The Pros and Cons of Owning Parrots

Pro: Intelligence

Psittacines, along with Corvids, are among the most intelligent birds. It is often estimated that larger parrots can understand concepts on par with human preschoolers.

Con: Birds are messy

Birds are some of the messiest pets you can get. Expect to find seed sprouting in your carpet or sink. Your carpet may feel crunchy. Forget seed guards- nothing will ever stop your birds from flinging all they can as far as they can. I’ve had budgies take baths in their seed.

The best defense against mess indoors: Buy plastic carpet protectors and put them beneath and all around your cages. If you’re handy you can attach plexiglass sheets to the back and sides of your cages, which should reduce the spray. Clear shower curtains hung behind your cages will save your walls from being splattered with fruit.

Pro: Many species can Talk

Parrots and a few other birds have the amazing ability to mimic human speech (some so well that there are cases where a person was invited into the house mistakenly by the family bird) . Birds can often understand what they are saying, though it depends on how they were taught. Avian intelligence research with an African grey named Alex found that parrots can correctly count to six, identify shape, color, size, and substance.

Many birds have even been known to make up words for ones they don’t like or can’t pronounce. One grey, Arrow, named its owner “Joba.”Alex made up the word “banerry” when introduced to apples, because they looked like cherries but tasted a bit like banana.

In the wild birds use sound to communicate with each other. This is why they pick it up so easily in captivity. They naturally want to learn the language of their flock. This is also why they can understand it so well- better than dogs.

Con: Not all Birds Talk

Even if a species is known for its talking ability, there is no guarantee it will ever learn to talk and it is unreasonable to buy a bird solely for speech. In fact, many birds prefer to whistle or imitate sounds around the house like the microwave or doorbell. These sounds are much closer to natural bird calls and are picked up very easily. This also means you could have a bird on your hands that beeps, rings, coughs, and creaks all day long.

Pro: Variety of Size and Color

Parrots come in a wide variety of sizes and colors. Do your research to find out which species would be most compatible for you.

Con: Aesthetics Mean Little if the Species is Incompatible

The first time I ever saw a rainbow lorikeet I was amazed. What a beautiful bird! And so playful! Then I found out what lorikeets ate.

Regardless of what you find most attractive, always keep in mind that not every bird is going to work with your living situation. Live in an apartment? Then you probably don’t want an amazon. Birds are not curtains or plants. They are living, social creatures and their needs should be met.


Pro: Birds are Very Social

Birds make great pets! They are playful, cuddly and sweet. Unlike dogs, they don’t have to be taken for walks or played with. Most are content just hanging out on or with their favorite person. Good owners like to let their birds out as often as possible. Many of us watch TV, read and work on the computer with our birds.

Con: Birds can be Demanding

Parrots are very social, as they live in flocks in the wild. Unlike a dog, which is generally allowed to follow you around the house, birds are often confined to one area. This can lead to panicked screaming if you leave the room. They want to know where you are! If you can’t spend a decent amount of time with your pet every day I recommend getting a second bird. It doesn’t even have to be the same species- just someone they can talk to and hang out with when you’re not around. A bird left alone without much to do is going to develop behavior problems.

Pro: Birds Live a Long Time

My sister used to subscribe to Cat Fancy, while I got Bird Talk. One month both came in the mail the same day. Cat Fancy had an article on coping with the loss of your cat; Bird Talk had one on making sure your parrot is well provided for after your death. Even many small birds could easily outlive a cat or dog, whose average lifespan is only 15 years. Budgies (parakeets) can live about that long. With good care cockatiels usually make it to their twenties, small parrots can live to their 30’s or 40’s, and large parrots can live to be over 80! With good care your pet bird will be with you a long time.

Con: Birds Live a Long Time

What will happen to your bird when you go to college? Move? Enter a serious relationship? Have children? Birds live long enough that they will be there to see you through many of life’s transitions. Buying a bird, especially a large one, is a lifetime commitment. It’s like adopting a child. You may even have to set up a trust fund for your bird. Birds often end up in uncaring hands of family members once their human has passed. You need to make sure you have a plan in place to care for your pet if something happens.

© 1997-2016 by Karen Trinkaus. May not be reprinted or used in any way without the author’s permission.

Multiple Pet Birds Sharing Spaces


This is what consent looks like.

I been seeing a discomforting trend lately on Facebook- a lot of inexperienced people are allowing their birds to play together with minimal supervision. While this may seem rather innocuous, it can lead to brutal injuries when the birds clash.

One post, since deleted, was a long rant about the “hidden costs” of owning birds. The owner complained about spending well over $3000 on veterinary bills for a single bird. The aggressive conure had had wings broken on two separate occasions during altercations with other birds. After X-rays and surgery, the bird had amazingly recovered the ability to fly. The owner decided to keep it in its cage, but still allowed other birds access to climb on it. This conure was known to be very territorial of its cage. Not surprisingly, another bird ended up with a severely lacerated/crushed ankle that would likely need to be amputated.

Another man posted a video of his amazon propositioning his Goffin cockatoo, with the caption “please explain.” It was very clear from the body language that the Goffin was not happy. It was about as far removed as possible without flying to a new location. It was at a lower perch position, making it even more defensive. It was likely that the amazon kept encroaching into the Goffin’s personal space until it had ended up where it was- with no place to go. Any time the amazon got too close the Goffin would threateningly open its beak. When the amazon’s posture returned to normal the Goffin relaxed slightly. This went back and forth for a while.

The above interaction didn’t lead to a fight, but it certainly could have. The owner also reported that the amazon had begun getting aggressive towards anyone who tried to handle the object of his affection. Thankfully, the owner had the good sense to separate the birds after he found out what the body language meant.

Most people are reasonably familiar with dogs and cats. Even when they anthropomorphize their pets they generally don’t make mistakes that are quite as grievous. Dogs have cohabitated with humans for so long that the ability to read humans is built into their domestication. One study demonstrated that even puppies with no prior training will pay attention to where a human is pointing. Human children don’t even pick up that skill until around the same time they begin to walk!

Parrots, on the other hand, are not domesticated and have comparatively weird body language. It makes their behavior a lot harder to interpret without practical experience. Allowing pet parrots to share the same space when you don’t have a comfortable working knowledge of bird body language is a recipe for disaster.

© 1997-2016 by Karen Trinkaus. May not be reprinted or used in any way without the author’s permission.