There are technically more than 200 breeds of parrot out there but despite their close link in terms of taxonomy, all species have few traits in common.
Unlike other types of pet birds, they have strongly curved bills, an upright stance, clawed feet with two toes pointing forward and two toes pointing backwards, and the ability to mimic human speech and other noises.
They can come in small, medium, large or extra-large sizes, and can usually be handled. The below guide will form a basic basis into looking after them.
- Lifespan: 5-50+ Years
- Average Height: 8.7-100 Cm
- Average Weight: 64g-1.6kg
- Popular Breeds: African Grey, Macaw, Cockatoos, Parrotlet, Conure, Parakeet, Quaker
- Diet: Omnivores. Nuts, Fruit, Seeds, Insects, Vegetables
- Origin: Oceania, South Asia, Southeast Asia, Central America, South America, Africa
IMPORTANT THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW
- In general, the larger the bird, the longer they are expected to live
- Their lifespan will depend on their nutrition, health and diet
- You will need to register with a special Avian vet, and regular checkups are recommended as parrots are good at hiding symptoms
- Equipment can be expensive but can last a lifetime if bought correctly. Food and toys are relatively inexpensive, but the longer they live, the greater the costs will be overall
- They aren’t solitary in the wild but most can be kept alone. They will need plenty of attention so someone will need to be at home for most of the day, but the smaller breeds are best in pairs
- Their cage should be as large as possible. They need to be able to stretch both wings open at the very least
- They don’t need to be spayed or neutered, and most caged birds aren’t vaccinated unless they will be socialised with other birds
- Microchipping is a good idea, in case of loss or theft
- Parrots are often friendly and love attention, and can speak and copy actions
WHERE TO BUY A PARROT
It is vital to source your parrot from a reputable, dedicated breeder who knows what they are doing. After all, they require a lot of attention and care, and neglect in their younger years can mean that they are prone to illness in later life.
They will hopefully have been brought up by other parrots but had frequent contact with humans. Having the adult parrots there is vital because as much as they need to get used to humans, they need to imprint. Imprinting on a human could have severe consequences later in life, as when they become sexually active, they can become aggressive towards other people and reject any potential avian mates.
You may see parrots for sale from people who can no longer look after them – ask lots of questions first
You can also buy them from some pet shops, and there are dedicated bird stores around the country too. There are dedicated magazines and websites out there, such as Parrot Society Magazine, which are available to members and often have adverts in for sales.
Wherever you buy from, you should be able to ask the seller plenty of questions about the bird and its needs. Be aware that when buying from general pet shops, some workers may not be completely clued up on parrots or birds.
Parrots may occasionally be available to adopt from charities, but it is rare. A parrot part-reared by a human will have an intrinsic trust in all humans and not be wary of new owners, but those not socialised with other older birds will also often manifest issues later down the line, which is why those being sold on should have been fed by parents but have had frequent human contact
CHOOSING YOUR PARROT
As mentioned in the introduction, despite them all being classified as ‘parrots’, most breeds are very different in terms of their personality, needs and levels of care. Therefore, you should research each breed in depth before you decide on which to get.
Parrots should be alert, with bright eyes and feathers, lots of energy and a good appetite. Their droppings should be composed of a black or dark green solid, a clear part, and a creamy white part. Parrots are quite good at hiding negative symptoms, so also look at their skin which should be free of redness and inflammation, and ensure their weight is pretty standard for their breed
Whether hand-reared or raised by parents, they should be able to fly and therefore find food themselves naturally, so be above the age of 12 weeks. Any birds being sold around the age of 8 or 10 weeks should be avoided.
Parrots will eventually settle into their ordinary personalities after around half a dozen breeding seasons, so buying an older bird can actually be a good idea. Remember that the larger birds can live for decades, so it isn’t a big deal if you miss out on the first few years. Just make sure that if they are older, they haven’t picked up any bad habits (or language!)
Parrots can usually live with another similar breed bird of the same or opposite sex, so it isn’t always vital to think about this before buying a mate or couple.
Females can occasionally have hormonal issues, especially during the breeding season, but it is often easy to deal with this and it does pass. Depending on the exact breed, females can be more dominant so could fit better into hectic homes, such as those with children. But they can also be nippy.
Males can have a wider vocabulary range and can be more accepting of strangers, but in general, there isn’t a huge difference and both make wonderful pets
Most parrots can (and should) be handled regularly. They are very social, loving attention and needing socialisation with humans. They can come onto your arm, sit on your shoulder, and generally wander about your home as you get on with your day!
If they are out of the cage, obviously ensure they can’t get out of the house through an open window or door. It is generally a good idea to let them do what they want – don’t grab them to cuddle or force them to give attention in any way
Buy as big a cage as you can. They should be able to stretch their wings out and move them comfortably, with the perches in there. This is the minimum guidance. Bar spacing should be ¾” to 1”, so they can’t worm their way out.
They should have space to fly around and move around outside of the cage too. Obviously, ensure this is secure and they can’t fly away. Play perches near their cage can offer a more natural enrichment with toys etc.
It should be sited in a busy part of the home, but not somewhere which is too busy where they could get overwhelmed. Avoid sitting next to a window or radiator where they could get too warm or too draughty
The cage size and number of birds will mean this varies between weekly and monthly. Any liners should be replaced daily, and waste cleaned away. Food and water dishes should be cleaned every day, as should birdbaths. Deep cleaning should be done once per week, or monthly for a single small bird
Their natural environment will be very different to your UK home. Temperatures should be kept at around 21°C to 24°C. They benefit from humidity, so bowls of water or commercial humidifiers are a good idea, as is misting your bird a few times per day
In the wild, they will have 12 hours of daylight and 12 of darkness. Getting a cage cover is, therefore, a good idea, as the amount of natural light and then superficial light can mean they don’t get enough sleep in the darkness or enough light depending on the season.
Some breeds, such as African Greys, can see Ultraviolet Light. Natural light coming through a window can be filtered by the glass, so providing full-spectrum UV can help them to see, can encourage a more natural environment and just like reptiles, can help them absorb calcium
Other Products Needed
Most birds are sensitive to change, so these should be done gradually. They will benefit from perches, food and drink bowls, baths and enrichment toys in their cage, but not overwhelmed by these additions. Some toys can be situated outside as well
Parrots eat seeds, nuts, fruits and sometimes insects. But each breed will require their food specifically catered towards their needs.
Ready-made food mixes containing seeds are available, often breed-specific. For example, African Greys will selectively eat sunflower seeds given the chance so will need a specifically balanced seed mix.
A variety of fruits, vegetables, and unsalted nuts should also be provided. Variety is key, so they get the best balance of nutrients
Issues With Diet
A mixed diet should give them all of the nutrients they need. Relying too much on one or two food groups will mean they go without certain necessities. Some parrot breeds will be picky if they have the chance, so ensuring they have a balance from day one is vital
Foods To Avoid
Avoid chocolate, avocados, alcohol, raw meat, raw eggs and any mouldy or poorly stored foodstuffs as these can be toxic and fatal. The unhealthy stuff, such as fats and salty foods, can be given in strict moderation. We have done a full detailed food guide to help you out
Tips For Feeding
There are a few things they can have every once in a while, such as scrambled eggs, cooked chicken leg bones and yoghurt, but these must be a treat
Pet birds are very good at hiding their own symptoms – in the wild, any sign of illness would be an invite for predators. So, you need to look out for signs of them being under the weather such as a change in appetite, dullness of feathers and eyes, or change in personality.
When they are socialising is a good time to give them a check, and it can even be done multiple times per day. As you will read below, many of the illnesses which can affect birds can be fatal in a matter of days
They will need a specialist aviary vet who knows the breed in and out. Getting an annual checkup at the very least is a good idea, but they will let you know if this should be any more frequent.
They can trim claws if needed, and check their overall health as well as ensuring they are getting enough nutrients and vitamins
If stressed, they can pick at their feathers or exhibit behaviour such as biting, screaming or habitat destruction. Sometimes, this can be because of a change in environments such as a new addition to the family or a change in their routine.
Any suspicious behaviour should be reported to a veterinarian, and you can take them in if they need to intervene. Some issues may not need veterinary attention if it is behaviour-based.
It is important to clean their feeders and water dishes to prevent any disease from fungus or bacteria. Parrot Fever is something which can live in droppings or soil if you have an infected bird, and it can spread like wildfire through an aviary.
They can catch colds, too – it will be similar symptoms for them as humans, but won’t be the same strain. Macaw Wasting Syndrome is a viral infection, and Candida is a form of thrush and is the same strain which affects humans.
Unfortunately, for many of the above, if your bird catches it then it could prove fatal in as little as 1 to 3 days. This is why it is vital to give your parrot a few checkups each day