So You Think You Want to Own a Bird

Meet Kiwi Chu, the third member of our little family. Hatched on March 20, 2014, and adopted on June 6, 2014. Cute, isn’t she? And so she is..until she attacks your toes..but I’m not here to bemoan Kiwi’s character flaws [..yet].

Throughout my childhood, I’d almost continuously owned one or two parakeets at a time until maybe partway through high school. My first parakeet, Henry, was this super chubby, lazy bird that hated any physical activity. While the other birds would run around and play, Henry preferred to sit still and fall asleep wherever he stood. Still, for some irrational reason, I adored this little puff-ball, and cried for no less than a week when he died.

When Michael and I first looked into bird-adoption, I thought that I’d continue with a parakeet. After all, they’re relatively inexpensive, low-maintenance, but still fun and entertaining. But then..I discovered green-cheeked conures.

During my bird-researching process, I learned that this type is the smallest of the conure family. They have grown in popularity in the pet-bird-world because of their goofy, outgoing personalities, their relatively quieter voices, and relative low maintenance. This makes them ideal for apartment-living. They are also supposedly pretty good “starter birds,” especially if you already have some experience caring for smaller birds.

The downside? It costs between $300-400, depending on where you buy it from, and if it has fancy feathers and whatnot. And that’s just the bird itself, not yet taking into account the cost of the cage, future vet visits, toys, food, the rest of your soul……….

So one of the first things to consider is this monumental cost, which initially deals a huge, heartless blow to your bank account. IS THIS TEN-INCH BALL OF FLUFF WORTH IT??!

Obviously, we decided it was, so moving on..

A lot of people think about getting a bird because they mistakenly believe that it will be less work than a dog or cat. However, taking care of a parrot definitely requires more effort than taking care of a cat, and is possibly comparable to caring for a dog [disclaimer: I have never owned a dog, so I can’t guarantee the accuracy of this statement. I’m basing it purely on conjectures and hearsay]. These are highly social animals who are very emotionally sensitive. In the wild, they live in flocks their entire lives, and so are programmed to need a lot of interaction and affection. As pets, you as their owner become their “flock,” and will need to be able to supply the attention they require. When they bond, they bond for life.

Side story: Sometime last year, Michael and I visited a bird sanctuary in Santa Barbara. While there, we learned that a lot of the parrots get abandoned because their owners did not sufficiently prepare for life with a bird. When they don’t get enough attention, the birds become depressed and commonly resort to screaming or feather-plucking, the bird-equivalent of cutting or self-harm. Before going out and buying a bird because they’re so cute and pretty, consider whether or not you’ll be able to provide for its emotional needs.

Relatively speaking, conures need less attention than some of the bigger parrots. Kiwi’s pretty happy if she gets to have quality time with us for about 30-45 minutes, at least twice a day [though preferably more]. That’s another reason why a green-cheeked conure might be a good choice if your lifestyle is busier. Of course, for all pet birds, it’s important to set boundaries with them. Teach them to entertain themselves by providing toys, and don’t give in the instant they start screaming for attention.

Lastly, parrots live insanely long lives. This can be good or bad. On the one hand, your purchase is somewhat justified because it will last for so long [the initial cost anyways]. On the other, that just means that you’re stuck with this living creature for most of your life.

To give you an idea, Kiwi will likely live 20-30 years, assuming we provide proper care and nutrition. And she’s considered a smaller parrot. The bigger it gets, the longer it lives. For example, cockatoos, macaws, and African greys can live anywhere from 70-100 years. Assuming you got the bird as a responsible adult, that means your pet is probably going to live longer than you are. Take a moment to let that sink in.

One worker at a bird store we visited told us it’s like having a three-year-old for the rest of your life.

So in addition to cost and all, you will also need to consider whether or not you can keep up with the attention and emotional investment for that many years. Kiwi will probably be with us until I’m in my mid-fifties. Wow.

Have I scared you off forever from owning a bird? Haha. Just kidding. We have now had Kiwi for a little over a year [only 29 more to go!]. It has been a gradual learning process figuring out how to live with our very noisy, clingy bird, but incredibly rewarding. She adds so much life and fun to my days as a stay-at-home housewife. And despite moments of wanting to trade her in or cook her, we still love her anyways. She’s worth the 15-minute-poop-intervals, the nibbles, the expensive vet visits, the continuous grooming trips, etc. She’s our third Chu, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.