Q: What is the best type of bird for me?
A: There are many things to consider prior to purchasing a bird as a companion pet and not everyone is suited to owning birds as pets.
LARGE BIRDS V MEDIUM SIZED BIRDS V SMALL BIRDS
Large parrots such as Amazons, Macaws, Cockatoos, African Greys and Eclectus Parrots almost always get a big "wow" from people. They are strikingly beautiful and intelligent, and when they talk, dance, and cuddle with you, your friends just stare in amazement. Not to be deceived, not all big birds are like this. They become better pets depending on what you put into them daily for training, attention, playtime, etc. In terms of noise, mess, cost and time they are the most demanding. They also have the biggest beaks and can potentially inflict a good bite if they so desire. People have ended up in the hospital with serious bite wounds from parrots; a macaw has the beak strength to easily amputate your finger. While you might earn your large parrot's trust and be confident that it will never injure you, you will still have the responsibility of making sure that your parrot feels safe enough in the company of other family members or visitors (especially children) not to defend itself against them and injuring them in the process. They can be long-lived.
Though not as dramatic in presentation as a scarlet macaw or cockatoo, the personality, charm, and pet potential of medium-sized and small birds should not be underestimated. Little and beautiful is no less special than big and beautiful in the bird world. Mother Nature packaged so much personality and character into such tiny, beautiful little packages it’s just amazing. It is easier to have a pair or a small flock of smaller birds than big birds, and they can keep each other company while you are away. Most birds can be taught to talk even Budgies can have extensive vocabularies. I have heard of Canaries and Finches that step up onto your finger on command. Caiques, Conures, Scaly Breasted Lorikeets, Love birds and Lineolated parrots have daring and mischievous personalities that will provide you hours of entertainment and adventure.
Noise: While birds seem like great pets for people without a lot of living space, they can lead to bad feelings between neighbours intolerant to their inevitable outbursts, especially in apartments or units where neighbours share walls. Most neighbours won't have a problem with the higher pitched sing-song chirps of Cockatiels, Parakeets, or Canaries but may be less tolerant of the more loud and raucous calls of a Rainbow Lorikeet, Sun Conure or Cockatoo. Even birds that talk or make non-bird sounds can pose problems. Not everyone will appreciate hearing a parrot loudly screeching or repeating "HELLO" for hours at a time. They can do perfect imitations of sirens, telephones, doorbells, pagers, answering machines, laughter, four-letter words, etc and not always at the appropriate volume or time. Sometimes, they only need to hear it once to learn the sound. Here at GC Aviaries I only breed birds that are fairly quiet and suitable for households and or apartments.
Mess: While birds themselves may be pleasing and beautiful, it takes continual effort to keep their surrounding environment clean and tidy. In the course of eating their food, some of it will be thrown out of the cage, stuck to the walls or on the floor. They also tend to clean food off of their beaks by rubbing them against perches or the cage bars. They can spend hours each day preening (fixing their feathers) dropping bird dust the whole time. During moulting season, you may think that a whole flock has visited and dropped feathers when you were out. Keeping the cage clean is a chore that should be done daily to ensure the health of your bird.
Cost: While you can purchase a hand raised Budgie for $50 or a cockatiel for $90, there are other costs in providing a pet bird a good safe home. A quality decent sized cage for a small bird could cost approximately $100 then have to buy the accessories, dishes, food and toys etc. Bigger birds mean bigger cages which mean bigger costs. A recommended new bird examination and perhaps some laboratory tests to insure that your new companion is healthy and not carrying any infectious diseases can run anywhere from $150 to $300 or more depending on the bird and your investment in it. Veterinary care for small birds is not cheaper than for larger animals. In many ways, they are more challenging to diagnose and treat because of their small size. You may also need to factor in costs for experienced bird-sitting when you go away on business trips or vacations.
Time: Providing for the physical needs of a pet bird will usually take no more than 15 minutes each day. This includes housekeeping, cleaning food and water bowls and re-filling, checking for signs of good health and well-being. Single birds, hand-raised birds, and birds bonded to people will require more time, energy, and commitment. Hand-raised cockatoos, African greys, Amazons and Macaws are so intelligent and social that they really should not be thought of as simple caged pets. The happiest parrots are those that are treated as members of the family (i.e. you are the flock) the special child that will never fully grow up. This could be 30 years for a Cockatiel or Conure, 60 years or more for a larger parrot.
In terms of the above four basics: Noise is very variable depending on the specific type of bird you choose. Although beautiful, some larger Conures such as Suns, Nandays and Jandays can be very loud and persistently noisy at times where as smaller Conures such as Green Cheeked Conures are suitable for apartment living and small units. Cockatiels and Budgies love to whistle tunes and they can be great talkers. Grass Parakeets and Canaries have soothing songs. Finches peep quietly in the background.
All birds are messy to some extent. Seed eaters will flick their seed around and leave a nice little mess under their cage. Rainbow and Scaly Lorikeets are nectar eaters and eat lots of fruit so their cage can get very messy very fast not to mention their very runny poops.
Cost varies depending on the breed of bird you choose. Time is also variable depending on whether your pet is a single bird or has another bird to keep it company, whether your bird is hand-raised or parent-raised, whether or not your bird is bonded to you.
The best advice I can give is that you do your homework and research as much as you can about the different breeds of birds available to you, surf the net, read up on each breed to see if it is right for you or your family. Unfortunately and far too often I hear of people rushing out to buy a bird because they “like the colour” or because “it looked cute” only to give it up a few months later because it was unsuitable. Very sad!
Q: I was thinking of buying two birds to keep each other company while I am at work. Will they remain tame or would they ignore me and prefer to be with each other?
A: We have had many people buy one bird from us, then come back a year or so later to buy another bird as company for their first one. It really is just a matter of choice. If you are away from home often then yes, I would suggest another suitable breed of bird for company but if you are home often and your bird is getting to spend lots of quality time out of its cage with you and your family then one bird on its own is fine. If you find that two birds are difficult at times when it comes to training them or they are naughtier when they can see the other bird then you could try training them separately or in different rooms with less distractions. Another thing to remember is that some bird breeds do not get on well when housed with others. Always do your research first. If you give both bird’s lots of love and attention and plenty of quality “out of cage” time then I cannot see why any bird would want to ignore you. Put a nest box in and then it becomes a different story altogether. The more time you can give your bird, the more they give back in return.
Q: Is it best to buy two birds together (the same age) or can I introduce another bird later on?
A: If you are introducing the same breed of bird to the bird you already have then it shouldn’t be a problem and either sex should be ok. To reduce any possible squabbles it is sometimes a good idea to introduce both birds to a brand new cage at the same time so that the older bird has something new to concentrate on (taking his mind off the new feathered intruder) and the younger bird also has new surroundings as well as a new feathered friend to get to know. Some bird breeds can be quite aggressive towards each other so it might be a good idea to have them in separate cages next to each other for a while so that they can see each other and get used to each other slowly before attempting to put them together.
Q: My bird was friendly but has all of a sudden started biting me quite hard at times. Why would he be doing this and what can I do to stop it?
A: Most importantly NEVER EVER hit, shake, flick or scream at your bird as this only makes matters worse. There are many different reasons why a bird can change all of a sudden and become angry or aggressive and some simply don’t know their own beak strength or even realize that they are hurting you (especially the case in younger birds) Yelling “OUCH” OR “DAMNIT” doesn’t have the same effect on birds as it does with us humans. They don’t understand and any negative physical contact towards your bird will only teach the bird to fear you. Over the years I have found (especially with the Conures) that ignoring them when they are naughty or nippy for even 15 minutes or so works well. You might even want to cover his cage for this period as ALL birds hate to be ignored more than anything and taking this attention away from them is the best form of punishment. After a while, try getting him out again. If he bites, say “NO” in a stern yet calm voice. (Use a tone of voice that is low, not loud and be as "matter of fact" as possible, but keep it short. You will be amazed at how effective it can be) Put him back in his cage and repeat this over and over again until he gets the message. Parrots are very intelligent and will get the message eventually. Remember not to hold a grudge as birds are extremely intelligent, but also very sensitive creatures. When you express displeasure with your bird's behaviour, make the lesson short and sweet. Prolonged negative attention can cause undue emotional stress for your pet.
Another thing that's worked for me is simply setting a biting bird down immediately after he starts biting. If you have a really clingy bird that loves to be with you but can't behave itself when you take him out, this is a great way to teach him. Your bird wants to be with you, right? So if you take away the one thing he wants (by setting him down), he'll eventually learn that if he wants to hang out with you, he can't be nibbling on your arm or ear the entire time! Of course, you'll want to set them down in a “safe place” but it should be RIGHT after the bite. They need to associate biting with being taken away from you, their beloved person!
Remember, birds sometimes bite when they are not comfortable, when they are irritable, or when they just want to go back to their cages for a while. Maybe they need some water, would like a snack, or just need a nap. We humans can get cranky at times and just want some “ME” time alone and birds are no different. I think the best way to prevent this is to simply be aware of your bird and watch for signs that he/she needs some alone time. Puffed up feathers, especially around the head & neck are often a sign that your bird is irked and wants to be left alone for a while. They usually make different sounds too when they have had about enough interaction for one day. Try to catch it before the bird gets to the biting stage. Respect and concern for your birds needs are so important. He/she may never enjoy hanging out with someone who doesn't care about how he/she feels.
Another thing you could try if your parrot is biting your hand all the time is to take a squeeze of pure lemon juice and mix it with a little bit of vinegar and dip your hand in it (I know it sounds gross but it works) when your parrot will try to bite you (they normally taste first with their tongues) it will taste the bitterness and will reject your hand. Do it a few more times and it will think your hand is bitter! Don't worry it's all natural and not toxic so it won't harm your bird. I've even heard of using a bitter spray product made especially for pets on your hands or arms (something like Bitter apple or Yuck!) Both are made for preventing dogs and cats from chewing on their sores or itchy spots on their skin. This way, when your bird bites you, it tastes nasty, and this deters him from repeating the action. Be sure to look over the ingredients list on the bottle to make sure it's safe for your little friend! If you are unsure, just ask one of the bird-savvy workers in your local pet store to help you out.
Consistency is Key
All birds are individuals, and some may catch on quicker than others. Don't get discouraged if your pet's behaviour doesn't change overnight. Be consistent with your training methods, your bird will likely understand you sooner rather than later. Remember that positively reinforcing good behaviour is just as important as pointing out and modifying bad behaviour. If you notice your bird acting exceptionally well, don't miss the chance to lavish praise on your pet. Birds respond much more readily to training techniques that focus on the positive rather than the negative, so don't forget to incorporate lots of fun and praise into your training methods. With a little work, patience, and love, your bird should be acting like an angel in no time. Your effort will be rewarded with a beautiful, intelligent, and well-behaved pet and who could ask for anything more?
Q: My bird always tries to bite me when I get him out of his cage.
A: If your bird bites you when you try to get him out of his cage then allow him time to come out of his cage by himself. Sometimes they may not want to come out when you want them to. Keeping your relationship fun and pleasant should help you to bond with him and limit the biting behaviour. If your bird is extremely protective of his cage, respect his space and don't reach into the cage when he's with you or in the cage. Let him come to you. Lure him out with a tasty treat, sweet talk, and a waiting arm just outside the open cage door!
Q: Our bird loves my boyfriend but hates me and she tries to bite me when my boyfriend is near me or when I try to hold her.
A: I know how difficult it is to deal with a "nippy" bird and I have had my fair share of them. If your bird has apparently formed a bond with your boyfriend and sees you as a rival then it is you who needs to form a bond with her, to successfully do this, you need to make a special time so that you can be alone with her, if your boyfriend is around during these visits she will naturally want to go to him. What you need to do, is to get her to focus on you alone. For these visits, take her play stand someplace where you can spend some quiet time together, such as a bedroom. Have her step up onto your hand, when she bites put her down immediately without any fuss. Don't pull away this could harm her, NEVER tap her beak as this is a form of abuse and defiantly don’t yell at her "Positive Reinforcement" is what she is looking for. After you have put her down let her sit there for a few minutes then try again. You may have to endure a few more bites during this process, but she will learn quickly, that biting for no reason will get her put down again. Remember that birds are social creatures, they thrive on interaction, and she will soon learn that biting behaviour is unacceptable. If she bites you while your boyfriend is in the room, do the same thing, put her down, but don't let your boyfriend pick her up right away, If he does this will encourage her to continue biting you, what she needs to learn is that it is NOT okay with him that she bites you. I have used this method several times with great success.
Always praise good behaviour with verbal acknowledgements like "you're such a good bird” or “who’s a clever bird” and offer healthy treats as rewards.
Q: My bird will only eat seed. How can I get him to eat pellets?
A: If your bird only knows how to eat seed then getting him to eat pellets will take time. Some birds simply REFUSE to eat pellets or will only eat a certain brand of pellet. NEVER EVER just switch from seed to pellets and expect your bird to eat them straight away. This will lead to malnutrition and eventually starvation. You can however introduce pellets slowly by mixing them with seed (80% seed to 20% pellet) for a week or so then when you see your bird starting to eat the pellets or nibble on them you can alter the percentage ratio slowly over time but this could take a few months. Pellets are a great source of vitamins and minerals to keep your bird happy and healthy. You will find that your bird will be more thirsty on pellets so always make sure you have a clean fresh bowl of water available at all times. Some birds (especially conures) like to dip their pellets into their water to soften them before eating making a “pea soup” like mess of their water bowls so it is very important to check it regularly and change when necessary so it doesn’t sour. I prefer to mix pellets and seed together giving them a more varied diet and of course a variety of fresh fruit and vegetables each day (making sure to remove any uneaten fruit or veg).
Q: My bird has started to pluck its feathers and looks quite messy. How can I stop this behaviour?
A: Feather plucking can be caused by both medical and non-medical causes. The major medical causes include changes in hormone levels, external and internal parasites, poor diet, malnutrition, internal disease, and bacterial or fungal infections of the skin and/or feather follicles. Interestingly, and contrary to popular opinion, external parasites (mites in particular) are extremely rare among caged birds. If your bird all of a sudden starts to feather pluck then I highly recommend a visit to your vet to have some medical test done. At least this way, if the tests come back negative then you can start looking at the non medical causes.
The non-medical causes are normally psychological and/or stress related. Feather plucking is generally a problem of birds in captivity. Wild birds do not feather pick because they are too preoccupied with their own survival and with reproduction. Pet birds and those in zoos or aviaries can endure stress which can be caused by being in captivity, poor diet, malnutrition, solitary living, boredom, absence of a mate or mating needs can cause significant stress, in addition to stress associated with confinement within a home (noise, confusion, presence of other pets, such as dogs or cats, which can represent potential predators to some caged birds) Like people, birds are creatures of habit and changes (large or small) in their environment or in their established routine can often create stress for them. This stress often results in obsessive, introverted behaviour, manifested by feather picking. If your bird is bored you could introduce some pet safe toys (I suggest changing these each week with a new set) keeping things interesting. Try changing perch positions or move the cage to another part of the room. Cover the cage at night to give the bird some seclusion is very important. Bathing or misting them on a daily or regular basis may be beneficial because wetting the feathers encourages normal preening behaviour. Hopefully the bird will spend more time conditioning the plumage and less time chewing on the feathers or pulling them out. Treats can help that require effort and some concentration to eat like nuts, string beans, passionfruit or snow peas. Branches from non toxic trees can be added to its cage. Flight suits may help if feather plucking is quite light and has simply become a very bad habit.
Once again, I would highly recommend a visit to your vet if the feather plucking continues to be a problem.
Q: Can I buy a baby bird from you a bit cheaper and finish weaning it myself to help with the bonding process?
A: Firstly, it is illegal to sell unweaned baby birds in QLD and the breeder and or pet shop owner can be fined a lot of money if caught doing this.
Secondly, you do not need to buy an unweaned baby bird to ensure better bonding. This is simply a myth. If anything buying a bird fully weaned at 8-10 weeks of age (older in some species) will bond better and faster with you as he/she will be happier and much healthier.
Paying a bit less for an unweaned bird would almost certainly mean paying much more in vet bills (if it survives that is) Hand raising baby birds is NOT easy to do and should only be done by an experienced person!
Before buying an unweaned bird, how would you answer the following questions?
- Depending on your baby’s age, do you know how many times your baby will require feeding?
- Do you know how much to give your baby at each feed?
- What could happen if you over feed?
- What is the best formula to use?
- What is the correct formula to water ratio?
- Have you heard about crop burn and how easy this can happen?
- Depending on age, what temperature should the formula be?
- Your baby is continually crying out for food, what could cause this?
- Your baby suddenly starts making strange wheezing sounds, what should you do?
- Your baby’s crop has stopped empting....Why? Baby birds die from this and it can happen very quickly.
- What is the most common cause of a slow crop?
- Do you have a brooder in which to keep your new baby warm? This can set you back many hundreds of dollars. Cheap homemade brooders are not only highly ineffective but can cause serious retina damage in young birds, overheating and sometimes death.
Some Great reading about the dangers of selling unweaned birds click here to view - http://www.parrotsociety.org.au/images/magazinelinks/PSOAJanFeb07-2.pdf
Q: I've heard you shouldn't let your bird on your shoulder. Why not?
A: Most birds can safely be allowed to sit on your shoulder all you like. But aggressive or nippy birds should not be allowed on shoulders. First, being higher up is a position of authority for birds. They feel like they're equal to you if they're eye-level to you. Second, you have very little control over a bird on your shoulder. If he doesn't want to get off your shoulder, he can climb to your back where you can't reach him. If he wants to bite your ear, he can and you can't stop him. If your bird happily steps up from your shoulder and is not aggressive or nippy, feel free to allow him to sit there. But if you have consistent problems getting your bird off your shoulder or if he has an aggression problem, it's best to keep him off your shoulders.
Q: What is the best sized cage to get for my bird?
A: People are often surprised to learn that parrots require quite a bit of space, so you must consider what size cage your home can easily accommodate. When you visit websites they usually group available cages into small, medium and large, but if you have never owned a pet bird it is often difficult to determine how that relates to specific breeds of parrot.
Small parrots would be something like a Cockatiel, the numerous varieties of conures, Indian ringnecks, Quakers and any other bird who does not get much longer than 12 inches or 300mm (from head to tail) The toys that must be put into the cage to keep your bird happily occupied are smaller and so you can probably house one bird in a 24” x 22” or 600mm x 550mm cage comfortably. If you put smaller birds in a large birds cage (for instance if someone gives you a cage) you must make sure the birds head cannot fit between the bar spacing. For small birds, the bar spacing should be no wider than ¾” or 20mm.
Medium sized birds would be considered to be the size of an African Grey parrot, Amazons and the smaller Cockatoos like the Corella, Galah or the Alexandrine. These birds are very playful and so the playground you build inside their cage requires lots of room, not to mention their wingspan is considerably larger. Ideally they will have room to hand upside down from a swing and flap their wings in joy. The absolutely smallest size cage for one medium bird would be the 32” x 23” or 800 x 580 mm size and even larger would be better. The bar spacing for these medium parrots can be as much as one inch, but no more. They should also be made of heavy enough material that the bird cannot chew through it.
All the same consideration must be given to providing a cage for a large parrot. Large parrots are the greater Cockatoos, Eclectus and Macaws. Especially for Macaws, a cage with plenty of height is needed to accommodate the very long tail feathers or you will end up with a parrot with broken feathers. These birds require many large, destructible toys in their cages as reducing the world to toothpicks seem to be the Cockatoos mission in life. Some people say these birds can be kept in cages 36” x 26” or 900 x 650mm but they won’t be happy. You will need several large parrot toys as well as swings, so for these gorgeous birds, go as big as you can possibly afford.
Parrots are shockingly clever, and that is why you will see cages advertised with “parrot proof locks” on the doors and feeding bowls. This is not sales hype. I have personally seen Cockatoos work for literally hours to open a cage door and they eventually succeed. Even with “parrot proof locks” you may still need to resort to bicycle chain and a clamp to eliminate jailbreaks.
Q: Will the bird get along with my dog/cat?
A: Many dogs can be taught to leave birds alone. And lots of people swear their cats are harmless. However, instincts run strong, and a sudden impulse can quickly result in tragedy. Even birds that survive initial dog/cat attacks usually die from their wounds or from shock. Use common sense. Never let a bird out of its cage in the same room with a cat, ferret or other natural predator. Never leave dogs unsupervised around birds. Never leave a bird unattended outside, even if its wings are clipped. It takes only a few seconds for a predator to attack. Butcher birds and Currawongs will attack a bird even through aviary mesh or cage wires. This can be avoided with double netting or shade cloth around the cage to protect them.
Q: My bird likes looking out the window. Can I keep his cage there?
A: Birds can suffer in 3 ways from being near a window:
- Overheating from not being able to get out of the direct sunlight.
- Drafts from open or improperly sealed windows.
- Being frightened by outside predators (real or perceived), causing injury from thrashing to escape the predator.
Let your bird watch the outside show only under supervision or keep him back a ways from the window and let him watch from a distance.
Q: Should I cover my bird’s cage at night?
A: Some birds settle much better if covered at night but others prefer not to be covered. On average, birds need about 11-12 hours of good, quality sleep each night to remain in peak condition. Much like people, their rest periods can be disturbed by noise and bright lights at night. For this reason, many owners choose to cover their bird’s cage. If there are no distractions then you try leaving your bird uncovered for a few nights to see his reactions. If he appears to like being uncovered at night, then it is fine to leave him that way. If, however, he appears sluggish or begins to exhibit bad behaviour, the best thing to do is keep him covered at night to ensure that he gets a good night's rest. It’s a good idea to make sure his cage is placed in a fairly dark, quiet, and somewhat secluded area for him to sleep in. Remember sleep is vital to a bird's well-being. If you are in doubt about your pet's reaction to being uncovered, play it safe and resume covering the cage at night. Personally, I prefer to cover my birds at night as it does help with night frights especially with Cockatiels who are prone to night frights.
Q: Should I clip my bird’s wings?
A: Wing clipping could be labelled one of the most controversial subjects in aviculture. There are many reasons why some bird owners choose to clip their bird's wings, and just as many reasons why some bird owners do not. While wing clipping is generally recommended for most captive birds, the decision to trim a bird is one best left to the individual owner.
Aside from ensuring that their pet doesn't accidentally fly away, the biggest reason that most bird owners clip their pets is for safety. Indoor life poses threats that birds do not normally face in the wild, such as windows, ceiling fans, ovens, doorways, sinks, and toilets. Clipping a bird's wings can help limit their access to dangers such as these.
Another reason that many pet birds have their wings clipped is because it forces the bird to be more dependent on its owner. Many believe that this can serve to enhance the bird/human bond, although there are countless flighted pet birds that enjoy close relationships with their human families.
Those on the other side of the fence contend that depriving a bird of its ability to fly can cause physical and psychological damage. Many argue that the benefits of flying exercise and mental stimulation far outweigh the risks of injury to a pet bird, provided they are properly supervised.
Others have different reasons for not trimming their birds. Show birds, for example, have the best chance of winning when they are fully feathered.
Putting some thought into the reasons for and against wing clipping will help you make the best choice for your pet. Talk to your avian veterinarian or bird breeder and get his or her input, and discuss the options with your family members. With careful consideration, you are sure to make a decision that will satisfy the needs of both you are your favourite feathered friend. I always tell people who are undecided on whether to clip or not that wing clipping is not permanent and that feathers will grow back after the next moult.
A Cockatiel’s first moult occurs between 6-12 months of age and after the first moult he/she will moult 2-3 times each year.
Here at Gold Coast Aviaries we offer free wing clipping and advice to those who have purchased birds from us as part of our ongoing commitment to them.
Below are some videos that show you how to correctly clip wing feathers should you wish to do this yourself although I would highly recommend having a vet or experienced person show you how to wing clip the first time and how to look out for any blood feathers that may be showing.