Buying Your First Pet Bird Needs Research and Education Ahead of Time

Young woman holding pet bird indoors
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The thought of bringing your first bird into your home is an exciting one if a little daunting. Birds can be fun and engaging companions, but remember that you must also become the companion to your bird.

Birds require the same basic care as any pet. Like all animals, birds need clean water and the whole foods that give them proper nutrition. (Birds use bits of fine gravel to aid their gizzards in grinding hard seeds and husks.) But they also need their own safe enclosure, frequent socializing, and an owner who knows their specific requirements as no two birds species are exactly alike.

A Bird's Cage and Your Home

A bird's cage is a safe, spacious home, large enough so that it can move freely to stretch its wings and perform the acrobatics and strengthening to stay healthy both emotionally and physically. Placement of the cage in an active living area is better than in a back bedroom as frequent traffic promotes socialization.

Birds need daylight for energy and mood elevation, but they also need quiet and dark at times of rest and sleep. Because they naturally roost in areas under tree canopy cover, all birds must always have the choice of getting out of the direct sun, heat, or dry air. Birds will seek out cooler, shady areas at will.  

Before a bird can be let outside of its cage, the entire room area needs to be made bird-safe. Electric wires are chewing hazards so hide them well or cover them with insulation. Windows and doorways are exit hazards, so make sure there are secondary doors to be a final boundary. Glass doors are non-obvious impact hazards, so make sure to leave them open.

Consider all potential high and low flight pathways, and note that birds often like to follow their owners from room to room. Be careful not to shut inside doors behind you when a bird is in your living space or you might hear a thud on the other side of the door. All house plants also need to be non-toxic to birds.

Social Needs

Many bird species only feel comfortable when they are grouped together with their own kind. Keeping just one single parakeet, canary, or parrot may result in a depressed bird that does not sing or move around much to stay healthy. Solitary birds often become depressed or anxious, just like people do.

The most commonly overlooked aspect to consider about social bonding in birds is how long the relationship could last. Some pet bird species have a lifespan that is even longer than humans, at 100 years, and many birds reach the age of 70 or 80 years. Having so many complex social relationships over time, birds have acquired a "pecking order," so your bird may prefer some members of your family more than others.

If your plan is to have only one bird, you must commit to daily one-on-one sessions of bird handling, just like petting your cat or taking your dog for walks. A lone bird will benefit greatly from being let out of his cage daily to cuddle or sit on your shoulder or even to play inside your safe houseplants. Happy birds love to sing and look out of windows for outside birds; some even like to mimic human talking. Many birds even to learn the meanings of many words.

Researching Birds

Learn about their specific nutritional needs, behavior in the wild, and their requirements for attention. Consider the practicalities of having such a bird in your home. Do you have the room? Do you have the time for the attention these birds need? Do you have neighbors living close by? Some birds are notoriously loud, and neighbors could be upset by loud screeching in the morning or evening. 

Note that some pet birds are incredibly intelligent. Investigate the work of Dr. Irene Pepperberg and her work with African Greys. Grey parrots are relatively plain looking and might be overlooked if you don't know that they are incredibly smart parrots. However, these birds might be difficult to keep occupied at the level that their brains need.

Get to Know Many Birds Before You Buy

First and foremost, spend some real time in the presence of birds. Visit zoos, aviaries, and pet stores. Read up on the necessary behavior training you would have to learn to provide for each one.

Notice whether feathers or the smells of birds bother you; you may have an allergy you don't yet know about. Decide if the high-pitched sounds that birds make will be ok with your family or those within earshot. You may even find a bird club in your community to get to know some experienced bird owners who will tell you what daily life with a bird entails.

Little Size or Big Size Birds?

Little birds are charming and have so much to offer, and they make delightful companions. The smaller bird species are just as loving and communicative as larger species although their equipment requirements may be less expensive.

For larger birds, the added expense of much bigger equipment should not be overlooked. Their noises are louder and their beak bites can be considerable. However, these are not necessarily reasons to avoid larger birds.

Consider a Bird's Welfare First

To help the birds, consider adopting individuals that desperately need a good home. Illegal trafficking in wild birds leaves many in need of a home, and then there are the many birds that simply have outlived their owners. If you are interested in rescue, talk to your local veterinarians as well, as they may know a bird already in your area that is looking for a new home.

Buying a bird based on its color or grandeur can be a big mistake because all birds need the same TLC as any pet. Be fully informed about the kind of a commitment you are making before you make your final decision.

Lovely beautiful parrot, Green cheek conure.
Thanit Weerawan / Getty Images