Here’s the lowdown on the top three myths concerning children and pet birds.
Myth #1 — Smaller pet birds don’t require much care & aren’t demanding.
A budgie (parakeet), cockatiel or other small pet bird might have a significantly less-expensive price tag compared to larger parrots or cats and dogs; however purchase price should not equate to the amount of care a small bird deserves. A budgie or cockatiel needs to go to the vet for annual well-bird checkups and/or routine care. Also, because these birds tend to be kept fully flighted, and they are flighty (e.g., they take off flying when startled), they are especially vulnerable to flying into a door, wall, or window and injuring themselves. Any injury (or suspected injury) requires prompt veterinary attention. Smaller parrots also deserve spacious housing, a nutritious diet, and a continuous supply of toys, and these costs need to be factored into the family budget.
That said, bird-specific toys for budgies, cockatiels and other small birds tend to cost less than those for larger parrots and the cost of a spacious cage for a smaller parrot will generally be less than the cost of housing a larger parrot.
Myth #2 — Small pet birds are practice pets.
Budgies, cockatiels, and other small birds might not be as long-lived as a larger parrot, such as an Amazon or macaw, but they can live between 10 to 20 years, so plan for “this practice pet” to be around awhile. You will also have plenty of practice cleaning in and around a bird cage, as cockatiels are among the dusty parrot species (along with African grey parrots and cockatoos) and emit a lot of powder down. Both budgies and cockatiels tend to be fed small-seed mixes, which equates to cage “blowout” consisting of little seed hulls that scatter about when the bird flaps his wings.
A bird should be thought of the family’s pet instead of the child’s pet. Ultimately it’s up to the adults in the household to ensure that the bird is properly cared for. Parental involvement is especially needed to assist children under 9 in meeting the bird’s daily needs (fresh food/water, positive social interaction and cage cleaning). A young child might not remember to clean the bird’s food bowls, offer fresh food and water or to change the cage paper.
A practice pet also implies that the standards of care aren’t as important. No bird should be bombarded with forced interaction, or subjected to having fingers poking him through the cage bars. Budgies and cockatiels might be small birds, but they can also resort to biting in self-defense when they feel threatened.
Budgies and cockatiels can make great companions for families with children because these little parrots can be quite affectionate, comical and, yes, their beaks are not big enough to inflict serious damage to a child if a bite should occur. The goal, of course, is to avoid having the bird resort to biting. Teach your child the basics of pet bird body language so that he or she knows when a bird would prefer to be left alone. Show them proper Step-up techniques, whether it is stepping up onto a hand or onto a stick/perch. And remind the child not to walk out the door with their bird. Small birds like budgies and cockatiels are efficient flyers and can often get enough lift off to fly even after a recent wing-feather trim.
Myth #3 — Smaller pet birds just need seed.
Small birds like budgies and cockatiels can have surprisingly big appetites. While their diet can be supplemented with seed, they cannot thrive on seed alone. Since budgies, cockatiels and other small parrots are often fed a mostly seed diet, many suffer from malnutrition and vitamin and mineral deficiencies. An all-seed diet is high in fat, which can lead to fatty liver disease, so a low-fat diet with the right balance of vitamin, minerals and amino acids can go a long way in preventing disease. Lafeber’s Premium Daily Diet Pellets and Classic Nutri-Berries are specially formulated to meet a budgie or cockatiel’s dietary needs.
Instead of having your child pour seed in the bird’s bowl, have him or her prepare a special treat for the family budgie or cockatiel, one they can all share! Smaller birds will appreciate small bits of healthy table foods like scrambled egg, quinoa or whole-wheat pasta. And don’t forget the veggies. A budgie can be surprisingly efficient at turning a broccoli floret into mush, and there’s nothing cuter than a cockatiel with an orange-stained beak after gnawing through a carrot chunk. If you can get your small bird to eat his veggies, you just might get your 7-year-old to eat his!