Parrots are high-maintenance pets.

Before we adopted Reggie, our Lesser Jardine parrot, we spent one year doing research on parrots and trying to decide whether a parrot would fit our lifestyle, personalities, and work schedules. After we decided we were indeed parrot material, we did six more months of research to narrow down our choice to a particular breed. Our experience is that living with a parrot is exhilarating, funny, frustrating, challenging, and always rewarding. It is like having a 2-year old child in the house, who will stay such for the rest of her life. We like to think of her as our baby, but also as our teacher. There is not one day that goes by that we haven't learned something from her. Consistency, devotion, patience. Dependability, committment, patience. Sense of humor. Patience. Taking one day at the time. Joie de vivre . And did I happen to mention patience??

Contrary to dogs and cats, companion parrots are only two or three generations removed from the wild and even when born in captivity and raised by humans they still maintain the instincts that allow them to survive in the wild. They scream, because that's what they do in the wild to call to each other. They bite, if they feel threatened or are in pain (or for other reasons). They are messy, loud, and very demanding. Since their istincts are not appropriate in our living rooms, it is up to us to teach them acceptable behaviors by establishing consistent boundaries. The concept of Nurturing Guidance was first developed by avian behaviorist Sally Blanchard, author of The Companion Parrot book (which everyone having or contemplating to have a parrot should read first thing). Scientific research, such as done by Dr. Irene Pepperberg with Alex at The Alex Foundation , demonstrated that parrots have the intelligence and emotional development of a young (2-3 year old) child. Thus, just as 3-year old children, parrots need rules and benevolent discipline to make it through their lives with humans. (Indeed, discipline comes from a Latin word, discere , which means "to teach".) Their intelligence and sensitivity is what makes parrots so fascinating, but also challenging, to live with.

Parrots do not give unconditional love. You will have to earn it by building a trustful and respectful relationship with your parrot through consistent teaching. And often they bond to only one person in the household. They generally do not make good pets for young children.

Parrots need a lot of mental and physical stimulus and lots of individual attention and time out of the cage. Imagine keeping a 3-year old child locked up in her/his room all day. Wouldn't this child go insane, scream, bite, and even self-mutilate?

Another thing to consider before getting a parrot is that they need a varied, balanced diet based on pellets, fresh fruit, fresh and cooked vegetables, and grains. NO SEEDS. Research in avian nutrition shows that parrots raised on an all-seed diet develop long-term chronic illnesses and are more susceptible to deseases than parrots raised on a veggie and pellets diet, and have poor and greasy feathers. Undoubtedly you will have to cook for your parrot. Corn, beans, grains, all this stuff. Are you ready to become his personal chef?

Parrots are expensive. It is not just the initial cost of the bird, which could be considerable (say around $600-1,500 for a medium-large size parrot). They need a roomy cage that allows them to stretch their wings during the time they are in it, plus plenty of toys to keep their bodies and minds busy. Reggie's cage is a Cockatoo size and cost us around $600, plus we spend around $50 per month for toys. You also need a carry-on cage to take your parrot safely on trips and a hotel cage for long stays away from home. All this adds up considerably. And dont forget the vet care. If you are lucky, and your parrot is healthy, s/he will still need to see an avian vet at least once a year for a full checkup visit. Avian care is expensive, because it is very specialized, with the yearly checkup running around $150.

All this cost will be multiplied by the average lifetime of your pet. Depending on size, parrots may live from 20 to even 100 years for the larger species. We hope our Reggie will live 30 to 40 years, going to the grave with us. A parrot is a lifetime committment . We are not wealthy people; but we chose to give up other things, such as expensive vacations and restaurants and other unnecessary items, to give our baby the best possible care we can afford. After all, when we adopted her we made a committment to provide for her for the rest of her life.

Sometimes, I wonder whether parrots should be kept as pets at all. In taming them, we deprived them of what they were born for, flying free and high in the sky. BUT, reality is that we did tame them. They are here with us, in our houses and pet stores. So their well-being is now our long-term responsibility.

My strong belief is that parrots are not for everyone and not everyone is for parrots. The sad demonstration is the ever-growing numbers of parrots who are dumped on a daily basis by their supposed "caregivers". I do not understand why some people are willing to spend big bucks on a bird, only to dump him a few months later when the bird does not "perform" according to their (unrealistic) expectations. These "people" are usually those that bought the bird on an impulse, because of its bright colors ("he is sooo beautiful with all his green and red and blue feathers!") or as a trophy-pet to boast about. Or maybe because they were looking for an easy pet, and never bothered doing their homework to learn what it really means to raise a parrot. I lost count of all the chilling, unbelievable stories of abused, tortured, abandoned parrots posted on the Web (how many we do not know of?). Some of these abused birds are lucky enough to be rescued by non-profit, wonderful organizations, such as The Gabriel Foundation, FosterParrots, and many others. Some of these will have the good fortune to be adopted by a loving family, but most of them will spend the rest of their lives in sanctuary. Those which are not rescued will die of neglect, forgotten in dark basements, victims of human stupidity. Euthanasia is not yet a practice for unwanted parrots, but many of us fear that it will become, given the large, ever-growing number of birds who get dumped EVERY DAY.

Take a look at this . Disturbing, isn' it? Could you live with yourself knowing YOU have caused it??

My advice to a wanna-be parrot owner: do your homework first, and do it well. Know exactly what you are getting into. Before you go out and buy that charming parrot at the birdshop, please think very hard: Why do you want a parrot? Is it just to match the wallpaper in your living room? To give your kids a new "toy"? Are you willing to learn all there is to learn about parrot's care, every day for the rest of your life? Are you able to guarantee your parrot the lifetime of love, security, and proper care that s/he deserves?

You see...the question is not "Is a parrot for you", but rather:


If you do not want to committ to the life-long responsibility of a parrot...DON'T GET ONE!

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