From Macaws to Budgies: Choosing Your Feathered Friend

Love Dog
In This Chapter
  • Understanding the special needs of pet birds and the extraspecial needs of adopted birds
  • Deciding whether you can accept the noise, the mess, and the high care needs of birds
  • Meeting the different types of birds and what they’re like
  • Finding bird rescue groups and shelters with birds that need homes

You’ve seen them in pet stores, in friends’ homes, maybe in zoos or while visiting the tropics: beautiful, brightly colored birds singing, talking, fluttering their plumage, and even doing tricks. The idea of a bird as a pet can be compelling, but a bird in reality can be a real handful, depending on what kind you choose to adopt.

People don’t often realize just how difficult birds — particularly large parrots — are to keep, maintain, and tolerate. The noise level alone is daunting, let alone the constant care, cleanup, and social interaction that large birds can require. For that reason, many, large parrots and other birds have been abandoned to bird rescues and animal shelters. Even smaller birds, which have fewer aggressive care needs than larger birds, wait in shelters to be recycled into new homes.
But of course, adopting a bird doesn’t do any good if like the original owner(s) you end up having to abandon the bird yet again because you can’t handle the required living arrangements either. In that spirit, this chapter tells you the good, the bad, and the ugly of what it means to adopt a bird and explains the characteristics of many different kinds of parrots and other birds, so you can determine whether bird ownership really is for you. If you decide that it indeed is, then check out the last part of this chapter for information about tracking down national, regional, and local shelters and rescue groups that have birds waiting for new homes with humans who understand what they really need.

Understanding Your Adopted Bird

“SQQQUUUUUUAAAAAAAAAAAWWWWWWKK!!!!” Yikes, what was that horrifically loud, piercing noise? Oh, nothing, just the cockatoo.
That noise, however may be indicative of your spending only four hours with him today, and he doesn’t think that’s enough. He probably wants you to deliver another snack, and watch out, because he just may decide to try to nip off the tip of your finger — he wouldn’t be the first cockatoo to remove a sizeable chunk of human flesh.
No, this loud, demanding, and sometimes bloody scenario isn’t an attempt to send you shrieking in the opposite direction . . . well, not exactly.

Remember

Birds, unlike many of the other animals I talk about in Adopting a Pet For Dummies, essentially are neither domesticated nor cut out for confinement. To be successful as pets, birds require very clean, spacious conditions and specialized training from the get-go. They need lots of handling, interaction, hands-on treatment, training, a regular schedule . . . and even then, after they hit adolescence, they become difficult anyway. Like small animals, birds often are affectionate only during their baby years, but when they grow up, they won’t have patience for cuddling, stroking, and other such biped nonsense. A sexually mature bird may consider you his mate, but beware the large parrot who fancies to you. Male parrots aren’t exactly romantic with their mates. Many adult women are chased around the proverbial desk by amorous parrots, and if one catches you, watch out. He can bite, and hard. You’ve seen those big beaks.

Adopted birds of all shapes and sizes more than likely have aged past the cuddly baby stage, and in most cases, were relinquished because people couldn’t live with their seeming rude behavior. Adopted birds experience many behavioral issues related to neglect, too much confinement, and improper care. Some start pulling out all their feathers until they’re virtually naked. Others injure their own skin, fight incessantly, or try to bite any human body part that gets within striking distance. And yes, some make noises louder than any human can make.
By adopting a bird that has been relinquished, you’re agreeing not only to acknowledge that bird’s behavior issues but to do your best to resolve them, so your bird and the humans with whom he lives can be healthy, happy, and sane.

Remember

When birds don’t get the attention they need, they become even more difficult. Some people argue that birds aren’t meant to live in cages, but rescuing a pet bird in need of a home is an act of kindness — as long as you can give the bird a good life — because once treated as a pet, birds have little chance of survival if returned to the wild.

Some adopted birds are difficult to hand tame, especially if they’ve never been hand tamed before or they’ve had bad experiences with human interaction. Some prefer the company of other birds, as long as they have plenty of room to move around, claim their own space, and interact with plenty of room to flee when necessary. Other birds prefer to be alone. Personality clashes and fights can lead to unhappy results, including injury and even death. In other words, adopted birds need you to provide the appropriate, safe living and social environment for them.

Knowing What Adopted Birds Need

Birds need. They need a lot. And if you don’t have the time, the patience, and a high tolerance for loud noises and an occasional painful bite, you may want to reconsider your dreams of owning a great big parrot to add a tropical flare to your living room. When they’re well managed and they get plenty of exercise, stimulation, interesting toys, positive structured social interaction, and a varied nutritious diet, many birds make fine — if loud — pets. The larger birds can work well in a home where people work at home or for businesses where activity exists during the day and the night is peaceful, assuming noise isn’t a problem. But birds also are messy, scattering their food, splashing in their water, spreading dust and feathers far and wide. And the more unhappy, unsatisfied, or bored they are, the louder and more destructive they become.
In short, here’s what most pet birds need from their pet owners (that’s you). Adopted birds need all these things (see list that follows), perhaps even more urgently than a bird that has always had all its needs met, for them to adjust to their new homes and to learn that humans are sources of good things and a safe environment:

– Freshly prepared food, including fruits and vegetables, raw and cooked, and a prepared diet with complete nutrition, according to your particular bird’s needs (for more on what your bird needs to eat, see Chapter Caring for Your Adopted Bird).

– Fresh pure water — replenished at least daily or when it becomes dirty or your bird uses it as a toilet, which can mean more frequently.

– A clean cage that sometimes requires daily cleanup. If you also want a clean environment, add to the daily cage-cleaning, sweeping up or vacuuming the area surrounding the cage — even if you have a cage with a seed-catcher.

Feathers float and seed husks and messy fruits and vegetables will be flung.

– Things to chew. Constantly replenish chew toys as they’re destroyed or become old news and boring. Note: Bird toys are expensive, and in some cases, you need to replace them weekly.

So happy together (or not)
Assuming adequate cage space is provided (and potential exceptions are noted), bird expert Nikki Moustaki in Parrots For Dummies (published by Wiley), indicates the following birds are most likely to get along with each other:
  • Cockatiels
  • Budgies
  • Hanging parrots

Moustaki says the birds least likely to get along well with other birds (and prone to fighting) are:
  • Conures
  • Cockatoos
  • Caiques
  • Lovebirds (ironically)
  • Some macaws
  • Lories

– Things to climb on, swing from, and play with. Adopted birds may have a lot of excess energy, and they need an outlet so they don’t get anxious and stressed.

– A cage . . . a big cage. The bird needs to have plenty of room to flap around, climb around, and have different areas to hang out in.

– Time out of the cage, including perches and a play area outside of the cage large enough to climb around on.

– A whole lot of attention, interaction, training, and even discipline. Parrots spend much of their lives doing a darned good imitation of a child in the throes of the terrible 2’s, and they need at least a few visits from you for training and talking every day. The more time you can spend with your bird, the better. A large parrot would probably prefer to hang out on your shoulder all day long, if you’d let him, but even small birds need you to pay attention to them for at least two or three 15-minute sessions every day. Adopted birds may need an extra degree of patience during this integration time because they might not trust humans.

Finding a Breed that Suits You

If meeting all of the needs birds have sounds doable and you still think you want to adopt one, the next step is considering what kind of bird best fits your lifestyle. Challenging as they may be, some birds are easier deal with than others, and some people and situations are better suited to some birds than others. Larger birds are louder, messier (only because they eat more),

can do more damage when they bite, and thus are not normally good pets for homes with children. Smaller birds still make a mess and often spend much of the day twittering away, a sound that you either enjoy because it’s so lovely or hate because it irritates the heck out of you. Small birds are easier to care for, however, and make better pets for beginning bird owners. Although every bird is an individual and generalizations always come with exceptions, here’s what to consider about different types of birds.

Choosing for health and temperament

The type of bird you choose (see the sections that follow) has a great deal to do with how you and your bird get along and interact, but if the bird you choose is unhealthy or has an undesirable temperament, the particular kind of bird hardly matters. Before you whisk that pretty bird home, take a good hard look for signs of health problems and temperament problems. With birds, the two often are related. A bird with an anxious, aggressive, or fearful temperament may look unhealthy because he’s plucked his own feathers or bashed himself around in the cage. A bird with a health problem may be nippy, aggressive, or fearful, because he doesn’t feel good.
Some people are willing to adopt birds with health and temperament problems, but because of the added veterinary expenses involved and the even greater time commitment special-needs birds require, you had better know what you’re getting into. You always need to take your bird to the veterinarian before making an adoption official (for more about this process, see Chapter Caring for Your Adopted Bird). Only a vet can truly tell you whether your bird is healthy, but as a first step toward finding a healthy bird with a good personality, here are the signs that your bird is in good health and has a suitable or at least trainable temperament:

– The bird needs to have bright full plumage with no bare spots or missing or broken feathers. Cockatoos have a bald spot under their crests, which is normal, but bare patches on the chest, cracked quills, and raggedylooking feathers can be signs of ill health or a behavior problem.

– The bird needs to have clear, clean eyes and a clean shiny beak. Cloudy eyes or any discharge from eyes or nostrils can indicate a health problem. If you can get a look in the bird’s mouth, you should see a clean dry tongue without white spots or ulcers.

– The bird’s vent, or rear end, needs to be clean and dry.

– The bird needs to act alert and react to you. A tired or listless bird may be a sign of a health problem.

– When you interact with the bird, he should seem interested in you, not frightened half to death or aggressively trying to attack you. Even birds with good temperaments can be loud and needy, but you want to avoid extremely fearful or aggressive birds, which can be difficult to manage.

Go large: Macaws and cockatoos

Large parrots — fluffy white cockatoos with their dramatic crests and brightly colored macaws with their huge hooked bills and superior talking ability — are the most challenging birds to keep as pets. They can live 80 years or longer and produce the most incredibly loud sounds. When they bite, it really hurts. That said, some people nevertheless are willing to put up with the less attractive aspects of owning large parrots and provide them with what they need.
Cockatoos come in 18 different species and many more subspecies, ranging from just over a foot in height to more that two feet. When cockatoos are babies, they’re famous for being cuddly and adoring. As adults, however, that kind of behavior rarely continues, and people find themselves dealing with an emotionally sensitive bird with huge care needs that emits a dust to which many people find themselves very allergic. Sensitive and needy, cockatoos require plenty of interaction and tolerance to noise. Some of the more common types of cockatoos that you may find in need of adoption are _ Moluccan cockatoos are the most common type of cockatoo, and they’re one of the loudest of the large parrots. They require constant social activity. If they don’t get it, they become neurotic and can turn to self-mutilation.

Sulfur-crested cockatoos are another common type of cockatoo, which actually refers to several different kinds of cockatoos with yellow crests.

Umbrella cockatoos are slightly smaller and all white. Charming and affectionate, umbrella cockatoos also are incredibly loud and easily displeased.

Remember

Rescue groups are overflowing with cockatoos, because they’re so incredibly difficult to keep. Please be sure that you’re really ready for the noise, mess, time, expense, and emotional commitment cockatoos require. Macaws come in 17 different species and range from one foot to more than three feet in length. These birds are smart, good at talking, and can develop interesting and complex relationships with people, but they’re also incredibly loud and can easily dismantle an entire fancy wooden ($30) bird toy in 20 minutes.

Macaws are prone to periods of all-out shrieking and screaming, usually around sunrise or sunset. Your neighbors probably won’t be fond of these times of day. Some common types of macaws that are likely to be up for adoption include:

Blue-and-gold macaws are the most common type of macaw. Because there are so many of them and because they tend to be moody and sometimes unpredictable, many are abandoned to rescue groups.

– Military macaws, another common type, are a little smaller than the blue and gold. They’re green and tend to be very outgoing, but they’re also easier to train and socialize than other macaws — not easy, mind you, just eas-ier.

– Greenwing macaws are among the largest of the macaws. Greenwings are about 35-inches long with a huge beak. They’re less prone to nipping and unpredictable mood swings.

– Scarlet macaws are a brilliant scarlet red and can reach 39 inches in length. Scarlet macaws are smart, feisty, and they bite hard and are prone to random nips for no apparent reason.

– Hyacinth macaws are the largest of the macaws. Bright blue, they sometimes exceed 40 inches in length. Although very sociable birds, they can play rough with their formidable beaks, which are capable of easily biting off a human finger. These birds are not for novice bird owners.

Talking about Amazon parrots and African greys

Amazon parrots and African greys are medium-to-large birds that are the enthusiastic talkers of the parrot world. However, because of their long life spans, social needs, occasional tendency to nip, and high-volume method of voicing their displeasure, many of these intelligent and beautiful birds are abandoned to rescue groups and shelters.
Amazon parrots are the pretty green ones, but different species have different splashes of color here and there. The yellow-naped and yellow-headed Amazons are the most common. They talk well, are smart, but they’re unpredictable and moody. You may be getting along just fine, then out of nowhere, your Amazon decides to chomp on your ear. Ouch! Nevertheless, they like to be out and about, hanging with you on your shoulder and checking out what you’re doing. The blue-fronted, orange-winged, and lilac-crowned Amazons are less common but still are frequently kept as pets, so you may sometimes see them with rescue groups.
The Congo and Timneh African greys are the two types of parrots with grey feathers of varying shades. The Congo has a scarlet tail, and the Timneh has a maroon to black tail. The African grey arguably is the smartest and most verbal of the parrots, and it can develop intense and interactive relationships with humans. Some even learn words in context and are happiest with plenty of communicating and interacting. Greys are among the easier parrots to train because of their intelligence and willingness to engage in activities with you.

Conures, Quakers, toucans, and other medium-sized birds

Many medium-sized birds seem like smart and interactive pets without the size of the larger parrots, but watch out. You may be surprised how loud these medium-sized guys can be. A conure can blast your eardrums with his exuberant screeching! Quaker parakeets can scare you out of your skin with their sudden cries. Here’s what you need to know before deciding on any of these medium-sized birds:

Conures come in 42 species from across South and Central America and range from about 8 to 18 inches in length. Conures are outgoing and affectionate but l-o-u-d! You may be amazed by how much noise such a little bird can make. Not only are they loud, they also make a lot of noise. Conures also enjoy having another conure, of any species, as a cage buddy, as long as they have enough room to share. (Did I mention they’re loud?)

Quaker parakeets are docile-looking birds with big mouths. They’re sometimes called monk parrots and they’re good talkers that can acquire large vocabularies. Some states consider Quakers illegal, because they’re so prolific in the wild, including in the United States, from Florida to the Northeast and even into the Midwest. Quaker parakeets are so named because they actually shake and quake, bobbing their heads and looking a little like they’re having a seizure. Not to worry, it’s simply the Quaker parakeet’s way. Quaker parakeets are affectionate and like to be handled, but they’re very loud and make noise for much of the day.

Lovebirds come in nine species, all from Africa. The most common pet Lovebirds are the peachfaced, masked, and Fischer’s. The peachfaced is the most common and is quieter than most medium-sized birds, but they will whistle and sing. They don’t usually talk. Lovebirds may sound made for each other, but they often fight with each other, unless you find a matched pair that have good chemistry. Lovebirds must be handled daily, or they become nippy and antisocial.

Lories are happy, busy, vocal birds that require a special diet of soft fruits and flowers, because they can’t crush or digest seeds like many other birds. They require a nectar powder mixed with juice made just for lories and the occasional inset treat (mealworms and grubs).They also have messy wet droppings. If you’ve heard Lories don’t need water, don’t believe it. They don’t get along well with other birds but they need a lot of attention and supervision from you, because they’re likely to get into mischief. Watch your fingers, though, lories can be biters. Oddly, they like to sleep on their backs, so don’t be surprised if your lorie looks dead. He’s probably just snoozing.

Eclectus parrots come in nine subspecies and are notorious for being loud. One of the few parrots that are easy to sex, the green eclectus are the males, and the red are the females. Their soft small feathers look almost like fur. Eclectus are real talkers and can learn many words and say them often, loudly, and interspersed with shrieking, just for fun.

– Other less common birds that occasionally pop up with rescue groups are caiques (pronounced kai-EKES), toucans, mynah birds, vasa parrots, brotogeris parrots, hanging parrots, hawkhead parrots, parrotlets, pionus, and rarer species of some of the more common birds listed above. Each has unique care needs, and any rescue group worth working with can give you detailed care information and make sure you’re prepared for a rare bird’s individual needs.

What about doves?

Doves or pigeons come in more than 300 species. They populate our urban areas, but some people keep them as pets, breed them, show them, or raise them as homing pigeons. Domestic doves or pigeons all are descended from the Rock Dove. Doves are calm, quiet birds, but they don’t talk and they aren’t very interactive. They may learn to sit on your finger, but you probably won’t develop the kind of intricate social bond you can develop with louder, messier parrots.

Parakeets and cockatiels: Pros and cons

American parakeets — also called budgies — and cockatiels are the easiest birds to own and generally are much easier to adopt from rescue groups. Because they are easier to handle, rescue groups will consider homes for  these little guys that they wouldn’t consider appropriate for a larger bird.Friendly, sociable, and interactive, they’re also not as loud or messy as larger birds, simply because of their smaller size (see Figure 16-1). But they still scatter seed and feathers, bite if they’re displeased or frightened, demand attention, and require good nutrition, a clean spacious cage, and fresh water. They won’t, however, blast out your eardrums, preferring, instead, to sing and whistle happily quite often throughout the day.

If you clip their wings to keep them from hurting themselves, budgies and cockatiels can be trained to spend time out of the cage, riding around on your shoulder, hopping around on the table, eating from your hand, and generally being a good little buddy.

Parakeets and cockatiels can bite; they can injure or frighten a small child if they’re treated roughly and feel forced to defend themselves. They’re delicate and easily injured if squeezed, dropped, or handled roughly. If they’re loose, they can fly into ceiling fans, boiling pots of water, or out the window. An adult must be ultimately responsible for the care, feeding, cleaning, and safety of these small, happy birds.
Figure 16-1: Parakeets (left) and cockatiels (right) make friendly and vocal pets.
After you’ve decided that rescuing a bird is indeed your destiny, and you’ve figured out which kinds of birds may suit your needs, you’re ready to locate the bird of your dreams. You have a few options. Although you can find a bird in the newspaper (“free to good home”), this option is not the most desirable option, because although such birds may well need good homes, you may not get the full story about the bird’s health, behavioral issues, or care needs. An animal shelter or bird rescue group is much more likely to have:

– Evaluated the bird for suitability in a pet home _ Enlisted the services of a vet to check the bird for health problems

– Worked with the bird to determine its personality and other relevant information a pet owner wants to know before making a choice

First, be sure check with your local animal shelter and rescue group to find out whether they have birds. Don’t rush to buy the first bird you see. Remember your limitations, your abilities, and what you’re willing to handle. Think about the kind of bird that works for you, and then visit birds as they become available, using your head — and not your heart — when making a decision. Let the experts at the shelter advise and help you decide about adopting a bird.
If you aren’t sure where to find a shelter or perhaps want to look beyond your immediate region, use the shelter-finder resources on the Internet. Many of the animal-shelter resources can help you search for birds, so I’ve listed them here again, for your convenience.

– Search by type of bird and your zip code at Petfinder: www.petfinder.com

– Find local shelters at Pets911: www.pets911.com

– The ASPCA maintains a list of animal shelters: www.aspca.org

To find a bird through a bird rescue group, search the following sites. You’ll find lots of information about bird care, deciding what kind of bird is right for you, and where to find birds in need of homes. These sites do not promote bird breeding but rather rescuing birds that were saved from unhealthy, neglectful, or abusive situations or whose owners can no longer keep them. Don’t be offended if these groups screen potential adopters carefully. They don’t want to see their precious feathered rescues endure any more loss or abuse. It’s all about the birds:

– Foster Parrots is a parrot rescue, adoption, and sanctuary: www.fosterparrots.com

– Bird Adoption.org lists bird rescue groups by state: www.birdadoption.org/groups.htm

– Bird Placement Program, Inc.: www.birdrescue.com

– Avian rescue: www.avianrescue.org

by Eve Adamson

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