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How to Pick the Perfect Parrot

By: Mattie Sue Athan

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Because parrots are whimsical by nature, it's easy to imagine that life with a bird could be nothing less than pure bliss. Shining, flashing eyes, and fanned feathers tempt us in the pet store or tourist hotel as parrots openly flirt.

Couldn't such a creature warm a place in our hearts and our homes? Sure it could, but no creature should be purchased whimsically and a parrot is no exception.

Wild By Nature

Although wild parrots haven't been imported into the United States since 1992, they're still considered exotic, undomesticated animals, not pets. That means companion parrots often exhibit wild behavioral characteristics, especially sexual ones, that don't usually appear in companion dogs or cats. This includes a well-developed tendency to learn behaviors. Within a flock, if one bird learns a successful new skill, then flockmates copy that skill or they might not survive.
        
Wild parrots must know how to find food and water and avoid toxic plants, how to defend their territory and avoid predators, and how to rejoin their families when separated. They also must court and defend a mate, develop role-appropriate behaviors and pass these skills along to their offspring. A very different set of behaviors is necessary in the living room.

In-Home Adjustments

A companion parrot must learn to cooperate, to develop appropriate vocalizations, to tolerate environmental changes, and to accept grooming, and veterinary examinations. A parrot must develop a strong sense of self, for if a bird doesn't learn to groom and play independently, she'll ultimately decide that humans should fill every need. The bird must be guided to acceptable behavior because problematic behaviors are more easily prevented than changed.
        
Parrots are cavity breeders who must be allowed to chew appropriate things up, to make messes and to make noise. Parrots are usually a very long-term commitment, and they're not right for everyone.

Selection and Your Needs

When selecting a baby parrot consider the following:

  • Does this bird have a long expected lifespan? Can anyone in the household expect to outlive it?
  • Does this type of bird have extra-ordinary diet or care needs?
  • Is this species known for loud vocalizations? Can I tolerate this?
  • Has the source or breeder done a responsible job with this bird?
  • Is this bird too shy or too boisterous for my particular home?
  • Does the bird seem to like me (us)?
            
    Be careful and sensitive when interacting with an unfamiliar bird. Look for brave, clear-eyed individuals, with firm droppings. Listen to the dealer's experience with that particular bird. Don't be afraid to ask candid questions about current behavior and what the bird might be like as an adult. Expect some sort of guarantee, and expect to have the bird examined by an avian veterinarian as quickly as possible.
            
    Larger parrots have greater needs, sometimes massively greater needs. Don't overlook cockatiels and budgies (parakeets), for these small parrots are everything their larger cousins are, and they have a great track record in human homes. They're more likely to live their entire lives – sometimes much longer than a dog's expected lifespan – in one happy home.

    Although it's good to have some idea about what to expect from a particular type of parrot, nobody's perfect, and parrots are no exception. Don't become obsessed with expectations but, rather, be open to whatever your life with a parrot brings. Be prepared for surprises – they're often more satisfying than what we could ever have imagined.

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