Parrots are often seen as a colorful novelty that can imitate human speech and other sounds. Often when we think ‘parrot’ we think the scarlet macaw or amazon from South America. There are many different species of parrot, which include the African gray, lovebird, cockatoo, and cockatiel. Some are better at learning to mimic speech than others, and that talent is not often determined by size. Many of the smaller species, notably the diminutive budgerigars, have a higher potential ‘vocabulary’ than the larger macaws, while several of the mid-sized ones such as the African Gray and Amazon are better at accurately imitating human voices.
Their color and talent for mimicry make parrots a popular choice for pets, and people often think that this large bird will stay on its t-post and squawk ‘Polly wanna cracker!’ like a good boy. That is far from the truth, since parrots need lots of physical and mental stimulation. A small, round canary-style cage with a cup of seeds and water will not do; parrots need fruits and vegetables, as well as pellets for their food, and they need toys to shred and perches to hang and swing on. The cages as well must be large, so the bird has plenty of room to move and spread his wings, and the bird must be allowed outside the cage daily to run around, fly, and exercise. Cooping a large parrot such as a macaw, African gray, or cockatoo in even an adequately large cage for long periods of time can lead to boredom and depression, and possibly even death.
Ideal cage sizes vary based on the bird’s size; cages for large cockatoos and other bigger species of parrots for example should generally be around thee-by-three to four-by-four in area, and around four to five feet in height to allow proper exercise and exploration. Budgerigar and cockatiel cages by comparison can be smaller, around one square foot area by one and three quarters feet in height. All parrots need some time outside their cages to exercise and fly, so if you live in an apartment or a house with lots of breakables, larger parrots and cockatoos are not appropriate pets.
Another factor to think about is vocalizations and noise volume. Most cockatoos and larger parrots have very loud voices and are not good pets for people who don’t like noise, or live in apartments or many suburbs. A moluccan cockatoo is capable of screaming loud enough for the voice to carry for several blocks, which makes it a poor choice for a pet unless the neighbors don’t mind being awakened early in the morning. Budgerigars, cockatiels, and lovebirds are the best choices for people who don’t want a lot of noise, and are more independent than the cockatoos and other large parrots.
Parrots are wasteful eaters, often leaving their uneaten food scattered around on the bottom of the cage, or in their water dishes. Any uneaten food can spoil and make them sick, so it must be removed soon, especially if it’s fruit or vegetable pieces. A diet primarily of seeds is not good for your parrot and can shorten his lifespan, just as a diet of donuts and twinkies would do to us. Parrots need a balanced diet of seeds, sprouts, vegetable slices, fruits, and even meat, which could include bugs or even steak or chicken. Foods that are dangerous include chocolate, avocado, alcohol, and caffeine, so don’t give your bird any guacamole or wine, and candy isn’t necessary for a parrot at all – seeds are the parrot’s candy. They should also have a mineral block and a cuttle bone to chew on, to supplement their diets with vitamins and minerals.
Emotional and social needs should also be put into consideration, because parrots are flock-birds and thrive on companionship. Depriving a parrot of that can lead to screaming, biting, plucking, and even self-mutilation, because parrots need to be able to play and be around their flock. They will often vocalize loudly because of loneliness or boredom, and many an owner would try to discourage that through punishment or further isolation. There are many incidences where parrots were hand-raised as babies, and for a few years they were the most docile, cuddly little creatures. Then, when they reached sexual maturity, these birds would start mistaking their owners for their mates or rivals, a problem which would be compounded by the owner stroking and petting them too much. Female parrots should not be stroked on the back too much, or at all(when they are in heat), while males should not be encouraged to try ‘mating’ with their owners’ arms. Chewing will also get worse during that time, since most larger parrots will instinctively attempt to build a nest while in heat.
Remember that parrots are not humans, and don’t think like humans. They see the stroking and cuddling very differently than we do, and will often want to stay latched to their owners all day if improperly socialized. It is important to learn their social language, and to spend most of the one-on-one time training the birds, instead of just stroking and cuddling, which can lead to arousal. It isn’t that bad for a smaller bird, like a budgie or lovebird, to think that it is human, since it cannot chase the owner around that much or cause serious injury or property damage. Budgies and other small parrots are also more emotionally stable, less prone to plucking, and very easy to amuse. Cockatoos on the other hand are known to even try to escape from their cages and get themselves into trouble, and have the average intelligence of a toddler. It’s best to keep two or more parrots together, especially if they are the larger species, but if you only get one, then it is important to make sure that there is someone in the house at all times, so the bird will not think his flock is in trouble.
Another important factor is weather or not you will breed the birds, and the tendency of some species of parrot to lay eggs without the presence of a mate. The cockatiel is notable for problem egg-laying, which can lead to calcium depletion, brittle bones, and egg-binding, a dangerous condition where the egg gets stuck inside the vent. For egg-layers, let them sit on their eggs for a few weeks but don’t remove any until they start ignoring their clutch. Removing eggs will induce more egg-laying as a way to replace the stolen ones, and can be detrimental to the bird’s system. Warning signs that indicate that the parrot will be laying soon include standing in the corner of a cage, with its backside against the cage wall, aggressive behavior in a previously docile bird, and in some cases, mainly in cockatiels, a clucking, squawking, warbling vocalization that the bird makes while bending over.
If you want to let your parrots breed, remember that they might become unfriendly since they are caring for their young, and you may be seen as an intruder. Don’t take it personally if they attack you. Keep them supplied with cuttle bones, mineral blocks, and lots of good food, and a nesting box, and be prepared for the parents to become uninterested in one or more of their babies, or for the babies to get sick and die from birth defects. Some breeds even need extra medical attention because their immune systems are not in as good of a shape. The most important thing to consider, is weather or not people are going to want those babies, or if you can keep them yourself, because every baby will add more demand for your time and money.
There are many parrots, from tiny budgies to giant, depressed, feather-plucked and mutilated cockatoos, waiting in bird rescues for good homes. Some were wild-caught, and others were bought as hand-raised babies and then confined to the cage as a living ornament when the novelty wore off. Others were brutally abused, almost to the point of death, suffering from broken bones and brain damage. Think about the displaced and unwanted birds, but don’t necessarily be discouraged from breeding, since lines must continue, as the capture of wild birds for the pet trade is now illegal. Just take these factors into consideration, and assess the amount of time, money, energy, and patience you have to keep one or more of these beautiful birds.