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A Pet Parrot Isn't for Everyone by Sally Blanchard

Reprinted with the permission of Sally Blanchard and the Companion Parrot Quarterly (fka --Pet Bird Report)

Good Pet Parrots Don't Just Happen

Is a pet parrot right for everyone? Absolutely not! In the last few years there have been newspaper articles and television programs proclaiming parrots as the easy-care pet of the 90's. Whoever produced these articles and programs either never owned a parrot, or if they did, did not know how to take care of it. To have a well-behaved parrot that lives a long, healthy life requires a great deal of specialized knowledge. Although this knowledge is available, it may be difficult for the novice to find. I am not saying that parrots can't make excellent pets because they can! I am saying that good pet parrots don't just happen, they are created with a combination of good breeding and early socialization, proper feeding, good "parenting", and the setting of rules with nurturing dominance.

The Right Information

Before even considering buying a pet parrot, a person should thoroughly research the different species and their care. Everyone who sells parrots has their own particular bias depending on the birds that they love, breed or sell. Many people who sell birds are not going to tell a potential customer the disadvantages of having a pet parrot. The prospective parrot owner should talk to bird owners, veterinarians and breeders about the traits and needs of each species. Unfortunately, much of the information readily available to the novice about parrots and their care is inaccurate and based on pet industry "mythology". Although there are quality pet shops that give out excellent information about birds, many still give out inaccurate information based on ignorance or the profit motive. Many of the books on the market today are quite out of date and full of terrible information about feeding, care, taming and training. Fortunately better books are being published but many are quite expensive for the novice bird owner. Bird related publications such as the Companion Parrot Quarterly (fka -- Pet Bird Report), Parrot World, and Bird World are a much better source of current knowledge about behavior, nutrition, care, taming and training.

Buy From The Right Source

Once the prospective bird owner has chosen the species of parrot they want, they have many choices about where to buy their pet. I believe that a domestic hand-fed baby will make a better pet than an imported bird. The new owner has a much better chance of shaping their parrot's personality. Find out as much as possible about the reputation of the seller before you buy. Often with illness and veterinary bills, a bargain bird can end up costing more than a baby from a quality source costs. A novice parrot owner with no hand-feeding experience should never buy an unweaned baby unless they receive intensive instruction, and have a reliable source to ask any questions. The myth that a parrot will not bond to its owner unless they hand-fed it is nonsense - parrots are capable of forming strong bonds throughout their entire life.

Diet, Mess and Expense

Make sure your baby has been weaned to a nutritious diet. Seed alone is not a proper diet for any bird. It may seem convenient but a predominately seed diet will eventually cause health problems and a shortened life. It should only be a small part of a varied nutritious diet. It can be very difficult to convert any pet bird to a healthy diet if it has been weaned to seed only, instead of a variety containing a formulated diet, high vitamin A vegetables, fruit, seed, nuts and grains. Preparing the proper diet for parrots can be costly and time consuming.

Parrots can be incredibly messy pets scattering food everywhere. In the wild, parrots co-evolved with the plants that provide them food - this messiness sows the seeds of future food sources. Although some owners can 'potty train' their birds, without that training most birds will go whenever the need occurs. Parrots can be expensive pets, besides the high initial cost of the bird; there are other considerations. A proper cage, quality toys and nutritious foods are essential to the physical and psychological well being of a pet bird. Veterinary costs can be expensive if a bird becomes sick. Any potential owner who is willing to sacrifice time for food preparation, clean up and behavioral interaction, as well as money for their pet's care is heading in the right direction.

Parrots Don't Know How To Behave

Taking the time to behaviorally train your parrot is essential to having a good pet. Parrots are intelligent and highly social animals that need to be part of the family. They do not have a magic on/off button that allows owners to pay attention to their owners only when they have the time or are in the mood. Young birds that have been "produced" instead of parented as they are growing may have serious behavioral problems because of the lack of nurturing, handling and other early socialization. Parrots, even domestically raised babies, have no idea how to behave in captivity.

For a pet parrot to be a good pet, its owner must teach it how to behave with rules and guidance. Owners must take responsibility for their parrot's behavior and work to create the kind of bird that they want. People that are serious about having a parrot as a pet need to educate themselves about both the advantages and disadvantages. With a realistic acceptance of the work that is involved and knowledge about care, proper diet and behavior, the new parrot owner can have a wonderful life-long companion. From my experience with my own parrots and hundreds of pet bird owners, I personally feel that the bond that a human can establish with an intelligent parrot is unlike that with any other pet - but, much of the success of that relationship depends on a responsible owner who understands and meets their parrot's special physical and psychological needs.

This article was published on Tuesday 22 June, 2004.
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