Many of us grew up with either a dog or cat, and still many had a hamster or guinea pig as a pet as well. What is less known is that birds are the 3rd most common pet in American. And many of these are the hook-billed birds of the parrot species like Cockatoos, African Greys and Macaws, which can have large vocabularies as opposed to the non-parrot species that are smaller such as Canaries, Parakeets and Finches.
Special care and preparation is needed before selecting a Cockatoo or other type of parrot to come live in your home. Cockatoos, African Greys, and Macaws can be amazing companions. Their intelligence is often studied by scientists, perhaps in part because of their ability to mimic human speech and perform some moderately complex reasoning (such as distinguishing shapes, colors and textures.) Their range and vibrancy of colors can make them stand out in any household… which may be a good thing: these birds are considered some of the most intelligent of the avian species, and many health and behavioral problems developed by these birds result from lack of attention from their owners. They will pick off their own feathers out of boredom (a form of self-mutilation.)
If you decide to “adopt” one of these parrots as a pet, have an environment set up in advance that will be stimulating. A bored parrot can be as destructive as a bored or anxious cat (which may urinate on your mattress) or dog (which may chew on furniture.) They need attention, will scream when they don’t get it, or don’t get their way, and can bite when they are angry or frightened. They need discipline, exercise and a routine besides meeting their more basic needs for proper nutrition, humidity and sunlight. Birds should be sprayed down daily with a water mister. And caution should be taken when putting birds in the kitchen due to their sensitivity to Teflon, and other fumes. Birds have high respiratory metabolism and are sensitive to inhalants that dogs and cats tolerate(air deodorizers, perfumes etc.) It’s not uncommon to have a bird, even large parrots, die suddenly from someone inadvertently spraying certain cleaners in the air or from Teflon, which can aerosolize while cooking.Besides boredom, fear and stubbornness, another reason that parrots may misbehave may be due to a fundamental misunderstanding between the pet owner and the parrot of the “nature” of the relationship. In the wild, parrots typically will mate for life. So, while parrot owners may come to think of their pet parrot as their child, the bird oftentimes sees the human as its mated partner, and other family members as sources of competition for the owner’s affection. This leads to aggression and jealousy in those birds against other family members who may not handle the bird as often. Frequent playing and handling by the entire family can reduce the chances of the parrot developing a possessive mentality.
Their nutritional needs are often misunderstood. Perhaps because we are accustomed to putting birdseed outside for wild birds, many parrot-owners will give their bird a diet consisting primarily of seed. A pellet food however is the best diet for parrots, since it is specifically made to replace the nutrients that parrots would find in their natural tropical habitat. Dr. Chau often sees Budgies who develop cancer by the age of 5 who are eating a seed-only diet. Seeds should be used as a snack and not as the primary food source.
Parrots thrive on routine, yet are very inquisitive. Parrots have been seen riding on the shoulders of their owners outdoors during the summertime in DC neighborhoods, which provides both stimulation and natural sunlight. And due to their longevity (some live to over 50 and some records have been recorded of birds living over 100 years old), they may make a wonderful lifelong companion. Carefully consider whether you can provide a fun environment, a healthy diet, and a long-term commitment before adopting a parrot into your home. Their devotion and intelligence make them unique pets.