Parrots For Dummies
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Parrot guardianship has more surprises than you may have expected. Here are a few aspects of having a parrot that you may not have thought about before.

parrot with funny sign Source: 123 RF, Sarah Richardson

Parrots can be lot of work, but they’re worth it.

Prepare for mess

If you’re new to parrots, you may be in for quite a shock when you realize how messy they can be. The mess knows no boundaries. If you walk barefooted around your home, you may end up finding seeds and pellets in your bed. I once had millet seeds sprouting in the carpet beneath one of my birds’ cages, even though I was cleaning for two hours a day. Okay, I had more than 100 parrots at the time.

Poop is also an issue. I remember a cute guy once asking me if I had a bird. I was really flattered because I thought maybe he saw me around town with one of my birds on my shoulder. I smiled and said, yes, I did have birds. Then he pointed out a squiggle of bird poop on my shirt. How embarrassing!

Poop happens. Fortunately, parrots are mostly vegans, so their poop doesn’t smell. If your parrot’s poop does smell, you should visit an avian veterinarian.

How to handle that mess

To keep on top of the mess, keep these tips in mind:

  • Invest in a good handheld vacuum. I have a one for small messes, but I really rely on my cordless stick vacuum. Can’t get by without it!
  • Buy a small dustpan and handheld broom.
  • Stash several spray bottles with cleansers all over the house. Have a designated color for alcohol, water/vinegar solution, and baking soda solution, or write on them with a permanent marker so you don’t mix them up.
Cleaning bird poop from hard surfaces is very easy. If it’s wet, simply spray a little alcohol (not on your bird’s cage) or a vinegar and water solution on it from a spray bottle and clean it up with a paper towel. Cleaning fabric is a little tougher, so let the poop dry. Then you can just pick it right off. It may leave a green residue, but you can easily remove it with a cotton swab and your favorite soap or cleanser. If that fails, the residue will come off in the wash.

I suggest you have a designated shirt that you wear when you play with your birds or carry a parrot around on your shoulder. Wear a used button-down flannel or cotton shirt; stop by your local thrift store to buy a few if you don’t have any. You can also buy or make a parrot clothing protector, which looks kind of like a bib or cape. A hairdresser’s cape also works, but make sure it’s not too slick for your bird to stand on.

Be ready for some noise

Most new parrot guardians tend to underestimate the amount of noise that their parrots will make. Even parrots that aren’t loud can be incessantly noisy. For example, macaws are extremely loud, but they don’t screech all day (under normal circumstances). Cockatiels and budgies aren’t loud, but they’re all-day chatterers and whistlers.

Noise is subjective, and what annoys you may not annoy someone else. Actually the noise isn’t what tends to bother people, it’s the actual hertz frequency, which has to do with the pitch level of a noise. Some birds are lower-pitched, and some are higher. A certain pitch may bother you (or your family or neighbors) but not bother someone else.

The benefit of noise

The good news about noise is that after a while you stop hearing it. I can have a hundred lovebirds chirping in every direction, and I won’t really hear it. Your brain starts tuning out sounds you hear on a regular basis. This news may be great for you, but maybe it’s not so great for your friends or neighbors who aren’t used to bird sounds and may be annoyed by them.

The other good news is that most bird guardians love the noise that their birds make. In fact, a quiet home may begin to seem spooky to someone who is used to hearing parrots chattering all day.

Another great aspect to chattering birds is that if you notice that they’ve stopped chattering all of a sudden, you can be sure that something strange has happened; maybe they’ve seen something odd in your yard, like an animal that isn’t supposed to be there or an intruder. Always investigate if you notice that your typically noisy birds have abruptly stopped vocalizing. Also, a typically noisy bird that becomes quiet might be ill.

How to deal with guilt

A lot of bird guardians have bird guilt--that bad feeling when your bird is caged for too many hours a day. You feel guilty for going on vacation or leaving town for whatever reason. You regret going to happy hour after work or staying out all day and evening on a weekend. You bird is cage-bound, after all, and relies on you for everything.

Let me try to alleviate your guilt a little bit. Your parrot will be fine if you miss a day taking them out of the cage for several hours. They won’t hate you, and they won’t die. If the cage is large and stocked with toys and external stimulation (television, radio, and so on), your bird won’t hate you if you miss a day of extensive handling and time out of the cage.

Some guilt-ridden bird guardians set up cameras to watch their parrots. Many cameras include an app so you can talk to the bird. A camera is great for keeping an eye on your bird, but it’s not a substitute for hands-on interaction. Being able to see your bird all day doesn't relieve you of the responsibility of actually caring for your bird in person.

Parrots require constant supervision

Parrots are like toddlers. They’ll get into a lot of trouble if left unsupervised outside of their housing. You’d be amazed at how much mischief and destruction they can accomplish in just a few minutes! Sometimes this mischief can even be deadly for them. As a result, you should always keep an eye on your parrot when they're out of the cage, especially if you know the bird is a wanderer or will make an effort to try to find you.

Nobody’s perfect. Your parrot will inevitably get into mischief, so don’t feel terrible when he does. I hope the mischief is something you can undo or something more funny than dangerous. Once I walked out of the room for just a few minutes and came back to find my blue and gold macaw on the dining room table taking a bite out of every single piece of fruit in the large fruit bowl in the middle of the table.

Prepare to open your wallet

Parrots are expensive. You have the expense of the parrot itself, anywhere from $14 to $14,000, and you also have the up-front costs of proper housing, toys, food, and so on. But you also have to be aware of some hidden expenses that may surprise you.

For example, you may be unaware of the necessary yearly or bi-yearly veterinary visits. A healthy diet consisting of organic fruits and veggies can get expensive. A camera to watch the parrot while you’re away, a pet sitter, or the expense of taking your bird with you when you leave town can be a shock.

Replacement costs can add up as well. Your parrot can wear out toys, and he may also wreck things in your home, such as curtains, carpet, flooring, wooden furniture, antiques, wallpaper, and countless other household items, that you may need to be replace.

You also have to consider the expenses of upgrading supplies, such as a new, larger cage, a sleeping cage, a better carrier, nicer toys, and so on. All these expenses are worth it for the joy that a parrot brings to your life. Just make sure to dedicate a little of your paycheck each month to your bird’s well-being.

Bonding pros and cons

Parrots are social creatures, and you may be surprised how strongly a lone parrot bonds to you. To your bonded parrot, you hung the sun and the moon. He becomes excited and dreamy-eyed when you walk into the room. His focus is on you, and his devotion is absolute. For a parrot so smitten, your attention is critical for his well-being.

Nothing’s wrong with a strong parrot-human bond. You’re buddies for life. However, if the bond becomes distorted, and the parrot begins to see you as an actual mate, it can become an issue, especially if you have a parrot with a powerful beak, like an Amazon, cockatoo or macaw, that can inflict severe bites on you or someone else if another person gets too close. You’ll know that your bond has gone a little awry when your bird regurgitates for you often and when he seems very jealous and territorial where you're concerned.

How funny parrots are around mirrors

You may be amused to see how many birds react to mirrors. A lot of bird guardians bring their birds into the bathroom when they’re getting ready for work or bedtime, which gives the parrot ample time to study the bird in the mirror. Some try to woo the mirror bird, which is cute, but it can be less than constructive if your bird becomes lovesick by his reflection. Some birds behave as if the reflection in the mirror is a buddy to interact with.

I don’t recommend keeping a mirror inside your bird’s housing or too close by all the time because your bird may respond negatively to it. Some birds behave aggressively to the mirror bird, trying to fight with it. Unless your bird is having an aggressive response (which doesn’t happen very often), you can enjoy watching your parrot engage with his reflection sometimes. This is a great time to film your bird for his Instagram account.

Recognize how smart parrots are

Even if you already sense your bird is intelligent, he may be leagues more intelligent than you think. Some parrots can be taught to solve elaborate puzzles, to distinguish colors, and even to read. However, many parrots don’t even need this kind of instruction to understand how to manipulate their human or their captive environment. Search online for “Can Wild Parrots Solve Puzzles?” and prepare to be amazed.

Your parrot’s intelligence may frustrate you at times. Most parrots figure out how to escape their cages, which can be stressful for you and even dangerous for your bird. Don’t worry though. This behavior is very typical. You can plan ahead with a quick link (also called a maillon, similar to a carabiner, but with a screw and threads as a closure rather than a spring) or other kinds of locks on your bird’s cage doors.

I used to have one little lovebird who would easily escape his cage and then go around to the other cages in the bird room and let out the other lovebirds. I’d wake up in the morning to find dozens of escapees flying around, having the time of their lives. It took me months to discover the identity of the little jail breaker.

Figure out who inherits your parrot

Though the smaller parrots tend to live to be 12 to 15 years old, the larger parrots can live upwards of 50 to 80 years. If you acquire one of these long-lived birds when you’re 30, 40, 50, or older, consider that your bird might outlive you. Plan what you’ll do with your winged friend after you die or are no longer able to care for them.

You may choose to include your bird in a will or an estate plan, thereby designating who will take over care of the bird. The ideal heir is a younger person, perhaps a relative, who will take on the responsibility of your parrot should that need arise. You should also name an alternate caregiver in case the first person can’t provide care.

Funding the bird's care

Set aside some funds for the person who will take on your bird. Consider setting up a trust for your bird’s care. Figure $400 a year for a smaller bird and $600 for a larger bird. If you believe that your bird will live 10 years beyond your death, have at least $4,000 to $6,000 in the trust. The trust can release funds yearly to the new caregiver and designate how the money should be spent.

If you can’t find another person to take the bird in the event of your death or incapacitation, you can name your avian veterinarian or a bird sanctuary in your estate plan. Make sure both parties agree in advance, and you should give them the permission to find your parrot a new home. Your parrot’s trust fund should go to this entity and designate that the remaining funds be transferred to your bird’s new home when one is found.

Some people plan for their parrot to be euthanized upon their death for fear that no one will be able to adequately care for their bird. Don’t do this! Most veterinarians won’t euthanize a healthy animal anyway, so even if you put this clause in your will, it’s doubtful any ethical veterinarian will carry it out.

For your living will or estate plan to be executable, seek the advice of an attorney who specializes in this area. Make sure your trusted relatives or friends have copies of this document and have committed to follow your wishes.

When your parrot dies

The majority of parrot deaths are very sudden, unlike those of dogs and cats. You wake up in the morning or come home to a quiet house. Why isn’t the bird whistling, chattering, or talking? You approach the cage to find your bird lying stiffly at the bottom.

A parrot’s death never gets easier and it’s always a shock. Birds have a lifespan, and you can’t do anything about it. Your parrot isn’t going to live forever. Also, birds hide their illnesses and can die before you even notice an issue.

Losing a bird is like losing a family member; parrots bond with their guardians in an almost human way. Some birds even speak your language. Imagine that your parrot is communicating with you on the level of a two- or three-year-old human, and then one day, out of nowhere, the bird dies. That loss is huge.

Your other birds who were friends with the deceased bird, especially the bird’s mate, may also be upset by the loss. They may call to the missing bird and constantly look for them for a period of time. If your bird had a mate, remove that bird from the vicinity of your other birds if you suspect that the bird who died may have been ill. Changing the mate’s cage, toys, and location can help the mate get over the loss. Sometimes, if a bird dies of old age, its bonded mate of a similar age will die not long after. If the remaining mate is young, he’ll likely accept another mate after a period of a few weeks.

Check out this Cheat Sheet for what you can do when you parrot dies.

About This Article

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About the book author:

Nikki Moustaki is an accomplished avian care and behavior expert. She works with clients to heal strained relationships between themselves and their feathered friends. She has published 47 books, including more than 30 covering the care and training of exotic birds.

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