For the Birds: Your Guide to Owning a Feathered Friend

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Are you considering an addition to your family, perhaps one of the feathered variety?

That’s great! Birds make delightful companions. Some sing; others whistle; and some even talk! They come in various sizes, shapes, and many vibrant colors.

However, well-intentioned people often see a parrot or cockatoo that captures their heart and, without considering the ramifications, impulsively take the animal home.

The expense of owning a bird is probably the most overlooked consequence of any bird-human relationship. Advances in care, especially in the development of foods and medical research, have caused ownership costs to increase substantially over the last 10 years. Since it’s not likely that this trend will reverse itself any time soon, potential “bird parents” should consider their finances before taking home a new bird.

Depending on the type, quality, and age of the bird you choose, variations in costs will be extreme. Different regions of the country also have an affect on cost.

You, of course, can’t put a price on companionship, but all owners must provide the basics of professional medical care, quality food, and adequate shelter. The only other essential necessity for a responsible owner to provide is love — and that’s free.

Here’s what else you need to know about owning a bird.

A Bird’s Life

Before you run out to the neighborhood aviary or pet store, you need to ask yourself the following question: How much time will I need to care for and nurture this bird on a daily basis? With life spans that can last longer than many marriages, birds are often a long-term commitment.

In fact, most birds don’t require that much time. They’re not as demanding as dogs, who require daily walks and some playtime outdoors. An hour of attention a day is probably sufficient time for most bird species. However, some birds require more “play” time than others.

Whatever bird you own needs daily care and you need to consider the following as a part of your routine:

  • Feeding (offer pellets, fruits, vegetables, and seeds)
  • Fresh water (daily)
  • Cage cleaning (daily)
  • Veterinary checkups (twice a year)
  • Socialization and playtime (daily)

Birds that require the least amount of time are canaries and finches. These birds are a good choice for first time owners with a busy schedule because they do not require a lot of socialization. They are normally kept in pairs and there is a minimum handling time out of their environment.

For owners with some previous experience in handling birds and more time to offer, abudgies (parakeets), cockatiels, and lovebirds are excellent options. These species can be handled easily if hand-raised. They are playful and eager to learn, and they need daily attention and some time out from their cages.

Finally, if you decide to own a bird from the parrot species (conures, cockatoo, macaws, or Amazons) be ready to dedicate quality and quantity time for their care. If you have a busy work schedule or if you enjoy traveling a lot, these may not be the right species for you. Parrots are very demanding birds; they need daily interaction for training and socialization. Without you, they will become bored. In the end, you will own a bird with a behavior problem like screaming, biting, or feather picking.

Raising a Baby Bird

Hand-rearing a baby bird can be quite difficult and requires feeding every few hours by an experienced foster mom. On the other hand, purchasing just-weaned or about-to-be-weaned birds who have no problems and eat readily can be a very rewarding experience.

Most baby birds thrive on a commercial hand-rearing formula made especially for your species of bird. These complete diets are convenient since they’re easy to prepare. It’s important to mix these as directed; do not add ingredients unless directed by your veterinarian. Formula that’s too thin won’t have the appropriate nutrients, and formula that’s too thick can become a hard ball in the crop and won’t be digested appropriately.

A baby bird should be eating 10 percent of its body weight per feeding. A 500-gram bird would need 50 milliliters of formula per feeding. A baby this age should be fed approximately three times per day.

Your bird will be used to being fed by his human foster mom at the pet store or the aviary. Ideally, you should receive instructions from this person and copy his or her technique as closely as possible.

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