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Exotic birds have been popular as pets within the UK for many years, and often form strong bonds with their human carers that last for the duration of their sometimes-long lives. From small budgies up to the largest parrots, birds make entertaining, colourful and interesting pets that are very rewarding to keep; but they are also delicate animals that need to be cared for carefully, with a lot of time potentially needing to be spent on their entertainment and welfare.
If you are considering keeping a pet bird at home, one of the first things you will need to establish is what kind of bird you are interested in keeping. The larger, more colourful the bird, the more expensive they will tend to be, and some species of parrots can live for sixty years or even significantly longer! Even smaller birds such as budgies and canaries can live for around fifteen years, and so you should be thinking in terms of decades rather than years when planning your potential pet bird’s care.
However, regardless of the species and type of bird that you eventually decide you would like to own, birds in general have some fairly specific care requirements and involve quite a lot of commitment to be made to their care. If you are interested in keeping a pet bird and want to find out more about their basic care, other requirements and how to find and buy a bird, read on to find out more.
Keeping a caged bird within your home necessitates being able to dedicate an area of your house or flat to them, and accepting and welcoming your bird’s presence into many aspects of your home life. Birds need a lot of stimulation and interaction with their owners to keep them happy and well, and they are not the kind of animals that you can simply feed quickly while on the run and ignore in the main part for large parts of the week. Birds are empathic and quick to pick up on the moods and feelings of their owners, and when they are unhappy or are not receiving enough attention, can quickly become depressed and prone to a range of stress-related health conditions.
Before you continue to research whether or not a pet bird would be a good choice for you, it is important to consider all of the following basic questions regarding your readiness for pet ownership.
These are just some of the considerations and difficult questions that you will need to ask when considering whether or not bird ownership is appropriate for you.
The purchase price of any bird will vary greatly depending on its species and size, and various other factors too. Smaller birds such as budgies and cockatoos are relatively cheap to buy, whereas large birds such as some species of parrots change hands for well over £1,000, and the sale price usually rises accordingly if the bird is particularly tame and well handled and willing and able to talk.
The ongoing costs and caring for a bird for the duration of its life can again vary greatly according to their size, general health and longevity. Just kitting out your bird in the first instance with a large enough cage and everything else that they need, plus making sure that you can cover the cost of any veterinary treatment they may need too, can prove to be expensive. Exotic birds can be insured against the cost of unexpected veterinary treatments much as many other pets such as cats and dogs can, although you may have to go through a specialist exotic pets insurance provider. More information on this can be found here.
Birds do of course flock in the wild, and the vast majority of birds enjoy having another avian friend for company. This may not be possible with larger birds due to the care and costs involved in keeping them, and you may also find that your pet bird will be tamer and bond with you more strongly if they are kept alone than they will if they have a mate or a friend around. The ultimate choice of how many birds you should keep is of course up to you; but make sure that you can comfortably afford both the time and money required to care for multiple birds if you do choose to go down this path.
You will need to spend some time every day keeping your bird’s cage clean and in good condition, feeding your bird and letting them get some exercise. You should also make sure that you have some time to spend every day just relaxing with your pet and spending time with them, either simply enjoying each other’s company and bonding, or training and playing with them or trying to teach them to talk!
Making sure that your bird eats a balanced diet is very important, as is ensuring that your bird does not get the chance to eat anything that might be dangerous or poisonous to them. You should carefully research the full feeding requirements of pet birds, and ensure that you thoroughly understand their nutritional requirements and anything that might prove dangerous to them before you start shopping for your pet.
Birds require quite a lot of equipment to be provided for them, and their housing and cage alone can take up quite a large amount of space. You should always make sure that the size of your bird’s cage is appropriate for them, and that you get the largest cage you can afford. A basic shopping list of starter equipment for a pet bird would include:
When you get your first bird, it can be a great help if they are already tame and used to being handled, although with young birds and some older birds depending on their history, you may find that they have never had much interaction with people prior to sale. When you get your new bird home and regardless of how tame they are already, always handle them carefully and gently, and do not grab at them or make any sudden movements that may frighten them. A tame bird will learn in time to step onto your hand when you offer it, but if you do need to physically pick your bird up for any reason, hold them firmly but very gently around the back and body, covering the wings to keep them from opening and supporting your bird’s weight.
Feeding treats through the bars of the cage is a good way to begin taming your bird, and encouraging them to come to you when you approach. You should not allow your bird out of the cage until you are confident in being able to call them to you and put them back in easily, as having to chase your bird around or struggle to catch them will undo the beginnings of the trust and bonding that you have begun to build up with your bird.
Taming a bird and being able to let them out of the cage and return to it safely and happily can take a considerable amount of time, and is not something that will happen overnight. You must be prepared to spend many weeks or even months working slowly with your bird, in order to get them used to being handled and comfortable with coming out of and going back into their cage. This article on training baby birds can offer some more advice and pointers on how to tame and train your bird.
Correctly cared for and with all of their needs met (which includes companionship and entertainment as well as physical care such as feeding and cleaning the cage) pet birds are generally robust and healthy animals that do not usually succumb to illness and health problems.
That being said, birds are rather delicate, and are prone to suffering from stress and loss of condition if they are unhappy or incorrectly cared for. Read more about birds and stress in this article. Birds can often be particularly prone to problems with the skin and feathers, and may even pluck their own feathers out as a result of stress or unhappiness. More information on these problems can be found here and here.
One of the greatest risks to the health and safety of pet birds kept in the home involved flying into windows, which can cause a significant injuries to pet birds. You must thoroughly risk assess any rooms of your home that your bird will be given freedom to explore, and cover or block off any windows, mirrors or other surfaces that may cause injury if your bird was to inadvertently fly into them.
Finally, many everyday household items can prove toxic or poisonous to birds, including various cleaning materials, aerosol sprays and foodstuffs as seemingly innocuous as chocolate and avocado. More information on toxins and other dangers in the home that can affect the health of your pet bird can be found here.
Birds of various sizes and types are often offered for sale in pet shops, although the range will often be limited to smaller birds such as budgies, cockatoos and the most popular forms of pet parrots such as the African grey.
Buying a bird from a private owner or specialist breeder is generally considered to be preferable to buying from a commercial pet shop, as you will be able to find out more information on your bird’s history, care and health, as well as be able to get help and support from the hopefully knowledgeable seller along the way. Birds are sometimes offered up for adoption and rehoming by various animal charities such as the RSPCA or bird-specific welfare organisations, and you should not rule out taking on a rescue bird and giving them a second chance at having a happy life with you.
The younger the bird that you buy, the easier it should theoretically be to train it, tame it and bond with it, although older birds that have been well handled and are comfortable with people may also be a good pick for the first time owner. Always find out as much as you can about the history of your bird; try to buy a captive-bred bird where possible, and if your pet was caught in the wild, ensure that they are not of a protected species, and that they were caught and imported legally.
You may be able to select your pet bird and bring them home the same day if you buy from a pet shop. If you buy from a breeder or a private seller, it is normal to go and view the bird first and see how you get on, perhaps returning a second time and spending some time thinking about your decision before you agree to buy.
Make sure that you get a receipt for all payments made as part of the purchase, and find out what kind of responsibility or liability the seller has to you if you find that your bird is unwell after the sale or not as described. With some larger species of birds that can commonly cost over £1,000, you will of course want to protect your investment, and so you might wish to consider having a specialist avian vet check your bird over for health and general condition prior to sale.
Both moving to a new home and undergoing a change in ownership can be very stressful for pet birds, and when both of these events happen together, it can be particularly difficult to deal with and manage. It is important to do what you can to make sure that the transition home is as stress-free and comfortable as possible for your new bird, and that you ensure that all of their needs are taken care of.
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