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The Best Parrot for Your Flock

Updated on August 22, 2014

Umbrella Cockatoo

Cockatoos are the definition of a feather four-year-old...Destructive, loud, clingy, and super messy!
Cockatoos are the definition of a feather four-year-old...Destructive, loud, clingy, and super messy!

Selecting the Proper Parrot

Parrots are quite the squawking contradiction. On one hand, they can make excellent pets. They're intelligent, personable, and have a wonderfully long life span. On the other hand, they make terrible pets. They're noisy, messy, needy, and can wind up being rather expensive to care for. If you've done your research and you still want to bring home Birdie, it is of the utmost importance to select the best bird for your family, housing, and financial situation.


Most budding aviculturists usually "end up" with their first bird. They walk into a pet store, that one last Sun conure is just eyeing them with that "Please don't leave me here," look and the rest is history. However, the owner is quickly taken aback when the sweet, quiet, and docile bird they held in the store is a screeching, biting mess at home. This is the reason extensive planning is needed before purchasing not just a parrot, but any pet.

Understanding each breed of parrot is extremely important. One must know the commitment they are signing themselves up for. Some breeds of parrots are just not meant for children, such as African Greys and Macaws. Some birds love to sing and talk, while others only say a few words. Some parrots love to be cuddled and kissed, and some will back far away from all human hands. With some guidance, your parrot can become the best decision you ever make, instead of a plucked bird in the corner that screams, doesn't come out of the cage, and has an awful quality of life

Puffing Parakeets

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Parakeets

Experience Level: 1

Also called budgies, or budgerigars, parakeets delight budding aviculturist all over the world. Budgies can make great pets, however they need gentle training, calm environments, and plenty of attention. Parakeets are often seen as cheap “throw away” birds by big box pet retailers, but this cannot be further from the truth. They are intelligent, witty, and sweet. (With proper training, of course!) Parakeets can live up to 15 years.

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Cockatiels

Experience Level: 2


Cockatiels are wonderful little birds that can easily sing, dance, and whistle their way into anyone's heart. They make wonderful first parrots, but are not to be taken lightly. While they can be easily trained, are often good with children, and have great personalities, they take time, love, and attention. Healthy cockatiels can live upwards of 25 years with the proper diet, exercise, and a yearly visit to an avian veterinarian. Their beaks are relatively small which is good when comes to training but by no means does this mean they don’t bite. They can bite, and it can really hurt! With patience, love, and a lot of good treats, your tiel can become your best friend.

Lovebirds

Experience Level: 2

Lovebirds can be sweet, but there are some terrible horror stories out there, especially about females. Lovebirds are usually quiet, but that doesn’t mean they can’t make noise if they feel like it! They do well with other small birds, but not so much with larger birds. In the wild, lovebirds have evolved to be very aggressive in order to survive. They do not understand that the larger members of your flock are not going to hurt him/her and will attack until the other bird dies. If you do plan on keeping lovebirds, be sure to be consistent in training, and nine times out of ten, your bird will be your best buddy. (That is unless you have a female during mating season. While there are methods to safer handling, there is no training that can overpower nature.)

The Birds at a Glance

Type of Bird
Experience Level
Average Life Span
Parakeet
1
10-15 years
Cockatiel
2
15-20 years
Lovebird
2
10-15 years
Conure
2
40-50 years
Pionus
3
30-40 years
African Grey
4
60-70 years
Amazon
4
50-70 years
Eclectus
4
50-70 years
Macaw
5
70-100+ years
Cockatoo
5
60-80 years
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Conures

Experience Level: 2

Small conures make an excellent first birds for anyone serious about learning aviculture. Some commonly seen breeds include various green-cheek color variations (cinnamon, pineapple, turquoise), jenday, and the infamous sun. They are smart, easy to train, love to do tricks, and can be extremely affectionate. Conures have a bad reputation for being excessively loud. While they do have quite the screech, birds tend to be loudest first thing in the morning and later in the evening. If they are contented with plenty of foraging and shredding toys during the day, they will learn when it’s time to be loud and silly and when it’s time to be quite. Just be sure to demonstrate when its playtime and be consistent. If you are patient with your bird, you will be amazed at how happy you can be together.


Pineapple Conure and Scarlet Macaw

Pionus

Experience Level: 3


The Pionus is often a rather quiet bird, most weighing anywhere from 150 to 300 grams. They make very fun pets for children as young as ten. These awesome birds are sometimes overlooked because their colors aren't as bright as some of the other parrots. This is unfair because what they lack in hue, they make up with their vivid personalities. They make good transition birds, for the step between a cockatiel to a Grey.


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African Grey

Experience Level: 4


Both the Timneh and the Congo African Grey Parrots make absolutely stellar pets, but require a great bit of patience, attention, and money. They need at least 2 to 4 hours attention and interaction per day, on average. When you are not able to be entertaining them, African Greys need to be actively working for their food. Food bowls are not only an insult to their intelligence, they can cause intelligent birds to become extremely bored, which can lead to excessive noise and behavioral issues such as plucking or biting. Toys that are shreddable, make noise, light up, or have secret places for hiding treats keep a Grey happy and healthy. This is a monthly expense, and depending on your greys playing style, can cost quite a bit of money.

They are easily the most intelligent of the Psittacine family, with the brainpower comparable to at least a three-year-old child. Greys are able to actively learn and use the names of colors, foods, and various household items, including other animals and people. African Greys are notoriously nervous, and very rightly so. They are prey animals living with the most dangerous predator on earth. When a grey (or any bird, for that matter) trusts you enough to step up, it is a truly beautiful and amazing thing. Do not ever hurt, yell, scare, or abuse your bird in anyway. Not only will they remember this and hold it against you, they will hold it against other humans.

Greys, or any parrots for that matter, do not bite because they are mean, they bite because they are scared. A trusting bird will not bite unless you ignore all other signs to stay back, and greys especially give a ton of warnings. Another important point to remember is Greys can live upwards of sixty years. In many cases, they need to be willed, and the next generation may not be as happy about the forever-feathered five-year-old as you were.

Amazon

Experience Level: 4


Amazons are brilliant and come in a wide variety of colors and patterns, all extremely beautiful. Amazons are not beginner birds; they should only be kept and handled by experienced aviculturists and bird handlers. They tend to be extremely vocal and are not recommended for apartment living. Just like Greys, they need an extended amount of interaction per day. Amazons have lengthy life spans, upwards of sixty years. They are known for their love of junk food and tend to become overweight. Amazons need strict diets and plenty of exercise. It is best to feed fresh fruits, vegetables, and mash daily. Colorless, natural pellets can be hidden around the cage to supplement the fresh foods as well as other easy treats such as Avicakes, Nutriberries, and nuts.


Eclectus

Experience Level: 4


Eclectus parrots are for the experienced only. They have a wide array of behavioral and health issues as well as needing a very specific diet. If you are willing to take on the responsibility of owning an Eclectus, they can be extremely pleasurable to be around. Eclectus parrots are one of the only parrots commonly kept as pets that are sexually dimorphic. Females are red, purple, and blue while males are green, yellow, and red. Female birds tend to be a bit cuddlier and often bond to men. They are not the best talkers, but they can definitely get their point across

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Macaw

Experience Level: 5

Macaws are for the experienced, patient, and calm bird owner. Macaws are geniuses and master escape artists. Cages need to be massive. It’s best to provide an outdoor aviary, though a macaw proof room indoors works almost as well. Sharing your home with a macaw is like having an extremely loud and loving child that has a very hormonal mating season, a beak that can crush bone, and can live for up to a hundred and twenty years. They are completely capable of understanding human emotions and tend to bond most intensely with one member in their flock. It takes a lot of work to maintain a happy, healthy relationship with a macaw, but if you put in the time, your bird will truly amaze you. Some of the most popular full sized breeds are the Blue and Gold, Green Wing, and Scarlet.



Cockatoo

Experience Level: 5


Of all the parrots kept as pets, cockatoos are the most rehomed birds. The reason for this is not the cockatoo, but instead is often due to a lack of planning, understanding, and dedication on the part of the owner. People see a sweet baby cockatoo covered in those soft, angelic down feathers and think “I’ll just take you home, put you in a cage, get you out when it’s convenient for me, and it will stay like this forever.” They purchase a baby cockatoo without any prior research or experience with a large bird. (A cockatiel doesn’t count here.) When a year or so passes and their once angelic baby too begins to transforms into a white-feathered devil, the frustrated owner gives up and posts an ad on craigslist trying to find the bird another temporary home, breaking quite a few hearts and stressing the bird out severely.

All birds are sweet when they’re babies, they’re ignorant! They do not yet have an understanding of the world around them. They have no idea how powerful their beak is or how to use their wings. They learn these things from their flock. Since we decided to take these birds from the wild, we become their flock. Parrots learn over behaviors over time, and too often, inexperienced owners do not handle negative behaviors in the correct way. They overstimulate females and taunt males, thinking a small nip is cute and harmless. Thinking yelling "no" and "shut up" will teach the bird anything except biting equals attention. This leads to bad behaviors on the part of the bird, which are reinforced by bad behaviors by the owners.

Cockatoos are extremely intelligent, need a lot of exercise, and are really, REALLY loud. Umbrella cockatoos can produce noises upwards of 130dB, that is significantly louder than standing directly next to a jackhammer. They can damage your hearing permanently. (And during mating season, you best believe they are going to contact call.) They also produce an absurd amount of dust and owners often need several air purifiers to keep everyone healthy, both bird and owner. Because owners tend to incorrectly handle young cockatoos, they tend to be spoiled rotten and behavioral problems, such as screaming, plucking, lunging, and self-mutilation, are rampant.

It is rare for most people to have as much time and effort that is needed to provide a cockatoo with a forever home. Cockatoos need a ton of toys. While you can make your own much better, cheaper toys, most people claim they do not have the time, and chose to buy toys. This can get very costly. They also need several forging toys, searching for food should be how they are spending 50-70% of their time. Make it hard for them, they have been seen using tools in the wild, they don’t need you to show them where the food is. Boredom and hormones are the root of most behavioral problems. While we cannot change their nature, we can provide them with as much stimulation as possible. If not, cockatoos have been known to rip bars out of “indestructible” cages and destroy wooden furniture, doors, and other expensive household fixtures.

Galah AKA Rose Breasted Cockatoo

Which bird is best?

This list is no where near exhaustive. There are dozens of species and subspecies of parrots kept as pets. However, birds, as with all animals, need to be researched extensively before being brought home. Birds are major commitments, each with specific needs, wants, and emotions. Parrots are not "one type fits all." They have extremely long lifespans and require a great deal of upkeep. However, for all the work they demand, they reward their owners with unwavering love, respect, and joy. Birds leave us in a constant sense of awe and wonder with their amazing intelligence, perfect timing and quick wit.

If you decide a bird is the correct choice for your family, home, and lifestyle, don't jump to find breeders. Always try adoption first. There are many reasons adult birds are preferred over baby and adolescent birds. In addition to having developed their personalities and a lower price tag, at any given point, there hundreds of discarded birds in shelters and rescues, awaiting their one true forever home. While some birds come from neglectful or traumatic situations, most birds in shelters come from comfortable, loving homes. Medical, financial or other types of emergency situations arise, causing birdie to be bumped out of it's once happy home.

The bottom line is no bird is "best." All birds have distinct personalities, big brains, and warm hearts. All it takes is the right person to find the right bird.

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