by the Late Michael Held
Former Owner 33rd & Bird, NYC
(Published in Cage Bird Hobbyist 1993, Reprinted with Permission)
There are a lot of things you should know before deciding to buy a bird as a pet. We at 33rd & Bird want you to be happy with your bird, and we've found that it's best to prepare potential bird owners by pointing out the down side first.
After falling in love with and buying a bird, many people find that birds just don't fit into their lifestyle after all. We take in many unwanted birds and try to find homes for them. It's heartbreaking when someone has no choice but to get rid of their bird, even though they've grown extremely attached, and perhaps it's sadder for the bird, as birds are capable of forming strong attachments to humans, and it can take months or even years before they can adapt to a new home. We try to do our part to help anyone and any bird in such a situation, but we'd rather prevent it from occurring in the first place. That's why we want you to make an informed decision, so that both you and your bird will be happy.
The following ten points are the most frequent concerns and complaints we hear from new bird owners:
l. This is the most demanding animal I've ever had.
Don't be mislead by salespeople and magazines who try to popularize birds and promote their suitability as pets by selling them as an easy animal to care for. They are anything but easy to care for. Not only are their nutritional and environmental needs exacting, but mentally and emotionally they are so extremely sophisticated that many people find the relationship to be too demanding. Birds in the wild are either monogamous and bond for life or live in flocks and bond periodically. In a natural environment they would not be exposed to the experience of being alone. They are together more than most human couples would find tolerable. Although it is true that a bird, even a large parrot, can adapt to a nine-to-five person's schedule, many people find after buying one that this is hardly the best situation and feel guilty for leaving the bird alone for such long periods. This leads to another problem at times, when people decide to get a friend for their bird and find owning two to be nothing short of twice the difficulty of caring for one.
2. He's bored and unhappy. He doesn't do anything. She's laying eggs all the time. It's pulling its feathers out. I think he needs a friend.
Deciding to get a companion for your bird is a difficult thing to do. In many if not most situations however, birds are happier when paired, and at some point in a bird's life, one of its owners, if not the only owner, decides to "set the bird up" with one of its own kind. This will inevitably lead to some degree of what can only be called the loss of pet quality. Once a bird has bonded with a bird mate, its attachment to humans has to decrease somewhat. Many people find the bird's new behavior difficult to handle. The closeness they once felt with their pet is now absent. Even worse is the frequent outcome where the birds don't get along at all and the owner simply finds himself with the problem compounded.
Of course there are solutions. Keeping birds of different species who can provide company if not companionship for one another is a good idea. Birds can also get along with other animals, and if approached creatively, keeping a single pet bird can be quite satisfying for the owner, and a happy situation for the bird.
3. My apartment is a mess.
Birds are messy. They don't really care where they go to the bathroom. It is possible to "toilet train" some species, but this is difficult and time consuming. Birds also tend to scatter their food, and feathers seem to be around all the time. The flapping of wings can make seed and feathers travel some distance from the cage or play area as well. Although there are measures you can take to minimize the mess, you cannot hope to eliminate it.
4. He chews on everything.
Birds, especially parrots, love and need to chew. Toys are designed to provide an outlet for this very natural behavior, but unless you limit your bird's mobility and access, he will make toys of your books, picture frames
and furniture. Again, this is more of a problem with larger birds, but even small chewers like lovebirds and parakeets are capable of being extremely destructive.
5. I can't stand the noise.
This is a major problem for some people. Birds make all kinds of sounds and noises. There are some that are quieter than others, but some people find even the low-volume chattering of finches to be monotonous and annoying. Among the larger birds, cockatoos and amazons are the loudest. Conures are capable of incessant screeching, and even parakeets and lovebirds can give rise to complaints from neighbors.
6. It doesn't talk.
Many people find the capacity for speech to be the most appealing reason for buying a parrot. Be forewarned. Even if you buy a bird with an outstanding reputation for talking such as an African Grey or an Amazon parrot, there is no guarantee that it will ever speak. If you have your heart set on a talking bird, you would be well advised to buy one that already speaks. Otherwise you may be very disappointed. And besides, even the most talented of talkers needs time to learn. Birds usually don't start talking until one or two years of age.
7. It bites.
And it's true. Birds bite. They sometimes even bite the hand that feeds them and the person to whom they've bonded. It's not like a dog biting. Birds certainly do bite out of aggression, but it's more likely to be out of fear, frustration or anger. Birds bite one another as part of their natural interaction, and they expect us to tolerate some degree of this natural behavior. It's a means of communication that leaves many people feeling hurt and rejected. To put it simply: birds are excellent communicators. Biting is a way of saying "I don't like that," and a very effective way of saying it at that. We humans are often not so direct or assertive, and we tend to hold a grudge when somebody or some bird is more assertive than we are.
8. He doesn't like anyone but me. I'm the only one who can handle him.
Birds are often purchased as family pets, and many birds are quite gregarious and friendly with a variety of people. But quite often, birds become closely bonded to individuals and will not tolerate handling by anyone but their chosen person. In fact, many times this turns out to be someone in the family other than the person who wanted the bird as a pet in the first place. Flock birds tend to be more social, whereas birds who spend little or no time in flocks in the wild will be less likely to get along with more than one person.
9. I've spent hundreds of dollars on veterinary bills.
Avian medicine is very specialized. There are few avian experts around. Tests, procedures, and treatments tend to be expensive. In addition, birds tend to exhibit symptoms only at the point where they are fairly if not acutely ill, and treatment at that point is often of an emergency nature and therefore more costly.
l0. I'm moving. I'm getting married. The baby sitter is allergic. Etc.
Birds live a long time. Budgies, or parakeets, can live well into their teens, and among the larger parrots, ages of eighty years or more are well documented. However, the statistics may be misleading. Most birds succumb to illness or accidental death long before nature runs its course. Still, it's important to remember that your bird may outlive you or your current lifestyle. In fact, many birds will outlive more than one owner. So consider this: birds all last a long time. Pets don't "grow up" like our children do. They are forever dependent on us for their continued survival and well-being.
If you still want a pet bird, there can only be one reason. Birds are fantastic pets. To those of us who love them, they are truly incredible and capable of the most amazing expressions of charm, intelligence and love. If you have what it takes to be a bird owner, and you know what you're getting into, then you're probably in for the pet experience of a lifetime.
Congratulations on making a responsible decision, whether it's to own a bird or not.