an African Grey Parrot looking right

Parrots

Parrots can make excellent pets for the entire family – if you’re willing to take on the responsibility and commit to their care. But before you dive in, there are a few things you should know about parrots and how they can fit into your family. Given enough time Parrots can figure most things out, they are social and get along with most larger family pets.

Need some color in your life, and want a pet that is not only smart, but long lived?  A Parrot could be the pet you are looking for. Birds in general are great pets because they are largely self sufficient if you don’t have a lot of time. As long as you have others to keep them company they will be OK without you always available. If you do have an abundance of time you’ll find that they love being showered with attention.

Because they are so smart, most owners will entertain themselves and the birds by giving them puzzle games.  The birds love these games because it helps them use their amazing minds, and they’re usually rewarded with treats.  The owners love these because it is a lot of fun to watch them try to figure things out to get the treat rewards.

Many different types of Parrots can mimic human speech or phrases.  You can have a lot of fun teaching them things and having conversations with them.  They’ll quickly be able to tell you what they want, making your job as the pet owner much easier knowing that they want to play, or a specific food.

Information about Parrots

  • Average Length: 10 to 26 inches
  • Colors: Gray, White, Yellow, Green and Multi-Colored
  • Grooming Needs: High
  • Good Pet: With early socialization and training, yes
  • Safe with Children: With training as their powerful beaks and loud noises can be a concern for families with children
  • Good with Other Parrots: Yes
  • Good with Other Pets: With training they can get along well with dogs and cats but not with smaller pets like mice, hamsters and guinea.
  • Suitable to live in an Apartment: Depends on the species. Some species like Cockatoos can be very loud.
  • Suitable for First-Time Pet Owners: No as they need a lot of attention.
  • Training: Training them requires building trust and being consistent.
  • Exercise Needs: High
  • Weight Gain: Normal
  • Health Concerns: They tend to have diseases like Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease (PBFD), Psittacosis, Feather Picking, Sour Crop, Avian Polyomavirus and Nutritional Deficiencies 
  • Allergies: None
  • Average Life Span: 10 to 50 years

Physical Appearance of Parrots

All parrots have a curved beak and zygodactyl feet. Zygodactyl feet means they have four toes on each foot with two pointing forward and two backward. Macaws, Cockatoos, Budgies, and all other Parrots have curved beaks and zygodactyl feet.

Parrots can come in a variety of sizes and colors. With over 350 species of parrots and their mutations, they can greatly vary in their physical appearance, size and lifespan. For example, Macaws can have a length of up to 24 inches while the Black-Capped Conures are just 10 inches long. 

African Grey is one of the most common Parrot species kept as pets. They have gray feathers on their body with some of them a lighter coloration on the edges of their feathers. There are two subspecies within the African Greys; Congo and Timneh. Congos are slightly larger and have shiny black beaks and red tail feathers. The Timneh Greys have horn-colored beaks and deep maroon tail feathers. Young African Greys look similar when they are young but the sex of the bird will be obvious after they become 18 months old. The tail feathers of males will be deep red while the females will have a silver color on the tip of tail feathers. The males also have dark coloring on the undersides of their feathers while the females have a lighter coloring. 

Another popular pet Parrot species is the Yellow Naped-Amazon. The feathers on the body have a bright green color with patches of red on the wing feathers. They get their name because of the yellow color on their nape (the back portion of their neck). Some may also have a yellow patch on the forehead and crown. Their beaks and feet can be black or gray. Both males and females look similar. 

a Yellow Naped-Amazon Parrot resting in a tree
https://crfamilypets.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/parrot-3.png

Temperament of Parrots

Parrots are social and intelligent birds. They are also playful and energetic, especially the Yellow Naped-Amazon Parrots. Most Parrot species are intelligent with the African Greys regarded as most intelligent.

Most Parrots are affectionate and tend to develop a strong bond with their owners. Some Parrots like the African Greys tend to bond closely with only one family member and may not like the company of others.

If the Parrots do not get the required attention, they may become aggressive and bite. If you get a young parrot then you should be careful during their bluffing stage. The bluffing stage is a period when you will see them biting and becoming aggressive which is due to hormonal changes when they are attaining sexual maturity. The bluffing stage is more prominent in the Yellow-Naped Amazon Parrots and typically happens when they are between 4 to 12 months of age. 

Parrots are also good at talking and mimicking speeches. Sometimes the Yellow-Naped Amazons can get too loud which can become irritating for a few owners. Parrots generally tend to be most noisy in the early morning or the evening.

Their Compatibility with Children

Parrots are social and playful birds which can make them a good pet for children. Children will enjoy watching the parrots mimic their speeches and move around the cage. At the same time, parents should be careful while letting the parrots and children interact. These birds have powerful beaks that can hurt children if they bite. Some Parrots also make loud noises and quick movements that can frighten children. 

Until you know how children will act around a pet it is always recommended that an adult always supervise the interaction to ensure there are no problems. Some Parrots, especially the African Greys, are obsessed with their human companions. This can lead to them feeling jealous of attention given to other animals or children. 

Training Parrots

Parrots are very intelligent birds which can make it easier while training them. Training is an important part of caring for your Parrots as it aids in controlling their less desirable behavior. Some Parrots can live for up to 60 years which makes training all the more important early on.

Parrot training should start early on, right after you get them home. The first step is to develop a strong bond with the bird. To do this spend a few minutes talking to them every day. After a few days, move on to giving them treats inside the cage with your hands. 

Once they are used to taking treats from your hand, you can take the Parrots out of the cage to begin training. It is best to do their training in a quiet place free from distraction so that the Parrots can focus on what you want to teach them.

Clicker training can be an effective way to encourage or prevent them from doing different behaviors. Parrots can also be trained to remember words and mimic human speeches. If you want them to do this, repeat the same words again and again, and reward them with a treat when the Parrot speaks the word or phrase.

Avoid punishing your birds for bad behavior as it can make them feel scared, and make it harder to train them. Keep the training sessions short. Even though the birds are very intelligent, they don’t have much patience. 

an African Grey Parrot on a branch next to another African Grey Parrot

Best Habitat for Parrots

Parrots are active birds and need a large cage to exercise and play. The size of the cage should be large enough to let them spread their wings without touching the edges. For the African Greys and Yellow-Naped Amazons, you’ll want a cage at least 3’L x 3’W x 3’T so that they can move around comfortably. A larger cage will be better if you have the space for it, and adding additional birds will also require a larger cage. 

If you plan to get a larger Parrot as a pet or to keep two or more parrots together then a larger cage or an aviary will be needed. 

The cage should have a large entry door so that the birds can move in and out easily. The cage bar spacing should be between ½ to ¾ inches for the Yellow Amazons and African Greys. This spacing will prevent them from getting their heads stuck between the bars.

Keep 3 to 4 perches of different sizes inside the cage. The diameter of the perches should range between half an inch to one inch. Natural wood perches are best for the birds as these are safe for them to chew on. Chewing on the perches will also help to keep their beak and nails trimmed. Avoid using perches made of sandpaper because it can hurt their feet. Do not use plastic perches because if the birds chew on it they might eat plastic bits that break off.

For substrate you can use any type of paper. Newspaper, butcher paper, paper towels and paper bags are good options. They lie flat on the cage, making it possible for you to monitor the quality of the bird’s droppings. Paper is also cheap and easy to replace. Avoid using wood chips or cedar as these can be toxic for the birds. They have a scent that can cause allergic reactions in the birds.

To keep the Parrots entertained they should have several toys inside the cage. You can keep chew toys in the cage and it will keep them occupied as well as take care of their chewing needs. Chew toys also help to keep their beaks trimmed naturally. Ladders are another good addition to the cage that allow them to play and exercise.

an African Grey Parrot squawking

Habitat Maintenance

A Parrot’s cage will be messy as they use their beaks to play with the food and chew perches. It will result in a lot of uneaten food or other waste on the substrate. The substrate should be spot cleaned every day. Regular cleanings reduce the chances of spreading infectious diseases and goes a long way towards keeping everyone healthy. 

Clean the food and water bowls daily and replace it with fresh water. If you are using a soap or disinfectant to wash the bowls, make sure they are completely dry before placing them back inside the cage.

Remove broken or damaged perches, toys and other cage parts from the cage. Rotate the toys and give new toys to the Parrots every week. It will prevent them from getting bored. The substrate should also be replaced every week.

For deep cleaning remove the bird, toys, perches and other cage parts once every week and clean the cage with a disinfectant. You can use a 3% bleach solution with a cloth to clean the cage. Carefully wipe the floors, bars and other cage parts with the cloth. Make sure the cage is completely dry and the smell of bleach has evaporated before placing the Parrots back inside the cage.

The Attention a Parrot Needs

Parrots are companion birds and need daily attention from their owners. All Parrots may not be cuddly but they do look forward to being handled by their owners. They should be given 2 hours of playtime every day and an additional 2 to 3 hours of outside cage playtime. It will help them to exercise and prevent them from getting obese.

Parrots like Yellow-Naped Amazons need social interactions to remain healthy. If they are not given the right amount of attention they can screech or become depressed. 

Depending upon the species of Parrots, they can live up to 60 years! What this means is that parrots are a lifetime commitment for their owners. If you are not ready for a lifetime pet, then you will want to rethink having parrots as a pet.

Health Issues

Common diseases found in Parrots are listed below:

Sour Crop 

The crop is a soft muscular pouch located between the mouth and stomach of the Parrots. Its function is to give storage space for food. The crop can become infected due to bacteria which can result in a complete shutdown of the crop and the food inside becoming sour. It will result in loss of appetite, diarrhea, regurgitation or vomiting. Take your bird to a vet if you see any of these signs or an overgrown crop in your Parrot. In most cases antibiotics will help to deal with the condition but sometimes surgery may be needed.

Nutritional Deficiencies

A poor diet can lead to nutritional deficiencies like Vitamin and Calcium deficiencies. It can result in illnesses like behavioral problems and reproductive disorders. Calcium deficiency is a common disease in African Greys. It can lead to a severe condition called egg-bound in which the bird is unable to pass the egg. Vitamin and mineral deficiencies can be prevented by giving the Parrots a balanced diet that consists of a mix of pellets, seeds, fruits and vegetables. They should also be given a diverse variety of fruits and vegetables. 

Parrots are also prone to becoming obese if they are given excess food. If you see your Parrot gaining weight, change their diet by reducing junk foods and treats. Adding new toys can also encourage them to do more play and exercise.

Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease (PBFD)

It is a common disease found in some parrot species. African Greys are most susceptible to having this disease. The disease results in complete loss of feathers, usually beginning from the chest and spreading to all over the body. In severe cases it can cause their immune system to become compromised and even lead to death. Younger Parrots infected with PBFD are more likely to die from the disease than older Parrots. There is no cure for the disease and it can take 2 weeks for any symptoms to show. The disease can get transmitted by contact with feathers, feces, dust or other parts of the infected parrot’s body.

a close up of an African Grey Parrots face
a Yellow Naped-Amazon Parrot facing left

Psittacosis (Chlamydiosis) 

Psittacosis is also known as parrot fever, is a bacterial disease that can infect birds, humans and other animals. The symptoms of this disease vary based on the strain of the virus but generally includes:

  • Respiratory infections like runny nose, shortness of breath and difficulty in breathing
  • Diarrhea 
  • Dehydration and excess urine
  • Eye discharge
  • Lethargy or weakness
  • Weight Loss

The virus can be excreted through the feces and nasal discharge of the birds. Contact with infected birds can also transmit the disease to humans or other animals. Parrots with any of the above symptoms should be immediately quarantined from other birds in the aviary. Human contact with them should be kept to a minimum. They should be taken to a vet as soon as possible. The vet can perform the required tests to diagnose the disease and treat them. If your bird is diagnosed with this disease and there is anyone in your family with flu-like symptoms, then immediate medical attention should be given to them. Psittacosis is treatable in humans but if delayed can become serious.

Feather Plucking 

In feather plucking the Parrots will bite or chew their feathers, resulting in rapid loss of feathers. Lack of attention can make the birds feel bored and cause them to pick their feathers. Sometimes it can also be caused by medical issues like parasites, bacterial infections or skin allergies. Improper dietary habits can also lead to feather picking. It is extremely important to take them to a vet at the first sign of feather picking. Your vet can diagnose the cause and treat them early on. 

Polyomavirus

Parrots can also get infected with Polyomavirus, a deadly infection. The virus is contracted from infected birds, their feces, dander, feather dust or cage parts. Younger birds are more susceptible to having this disease. Symptoms of Polyomavirus are:

  • Dehydration
  • Weight Loss
  • Depression
  • Change in feather quality
  • Excessive Urination
  • Swollen abdomen
  • Vomiting or Regurgitation
  • Diarrhea

In most cases the disease results in the death of the infected bird. There is a vaccine that is available for some species of Parrots. The vaccine can be given to birds of all age groups. To reduce the chances of your Parrots getting this disease, vaccinate your birds before introducing new ones to the flock. Proper hygiene practices should also be followed to reduce the amount of feces, dander or feather dust exposure. The cage should be disinfected every week to ensure it stays clean.

Bathing and Cleaning

You should bathe your parrots once every week. Bathing will help to keep their feathers clean and prevent skin allergies. You can use a handheld shower to mist them or keep a ceramic bowl filled with water inside the cage. Make sure that you never add soap to any of the water for the birds. Soap can be toxic for them, so all they need is lukewarm water and they will clean themselves.

If your Parrot enjoys bathing, you can mist them more frequently. Misting will encourage the Parrots to preen their feathers which will help them to stay clean.

If you can, try to  bathe them during the daytime. The day is warmer than at night and daytime bathing will reduce the chances that they will feel cold. If you are worried about the cold during the winter you can reduce the frequency of their baths.

Keep the Parrots in the sun or a warm location after bathing them. It will help them to get dry sooner and prevent them from getting sick. 

Trim their nails once a month. Use a bird nail clipper to cut their nails. Avoid cutting too far as you can end up cutting the blood vessels in their nails. If you accidentally cut the blood vessels, use styptic sticks to stop the bleeding.

If your Parrot has an overgrown beak then it will need to be trimmed. You can consult your vet about this, and if needed your vet will be able to trim the beak for you. Trimming a Parrots beak is nothing you should try at home. There is a large blood vessel inside and if it is accidentally cut it will be terribly uncomfortable for your bird, and make a huge mess.

a Yellow Naped-Amazon Parrot resting on the branch of a plant
bird seed

Feeding Parrots

Parrots eat a variety of seeds, fruits, nuts, plants and vegetables in the wild. Domesticated Parrots should be given a pellet diet mixed with seeds. Feeding them only seeds and nuts can result in the Parrots becoming obese as seeds have high fat-content. They also lack all the nutrition that the Parrots need.

Pellets contain fewer fats and give the Parrots a well-balanced diet. Pellets should be 75 percent of their diet. The rest of 20 to 25 percent should consist of fruits and vegetables. Treats should not make up more than about 5 percent of their diet. The Parrots need to be fed ⅓ to ½ cup of the pellet-seed mix while fruits and vegetables should not be more than ¼ cup every day. 

For fruits, you can feed them mango, melon, pomegranate and berries. Vegetables like arugula, watercress, kale, carrots, peppers and sweet potatoes can be fed to them.

Wash the fruits and vegetables carefully and chop them into small pieces before serving them to the Parrots. Any uneaten fruits and vegetables should be removed after one hour.

For treats, you can feed them nuts and fruits. If you are giving them fruits as treats make sure it is unique and not something that you always feed them. 

They should also have fresh clean water inside their cage all the time.

Related Questions:

Can Parrots be kept in pairs?

Yes, Parrots can be kept in pairs but it is recommended to keep opposite sex pairs. A male and female will get along well but the birds breeding could become a problem. Parrots kept as pairs also tend to enjoy each other’s attention and may not interact as much with their owners. Avoid keeping same sex Parrots together as they can get aggressive or fight with each other.

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