Owning a Parrot

By: Ariana Finkelstein, DVM

TVMA Member
San Antonio, TX

Published June 2014

Birds can make great companions, but if you’d like to own a bird, please consider these owning guidelines prior to adding a feathered friend to your home. They are not just pretty; they are loud and messy and owning one requires a moderate investment of time.

Parrots (or psittacines) are a unique species. They can talk, sing, mimic and interact with people. They can also act like small children and be very demanding in their needs. Generally, birds live much longer than cats and dogs. Smaller birds, such as budgies, can live up to 15 years. The larger psittacines often live very long lives, sometimes outliving their owners. For example, macaws can live up to 80 years in captivity.

Keeping Parrots in Cages and Outside

Parrots require as large of a cage as you can comfortably provide in your household. The basic rule of thumb is that the parrot should be able to fully expand its wings (minimally) and glide in the cage (if possible). This is often not practical for most people who own parrots, as it can require that a cage be the size of a room for any of the larger birds (i.e., macaws, Amazons and African Grays).

Many pet birds spend a large amount of time out of their cage, either with their owners or on a perch. The owner’s house must also be bird-proofed so your feathered friend avoids flying into hazards such as ceiling fans, glass doors and windows. Birds can be seriously injured by another pet in your household or even by a child. Chewing hazards also need to be removed, including but not limited to heavy metal, jewelry, small toys, hardware, wood and frames.

Some parrots can live safely outdoors in an aviaryA large cage, building, or enclosure for keeping birds in. that is predator-proofed. A double fence around the aviary should be provided to help avoid land predators. A tarp placed over the top will prevent attack from flying predators above. A hide box should be provided so they can stay safely out of bad weather. Safe heating elements may also be necessary if it gets below 40 degrees where you live.

Food for Parrots

Birds should have a variety of food offered. Pelleted diets are the staple substance for feeding parrots properly. Many different pelleted diets are currently available. Some pelleted foods that I recommend to my clients include Harrison’s Bird Diets, Lafeber, Roudybush, Mazuri, Kaytee and Zupreem.

It is recommended that diets for large parrots be approximately 60 to 80 percent pellets. A good portion of the diet (15 to 25 percent) should be vegetables, preferably green and leafy. You can also use a frozen vegetable mix for convenience and defrost some in warm water, then pat dry and feed. Some (five to 10 percent) of the diet can be “people food,” e.g., whole grains, pasta, brown rice and hard-boiled egg. All other animal proteins should be avoided. A small amount of the diet can be fruit, such as bananas, apple, pear, mango, etc. If your parrot is eating pellets as well, five to 15 percent of the diet can be assorted seeds (even sprouted seeds) and nuts.

Some larger birds will require more fat in the diet and need more nuts. Smaller birds, like cockatiels and parakeets (budgerigars), may require more seed and fewer pellets, such as an approximately 50-50 mixture (consult with your veterinarian for specifics). Calcium may need to be provided if the bird is female and laying eggs.

Interaction with Parrots

If possible, all birds should have some exposure to natural UVB light UVB is a wavelength (290-320nm) of ultraviolet light that affects primarily the epidermis as a sun burn, sun tan and has been to skin cancer formation and skin aging changes.(sunlight or full-spectrum lighting). You can take your bird outside with you either in a cage or on a harness made for birds. If you are using a harness, please make sure it has been properly fitted inside your house or a safe environment and that your pet parrot is accustomed to it before you ever take your beloved pet outside.

Birds require daily interactions. So, if you want to own one, remember that if they do not get attention, birds can develop destructive behavior in the form of feather-picking or self-mutilation, screaming, etc. Please vary your daily routine and interactions so they do not get used to the same routine. If they have a routine and get stuck in it, changing it may become difficult. Please provide appropriate toys and things that they can safely destroy, as this is their job in nature. They will be less frustrated and a better pet if their toys are changed regularly. Provide foraging tools and appropriate food treats also to give them additional things to do throughout the day. Destructive behavior requires early intervention. Please see your avianOf or relating to birds. veterinarian immediately if you are concerned about any inappropriate behaviors.

Parrots can make great pets! Just make sure you understand what you are getting into and what owning one means. Know that they can be very long-lived, messy, loud and require special attention. Once you have a pet that can talk and answer back, things can change….

Ariana Finkelstein, DVM currently practices at Mission Pet Emergency in San Antonio, Texas.