Avian Expert Articles

Do’s and Don’ts For Living With Parrots

Editor’s note: The bird community lost Liz Wilson when she passed away on April 13, 2013. Please visit our dedication page for her full biography, photos and comments from her colleagues.

Part I: The “Don’ts”

Sun ConureIn this first of a two-part column, I will discuss the things to avoid when cohabiting with parrots and other avian species. My next column will discuss the “Do’s.” This is a simplified list and things are cataloged haphazardly, not in any order of importance. I should also comment that this is a perfect list for a perfect world. I, for one, have not avoided all the negatives, nor have I achieved all the positives. But what is the point of life, if we don’t keep trying?

Thank you for the excellent input from my colleagues in the parrot division of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants: Lisa Bono of Barnegat, N.J., Chris Davis of St. Charles, Ill., Jon Peterson of South River, N.J., Karen Webster of Anchorage, Alaska, and Jamie Whitaker of Houston, Texas.

18 DON’Ts:

1. Use any brand of nonstick cookware

Despite all the warnings and publicity, fumes released from overheated nonstick cookware are still killing companion birds of all species. Nonstick coatings like Teflon appear in other things as well, such as hair driers and space heaters. Pet bird owners need to be extremely vigilant about this, and talking directly with the various companies prior to purchase can help.

2.  Tolerate behaviors that no one else can stand

I am horrified by the number of parrot owners who acknowledge, often with great pride, that their parrots have behavior problems that no one else would tolerate. It is as if they wear this as a badge of courage or something. However, since many parrot species are extremely long-lived, this means these owners are setting them up for failure in their next home. What kind of legacy is that? Serious problem behaviors need to be resolved, not ignored or tolerated.

3. Respond to behaviors you don’t want by paying attention to the parrot

It is a sad reality that most pet bird owners ignore their parrots when they are being good and yell at them when they are bad. So the parrots’ bad behaviors are being rewarded with attention. And why exactly wouldn’t these bad behaviors continue?

4. Get any species of bird if you are an obsessive neat freak

Birds are messy creatures, period. Even tiny soft-billed birds like canaries and finches toss seed around, and every bird sheds feathers and feather dander. Neat freaks need not apply!

5. Don’t get a parrot if you live in housing that allows NO PETS

People who smuggle parrots into “No Pet” housing end up teaching their parrots to be loud by trying to shut them up every time they make a peep, dooming the parrots to losing their homes. Quiet pets include fish and reptiles so people in such housing should consider them, instead.

6. Get a parrot just because parrots can talk

While a talking parrot can be amusing, human language will not justify how much work parrots are. Babies learn to talk too, but that’s hardly a reason for starting a family! Radios can provide human speech if that is all that is needed, and they are much less demanding.

7. Don’t expect your parrot to talk

Some species of parrots have a reputation for talking ability but that does not mean that every individual bird in that species will talk, as many don’t. If talking ability is that important to you, consider a parrot that already talks. But parrots that talk in one environment may not in another, so there are no guarantees. And again, please reconsider getting a pet parrot if talking ability is really your only reason for wanting one.

8. Get a bird of any species just because it is beautiful

As with talking ability, beauty alone will not counter balance the negative aspects to bird ownership. If beauty is your sole motivation for wanting a bird, please stick to pictures; they are so much less problematic.

9. Get a parrot species that produces a lot of powder, such as a cockatoo, African grey or cockatiel, if you or a family member has respiratory allergies

These so-called powder-down species can produce respiratory problems even without allergies. Do not take the chance. The human’s — and the parrot’s — future depends on it.

10. Get a bird if you or a family member is sensitive to noise

As previously mentioned, birds make noise. If you (or a family member) values silence, perhaps a picture will work for you as well. I’ve been asked countless times how to get a talking/chirping/babbling bird to shut up. Radios come with ‘off’ switches. Birds do not.

11. You are already strapped financially

Even small birds need large and expensive cages and that is just the beginning of the financial outlay. When considering the cost of food, toys and avian veterinary medicine, birds are expensive to maintain properly.

12. Get a parrot if you’re already too busy

Parrots are social creatures, and they need daily interaction, if only for a few minutes at a time, several times a day. If you haven’t the time to provide that, then don’t get one.

13. Don’t cut corners on the price of toys, food and cages

As stated earlier, parrots are expensive. If you can’t afford to do it right, don’t get a parrot.

14. Get a large parrot if you live in a small space

If you cannot give a pet parrot the space it needs, then don’t get one. Large parrots and extremely active smaller species require large cages and if you haven’t the room, don’t get one. Period.

15. Sleep with your parrot

Appalling though it sounds, numerous pet parrots (as well as infants) are suffocated yearly when sleeping alongside humans. There is no excuse to run this risk.

16. All-over petting

As far as an adult parrot is concerned, “all-over petting” is sexual foreplay. This needs to be avoided for obvious reasons, as sexual stimulation can lead to serious problems for owner and bird.

17. Get a long-lived species like a parrot when you won’t commit to a long-standing relationship

Unlike shorter-lived companion animals like dogs and cats, many pet parrots can live a long time. Even a canary can live for 20 years and 50- to 60-year lifespans are common with larger parrot species, such as Amazon parrots, cockatoos and macaws. They need a long-term commitment from us. I recently encountered a young woman who was looking for a home for her 4-year-old Amazon parrot because she was going to college. Hello? The possibility of college didn’t exist four years ago?

18. Get a parrot if there’s even one person in your household who is not supportive of the idea

Parrots can be aggravating companions even for those of us who love them. To bring such an intelligent, sentient creature into a home where others do not welcome it is incredibly selfish and totally unfair. How would you like it if someone did that to you?

My column for next month will address The Do’s for Living With Parrots.

11 thoughts on “Do’s and Don’ts For Living With Parrots

  1. Thank you for this helpful, concise list. I own two Cockatiels and had been contemplating adding a larger parrot to the mix. After reading this I have to be honest with myself and realize that bringing another bird into our home would be selfish for many of the reasons given above.

  2. This is an excellent article. We share our home with a cockatoo that we love, but who also could try the patience of a saint. I think suggestion #3 has much value. We would respond to our bird when he was screaming and try to do something to get him to stop. Now we are trying to unlearn this behavior by rewarding him when he gets our attention by playing appropiately or talking without screaming etc. He is a valued member of the household and we will keep learning and working with him.

  3. We did a lot of research before we got our conures, and they are exactly as advertised – loud, messy, time intensive, expensive, a huge commitment, and completely delightful.

  4. Enjoyed your article. You hit many good points. My daughter purchased a African Gray who decided that I was her pick, not my daughter. Daughter has since moved on, but the Arfican Gray is still at home. Would not trade her for the world!! Powder, mess and all. I work out of my home and one ov my clients fovorite things is my bird. It is funny to watch her train them, not the other way around. She it totally convinced the phone ring is for her. But have to remind everyone who ask about having a bird of just what you mentioned above. Good Job!

  5. Thank you for all the valuable information.. I really miss Bird talk Magazine.
    All the stories of Pepper and Parker… Can you recommend any other magazines for bird owners. I have to parrots both 5yrs old. One male blue fronted amazon ” Spanky”. And, one female yellow nauped amazon “Luckee”..
    All information is appreciated….
    Oh, yeah, we reside in California…

    Lore’l

  6. Wonderful article! I am so happy Lafeber “cares” enough to offer this column especially to those of us who miss Bird Talk mag. I have two greys and a cockatiel, and an always dusty living room! Visitors come and enjoy the fun part of these magnificent creatures and then tell me they are going to get a grey, or a cockatiel. I just smile and show them the full vacuum cleaner, and my box of dust cloths. They are shocked when I tell them to get ready to clean up several times a day!!!!

  7. I as well really enjoyed this article. I too miss Bird Talk magazine and appreciate this article. I have a 9 year old cockatiel named Buddy. He is so sweet and I love him so, but he is messy and he has a mind of his own. He even has his own “bedroom”, a sleeping cage in a quiet room, with a night light, heated perches and a cover.

  8. Thank you Dr. Liz Wilson,
    Love your article … and find we’re doin’ pretty good at that. Have done a lot of research over the years and had great avian vets, all of which educated me. My red-head Amazon, Pepper, is 32 years old and healthy.

    He doesn’t talk much, but sometimes like to sing or ‘sound-like’ he’s talking … understands a ton of words.

    Since we moved to Missouri, it’s been difficult for both of us to adjust to changing weather, but we’re getting better. He has extra music, full spectrum light for cold days, and I’m getting him a DVD player for bird videos.

    He’s a wonderful companion bird pet and I’m so grateful to have him. Now that there’s no more Bird Talk magazine, I rely on Lafeber’s newsletter and two avian vets to keep me posted on keeping Pepper happy and well.

    Thank you soooo much 🙂

  9. I have two Parakeets, female, and they are delightful. They talk to each other, chatter all day, and sit on my shoulder. One of them loves the phone, and if it rings when she is out, she thinks the phone is for her, sits on my shoulder and talks loudly. My friends think it is pretty funny. Keets are very social little creatures, and I would never recommend having only one. They can get lonely if left alone.

  10. I learned the hard way not to let a bird sleep with you. I had too much wine one night and fell asleep. I woke the next morning horrified to find my beloved sun conure feet up in my bed. They want to snuggle, to be sure, and it can be very sweet. It’s fine if you’re reading, watching TV, or what-not, but don’t risk it if you might fall asleep.

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