Parrots have existed and evolved since the Miocene Age, roughly 20 million years ago. There are 370 different species ranging in size from the sparrow sized Parrotlet to Budgies, Cockatiels, and Conures, to the larger Amazons, Macaws, and Cockatoos. Their natural habitats vary from the rainforests of South America to the islands of the South Pacific and Caribbean to the deserts and grasslands of Australia and Africa.
Parrots, along with ravens, crows, jays and magpies, are among the most intelligent birds, and their ability to imitate human voices enhances their popularity as pets. Today, almost all parrots in North America are born and hand raised in private aviaries.
Educating yourself about parrots before bringing one into your life is crucial. It is important to understand that even hand-raised parrots are still wild by nature. Their natural curiosity, sensitivity, intellect, playfulness and ability to form bonds with humans and other animals make them very tempting to most people.
However these very traits are the same ones that can make them extremely difficult to live with. Parrots require a long-term commitment and one should consider their own life stages before bringing a parrot into their home. For example, as a parent, you should accept the possibility that your child’s pet bird may likely be left behind when your child leaves for college or moves out of your home and you will become responsible for the parrot’s care and well-being.
In the wild, a parrot has a wide and varying diet dependent on when local fruits and vegetables mature. To replicate the nutrition of the wild diet, we rely on formulated pellets that include all the vitamins and minerals they need. Pellets, supplemented with fresh vegetables and treats consisting of fruit, nuts and seed, provide a balanced, nutritious daily diet.
Exercise and enrichment
Wild parrots live in flocks and fly many miles each day. They spend hours foraging for a variety of natural foods, socializing, communicating, bathing, preening, establishing nesting sites, mating, excavating nests, and raising their young.
They require the same level of enrichment in our homes. It is necessary to offer foraging activities, materials to shred, toys to destroy and intellectual stimulation to thrive. Toys are not optional. Each parrot requires a minimum of three toys in their cage, rotated regularly, to keep their interest.
Parrots need between 30 minutes to four hours daily interaction with their human. They can be included with the family when sitting down for meals, sharing the shower every other day, playing games together, sharing their favourite music or enjoying an outing when the weather permits.
The initial set-up for a new pet parrot requires a minimum of a cage, a play stand or tree, three toys, three perches and food. Since most pet parrots will spend 80 per cent of their life in a cage, one should choose the largest size they can afford. While some toys are long lasting like those with bells, most are designed to be destroyed to satisfy a parrot’s need to chew and must be replaced regularly. One can expect to replace chew toys every three to five weeks.
The lifespan of the smallest parrots such as Budgies, Parrotlets and Lovebirds is 20 years, medium-size parrots will live 35 to 40 years and larger parrots such as African Greys live 60 years when provided with a healthy diet and a safe, enriching environment.
It is recommended to have an annual healthy bird examination by a qualified avian veterinarian. The initial examination should include blood work to provide the veterinarian with a baseline of what will be considered as normal test results should the parrot show signs of illness down the road. While doing blood tests, you can also have the blood DNA tested to determine the sex of the bird. Avian vet examinations generally cost $100 plus $175 for laboratory tests and $20 to $85 for DNA tests.
Parrots are messy. Like most birds they have an innate desire to germinate the world and do so by tossing their food everywhere or shaking their beak to clean off sticky food.
Parrots are noisy. Even the smaller parrots like Parrotlets or Lovebirds can be noisy to some. Almost all parrots will greet their human when returning home with loud squawks.
Parrots live a long time. Given the correct care, many parrots may require a minimum of two homes but on average many end up in five homes through their lifetime. The most common of small parrots, the cockatiel, can live to 30 years or more. A 10-year-old child can expect to have this pet well into their late 30s or early 40s.
If you are considering a parrot for a pet, take the time to research, talk to others, volunteer for your local registered parrot rescue and consider adopting a re-homed parrot over a young parrot.
Interesting facts about parrots
- Only half a parrot’s brain sleeps at one time
- Parrots can see ultraviolet light
- Parrots may love or hate one colour over all others
- All parrots have the ability to mimic but they don’t have vocal cords. They “trumpet” sound by pushing air out of their trachea much like whistling
- Parrots have zygodactyl feet, meaning two toes forward and two toes back, allowing them to easily hold and manipulate objects
- With few exceptions, parrots are monogamous — they mate for life
- Parrots have more cervical (neck) vertebrae allowing them to turn their head and provide 360 degree vision
- All parrots have a curved bill, referred to as a hook bill, making it easy for them to hull seeds and crack very hard nutshells