Polly sits on your friend’s shoulder, quiet and content, pulling his feathers slowly through his beak. As he preens his bright plumage without a care in the world, you think to yourself that having such a neat pet would be cool. Then Polly looks up at you and says with a slight parrot twang, "I love you, sweetheart!" That did it! Your heart melts, and you start to think seriously about getting a Polly of your very own.
There are many things you need to bear in mind when considering a bird as a pet. Birds can be wonderfully rewarding pets, but they can also try your patience, much like a child who is forever in that stage known as the terrible twos. They feel no guilt about kissing you with the same beak they used to chew through your antique coffee table. And the sweetest, softest noises will be alternated with screaming so shrill you’ll fear for the crystal.
Understanding your bird, providing your bird what he needs to be happy and healthy, and making sure that he sees a veterinarian once a year will go a long way in keeping both you and Polly happy and living in harmony.
There are many different types of birds people keep for pets; parrots are among the most common. The term "parrot" refers to any bird with a hook bill, ranging from a little parakeet to the hyacinth macaw, which measures approximately four feet from head to tail. Research the breeds you’re interested in before making your decision. Keep in mind when you’re looking at a bird’s attributes that there may be a downside to the very trait you’re attracted to. Different parrots, for example, are good at different things. Cockatoos are considered the most affectionate of the parrots; they like to be held and snuggled. But they can also become severely depressed if they’re not given enough attention, and they’re prone to self-destructive behavior for this very reason. Macaws, on the other hand, are big and bright, making them an exotic eye-catcher, but their large size requires extra space so that they can adequately exercise.
Home sweet home
Numerous factors need to be considered when looking for the appropriate cage. First and foremost, you need one that’s large enough for your bird. Polly should be able to completely spread his wings inside his house. In fact, the cage should be at least double the width of Polly’s wingspan. One with horizontal bars is preferable as Polly will appreciate the opportunity to climb. For your own convenience, you should find a cage that is easy to clean. Newspapers, paper towels, or paper bags make nice carpeting for the bottom of Polly’s house.
Once you have the cage set up, you have to decide where to put it. Birds are social creatures who like to be with the family, so it’s advisable to keep the cage in a room where the family gathers most often. You will want to avoid the kitchen, though. The temperature changes and fumes there can be harmful to Polly--not to mention the chance that Polly might land on the hot stove if he’s out of his cage. Also, nonstick pans used at high temperatures have been known to give off a gas that can be toxic to birds.
Would you like broccoli with that? Providing your bird with a healthy diet and plenty of fresh water is one of the most important things you can do for his health. In the wild, few birds eat only seeds, which are extremely high in fat and low in nutrients. Some seed is okay for your bird, but a diet composed only of seed is bad news. Even worse are those birds that refuse to eat anything but safflower or sunflower seeds. Don’t let Polly get away with eating a poor diet--most kids would have a candy bar every night for dinner if they could, but that doesn’t mean it’s good for them. Instead, feed Polly a pellet diet that is designed to fulfill his nutritional needs. Much like dog or cat food, a pellet diet will have all of the good things your parrot needs to be healthy. You can also supplement your bird’s diet with the food you eat. Polly can eat just about anything from the four food groups that you do. Some birds are more finicky than others, but try giving yours different foods and see what he likes. Keep in mind that if it’s bad for you, it’s probably bad for him too. And never feed your bird chocolate--it’s toxic for them, much like it is for dogs.
Birds actually enjoy taking baths. At least once a week you should provide your bird with access to water so that he can splash around and bathe if he wants to. Most birds have fun getting wet and consider it a wonderful game. There are various bird baths on the market that you can buy. A shallow bowl of water also works well for smaller birds. Many birds even like to accompany their owners into the shower, as long as the water pressure isn’t too strong. Standing off to the side in the shower can help lessen the water pressure for Polly. And as long as the bird is healthy, showering with him essentially poses no health risk to the owner. In fact, keeping your bird clean is one of the simple ways that you can help keep Polly healthy.
However, even with the intent of keeping Polly clean, he never needs soap--it would be harmful to him should he ingest it. Soap is not designed for his sensitive skin, and it will interfere with the natural powders that he produces to keep his feathers in top order. Water is all Polly needs to spruce himself up. He’ll fluff up, get his feathers all wet, and then spend an hour or two picking through them, putting them all back into just the right place. Bathing distributes his natural oils and helps keep him looking glossy. It will also help control the powder and dander he produces.
It’s also your responsibility to keep Polly’s wings clipped, which means cutting the feathers he uses to fly so that he’s unable to fly more than a few feet. Clipping your bird’s wings is an important safety precaution. It prevents him from flying into places he shouldn’t be, where he could be hurt or lost forever. Don’t attempt to clip your bird’s wings until you have been shown by an experienced person how to do it--many people simply have their veterinarian do it. It’s important that you clip only the feathers that will limit his flight, and you want to be careful not to cut any of his blood feathers, which could hurt him. Your parrot will also need his nails trimmed regularly. Once in a while Polly may also need to have his beak trimmed, but if you provide him with enough to chew on, his natural instinct to bite into things should keep his beak well trimmed. Sharp scissors will work well to clip Polly’s wings, and there are tools on the market designed to trim your bird’s nails and beak.
Time to play yet?
When you’re not available to keep Polly company, make sure that he has access to a couple of bird-safe toys. Only buy toys that are strong enough for your particular bird. An African grey, for example, will shred a parakeet’s climbing ladder within minutes and possibly hurt himself in the process. It won’t take you long before you realize that parrots are very playful pets and require a lot of attention. Toys are not enough. You need to take Polly out of his cage and interact with him. For most parrots to remain happy, they need this kind of attention daily. Teach Polly a new trick, talk to him, scratch his head, flirt with him, or teach him how to wink--there are many things that parrots delight in doing. Who knew a bowl of popcorn could be so much fun? You’ll find yourself making up silly little games that will keep the two of you entertained for hours. Before you know it you’ll have a pet just as special, or perhaps even more special, than the friend who inspired you to get Polly in the first place.