Pets, Places, & Things, Points on Pets

The Bird is the Word

The Bird is the Word

The perennial question – whether dogs or cats are the more popular pet – continues.  In these times, however, more people are looking at other options including fish, smaller animals such as gerbils, guinea pigs and hamsters, and birds.  A 2017-2018 survey showed that out of a total of 393.3 million households, fish were the most popular pet (139.3 million), followed by cats (94.2 million), dogs (89.7 million), and birds (20.3 million). With school age children (and many adults!) now spending more and more time at home, and with boredom setting in quickly, smaller pets, usually requiring less maintenance, can help keep them occupied and teach them about science and nature, kindness, love, and compassion.

Things to Consider

Owning birds can be somewhat high maintenance and thus is not for everyone.  Before considering adding a bird to your household, one of the most important things to know is that they can be noisy.  What some see as musical and mellifluous, others may find annoying to say the least.

If you are a neat-nik and overly concerned with tidiness, know that birds can be messy.  They waste a significant amount of their food and also enjoy throwing it out of their cage.  This is not from a desire to be obstreperous but rather due to an innate genetic trait; in the wild, these traits provide food for creatures on the ground below.  Fortunately, this type of mess is fairly easy to clean up and a cage skirt, which wraps around the cage and serves as a trap, can help.

Birds are essentially wild, unlike most dogs and cats, and require handling and socialization each day in order to stay tame.  They do best with a reliable and structured routine, and some require hours of attention daily. If your schedule does not allow for this, you should reconsider whether a bird is the right pet for you.

Birds can be destructive.  Their beaks continue to grow throughout their lives and must be worn down frequently to prevent overgrowth.  As a result, birds need to chew.  The best way to prevent furniture and other items from being destroyed is to provide them with lots of toys. These need to be switched out frequently as they can get damaged quickly and birds become easily bored.  Pet stores have numerous options, but it is also fairly easy to make toys for your bird yourself.

Birds require more than just a diet of birdseed!  To keep your bird in tip-top health, be sure to feed he or she generous portions of raw fruits and vegetables every day, and be sure to wash them carefully.  In addition to providing them with key nutrients, the different tastes and textures also stimulate your bird’s mind, creating positive psychological benefits. Birds also need clean water at all times.

Birds have delicate respiratory systems, far more sensitive than humans.  Airborne toxins that can be tolerated by humans can be extremely dangerous, and sometimes fatal, to birds.  Certain cookware, containing Teflon, can give off odorless fumes that are rapidly fatal to birds.  Cigarette smoke, scented candles, wood smoke, hair spray, perfumes, cleaning products; these are just a few items that give off toxic fumes and are hazardous to birds.

Lifespan of Birds

Some birds can live a very long life.  While this is certainly a good thing, it’s important that potential owners are aware that they may have their bird around for many, many years; some large parrot species, including large cockatoos, amazons, and macaws, have very long lifespans, with 80 years being reported, and record ages of over 100. Small parrots, such as lovebirds, hanging parrots, and budgies, have shorter lifespans of up to 15–20 years.

What to Choose

The canary is a good choice for families with small children.  It stays in its cage, requires minimal interaction with its owners, and does not require a companion bird.  Finches are also good choices but do best in pairs. 

Cockatiels are friendly and affectionate, also a good choice, but are higher maintenance than canaries and finches.  They require plenty of attention, toys, time out of their cage, and are better suited for families with older children.

Parakeets, a small member of the parrot family are intelligent and social animals and enjoy the stimulation of toys and interaction with humans as well as with other parakeets. A common behavior is the chewing of material such as wood, especially for female parakeets, which comes from their nest-building instinct.

Your Bird’s Health

Most pet birds are diurnal species, rising at dawn and settling into sleep at dusk. Like people, sleep is of great importance to a bird’s health; they require between 10-12 hours of sleep each night.  Exposing companion birds to artificially long days by household lights or televisions can cause sleep deprivation, which puts your bird’s health at risk.

Owning a bird usually means seeing a vet specialist, either an avian vet or an exotic pet vet.  Exotic pets refer to any animal other than a cat, dog, or a farm animal.  These vets treat sick or injured animals but also handle preventative healthcare, which can extend the life of your bird. For assistance in locating an avian vet, consult the Association of Avian Vets website at  The AAV has more than 1700 members comprised of veterinarians, veterinary technicians, veterinary students, and allied professionals that work in private practice, colleges and universities, zoos, government, and industry. To ensure a long-term and rewarding relationship with your bird, it is important to select your pet’s health professional carefully.

With proper research, owning a companion bird can be a wonderful experience.  Do your homework first, and you will find the perfect bird or bird for you!

Jaime Stephens lives in Alexandria with her husband, John, tripod cat, OJ, and tuxedo cat, Pookie. For now, her bird companions are limited to the hummingbirds that come and enjoy their feeders each summer.


Association of Avian Veterinarians

The Spruce Pets


American Veterinary Medical Association

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