I met my husband Jarrod when we both worked at PetSmart together — so clearly it was a matter of time before our home became a virtual zoo. He had one parrot when we moved in together, and before we knew it, we’d accumulated 14 pet birds before our first two years together. Many of them were rescue birds that didn’t have anywhere else to go, such as Mo, the 11-year old Timneh African grey parrot whose family had six kids and no time; or Levi, the 12-year-old cockatiel whose elderly owner was going into assisted living.
Sharing your home with so many birds is a learning experience, especially when many of them have behavioral issues that come with being neglected earlier in life. But we wouldn’t trade our life with parrots for anything.
Here’s what we’ve learned from all our pet birds:
Parrot trust needs to be earned
Mutual trust is the cornerstone to every healthy relationship, and it’s no different for birds. If you’re trying to train a good behavior (or train away an unwanted behavior), your bird will only cooperate if he wants to. It’s crucial to have a great relationship with your bird if you want to teach him things, whether you’re trying to teach him to step-up or to stop perching on the TV. Talk to your bird, get him to take exciting food or toys from your hand, and show him that you’re here to be his friend.
But once trust is there, it’s so rewarding
Birds are super loyal, and once you have their trust, they won’t forget it. Mo was neglected at her last home until she plucked out all her feathers from stress and frustration. She’s still naked because her feather follicles were damaged from repeated plucking.
Despite that neglect by the hands of other humans, she’s decided that I’m her best friend. She greets me by calling out “Hey Mo!” every time I come to the door, dutifully steps up on my finger even though she’s afraid of hands, shares sips of tea straight from the mug when we’re hanging out on the couch, and cuddles up on my shoulder when I work from home.
I can’t think of an animal relationship I’ve had that’s more rewarding than my relationship with Mo. And that’s typical of parrot relationships once you’ve bonded with your bird.
Birds aren’t cats
If you’ve had a cat, you know that despite the mutual love, they tend to hang around and do their own thing while you’re working overtime or away on the weekend. Birds have the potential to be very co-dependent, which can result in self-destructive behaviors such as plucking when you’re away.
It’s not really practical to quit your job to hang out with your bird 24/7, so you need to provide him with a ton of mental stimulation for those eight hours a day that you’re gone. This means giving toys that he can destroy, such as cardboard, paper, and wood. Great toys don’t have to be expensive: Our 22-year old Congo African grey parrot, Rocky, is obsessed with cardboard Coke boxes and he’ll happily play with one for days.
Parrots are great dinner companions
We did a lot of research into parrot diets when we first started adopting birds, and we learned that birds can eat a lot of the same foods that we can. Vegetables and fruits are great everyday staples, and starches such as quinoa, oats, rice, and pasta are good on an occasional basis.
That means when I’m cooking stir-fry, I can set aside unseasoned portions of the vegetables and rice, and our birds can enjoy the same dinner we’re having. It’s a great way to offer extra enrichment and mental stimulation on a daily basis, since birds are very food-motivated and love testing new textures and flavors.
Birds have to keep their weight down so they can fly efficiently, which means that they poop. A LOT. The smaller the bird, the more often he poops — budgies can poop 15-20 times an hour! So how do you keep all that poop under control?
Some birds show behavioral signs when they’re about to poop. If your bird’s trying to tell you he has to go, he’ll back up and wiggle his butt, then let it fly. This makes it easy to control poop messes because you can just watch out for your bird to back up, then move him to an appropriate perch (like his cage, his play stand, or wherever you want him to poop) so he can go.
If you want to try potty-training your bird, then any time you move him to his potty perch, tell him what you want him to do — “go poop” — and then praise him like he just discovered the cure for cancer. Birds LOVE being praised, so making a huge fuss is the best way to make him understand what you want him to do. Pretty soon, your bird will be pooping on command, or even flying to his poop perch if he’s free-flighted.
Birds are a life-long commitment
Parrots are some of the longest-lived pets that people keep. Small parrots such as budgies and cockatiels can live to be 15 years old, while large parrots such as umbrella cockatoos can live as many years as we do. Your parrot very well might end up outliving you. So be aware that you’re taking on an extremely long commitment when you open your home to a bird.
Despite all these caveats (or in some cases, because of them), sharing our lives with parrots has been super rewarding, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
What offbeat pets have changed your life for the better?