There are more than 330 different species of Psittaciformes (a.k.a. parrots) distributed globally . These birds live in a variety of environments from hot tropical rainforests to nearly Antarctic climates. Behavioral issues vary from species to species and even from bird to bird. So.......how DO you figure out what species is for you? How do you figure out what is wrong with the species that you already have??
We do not claim to be ‘experts’, however there are some ‘universal no-no’s and great basic reference material to help out the beginning bird enthusiast.
Here is the top 10 most common misconceptions about parrots and parrot behavior:
1.You need to establish dominance in order for a parrot to be well-behaved.
Establish trust first and foremost, use nurturing guidance not dominance. By pushing a parrot past its limits you will end up with a neurotic and phobic bird instead of a loving companion. If, for example, you have a cage-bound bird, do not grab the parrot and force it to come out of the cage; this will reinforce its fear and he/she will relate negative experiences to being out of the cage and to you. Instead, start by sitting next to the cage and reading to yourself. Occasionally talk to the parrot until its anxiety lessens. Once it feels comfortable approaching you through the cage, repeat the above exercise and leave the door open. Let the parrot come out on his/her own terms. Once your presence is accepted, you can even read aloud to the parrot; my Blue & Gold Macaw, Polly, loves Green Eggs & Ham. It may take days, weeks or even months depending on the bird, but soon you will have a lovely, warm feathered lap-buddy.
2.You should immediately discipline the parrot with a spray bottle or a smack on the beak.
NEVER flick the beak, strike or throw the bird to the floor. You do not give a command to a parrot; you make a request. If you have established trust and know your bird’s personality, your request may be granted....or it may not. Keep in mind that you are working with the equivalent of an ADHD-two-year-old. If you desire total obedience and compliance from a companion animal, a parrot is probably not a good choice for you.
Here are some good, basic guidelines for a well-behaved parrot:
* Establish trust first and foremost, use nurturing guidance not dominance.
* Always praise appropriate, positive behaviors immediately!
* Know signs of over-stimulation (tail-fanning, eye pinning, feather puffing, etc.)
* Remember...birds have short attention spans and do not comprehend ‘cause and
* Be consistent when working with your bird.
* Parrots are drama queens…..do not use drams rewards.
* Do not use ‘quick fixes’….yelling, threatening, shaking the cage, spraying with
water, etc….this will not fix the behavior, it will make it worse.
* ‘Time-outs’ mean no interaction with the bird (i.e. turn your back), do not return
the bird to the cage as punishment.
* Try an alternative form of training, such as ‘clicker training’ for difficult issues.
3.Parrots should only eat seed mix and nuts.
Most parrots don’t live to even half of their potential life-span due to dietary-related diseases. Birds fed a variety of healthy foods can live up to three-times longer than a bird raised on a seed-only diet. For most species of parrots, seeds should only make up a small portion of their diet.
This information is from The Healthy Parrot Cookbook and is a good guideline to use when planning your parrot’s diet:
25% pellets 25% seeds 5% nuts 45% healthy ‘people’ foods
It is a good idea to research the species you are interested in, or may already have. Many parrots have species-specific dietary needs or are prone to certain deficiencies. Here a brief list of some common species-specific dietary problems:
Amazons: prone to vit. A deficiencies; low-fat & low protein diet
Eclectus: prone to vit. A deficiencies
Macaws: needs high fat, low protein diet; a variety of nuts is
African Greys, Cockatoos & Cockatiels: needs diet rich in calcium
(low % of dairy prod).
Conures: high fat, low protein diet; high in vit. K recommended.
4.All parrots talk, some just talk better than others.
Parrots are NOT guaranteed to talk. Some species are known to be more-likely to talk or mimic their owner, however this also varies from bird to bird as well as from species to species. I have two Blue & Gold Macaws, one talks very well and the other one says just a few words. Top ‘talking species’ are African Greys, Amazons (Yellow-Naped, Double-Yellow Headed, Blue-Fronted), Budgies, Indian Ring- Necks and Blue & Gold Macaws.
5.Parrots will only be noisy once or twice a day.
Parrots scream, because that's what they do in the wild; this is how they say ‘hello, I made it to the end of the day without becoming somebody’s lunch, how about you?’. Captive-born companion parrots are only 2-3 generations removed from the wild and still retain those survival instincts. Parrots are noisier at least twice a day (most often sunrise & sunset), however most parrots are vocal throughout the day as well.
6.Parrots are great pets for kids.
A parrot’s beak can exert over 200 lbs of pressure per square inch; a child’s fingers can not. Neither can a child’s fingers withstand that much pressure. If an animal has teeth (or a beak) it is capable of inflicting harm, no matter how well socialized it is. Children move quickly and make loud noises, noises not always identified as ‘friendly’ by a parrot. While Fido’s nip may require a band-aid; Polly’s will require much more. Parrots are beautiful, intelligent companions that require a large amount of dedication and patience. If you are considering a bird for your little one, start small and consider adoption, that way your child’s new companion will have already established his/her personality and you will have a better match from the start. Remember, tameness = how much physical contact your bird will allow + how often you’re going to be bitten.
7.Parrots are easy to care for; you just need a cage and a couple of bowls.
Parrots are beautiful, loyal, affectionate and intelligent. They are also messy, loud and very demanding, which is why the average parrot is re-homed every 2-5 years. Parrots require consistency, devotion, patience, dependability, commitment, patience, sense of humor, patience, and did I mention patience?? Some species are more demanding than other, consequently end up in rescues more often. If you are considering getting a companion parrot there are three key words to remember: research, research, research. The more you know about the species, the better prepared you will be to meet their needs and the more-likely you will pick one that will meet yours.
Here’s a wonderful link to conure world’s parrot comparison chart. It compares noise level, talking ability, cuddliness, average life-span and average size of many common species; a great place to start!
8.All parrots pick just one person to bond to.
Most parrots will pick their ‘favorite’ person who is near and dear to their feathered hearts. It may take some time, but most birds will accept a second, or sometimes even a third ‘favorite’ person. Once again, this will vary from bird to bird as well as species to species. My B & G, Turk, is ‘my’ bird. She wants nothing to do with anyone else. You can approach her, but she will not allow any touching except by me. My other B & G, Polly, will usually go to women, preferring blondes and redheads (incidentally I’m a brunette). Research is the key to a happy parrot home.
9.I have to get a baby bird in order to have a good pet.
Baby parrots are sweet, unfortunately, baby behavior is not really an indication of adult behavior. Remember that sweet baby is going to grow up, become an adult, and display all the adult behavior typical to its species.
It's a myth that baby parrots bond more deeply to human families than adult parrots when placed in a new home. Parrots are very adaptable animals and appreciate people who are respectful of them and provide for their needs properly: above-adequate housing, good nutrition, proper lighting, veterinary care and lots of love. An adult parrot in a new home can become very bonded to its new family.
An adult bird with social problems will require more of an effort to become an affectionate and trusting member of the family, but that has less to do with age than it does with how the parrot was raised and treated by its previous humans.
10.A good way to bond to your parrot is to stroke his/her back, stomach, etc.
Parrots LOVE to have their backs and stomachs rubbed and ‘scritched’; however this is not recommended. Rubbing these areas in particular is the birdie equivalent of a candlelight dinner and soft music. Not the message you want to send to your companion. If you are noting mating behaviors (straddling your arm/leg, raised tail, etc.) when you are handling your bird, then you should stop the interaction and take a ‘time-out’. Once your bird has settled down, you can resume playtime; head, feet and beaks are neutral contact areas.
2nd Hand Parrot by Mattie Sue Athan
Parrots for Dummies by Nikki Moustaki
The Parrot Problem Solver by Barbara Heidenreich
The Healthy Bird Cookbook by
Excellent article on cage-bound birds
Website for anyone considering a cockatoo.
Index of parrot species (includes behavior and care by species)
Nice parrot species comparison chart; a good starting place for finding your ‘perfect’ buddy.