If you would like a pet but haven’t got the time or right situation for a typical “furry friend”, then a pet bird might be ideal. Not only are they fascinating, with their beautiful plumage and delightful song but they can provide hours of entertainment and affection for the whole family. For children, a pet bird can encourage responsibility as they learn to care for their avian friend, as well as providing them with an entertaining companion.
With such huge variety in colour, shape, size and temperament, how do you know which bird breeds are the most suitable as pets? Many birds may actually be unsuitable pets for the average family, particularly those with children, as they may be especially dominant and require expert handling or they may dislike the noisy energy of young children. Large parrots often fall into this category – they are very attractive because of their brilliant colours and mimicking ability but they may be too aggressive, demanding and noisy for an inexperienced owner. At the other end of the spectrum, some birds may be too fragile to cope as pets for boisterous young children, who may not understand how delicate a bird is and that it is not a stuffed toy.
Whatever type of bird you select, it is best if possible to buy from an experienced breeder rather than from a pet shop. The best pets are birds which have been hand-reared and well-socialised with humans, used to frequent handling and domestic environments. While some pet shops do source their birds from reputable breeders and are experienced in caring for the birds while in the shop, many deal with “bird-mill” suppliers and offer stressed, unhealthy, unfriendly birds that make terrible pets. It is important also to find a veterinarian who is experienced in dealing with birds, and not just cats and dogs.
Here are some birds commonly kept as pets:
Budgerigars – these little chatterboxes are friendly, quickly tamed, curious and sociable so it is no surprise that they are the most popular of all domestic birds worldwide. They make a pleasant chirping sound and can learn to imitate speech. Easy to care and maintain, they make great pets – particularly for older children who have the time and patience to train them.
Doves / Pigeons – these actually make excellent pets for very young children as they are gentle, quiet, easy to tame and safe, in that a child can handle the bird easily with minimal fear of injury. They are also easy to care for, being generally healthy and hardy, require little maintenance and are usually inexpensive.
Cockatiels – with their distinctive yellow heads and bright red cheek spots, these medium sized birds make lovable pets. They are very playful and love to climb, so a variety of swings, ladders and ropes in its cage should be provided. In the wild, cockatiels live in large flocks and mate for life so ideally you should keep two cockatiels together. Unfortunately, they do not tolerate being kept with smaller birds and can easily hurt budgerigars or canaries in a fight. They tame easily and can learn to talk and mimic tunes, although they can be fairly loud.
Finches – these delicate little birds come in a variety of beautiful colours and patterns, with perhaps the Zebra finch being the most common. They need to be surrounded by their own kind and should at least be kept in pairs. Their care is undemanding and they will make friendly, cheeky, merry little companions. Particularly for those who are seeking a less “interactive” bird, such as older individuals or those who have less time, they can be the ideal pet, tending to amuse themselves.
Canaries – long prized for their wonderful song, these little birds make great pets for people that enjoy music. They come in a variety of colours, although yellow, of course, is the most common and they may require some special care – for example, they prefer a temperature of 25 degrees year-round with a low humidity and they are extremely sensitive to household chemicals.
Lovebirds – so named because of their habit of sitting in pairs and preening each other, these sweet-natured and friendly birds make great pets. They are hardy creatures which can tolerate extreme temperatures, especially cold weather and they are busy and active birds which love company, so need to be kept in pairs.
Chicken / Ducks – not what you would normally consider but these can make fantastic pets, providing you have the right set-up and zoning to keep them. Both can be very engaging, friendly and entertaining – and will “earn their keep” by providing eggs and pest control for your garden. They can be easily tamed and trained, even as adults, and are generally hardy and low maintenance.