Foreign Feathers: Considerations to Make Before Adopting a Bird

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One of the more common questions that arises during Florida Keys Wild Bird Center educational programs is, “What kind of bird makes the best pet?” Humans have been keeping birds as pets for centuries, so this questions isn’t otherworldly by any means. Depending on your background and experience working with animals, our answer may come as a surprise, or it may be exactly what you’d expect. Our answer: No birds make for great pets. To be completely honest, birds are some of the most difficult animals to care for, be it in a hospital, sanctuary, or private residence. I often joke that I would rather have an alligator as pet instead of a bird, but I’m actually somewhat serious. The truth is that birds require such a complex level of care, and many pet owners aren’t fully aware of what level of commitment they’re signing up for when they adopt birds. Aside from the idea of caging an animal that’s able to fly freely as it wishes, there are additional issues that should also be considered before adopting/purchasing a bird.

Birds Are Messy
Aside from the obvious messes that can result from working to house-train any animal, birds, especially those with large/powerful beaks, can be quite destructive in a human household. Curious birds will peck and pick apart anything that’s made available to them including wood, furniture, remote controls, computers, toys, artwork and decorations, and pretty much anything that you can think of.

Bids Require Constant Attention
Many exotic birds that people adopt, including parrots, naturally form tight social networks with other birds when they live in the wild. When these birds are brought out of the wild or raised in captivity, they need to be part of a permanent group or family unit. These family member roles are filled by human caretakers, not wild birds, and a lack of family interaction can lead to extreme bouts of loneliness and anxiety. Neglect can even lead to birds engaging in self-mutilation including plucking their own feathers.

Birds Are Loud
Sulfur-crested cockatoo and other exotic parrot species are extremely loud for a reason; in the wild they use their vocal abilities to communicate with other birds across the forests in which they live. In a smaller, enclosed living space the soundwaves generated by a cockatoo can’t radiate outward. This creates a situation in which sound waves that were meant to travel for miles are stuck in one place, and the volume alone is enough to create an unfavorable living situation for humans and other animals alike.

 

Birds Can Live for a Long Time
Below are some of the generally accepted maximum lifespans of popular exotic birds:
• Sulfur-crested cockatoo – 70 years. (i)
• Scarlet macaw – 75 years. (ii)
• Major Mitchel’s cockatoo – 80 years. (iii)
• African grey parrot – 90 years. (iv)
• Blue-and-yellow macaw – 100+ years. (v)
Even cockatiels can live up to 20 years in captivity. Caring for a bird isn’t just a complex task, it also comes with quite a bit of longevity attached to it.

Birds Require a Lot of Space
Forget about running ceiling fans or having open flames/candles. Birds that can fly love to use their wings, and having a large open space for them to take a short flight is a must. Some bird owners clip the wing feather of their birds in order to reduce/eliminate the amount of flying done by their birds, but doing so comes with a small amount of risk. In taking away a bird’s ability to fly you’re also taking away one of its methods of avoiding danger. Even in the safety of a human household, falling off of tables and countertops can be risky for birds.

Birds Have It Rough
Customs officers do a pretty good job of regulating what goods come into and out of most of the countries around the world. Unfortunately, this has created an unintentional problem for exotic animal species; the illegal pet trade industry has developed some very inhumane methods of smuggling animals illegally across international borders. Whether it’s stuffing cockatoos into empty water bottles (vi) or rolled-up newspapers(vii), many exotic animals endure the harshest of conditions when they’re being transported. Sadly, enough, many of these animals won’t survive to see their final destination. You can click here to learn more about the horrors facing parrots and other birds smuggled in the illegal pet trade.

Finally, we’d like to leave you with a recommendation for more information about the complex duty of caring for an exotic bird. In 2013, the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) released an episode of its popular series, Nature, titled Parrot Confidential. This documentary details everything discussed in this blog post, and it offers an even greater insight into perils facing exotic parrots today. Parrot Confidential is extremely moving, and we believe that every prospective bird owner should watch it before taking in an exotic bird.

Ian Martin, Education Coordinator, 2016

References
(i) Burke’s Backyard
(ii) Animal Diversity Web
(iii) Animal Ageing and Longevity Database
(iv) Mom.Me
(v) BBC News
(vi) CNN
(vii) ABC

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