Here’s what we learned from our 14 pet birds

Guest post by Lindsey Newman
Photo by Jarrod Newman

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.

I Poop on Fascists Magnet by MincingMockingbird

Poop happens

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.

Editor’s note: Etsy has hoodies made just for parrots. You’re welcome.

What offbeat pets have changed your life for the better?

Comments on Here’s what we learned from our 14 pet birds

  1. This was a pretty cool offbeat post! I have never owned a bird but I love having bird feeders outside so I can watch them frolic. My most offbeat pet was a hermit crab.

    • There are no silly questions! Mo has trust issues from her previous family, so I haven’t tried putting any clothes on her. We keep the bird room warmer than the rest of the house, and when I bathe her I’m always careful to use warm water and get her dried off quickly so she doesn’t get chilly.

  2. What an awesome post! I’d love to have birds but know my lifestyle’s completely not right. Thank you for such an informative, honest article, and for giving so many neglected birds a home. It’s important for people to realise what a huge commitment taking on a bird (or any animal) is. Some people seem to view them as little more than singing ornaments who can sit in a cage all day 🙁 Good luck, and enjoy your bird-snuggles!

    • Thanks for your kind words! I agree, birds are a way bigger commitment than most people realize. I’m happy to have birds in our lives, but it sucks that some of them were neglected by multiple families before finding their way to us.

  3. Not sure ours are offbeat but we have 2 fish, a goldfish and a long finned shubunkin 4 Hillstream loaches and some shrimp.

    Apparently a group of Goldfish are a troubling and these two definitely are. The shubunkin must have had some sort of accident as a fry as a couple of days after we had him we noticed his head was curved round to the right. We decided not to take him back as it wouldn’t end well. 2 years now and the curve is less but he hasn’t grown as well as he should have done. He does have a very long, pretty tail though.

    The loaches hide during the day and come out at night to scurry round the stones and scuffle with each other. One of them only has half a top fin after some fight a while ago. He is 8 and the others are 6 which is good going when the lifespan is between 4 and 5 yrs.

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