Research required when choosing which bird is best

Posted: Sunday, September 28, 2003

This is part one in a series about selecting and caring for a pet bird. Part two will appear in the Clarion on Oct. 5.

So you've decided to get a pet bird. They are beautiful to look at, can fill your home with sound, make good companions and some even talk.

However, choosing the right bird for you can be a daunting task. Owning a bird is a serious responsibility that starts with making well-informed decisions.

Many factors are involved in the decision-making process such as your level of experience, budget, environment, time commitments and personality.

In addition, there are many species of birds to choose from, all with their own advantages. Before purchasing a bird, it's important to learn as much as you can about various species of birds to determine which one is right for you.

Books and magazines from pet shops and libraries are great resources to learn about birds. There are several sites devoted to bird care on the Internet. Local veterinarians also can be consulted for useful information.

Cost is a big factor to consider. Birds should be given as large an enclosure as the owner's home can accommodate. Larger birds cost more and they will also require larger cages to house them.

Quality foods, supplements, toys, supplies, veterinary care and pet sitting costs should also be considered before purchasing a bird.

Many birds, particularly species chosen as companions, require regular mental and physical exercise. If your schedule is already hectic, or if work requires you to frequently be out of town or away from home, a bird may not be for you.

Consideration should also be given to your current living situation. Young children and birds often don't mix. They can not only become jealous of each other, but children can be loud and their quick movements can cause fear and stress in pet birds.

Also, the decision to add a bird to your home should be a permanent commitment. It's important to understand some species may live up to 50 years, and being moved into a new home can be extremely traumatic for them, particularly for larger parrots.

Although each bird has its own personality, there are similarities in temperament and behavior within bird species.

First-time bird owners may start out with smaller species. Smaller birds can be easy to learn to handle since they aren't as intimidating as some of the larger species.

Finches and canaries can be good for first-timers not looking for a companion, but rather are more interested in keeping birds to appreciate them, much like fish owners.

Both finches and canaries are known for their songs, colors and high activity levels. These species are very social and often do best if kept in pairs or small groups.

Parakeets are another small species that are popular with beginners. They are typically gentle birds that come with a modest price tag two qualities that make them favorable. They can make good companions.

Lovebirds are one of the smallest species of parrot and are often sought after. They can be playful and enjoy human interaction, but can be a bit nippy.

Cockatiels are perhaps the most popular species for new bird owners, particularly those looking for a companion animal. Hand-fed babies are readily available, chicks are quite hearty, and adults tend to be playful and affectionate. Most adults enjoy whistling and some even learn to speak. They are ideal for beginners.

African greys are a little larger than these species. These birds are highly sought after due to their incredible ability to speak and mimic sounds. They can flawlessly duplicate the sound of a car starting, a drawer opening and numerous other distinct sounds.

However, greys can be challenging for beginners. They require large amounts of human interaction and need frequent time outside the cage. They also have the tendency to bond with one particular person, which, although great for those living alone, may make them less desirable as a family bird.

Amazons, cockatoos and macaws can be tempting to a new bird owner, but these species are probably not for you.

Although they can have brilliant plumage and can be playful, they are big birds that need to be handled with a blend of gentle guidance and a firm hand that can take years of experience to acquire.

They have incredibly strong beaks and can inflict severe injuries on those who lack the proper knowledge and experience to handle and care for them properly.

They also require a diet that can include fresh fruits, vegetables and nuts. The expenses to feed the birds properly can add up quickly.

Known to be masters of chewing, a constant supply of toys and other objects are needed to avoid damage to their enclosures, furniture and anything else they can get their beaks on.

These three species also regularly emit screams loud enough for the whole neighborhood to hear. Apartment renters may seek a bird that is less vocal to keep up good relations with neighbors.

Joseph Robertia is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion. He has worked with wildlife and domestic animals for more than 10 years as a veterinary technician, a zoo keeper, and most recently as a zoologist for the Wildlife Conser-vation Society. He welcomes any pet-related questions or story ideas, but please none of a veterinary nature. Ideas and questions can be sent to his attention by e-mail at

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