Choosing a Bird

Julie Articles

With over 300 species in the parrot family, there is quite a large selection to choose from for those who are interested in pet birds. Warren Eckstein talks about what to look for when considering the right bird to fit your lifestyle and budget.

WHEN CHOOSING A bird, many people place tameness first on their list, some consider talking ability more important and still others value beauty above the rest. For whatever reason you’d like a bird, be aware that there is no bird that possesses all of these qualities.

CARING FOR YOUR BIRD

Bring each new bird for a pre-purchase exam by a qualified avian vet, and buy only from reputable vendors. Keep them in the largest cage possible, and make sure the bar spacing is such that they cannot get their head stuck. Providing natural branches for chewing and perches is also very helpful.

Keep water and food clean and sanitized – make sure you check this daily. Keep your blinds over your windows, otherwise your bird may fly into a window, and can hurt or even kill himself (this is the most common way that household birds die). Introduce new toys to birds slowly by first hanging them outside the cage so they can observe them for a while.

Wash your bird’s cage weekly, and disinfect monthly. Provide an enriched environment by keeping your bird in an area of the home where family activities take place, introducing it to new toys frequently, and playing soothing music.

Be careful if the cage is too close to your kitchen: Using Teflon pans, or using the self-cleaning function in your oven, can kill any birds living in your home. The fumes from these are toxic to birds.

FEEDING BIRDS

One of the biggest mistakes that new bird owners make is to feed their bird just birdseed. While supplementing with seeds is fine, there is not enough nutrition to survive healthfully on birdseed alone.

What can parrots eat? Surprisingly, they can eat pretty much the same things as people: melon, cooked pasta, fruits, vegetables, cooked meats, cooked eggs, and fruit juice. The only things that you should not feed your birds are onions, anything chocolate, anything with caffeine and avocados.

HAND-FED VS. WILD

If tameness is high on your list of priorities, purchase a domestic, hand-fed baby bird. These babies are taken from the nest at approximately two weeks of age or the eggs themselves are placed in an incubator after they are laid. If incubated, upon hatching they are fed a liquid diet by syringe for the first 14 days every 2-3 hours, around the clock. As the chicks get older, they are fed less frequently until they are approximately 10 to 16 weeks old. At this age they are encouraged to eat on their own. Birds that are handled by humans from such a young age become very comfortable with humans, and are more likely to form a bond with them. The price of such a baby is higher – often as much as four times higher than the same species that was caught wild and imported into the country. The wild caught bird will have to be tamed, which requires a lot of time and patience; in the end your pet may never be comfortable with you and remain untamed.

Make sure that you buy your bird from a reputable breeder – a little preparation can go a long way (and take care of a lot of problems before they crop up later.)

TALKING

Talking or mimicking of sounds or voices is very popular with those who enjoy birds. There are, in my opinion, four top speaking birds: the African Gray Parrot, the Yellow Naped Amazon, the Double Yellow Headed Amazon, and the Blue Front Amazon. This is not to say that these are the only speaking birds. There are many other types of birds with great vocabularies, for example, the common parakeet. What I’m saying is that the four mentioned are the most likely to satisfy you if talking ability is on the top of your list.

There is an old saying: “The quality of an item is long remembered after the price is forgotten.” This is true with birds as well as everything else. If you cannot afford a Yellow Naped Amazon that is a domestic baby and has been hand fed, then do not make the mistake of buying one that is old or has been abused or has had four of five different owners: a scared and untamed bird is much less expensive than the hand-fed baby. Instead, buy a smaller, less-expensive, domestic hand-fed baby bird such as a cockatiel that will give you the pleasant experience of a lasting friendship.

MACAWS

Native of Australia, these noisy, magnificent birds can fly at speeds up to 35 miles per hour and in captivity, macaws have a life span of up to 90 years. About 35 inches long, the feathers are bright colors, and the bill is very curved. Among the most expensive to buy, they are also some of the most rare – and illegally imported – birds in the world. The Hyacinth Macaw is the largest of all parrots.

Cockatoo ($1,000-3,000)
The cockatoo averages about 12-to-15 inches long. These parrots have feathers of white, pink, yellow, gray and black, but they all have a large, feathery head crest, and a curved bill. (Most people recognize this bird as the one on the ’70s TV show, “Baretta.”)

Cockatiel ($80-$200)
The cockatiel is smaller than the cockatoo, and the easiest to take care of. Generally, it’s a gentle bird but if they do bite, their bite isn’t that bad! Of all the birds, for the first time owner, I’d recommend a cockatiel as the best option.

Macaws
The biggest and most expensive birds.
* Hyacinth Macaw ($8-10,000)
* Blue/Gold Macaw ($1,000-1,500)
* Green Wing Macaw ($1,800-$2,000)
* Bluethroat Macaw (rare – only 300 breeding pairs – $2,000 each)

AFRICAN GRAYS

These are the best talkers in the bird family and can easily learn hundreds of words and other sounds. The African Gray Parrot has a life span of up to 50 to 65 years. The Congo African Gray Parrot is about 13 to 16 inches long and weighs about a pound.

There are two types of African Grays:
* Timneh (smaller, darker version $800)
* Congo (larger version $1,100)

AMAZONS

Mexican Redhead Amazon ($500)
The Mexican Red-headed is from Mexico and has bright green cheeks and a red head. Other than that its markings are typical of other Amazons – blue and red feathers under the wings, with occasional red and yellow markings on the tail, and a green body. At 13 to 15 inches long it falls in the middle of the Amazon size chart. Mexican Redheads are not the best of talkers. They do pick up some words but show a preference for whistling. They also tend to show great affection for the people they like. It’s these people who tend to be the target of the parrot’s vocalizations.

Red Lored or Yellow Cheeked Amazon ($900-$1000)
The Red Lored Amazon is primarily green. It has a red lore (forehead), yellow cheeks, and blue crown. The primary flight feathers are typically deep red and navy. Red Loreds are on the endangered species list, which means that imports are definitely illegal. Average length is 11 inches, and they seems to be easily trained. This Amazon is known for its steady, gentle nature. They are not as loud as other Amazons, but are also fair talkers. Red-loreds have one of the highest ratings as far as loyalty and affection for their people, and a playful outgoing personality.

Parrotlettes ($150-$500)
Native of South America, these diminutive parrots often have a feisty, courageous nature that belies their tiny size. The beak is quite large in proportion to the body. They can mimic talking, but the voice is very small and sometimes it is difficult to recognize words. Natural sounds are very pleasant chirps. While they are hearty birds, they must be supervised at all times when out of the cage. They tend to like to hide sometimes behind cushions, which can have obviously dire results if you are unaware of where they are at any given moment. They can be quite willful, so train these birds the same way you would a larger Amazon parrot. These are tiny parrots and can’t come out of their cage.