Parrots are highly intelligent birds and can make wonderful pets, but there are some things to know about them and their care requirements before making the decision to get one. First, parrots are wild by nature, not domesticated (like dogs and cats), so they retain many behaviors and instincts of their cousins in the wild. Next, parrots are not all the same species, and so you will need to learn qualities of your particular parrot species when getting one. Lastly, parrots live much longer than most other pets: smaller parrots (cockatiels or parrotlets) can live 20-30 years, while the larger species (macaws, amazons, or cockatoos) can live to be 60-80 years old.
Preparing a Parrot Home
Obtain a proper cage. Square or rectangular cages are more appropriate for parrots; they feel unsafe in round cages that do not have corners. Ensure your cage is large enough for your parrot to climb and move comfortably in. Cages should have enough room for perches, toys, food bowls, water bowls, and rest areas. Choose the size of your parrot cage based on the size of your parrot:
A minimum of approximately: 24″ W x 24″ H x 24″ D for smaller parrots
- A minimum of approximately 5 ft W x 6 ft H x 3½ ft D for larger parrots
- Bar spacing: 1/2″ for smaller parrots
- Bar spacing: 4″ for larger parrots
2Place the cage in a room where he can interact. Parrots are social creatures. In the wild, they stay with a flock and maintain constant contact with flock mates. If they are kept isolated they may develop separation anxiety. Parrots like being in rooms where their human flock hangs out.
- If you have other pets, you will want to keep your bird cage in a room that can be closed off while you are gone from the house. Be sure that you supervise your other pets around the bird, and keep them out of the room if they are causing stress to the bird.
3Keep temperatures steady. Birds can tolerate a large range of temperature, but the ideal temperature for your parrot is between 65 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit. Avoid leaving your parrot in a chilly room or dropping your thermostat overnight during winter. Temperatures below 40 degrees can be dangerous for birds, especially thin ones. Plumper birds can develop heat stress to temperatures above 85 degrees. If you must keep your parrot in higher temperatures, be sure that there is plenty of air circulation.
4Get your new parrot into its cage for the first time. First, close your doors and windows in case of the worst. Then, you’ll need to determine how friendly or aggressive your new parrot is. Open the carrier slowly and slowly bring your hand in toward the bird. If it isn’t reacting much, you can continue moving your hand toward it. But, if it is opening its beak and aggressively snapping toward your hand, you’ll need to use the second method here.
- For a non-aggressive bird, continue moving your hand toward it and aim your fingers (or arm, in the case of a large parrot) perpendicular to and slightly above the feet. If it already has been trained to step up, you can say “step up” and it will jump onto your fingers (or arm). Slowly take it out of the carrier and bring it to the cage. Aim the bird so that the cage perch runs parallel to your hand and slightly above its feet. It should step up onto the perch, and you can close the door and allow it to adjust to its new home for a while.
- For an aggressive parrot or one that doesn’t know how to step up, you’ll need to get a hold of him to get him in his cage. This will not affect your relationship; the parrot will get over this. You want to be sure and do this quickly though and not let him go; if he flies around the room his fear will escalate and he’ll be harder to catch. Ideally you should use your bare hand, but if you’re scared you can wear thin leather gloves or use a towel. Try to grab him by the neck just below the head (this is not only safer for not getting bit, but it also restricts his airflow less than grabbing his belly). However you get a hold of him, get him quickly to the cage without letting go.
- Regardless of the method you used to get him in the cage, give him some space for a while. It is likely he will eat and drink less than normal for a few days, but be sure he has access to familiar food and water. Allow him some time to calm down and adjust to his new home before interacting too much.
Feeding Your Parrot
1Vary your parrot’s diet. Parrots need a varied diet with a broad range of nutritional value. They should ideally not be kept on a diet of seeds and pellets only, though the bird seed and pellet mixes at pet stores are good to use as the base for their diet. Here are some basics for supplementing the seed or pellet mixtures:
- Do feed fresh fruits and vegetables. Rinse them well just like you would if you were preparing them for people. Many parrots like grapes, bananas, apples, carrots, berries, greens, all varieties of cooked squash, peas, green beans, and more. Be sure to not overdo it on fruit because of sugar content.
- Some types of parrots, such as macaws, love to open the shells of nuts to get the meat out. Try giving your parrot pistachios, pecans, and macadamias.
- Do not feed parrots caffeine, alcohol, chocolate, sugary or salty snacks, greasy foods, raw or dry beans, rhubarb leaves, dill, cabbage, asparagus, eggplant or honey.
- Never give a parrot avocado or onions! Both are toxic to parrots. Avocado can cause immediate cardiac arrest and death in a parrot.
Pippa Elliott, a licensed veterinarian, recommends: “When feeding seeds, be vigilant that the bird doesn’t selectively eat only their favorite seeds. This can lead to an unbalanced diet. If necessary, switch to a pelleted diet to prevent this from happening.”
2Feed the right amounts. Small and medium sized birds should have food and water containers that are at least 20 ounces. Large birds should have food and water containers that are at least 30 ounces. Weaned babies and small birds will need extra amounts of food because of their higher metabolisms and levels of activity.
3Have a container for water that’s large enough for your bird to bathe in. Birds will drink out of the same water they bathe in, and this is okay. Be sure not to put vitamin supplements in water even if the guidelines say to do this. The reasons are because birds don’t drink that much, so you don’t know how much they are getting, and because it can cause bacteria to form quickly in the water.
4Avoid cooking with non-stick pans and utensils. This is especially true if you keep your parrot in or near the kitchen. The chemicals used in non-stick cookware can be deadly to parrots when heated above a certain temperature.
- Second hand smoke is also very bad for parrots, just like it is for humans. Avoid smoking in the house if you smoke and have a parrot.
Keeping Your Parrot Healthy
1Tend to the cage bottom every two days. Remove any liners and replace them, and discard any shells, seeds, gravel, toys that are destroyed, etc. It is best to spot clean (clean up any mess that doesn’t require too much time – droppings on perches etc.) once a day.
2Clean and change the food and water bowls every day. Remove the food and water bowls daily, clean them and replace them with fresh food and water.
- Remove foods that rot quickly, such as cooked beans, immediately after feeding. Parrots can be especially prone to infections from bacteria, so keeping the cage clean is an absolute necessity
- Be sure to use a bird-safe disinfectant for cleaning the cage weekly – these can be found at your local pet store. Regular human disinfectants can be too strong and can harm your bird.
3Visit the vet on a regular schedule. Some parrots are completely healthy forever, however most of the time when your parrot encounters a health problem, it could have been solved with some preventative vet consultations. Make sure your veterinarian is one that sees birds specifically or you will be wasting your money. Annual wellness checkups should be planned.
4Watch for health problems. A healthy parrot is alert to his surroundings, stays upright most of the time, and is active. If your parrot starts acting sick, see a veterinarian. Some signs of a sick parrot include:
- Deformed, receding, or ulcerated beak
- Difficulty breathing
- Stains around the eyes or nostrils
- Change in appearance or texture of stools
- Weight loss or loss of appetite
- Swollen eyes or eyelids
- Feather problems including chewing, plucking, or thinning
- Bowed head, lethargy, being overly quiet
Training and Socializing Your Parrot
1Learn to approach the cage properly. In the beginning, approach your parrot’s cage slowly and without making any loud noises. You may also want to avoid eye contact in the beginning for a fearful bird, so he doesn’t feel singled out by a predator. If you find the parrot trying to bite you, thrashing around the cage, or making other drastic displays of discomfort to your presence, you’ll need to get him accustomed to you:
- Go back out of the room and out of sight. Start walking back in, and at the moment of the discomfort response, stop and stay where you are. Do not approach further and wait for him to calm down. Then begin walking closer. If he acts up again, stop and stay still until he calms down. You may need to do this frequently until you can get close to the cage.
2Determine treats for your parrot. Training your parrot is a must for giving him the socialization he needs. To determine what foods are his favorite treats, try giving him a variety of nuts, fresh and dried fruits, and seeds. A new parrot may be unaccustomed to some of these foods, so give him a few days to determine which ones are favorites. Once you figure out a favorite, don’t serve it as part of daily meals and save it for training.
3Use target training to get your parrot to come out of and return to the cage. The first step of target training is getting the parrot to eat treats from your hand. This may take a few seconds to a few weeks. Simply go to the side of the cage and have a treat in your hand. Wait for the parrot to come over and eat it.
- Once your parrot is comfortable eating treats from your hand, introduce the clicker. Begin clicking the clicker right before offering a treat from your hand. Do this every time, so that it becomes used to hearing the click before eating a treat.
- Use a target stick (chopstick or dowel) to get your parrot to move to certain areas of the cage. Begin by introducing the stick, allowing the parrot to move close to it, and deliver a click and a treat. Train the parrot to move toward the stick each time by delivering the click and the treat. If he becomes uninterested in the stick, he may be full and you should wait a while until he becomes hungrier to resume training.
- Use the target stick to teach your parrot to step up onto your hand or a handheld perch. Eventually you should be able to bring your parrot out of the cage to continue training and/or clean the cage.
- Keep all of your training sessions short (about 10 to 15 minutes each time) and only try to train once or twice a day.
4Tame your parrot to allow you to pet him. Many parrots enjoy being pet and touched. The first place to start is with his beak. Once he is comfortable having your hand near his beak without trying to bite, you’ll know he is comfortable with you touching him. Bring your hand slowly near his beak. If he looks like he’s going to try to bite, stop immediately. Hold your hand still until he calms down. When you get your hand close to his beak without him trying to bite, take your hand away and give a treat.
- Do the same steps with touching his body. Move your hand toward his body slowly. If he seems irritated, stop and wait. Work up to being allowed to pet him. Once you’re able to pet him, give a treat.
5Talk to your parrot. Some parrots are better “talkers” than others, but all parrots have the anatomical capability to mimic human speech. Regardless of how well your parrot learns to repeat you, talking to him is an important part of his emotional health, so be sure to talk to him often.
- Name certain things to him: when giving him certain types of food, you can say, “apple,” or “banana.”
- Associate certain words with your actions. When you walk into the room, say “Hello, Alex” (or whatever your name is) or “Good morning!” When you leave a room, say “Good-bye!” or “Good night.”
- Your parrot will also enjoy hearing you have a conversation (even if it’s with him and is mostly one-sided), hearing you sing, listening to the television while you watch it, or listening to music.
- Some parrots pick up many phrases, so be careful of cursing or yelling around him unless you want him to repeat unsavory language.
6Choose good toys for your parrot. Toys provide mental stimulation and relief from boredom. You should offer toys that have a variety of textures, colors, and sounds. It’s a good idea to rotate the toys weekly so your parrot doesn’t get bored of the same toys day in and day out. Here are some more things to keep in mind about parrot toys:
- Choose small, lightweight toys and mirrors for small birds.
- Larger birds like to manipulate thicker toy pieces with their beaks, tongues and feet.
- Birds love to chew. It is part of their natural behavior to tear things apart. Be sure to check the toys regularly for damage, and throw them away if they are cracked or could break into small pieces that could injure your parrot.
7Learn parrot body language. In general, a parrot with an upright stance and smoothed feathers is wary or frightened. Loose, slightly ruffled feathers indicate happiness. A bird sitting on one foot with puffed out feathers may not feel well. All feathers sticking as far out as possible usually mean he’s courting or getting ready to fight. Stretching out one wing and then the other, or a slight tail feather wagging, means he’s feeling happy and healthy. Some happy birds even wiggle their tongues or move their beaks up and down when they see something they like