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So you want a parrot?

Friends-Romans-Countrymen, Parrots

It’s been a while since I last posted, and because I get asked about them a lot, I thought I’d do a little run-down on what the financial and personal costs are to owning a parrot.  Now, i have two large parrots, a blue and gold macaw, and a Congo African grey.  Some of the costs are lower if you are thinking about smaller parrots like budgies, cockatiels, lovebirds, etc.  Some of the costs.  Not all the costs are lower.

Step 1: The Commitment

Financial issues are not the most important thing to remember about owning a parrot.  The first and most important thing to remember and understand is the commitment.  Parrots aren’t like dogs or cats.  To put it bluntly, parrots live forever.  An old dog is 20 (15 for a large dog).  An old cat is 25.  An old macaw is 70. An old cockatoo might be 100. Budgies and cockatiels live to be 20-30.  It’s important to understand that up front.  When you take on a parrot, it’s basically a level of commitment like getting married.  It’s for the rest of your life.  This is really, really important if you want to get a very young parrot.  In some fora I have posted this formula to help you decide if you can get a young parrot:

80 your age now = maximum usual lifespan of parrot species you can safely get.

So, if you are 20 years old, you’re probably good for a Senegal parrot (50+ years), or maybe a macaw (60+ years), or the small parrots.  The big cockatoos, realistically, are out of the question – the bird is going to outlive you, and probably by a lot.  You can read about typical lifespans here.

If you’re 50 years old and looking for a critter to keep you company into your retirement, you’re pretty much limited to budgies and cockatiels, maybe lovebirds.  Why?  Because if you buy a baby macaw now, you’re going to be 70 when the bird hits adult life, and you will be in the grave before that bird gets old.  That’s not really fair to the bird is it?  Who is going to care for the bird when you are gone?  Will they give it a good home?

What often happens, of course, is that these birds end up at rescues and shelters.  I *strongly* recommend that someone looking to acquire a parrot companion adopt a bird from a shelter.  These birds are lonely, and they want a human companion.  Also, if you get an older bird, there’s less of a “live forever” issue.  I was 51 when I got my macaw… a macaw that is 31.  It is highly likely we will grow old together.  My grey is younger and I need to make arrangements in my will to ensure she is properly cared for.

Step 2: Baseline costs

By and large, the birds aren’t free.  If you’re buying from a breeder, expect to pay from a low of about $30 for a budgie, to a high of about $20,000 for a hyacinth macaw.  Yes, you read that correctly:  20 grand.  Most of the large birds are in the $1,000 – $3,000 range, however.  If you do buy a bird, get it from a reputable breeder.  Check with your local parrot club.  Be wary of birds being offered on Craigslist or Kijiji.  Also remember that wild-caught birds are tightly controlled, and essentially illegal now.

A better choice, IMO, would be to adopt from a shelter.  A shelter is likely to ask $500 – $1,500 in adoption fees to support the organization and cover some of the bills associated with keeping the bird in the shelter.

You’ll also need a cage for the bird.  For a large bird, like a macaw, figure about $1,200 for the cage (cage, taxes, shipping).  For smaller birds it’s less, but even a decent budgie cage is going to set you back a bit.  The cage needs to be big enough for the bird to stretch its wings.  Smaller than that is very stressful for the bird.  You’ll want some starter toys for the bird as well, perches, etc.  Figure $250 up front.

Running tally 1:  mid-range bird + cage + basic kit = $2,500

Step 3: Ongoing costs

You have your bird, you have your cage.  Now you have to maintain it all.  Parrots destroy toys.  In a few weeks all the toys you bought when you got the bird will look like they’ve been through an industrial blender.  Here in the Squid-o-Drome we budget about $100 per month for parrot toys.  You will eventually learn to buy bulk toy parts and create your own toys.  Yes, you will. I know you’re not creative or carpentry inclined, but you will learn this skill.  Trust me.

Your bird has to eat.  Seeds do not make a good diet for parrots, you are going to have to feed them a good pellet, and fresh food.  There’s lots of good articles on making “chop” for your birds.  For budgeting purposes, expect $75 a month for food.  More if you have big birds, less for small birds.

And, of course, your loving ball of fluff will need to get annual checkups – figure about $125 per bird, per year, assuming no medications are needed / illnesses detected.

Running tally 2:  Annual costs = $1,200 (toys and parts) + $900 (food) + $125 (vet, per bird) = $2,225

So, to set up and maintain a bird is about $2,500 up front and roughly $200 / month for the rest of your life.  It’s a bit less for a single small parrot, since they won’t eat as much or wreck as much stuff.

Step 4: Personal sacrifices, part 1

  • All your Teflon and PFOA non-stick cookware exits your house. One mistake and you’ve got dead birds.  There is no wiggle room on this.
  • All your harsh cleaners exit your house.  One mistake and you’ve got dead birds.  There is no wiggle room on this.
  • Smoking in the house stops before bird comes home. Tobacco/whatever smoke is very hard on birds.
  • Electrical cords near where parrots will be get armoured with conduit of some description, or they get completely covered, or moved away.
  • Parrots are prey animals and don’t do well with predator pets (dogs, cats, snakes, etc.).  Yes, there’s lots of videos of people with cats and birds or dogs and birds.  Search harder and there’s lots of video of people with cats and dead parrot, or dog and dead parrot.  It is imperative that you keep parrots separate from predator animals.
  • Medium and large parrots can be dangerous for small children, and small children are generally upsetting to parrots.  A macaw, cockatoo, Amazon, or African grey can inflict serious wounds requiring stitches or other medical attention, even on adults.  All birds bite occasionally
  • You will lose baseboards, door trim, loose papers, etc.  You have to be prepared for that.

Step 5: Personal sacrifices, part 2

Time. Time. Time.

How much time varies with the species of bird.  Here with the macaw and CAG, it’s about an hour in the morning M-F, and about 2 hours in the evening M-F.  On the weekends, it’s double that or more.  That’s about 27 hours a week directly interacting and socializing with the birds, and we don’t have particularly demanding birds like cockatoos.  It’s not looking at the bird in the cage, it’s this:

and this:

If you want a cockatoo, it’s more than 27 hours of direct cuddling.

Cleaning our parrot room is about an hour a week, and I’ll not consider the incidental cleaning (birds poop wherever it is convenient for the bird, so we have paper towels and bird-safe cleaner in basically every room).

Prepping fresh food for the birds takes about 1 hour a week the way we do it.

So, minimum 29 hours a week of your time, for the rest of your life.

Conclusion

All in, it’s $2,500 + $2,500 per year (roughly) + about 30 hours a week minimum, for the life of the bird.  That’s what you are signing up for when you’re thinking about getting a parrot.  Unlike so many other possible pets, it is such a major, long-term commitment.

Is it worth it?

I think so. So does Squidette.  We love our birds, but we went into it with knowledge about what we were going to be in for.  We didn’t just spontaneously grab some birds from a pet store.  We did research.  We read articles like this one.  It’s worth it when Skye cuddles in and purrs, or says “love you!” when we leave the room, or when Tiki puts a wayward shirt tag back inside my collar, and then steals a bite from my lunch 🙂

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