What kind of bird is right for me?
Birds are classified as “aves”. When you see the words “aviary” or “avian”, you’ll know it has something to do with birds. There are 20 orders in the class Aves and there are 8,600 species in those orders. Most of the birds kept as pets are from the orders; Psittacine and Passerine.
Members of the order Psittacine are commonly known as parrots or “hookbills” because their beaks are strong and curved. The feet are designed to grip well and have opposing toes (two toes directed forward and two toes directed backward) that allow them to manipulate food and play with items very easily and with great skill. They are the “talking birds”. Among the psittacine birds are parakeets, parrots (example African Grey Parrot and Yellow Nape Amazon Parrot), macaws (example Scarlet Macaw), cockatiels, lovebirds and cockatoos. The most important thing a potential bird owner needs to realize is that these parrots can live a very long time – 30 to 80 years – and some have lived to be close to 100 years of age! It is a considerable investment in time, when you think of having a pet that may live as long (or longer!) as the pet owner.
Budgerigar (Budgie) or parakeets are popular especially as the “first bird”. They are from Australia were they live in flocks that number in the thousands, however they have been bred in captivity for many years. Most, if not all, budgies sold in the United States as pets are captive bred. The dominant color, in the wild budgie, is green. Captive breeding and selection for certain color patterns has resulted in over 70 color classifications for parakeets. The most common colors are blue, green, and yellow color variations. They are small 35-50 grams, with a long tail. In an adult, the sex is easily determined because the cere (the area just above the beak where the nostrils or nares are located) is blue in males and pale tan to brown in females. In the wild, parakeets nest in spring and autumn, however in captivity, they nest year round. Finger-tamed birds are more expensive than untrained birds because someone has taken the time to train them. Buying a very young bird, which is easily trainable, can avoid this expense. With patience, any bird can be trained no matter what its age.
Next to the budgie, this is the most commonly kept psittacine in captivity. It is a small, very pretty bird with a long crest on its head and a long tapering tail. They make good pets and are easily trained. Cockatiels originated in Australia and New Zealand however they have been bred in captivity for a long time. Most, if not all, cockatiels sold in the United States, as pets are captive bred.
Amazon parrots are short stocky parrots with a square short tail. The over all color is green. There are many species of Amazon Parrots and they are named by their color patterns, for example, Double Yellow Head Amazon, Red Front Amazon and Yellow Nape Amazon. These birds originate from Central and South America but have been successfully bred in captivity for over 100 years. Most of the birds sold as pets here in the United States are captive raised babies, however importing (both legal and illegal) still occur. Most captive raised babies have a closed metal band on the leg. An open leg band identifies most legally imported birds with an import identification number printed on the band.
Amazons parrots tend to have a curious, clown-like personality, however as they age, many will become possessive and jealous often showing their displeasure with a sharp bite. This is typical of Yellow Napes in particular. Most amazon parrots will learn to talk, however some species are better at it than others. Yellow- Nape are the best talkers followed by the Double Yellow Head (DYH) Amazon. The DYH Amazon in general is a gentler and friendlier parrot than the Yellow Nape. There are numerous other species of amazon parrots, all with different personality types and speech capabilities.
African Grey Parrot
Another commonly kept parrot is the African Grey Parrot. As the name sounds, this is a short, stocky, gray parrot from Africa. There are two common species, the Congo (larger, lighter gray with a red tail) and the Timneh (smaller, darker gray with a maroon tail). Not all African Greys learn to talk but those that do talk, speak with a voice that is very close to that of a human. They are considered the “best” talkers of the parrot world. The younger the bird, the easier it is to teach and more likely it is to learn to talk. It is difficult to determine the age of most birds, however with African Grey Parrots, in birds less than a year of age the iris is black. The iris turns yellow in birds older than one year of age.
This very elegant bird comes from the rain forests from Central to South America. Measuring over three feet in length including the tail, they are the largest of the psittacine birds. When irritated or excited, macaws make very loud vocalizations that can be heard quite a distance away. They are very intelligent birds but tend to have a limited vocabulary. Macaws do make wonderful pets, but only for the right person. They require a lot of attention from their owners and often become very possessive of their owners. Because of their large size and great strength of their beaks, they require a very roomy and sturdy cage. These large hookbills can be very destructive and can destroy wooden cabinets or furniture in a matter of minutes if left unattended.
Cockatoos are large birds that are found in Australia and New Zealand. White is the common background color of this bird, however there are species that are pink, grey and some are solid black. All cockatoos have a crest of feathers on the top of their head that can be raised when the bird is excited or alarmed. Commonly kept species of cockatoo include the Moluccan Cockatoo (salmon pink crest), Sulfur Crested Cockatoo (yellow crest) and Umbrella Cockatoo (white crest). It was a cockatoo that starred in the TV show “Barretta”. They are not noted as good talkers but they make affectionate and loveable pets. Their feathers produce a fine powder that settles around the cage requiring daily dusting of furniture near the cage. Some people may be allergic to this feather dust.
The Eclectus parrots are also from Australia and the Solomon Islands. Unlike most of the psittacine species, there is a marked difference in the color of males vs. females. The female Eclectus is brilliantly colored shades of red and purple whereas the male is primarily bright green. These interesting birds are not good talkers but can learn a few words.
These beautiful birds are often mistaken for overgrown parakeets but its disposition will quickly change that opinion. This bird can really bite! Lovebirds are small birds with a round head and a short tail. There are many different species and colors. They rarely talk, and their natural voice is harsh and objectionable. If captured very young, they can be tamed, but are aggressive with other birds. The most commonly kept lovebird is the Peach-faced, which is green with peach cheeks.
Lories and lorikeets are beautifully colored birds from Australia. They are nectar feeders and require a specialized diet of nectar, fruits and flowers. A commercially prepared Lory diet is available. They are beautiful but messy birds. Since their diet is primarily liquid, their stools are primarily liquid. Birds fed a commercially available dry diet have a more formed stool avoiding some of the mess.
Conures resemble small macaws and are also from Central and South America. Certain species such as the Jenday and the Sun Conure, are very colorful. In general, they have loud vocalization for a small bird but have limited talking ability. They do make good pets and when hand-raised, have a friendly personality.
These are the “perching” birds or soft bills. They have one toe in back, three in front. They usually have straight bills. Commonly kept passerines are canaries and finches. These birds do not talk but many have a beautiful song and soft chatter. In general, they are small birds, do not talk are do not adjust well to frequent handling.
Canaries are from the Canary Islands, a beautiful little bird yellow to orange in color with a beautiful song (although only the males sing). They live from 6 to 16 years.
Finches are small flighty birds. There are many, many varieties of finches with colors that range from the brown and crème stripe of the Society finch to the rainbow colors of the Lady Gouldian finch. Price varies with the species and color variation with in that species. Finches are commonly housed in groups in flight cages or aviaries.
This large black, bird in the same family as the starling. These birds have excellent mimic ability and can easily learn to repeat many words, phrases and sounds. They do not tend to be as easily tamed or handled nor are they as affectionate as the psittacine birds.
Toucans are large birds with a huge, often brightly colored, bill from Central and South America. Most people are familiar with Toucans from the “Fruit Loop Cereal” commercials. These birds can be tamed as pets. Toucans eat a diet of fruits, mice and lizards. These birds require large cages with horizontal perches that allow them to hop for one to another.