By Freddi Hetler
So you think you want to own a parrot? According to Bill Aragon, Curator of Birds for the Albuquerque Biological Park, you need to "think, then think twice" if you are considering parrot ownership. He says that every year he and his colleagues receive hundreds of calls from people who want to donate their birds to the zoo. Some of these birds have cost their owners thousands of dollars, yet the owners just want to give the birds away.
Parrots are extremely intelligent and the larger ones can be very long-lived. One parrot owner describes living with a parrot as having a perpetual three-year old child demanding constant attention. Macaws and cockatoos, the larger parrots, can live 65 to 70 years. This means if the owner is an adult when the bird is adopted, that person will need to find someone else to take over care of the bird.
Cockatiels and other smaller parrots don't live as long, but still may live 15 to 20 years, according to Darlene Parker, the owner of Feathered Friends in Santa Fe. It is a long-term commitment and many of these birds get passed around quite a bit. They are loud, intelligent, and some are very sensitive. They need stability in their lives, just as we all do, in order to be well adjusted.
That said, experts strongly recommend that the potential owner do some research on places that sell parrots. Word of mouth from other parrot owners and veterinarians will help identify a reputable place. Experts all caution that the only kind of bird to even consider is a domestically bred, hand-raised bird. Hand-raised birds are better pets, as they are not afraid of people because they have been handled from the time of birth. For every domestically bred parrot sold, one less wild bird is caught and removed from its natural habitat. Birds that are not domestically bred may have been smuggled into the country. "For every wild bird that makes it to a pet store, as many as 50 birds may have died," states Aragon.
Parker says that a person who buys a parrot should receive a Hatch Certificate, which lists the bird's date of birth. The bird may also have leg band that completely encircles its leg. She says that smuggled birds do not have this. Birds that come from the wild and go through a quarantine process will have a leg band, but it is an open band, not one that completely encircles the leg.
Finding a veterinarian who treats birds can be a challenge. Not all veterinarians who treat parrots are Board Certified Avian Veterinarians, but that isn't necessarily a problem. Many of them are parrot owners themselves and know birds. Again, Parker recommends word of mouth from other parrot owners in finding the right veterinarian for you. Parker says that parrots don't need to visit their doctors like dogs and cats for annual immunizations, though it's a good idea to have them checked and weighed once a year. Usually the only time the parrot needs to visit the veterinarian is if it is acting lethargic, has its feathers fluffed, is not eating, or is hanging out at the bottom of its cage. These are indicators that you might have a sick bird. Parrots can be infested with parasites or they can catch the common cold, resulting in sneezing and a runny nose. Remember, a healthy bird is a lively bird.
One of the most worrisome diseases that parrots get is psitticosis, which can be transmitted to humans. Psittacosis is usually passed to parrots living in an outdoor enclosure. Infected wild birds flying overhead or perching on the roof can defecate into the enclosure, infecting your bird.
Part of keeping your parrot healthy is feeding it a balanced diet. Mr. Aragon recommends one of the pellet diets that are made commercially. He states that these contain good balanced nutrition. He further states that parrots can get bored, so supplement their diet with other foods. Parrots can eat almost anything that we eat. They especially like foods that they can manipulate, like nuts. Wild bird seed is also fine, he says, cautioning that the owner needs to be aware that too many peanuts or sunflower seeds can add too much fat to the parrot's diet, which could result in liver disease.
Because parrots are so intelligent, their owner must spend a lot of time with them. They are very demanding animals. Mr. Aragon suggests a cage with toys that get changed periodically. He says the cage bought needs to be appropriate for the size of the bird and what the owner can afford. Cages can cost hundreds of dollars. The cage needs to have a "parrot-proof" latch. He cautions that it is not a good idea to allow the parrot freedom inside a house as they can be extremely destructive and destroy wood furniture and woodwork in no time. Aragon suggests putting a branch or piece of lumber in their cage to satisfy that need. Be sure that other toys don't have anything the parrot can tear off with their powerful beak and swallow. It is recommended that any rope that secures branches or toys inside the cage be made of cotton, not nylon that can bind up in the parrot's digestive tract if swallowed. Consider if there is anything inside the cage that the parrot could get its leg, neck, or wing tangled in.
Parrots don't necessarily go to sleep in their cages just because the cage gets covered for the night. Some parrots are, well, night owls. Some are early risers. Conyers and cockatoos can be very loud early in the morning, says Mr. Aragon.
The good qualities that these birds have include their intelligence. You can teach them things. They can be very affectionate if you have just one bird. Amazon parrots will often make you their partner. However, if you already have a partner, that person may cause the parrot to become jealous.
The key to successful, responsible parrot ownership is doing your research. Talk to other owners. And think, then think twice.
Oh, sometimes people annoy me dreadfully--such airs they put on--talking about the "dumb animals". Dumb! Huh! Why I knew a macaw once who could say "Good morning!" in seven different ways without once opening his mouth. - Hugh Lofting
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