Almost every week, I am asked whether birds make good pets, and my answer is never a simple yes or no. My answer depends on who you are, where you live, and what you do. While birds can make terrific pets, they are not right for everyone. Too many people see their brightly colored feathers and hear them mimicking human language and impulsively purchase these amazing creatures. Having a bird is a long-term commitment that you should not rush into without a great deal of thought. Before you adopt or purchase a bird as your next family pet, you might want to consider the following points:
1. Who is going to care for the bird?
While smaller species like canaries and finches may live only a few years, some of the larger parrots can live several decades. The lifespan of the bird is one thing to think about before you get a bird, especially if the bird’s primary caretaker will be a child who may go off to college or an elderly person who may not eventually be physically capable of caring for the pet.
2. Does your family have the time to dedicate to a bird?
Having a bird means more than just feeding it and cleaning its cage. Birds are very social and live in large flocks in the wild. To be good pets, they need to be socialized; they must be handled and talked to every day. If they are not, they may develop behavioral problems such as screaming, feather picking, and destructive behaviors. If you travel a lot and are not often home, a bird may not be the right pet for you.
3. Where do you live?
The size of your family’s home and the proximity to your neighbors may play a part in what type of bird is right for your family. Big birds need to live in big cages, and they make big noises. Families that live in small apartments with neighbors close by may be more suited to smaller, quieter birds.
4. Does your family have the financial means to care for a bird?
While the purchase of a bird and its cage can be a one-time expense, its food and toys are ongoing expenses that can add up over a lifetime. Many birds need some fresh produce in their diets which can be expensive, and larger birds can chew through a new toy in a matter of minutes. Plus, most people never even consider the cost of ongoing veterinary care for a bird before they adopt or purchase one.
5. How will other family pets interact with a bird?
Some dogs and cats may initially be fascinated by a new bird in the house and eventually come to accept it as a family member. But dogs and cats are predators, and birds are prey, so you can never trust a bird out unsupervised around even the gentlest cat or dog. If your family has dogs, cats, or even ferrets that wander around the house and like to hunt, you’ll have to think about where a new bird can live safely in your home.
6. Are there veterinarians in your area who are knowledgeable about birds?
While it’s easy to find veterinarians who treat dogs and cats, most veterinarians receive limited training about birds in veterinary school, so finding a vet trained in bird medicine can be a little more difficult. Locating a vet who can check your bird immediately after you get it to help ensure that it’s healthy and who can provide ongoing preventative medical care to help keep it healthy is essential. The Association of Avian Veterinarians (www.aav.org) is a terrific resource for this.
7. Does anyone in your house smoke?
While secondhand smoke is harmful to pets, in general, the unique anatomy of a bird’s respiratory tract and their acute sensitivity to airborne particles puts birds at risk of developing life-threatening illness if they live in homes with smokers. Not only do birds inhale the smoke, but also they ingest it when it deposits on feathers that they subsequently preen. So, if you or your family members smoke, a bird is probably not a great pet for you.
Are you still not sure whether a bird is right for your family? Consider seeking the advice of an avian veterinarian to help you decide. With proper forethought and the right match of bird to owner, birds can make wonderful family pets for many years.