There are many mental and physical benefits to owning a pet, such as lower blood pressure and lower rates of depression. If a dog or a cat isn't for you, but you find yourself craving animal companionship, consider a bird. Birds are among the most intelligent and social animals on the planet. They are intuitive and curious and can provide company, cheer and song.
However, adopting a bird should be a well-thought-out decision. Depending on the species, you could be looking at a 10- to 60-year commitment. That's right, 60 years. Plus, birds are social animals, not decoration; they need daily interaction. Establishing a connection with your bird is key, even with those who are happier staying in their cages.
Though birds require less work than a dog or a cat, they do require more setup and can be more expensive, at least initially. So what kind of bird should you get? What kind of care do they require?
According to the American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, all pet birds should have a well-constructed cage that is big enough for them to extend their wings and fly short distances. They also need perches, access to fresh water and food, and toys to entertain them. The level of sociability is dependent on the species. Some birds, such as zebra finches, are content to stay in their cages as long as you actively engage them with conversation or song. Other birds, such as parrots, need significant out-of-cage time, which means you must bird-proof your home.
In the wild, birds eat a variety of fruits, veggies and seeds. In captivity, birds require a similar variety. Captive birds don't burn as many calories as their wild counterparts, so most vets recommend going easy on the seeds and giving birds pellets, which are made to be low fat and nutritionally sound. Millet sprigs are good as a rare treat and as a reward when training your bird. Birds also require fresh water daily and a variety of fruits and veggies. Never give a bird anything salty, caffeinated or alcoholic.
If your bird is going to spend time out of the cage, you'll need to bird-proof your home. If you can, dedicate one room to the bird and let it fly free. Birds are attracted to colorful, shiny objects, so be sure to remove any decorations that might catch their eye as a potential tasty treat. Secure the windows and the door to keep your bird from escaping. Be mindful of anything that your bird could consume that would be toxic to it, such as air fresheners.
Parakeets are by far the most popular pet bird in North America. These bright, chirpy birds can be trained to perch on fingers and shoulders and have been known to learn words and mimic household noises. They are good with children and other animals. Life expectancy for a well cared-for parakeet is 10 to 15 years.
Canaries and finches are also popular. Because of their small stature, they are perfect for people who don't have a lot of space to dedicate to a bird. Neither species can talk, but they both have a variety of pleasant tweets and chirps. They are happier living in a small flock and staying in their cages and can live up to 10 years.
Parrots, particularly African greys, are the most popular of the larger birds. Growing up to 13 inches long, this is a bird that requires a lot of space. They are also fiercely intelligent, having the learning capacity of a human toddler. Like toddlers, African greys need substantial interaction and stimulation. Fortunately, they are quite adept at learning words and tricks. Teaching them can help stave off boredom. African greys live an average of 50 to 60 years, but greys living more than 70 years have been documented. They are also among the most expensive birds; expect to pay anywhere from $500 to $2,000 from a reputable breeder.
What happens if your bird gets bored? They may begin to pluck their own feathers out, lose their appetite or become irritable. Because these can all be symptoms of a more serious illness, it is important to know your bird's personality. This is why interacting with your bird is so important. You'll also need to find a trusted veterinarian who knows how to treat birds.
Like any relationship, owning a pet bird can be hard work but very rewarding. Happy birding!