keeping birds as pets

african grey parrot by Badr NaseemWith their beautiful plumage, enchanting song and cheeky personalities, birds can make wonderful pets. However, to keep them happy and healthy, it is important that a pet owner understands their behaviour and their needs – and makes sure that the right things in terms of housing, diet, toys, training and socialisation are provided. Birds are very intelligent, and can be long lived. Parrots can live for 50 years or more. Sadly, many of the problems they have in captivity are caused by inadequacies in their care.

Did you know some parrots fly 50-60km and back daily when foraging for food?

If you are thinking of getting a pet bird, here are a few things to consider:

What Kind of Commitment Can I Give?

While some birds may not be as demanding as a dog they still require time, maintenance and social interaction on a daily basis. If you have limited free time, then finches or canaries (kept in pairs) or other independent species would be better than a parrot species, which would need lots of socialisation and company to thrive. In addition, some of the larger parrot species can live to 50 years or more so you have to commit to caring for the bird over its entire lifespan.

What About Cost?

Many new owners spend all they afford on a new pet bird and then are horrified when faced with the costs of the cage and other equipment, as well as ongoing costs of food, toys and veterinary care. Especially with the larger parrots and exotic species, pet ownership can get very expensive. However, it is not worth scrimping in the essential areas, such as cage and diet, as the problems caused will prove more costly in the long run.

 What About Housing Arrangements?

Can you devote enough space in your home? The cage should always be as large as possible. At very least the bird needs to be able to spread both wings out, up and turn around without touching the sides of the cage. For parrots height is important as they like climbing exercise, although the cage still needs to be wide enough to allow stretching and playing. For smaller birds like canaries, the length of the cage is more important as they get their exercise from flying within the cage, which is usually a sideways movement.

A variety of perches of different diameters is also important to prevent foot problems and ideally should include some natural branches. Any welding must be smooth and the door must have a bird proof latch- some parrots can easily learn how to open simple locks. The bar spacing must also be appropriate for the size of your pet. Severe trauma can result from getting heads or wings stuck between them.

Birds are very susceptible to inhaled toxins, such as aerosol sprays, tobacco smoke, burnt food or cooking oil, and chemicals that are released from non-stick pots and pans when they are overheated, or when non-stick surfaces are ageing. Other potential sources of these chemicals include irons and ironing board covers, kitchen appliances such as bread or coffee machines or sandwich toasters and portable heaters. These items should only be used in a well-ventilated area, or with an extractor fan. Birds should not be kept in the same room.


Did  you know birds have better colour vision than humans, and can distinguish colours which look identical to us. They can also see UV light.


What do I Feed It?

Most wild birds eat very varied diets that it is impossible to duplicate in captivity. Most of the seed based diets commonly sold in pet shops result in obesity and severe vitamin and calcium deficiencies. Poor diet is one of the major causes of illness and death in pet birds.

Most species do best on a complete pelleted diet – such as Harrisons – supplemented with fresh fruit and vegetables. Fresh water should always be available.

 Is it going to be really noisy and messy?

Inevitably all birds will make some mess and noise but the degree varies dramatically with the species. Finches and canaries will twitter and sing but many of the parrot species are extremely noisy and it is impossible to prevent natural behaviours such as screeching. In addition, think about yourself and how you can cope with the level of noise on a daily basis.

All birds can be messy and some species (especially cockatiels) can produce lots of feather dust- something to consider if a family member is prone to allergies.


Did you know birds have a very efficient system for respiration. Oxygen delivery from the lungs to the muscles is ten times more efficient than for mammals?


Will it have the right personality?

What do you want from a pet bird? If you want a bird that will be affectionate and “cuddly” then canaries and finches would not be suitable while a cockatiel might be better. However, a sociable bird also means you will have to commit to more daily interaction as they can become neurotic and destructive if neglected. If you are keen to teach tricks and want your pet to mimic speech then a parrot species would be ideal, although talking ability can vary significantly between individuals.