Birds make fantastic pets. They don't require a lot of space, so they can be kept in apartments or units that aren't suitable for other types of pets such as dogs. They are great company, and it can be very relaxing to listen to their cheerful trilling and chirping. Bird owners are often surprised at how clever birds, particularly parrots, can be. Their cheeky antics can be amusing and enjoyable to watch.
There are many different breeds of birds, and species tend to have unique personality and behaviour traits. Some of the more popular breeds are Budgerigars, Cockatiels, Lovebirds, and Canaries. Before choosing a bird, do some research into different species, to identify which would fit best into your lifestyle. For instance, some of the larger parrots (such as Cockatoos or Macaws) can be very noisy, destructive (they love to chew) and demanding (they are very intelligent and can become bored easily). You can talk to your local vet, bird club, read books or search online about different bird species (e.g. see websites such as Bird Channel).
It is a common misconception that birds are an easy or low maintenance pet. They actually require a high standard of care, quality housing, and good environmental enrichment, to stay happy and healthy. Perhaps most importantly, most birds are highly social (flock) animals – it is unnatural and cruel to leave them alone for long periods of time. Unless you are home most of the day, you may need to be prepared to buy more than one bird.
Bird ownership is a serious commitment for 5-10 years, depending on the type of bird you choose (Cockatoos can live 80 years or more!).
Read about your bird's welfare needs, along with an overview of pet bird care, including housing, diet, healthcare, exercise, enrichment, behaviour, handling and zoonoses. A Code of Practice for the Housing of Caged Birds is also available.
Research has shown that birds have some amazing abilities. For instance:
- Parrots can count up to the number six.1
- European Magpies can recognise themselves in the mirror – they have been recorded trying to remove a colored sticker from underneath their beaks when shown in a mirror.
- Magpies have been observed engaging in elaborate social rituals, possibly including the expression of grief.
- In captivity magpies imitate human voices, and regularly use tools to clean their own cages. In the wild, they organise themselves into gangs, and use complex strategies when hunting other birds, and when confronted by predators.2
- Crows in urban Japan have invented a technique to crack hard-shelled nuts by dropping them onto crosswalks and letting them be run over and cracked by cars. They then retrieve the cracked nuts when the cars are stopped at the red light.
- A laboratory crow named "Betty" improvised a hooked tool from a wire (and used it to 'fish' food out from a bottle) with no prior experience.3
- Studies with the African Grey Parrot have shown that some are able to associate words with their meanings and form simple sentences. Evidence that birds can form abstract concepts such as same versus different has been provided by Alex, the African Grey Parrot. Alex was trained by animal psychologist Irene Pepperberg to vocally label more than 100 objects of different colours and shapes and which are made from different materials. Alex could also request or refuse these objects ('I want X') and quantify numbers of them.4
- Social behaviour requires individual identification, and most birds appear to be capable of recognising mates, siblings and young. Other behaviours such as play and cooperative breeding are also considered indicators of intelligence.
- Recent studies indicate that some birds may have an ability to understand grammatical structures.5
- Macaws have been demonstrated to comprehend the concept of "left" and "right."
1 Pepperberg, IM (2006) Grey parrot numerical competence: a review. Animal Cognition 9(4):377–391 doi:10.1007/s10071-006-0034-7
2 Meet the Magpie, (AuthorHouse, 2010) By Joyce Robertson, page 5
3 Crow making tools, news.nationalgeographic.com
4 Pepperberg, I. M. 1999 The Alex studies: cognitive and communicative abilities of Grey parrots. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
5 Gentner, Timothy Q.; Fenn, Kimberly M.; Margoliash, Daniel; Nusbaum, Howard C. (2006). "Recursive syntactic pattern learning by songbirds". Nature 440 (7088): 1204–1207. doi:10.1038/nature04675. PMC 2653278. PMID 16641998