Pets We Treat
Parrot Care Tips: Everything You Need To Know
There are over 350 species of parrots in the world today, and these animals are becoming increasingly popular as pets due to their social nature and long life-span when compared with other exotic pets. While different species of birds have varying life spans, some of our larger parrot species can sometimes live up to 70 years with exceptional husbandry and diet, and appropriate veterinary care. Birds have specific needs in order to thrive both physically as well as mentally, but if cared for appropriately will be a loyal companion for many years. If you are considering getting a parrot or have already welcomed one or more into your home, knowing all you can regarding their care is a necessity. Parrots are a long-term commitment.
The Natural History of Parrots
Parrots are considered to be the most intelligent type of bird and some of the most intelligent animals in the world, fascinating humans for over 5,000 years. Bird origins start in the Jurassic Period of the world’s history and were believed to share a taxonomic group with theropod dinosaurs known as the group Paraves . The modern birds that we have in our lives today are in a biological class known as Aves, and within the Aves subgroups, the order psittaciformes are found. This name is where the term Psittacines come from to describe our parrot friends. They are most often found in tropical and subtropical regions like Australia, and South and Central America, but are known to be found on all continents with the exception of Antarctica.
Common Breeds of Parrots
There are over 350 different species of parrot in the psittacine family and while they all share the traits of a curved beak and zygodactyl feet, there are specific needs for each of the species. Some of the most popular types of parrots include budgies, cockatiels, cockatoos, African Greys, Amazon, Parrots, Quaker Parrots, Macaws and more. When deciding whether or not a parrot would be a good fit for your home, learning about their environmental, dietary, social, and medical requirements is a must! Common breeds of parrots kept as pets include our smaller birds, Budgies, Cockatiels, Lovebirds, Conures, and also bigger parrots such as African Greys, Amazon Parrots, and Macaws! The age and experience of individuals in your household, room that you are able to give to a parrot, and how much time you are home to socialize with your bird are all considerations when choosing which species is right for your home.
How to Care for Your Pet Parrot
Parrots live exciting and active lives in the wild, so replicating an enriching environment in the home is a must to keep your parrot happy and healthy. If kept outside, supervision is a must and birds need to be brought in or kept in a safe, sealed enclosure at night that has no access for predators; the recommendation is to always bring birds inside though for safety and ability to control the environment they’re in. Time spent out of your birds enclosure or dedicated bird-safe room if not caged should be supervised, as parrots are great at getting into trouble around the house! They should have time spent out of the cage at a minimum of once a day for exercise, enrichment, and socialization.
Choosing a Parrot Cage
The size of your parrot cage is the first thing to research, as a small budgerigar will require a much smaller cage than a Hyacinth Macaw! When choosing a cage, you should ensure that your bird will be able to stretch out both wings fully without touching either side of the cage, as well as not having the tail touch the bottom of the cage.
Birds should also be able to fly from one to another. This will help ensure that your bird will have adequate space for safety and mental health purposes. Another consideration is the material that the cage is made out of. Birds should not be kept in decorative cages that were not designed to be safe for birds, as these cages are often not able to withstand the powerful bite of a parrot beak or are made with materials that are toxic to birds. Cages to avoid include cages with a removable coating over the bars due to likelihood of ingestion by your parrots, as well as avoiding cages made of lead and zinc, or cages with very small, thin wires with small gaps in between to prevent injury.
Parrot Cage Set up & Maintenance
In the wild, birds are able to make a mess with their food, eat, defecate and then fly far away from it. Parrots are very sensitive to waste products, molds, and anything that can cause airway irritation. Dumping food and water daily and washing bowls before replacing food is a key part in preventing mold exposure to your parrot. Putting in smaller amounts of food at a time based on how much your bird eats a day is a great way to minimize waste while keeping the cage as clean as possible. Water dishes should be changed as often as necessary to ensure your bird’s water bowl is always full with clean water.
The bottom of the cage is the area you will see most feces and leftover food remains;this area should be cleaned daily. Most cages provide a grate at the bottom with a tray underneath of it. The tray should be covered with a disposable material such as paper towels and the grate should be kept above the covered tray. Deep cleaning of the cage should be done at least once weekly, or more as needed based on cage cleanliness with your bird, ensuring to clean all the cage wires, all perches and toys, and any crevices that harbor food or feces. Perches and toys should be replaced once they are dirty or destroyed as natural material toys can be difficult to adequately clean.
Parrot Enrichment and Exotic Bird Toys
A variety of perches should be made available in at least 3 different sizes and varying materials as well. Allowing a bird to have options helps them to not only have preferences and be exposed to variations in their daily life, but also encourage birds to exercise and orient themselves differently based on which perch they are on. Some birds may also prefer certain perches for different activities; they may like chewing on one perch, grooming their beak on another, but are most comfortable just spending time on a different material perch.
Toys help keep a bird busy, help with mental health and enrichment, and keep a bird entertained and happy. Toys should be made of only natural materials such as bird-safe paper, untreated wood, and raffia. Toys made of metal, rubber, or plastic should be avoided as they are easily destroyed and potentially ingested, and these materials often can expose a bird to lead or zinc toxicity from the materials of the toy. These toxicities often make a bird very sick, and can sometimes be fatal.
Read more about bird enrichment tips.
When choosing where to place a cage in your home, a few places should be avoided. Keeping cages away from the kitchen is important, especially for individuals who cook often. The kitchen is full of dangers for birds; parrots love to explore what their owners are doing, and can get caught on hot stoves, fall into pots of water, try to use utensils as toys, or inhale fumes toxic to birds such as those emitted from non-stick/Teflon pots or pants.
Teflon toxicity can very quickly become fatal in birds, and smoke from heavy cooking can also lead to respiratory tract issues. Avoiding being directly next to a window is also important to ensure that your bird is not trapped in hot sun rays or caught in a drafty area. Cages should not be kept in laundry rooms or in areas that are likely to have molds or heavy aerosol or perfume usage.
Parrot Temperature and Humidity
Parakeets were first introduced as pets into the United States in the 1940s, but as more was learned about larger parrots, they increased in popularity as house pets as well. Parrots are widespread throughout the world and can be found on every continent with the exception of Antarctica. Knowing that they are found in areas of ambient to warm temperatures means that cage placement also plays a role in your parrot’s daily life and considerations when adding one to your family. Keeping parrots in areas of the home that are not affected by rapid, drastic temperature fluctuations are important, and keeping temperatures in their area ambient or warmer based on where your parrot species is native too, but a good start if unsure is keeping your parrot’s area above 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Remember that using a space heater in your birds area can be a toxicity risk to your parrot if you do not purchase a bird-safe heater; some materials used in heaters are toxic to birds such as Teflon.
While temperature is one consideration, humidity is also important to maintain for parrot owners. Parrots are able to freely bathe in the wild, are often in the rain, and many species come from humid tropical climates. Adequate humidity plays a role in skin and feather health and appearance, and also affect a birds respiratory tract so opportunities to periodically bathe are important in a bird’s routine. Misting birds with just water, offering a bowl or sink with just water for a bath, and bringing your bird in the bathroom while you shower so they can enjoy the warm water steam are all great ways to make sure your bird has adequate humidity and some enrichment too! If you notice feather abnormalities such as feather dropping, the presence of stress bars, or feather picking and plucking, a visit to an avian specialty vet is warranted as soon as possible. These changes can have many different causes and an avian pet vet can help.
Parrot Diet and Nutrition
What Do Parrots Eat and Drink?
Parrots are herbivores and can be thought of as being “vegan”. Birds cannot process dairy or meat products. Parrots not only enjoy having a variety of different veggies, fruits, and fortified pelleted parrot foods, but they need variety in their diet to ensure their nutritional requirements are being met. In the wild, birds have access to a variety of different food types and these foods are in all different nutritional stages of a plants life when picked up by parrots. In captivity, birds are prone to obesity, vitamin and calcium deficiencies, and heart disease which is becoming increasingly common in captive parrots.
A parrot should be provided with a variety of different food options, but proportions are the key to providing your parrot with a healthy diet. While fruits are certainly healthy for your bird and should be provided daily, ensuring a 70% vegetable to 30% fruit proportion in your parrot’s daily salad is critical to ensure your parrot is not eating too much fruit and taking in too many sugars and not getting in enough veggies. A high-quality pellet only diet should also be provided to your parrot; seed diets are not recommended as they are nutritionally deficient and high in fats. Treats such as high quality nuts or pellet-nut treats should only be provided in small quantities and when used in training, never given for free as part of the diet. Some species may have special dietary requirements such as lories or lorikeets that require fresh nectar, so knowing any special species requirements is necessary.
Some foods can be particularly unhealthy or even toxic to birds.
Some foods to avoid:
Salt or seasonings
Raw potato and starches
Onion and garlic
For birds that need some convincing to eat their vegetables or need to use their beak more, incorporating foods into toys or play time can be crucial in enrichment for your parrot. Placing vegetable leaves in different areas of the cage, putting pieces of their favorite treat within a foraging toy, or chopping up vegetables into different shapes and sizes can all make feeding time more fun for both bird and owner!
Parrots can be quite sweet and playful in nature but they are intelligent birds who need stimulation in order to not be bored and to preserve their sanity. Birds that are not given enough socialization or attention often enough can become frustrated and eventually depressed and aggressive.
For a mentally healthy and stimulated parrot, and to work on your bond, it is advisable to handle your pet parrot and let it out of its cage at least once daily. As birds are naturally curious about noises, you can leave a quietly playing radio or television show on for them and see which music they respond to. Making sure that all family members involved in parrot handling are holding and playing with a pet parrot appropriately is a key to your bird becoming a feathered family member to everyone in the home and allowing them to be happy as well!
Parrots go through stages based on their age. There can be mood swings and characteristic changes that occur in your parrot. Destructive behavior can be a sign of an unhappy parrot or a parrot who is physically uncomfortable due to an underlying health concern; this behavior should never be ignored and an avian pet vet should be consulted. Reproductive behaviors are often seen in parrots once they reach a certain age, dependent upon the species, and should be discussed with an avian vet to help prevent complications related to reproductive activity. Signs of reproductive behavior include nesting behavior by tearing items up and building a nest, mating with other birds or humans, and regurgitation.
Parrot Noises and Mimicking
The level of noise depends on the species of parrot and its upbringing. Parrots can often be quite loud, and sometimes even scream for attention or fun. Sometimes they make noise depending on the time of day. Many times the larger the parrot, the louder the noise they make, which is why they are unsuitable for most apartment settings.
Many people purchase parrots because of their ability to “speak” or mimick, however not every parrot is guaranteed to exhibit this behavior. Many times, human companions can often get their parrot to use words in their correct context like names of family members, or greet them upon entering or leaving the house. This requires a lot of patient training which can take months.
Medical Care for Your Pet Parrot
Parrots are a prey species and therefore are very good at hiding their illnesses due to their survival instincts. These instincts encourage parrots to hide illnesses and injuries as long as they physically can, because injuries or illness in the wild is a vulnerability, making them intriguing prey for a predator. Being that birds are effective in hiding their issues, regular 6-month to 1-year avian veterinarian visits, depending on your birds age and health status, are recommended to ensure preventative measures are taken to provide your feathered friend with a long, healthy, and happy life.
When Should You Bring Your Pet Parrot in for a Checkup?
When you bring home a parrot, be sure to schedule an appointment with an avian pet vet. During the initial exam, the veterinarian will perform a full physical exam, listen to heart, lungs, and sinuses, examine the ears, eyes, nose, beak, and inside the mouth. Recommendations will be made for yearly bloodwork and fecal testing and any other concerns will be discussed with the patient’s owners. Weights are taken and monitored to compare from each prior visit, and every year care and husbandry will be discussed to make sure the best possible care is being provided both at the avian hospital as well as at home. Behavior, enrichment, and socialization discussions are also an important part of any exam when dealing with any parrot patients.
Common Parrot Health Concerns
There are many common health problems that could affect your parrot. Watch you pet parakeet carefully and make sure to bring them to a vet if you notice any unusual behavior or symptoms. Here are a few things that we commonly see:
Heart disease, high blood pressure, and atherosclerosis
Viruses such as Psittacine Beak & Feather Disease, Polyoma virus
Reproductive diseases such as egg binding, cloacal prolapse, gonadal tumors
Yeast and bacterial overgrowth in the GI tract
How Can You Tell When Your Parrot Is Sick?
If you observe any changes in your bird’s behavior, schedule an appointment with a specialty avian vet nearby. Here are some signs that your parrot is experiencing something out of the ordinary:
Excessive sleeping, lethargy, or exercise tolerance
Abnormal feather loss, feather picking or plucking
Change in appetite, feces, or urates
Rapid breathing or difficulty breathing
Discharge from eyes or nostrils
Trauma including broken blood feathers or flying into objects
Weakness, difficulty perching or standing
Sitting fluffed towards the bottom of the cage
Grooming & Boarding
Parrots preen their own feathers, but they still need help in grooming themselves. This means taking them to the vet to have their nails trimmed. Wings can be trimmed properly by your vet if you decide not to have your parrot flighted for safety reasons. Having wings trimming done by a veterinarian is important to avoid over grooming that could result in broken blood feathers and detrimental falls. Beak trims are only necessary if deemed so by your veterinarian and can be harmful if done unnecessarily. You can keep your parrot’s beak trimmed naturally by offering all natural wood toys and perches that they can groom their beaks on themselves.
Boarding for Parrots
At Long Island Birds and Exotic Vet Clinic, we offer parrot boarding services. We have all the proper supplies necessary to safely board any parrot. We keep our fridge stocked with fresh fruits and veggies everyday, a variety of parrot pellets, and treats as well! We provide your pet parrot with lots of TLC, so you can travel stress-free.
Have Questions About Parrot Care?