these questions, you can feel confident in your decision, even if your decision is that you aren’t ready to care for a pet bird just yet. And if you are ready, begin researching the best bird species for your household. You can do that by reading books, talking to pet store employees and bird breeders, and reading the species profiles on this website.