Starter Birds

Posted by Bird Tricks on

A questions that we often hear at BirdTricks is: “what is a good first bird to get?”. It’s a difficult question and one that I answer reluctantly. I will try to offer my opinion…

First, I want to say that I don’t really believe in “starter” birds. It is often said that a smaller bird is more suitable for the first time owner. I don’t entirely agree.

All birds are created equally. There is no one species of parrot that requires less care or commitment than the others. Every single species needs the same considerations to health and diet, enrichment and attention. In this regard, there is no difference between a budgie or a hyacinth macaw. Basic care requirements are not minimized because a parrot is smaller.

You might ask yourself why a larger bird is more appealing to you. Believe me when I tell you that a smaller bird is every bit the parrot that a larger bird is.They are as intelligent, interactive and demanding  – they just come in a smaller, less intrusive package. A larger parrot is not a better parrot.

There are, however, significant logistical differences in the ownership of larger vs smaller birds to consider. Size is very relevant in the following areas:

Vocalization: It only makes sense that the larger the bird, the louder the voice. If your hearing is sensitive, or if you have nearby neighbors that own shotguns, you might reconsider getting a larger parrot (check THIS out).

Biting: As a new owner, you will find yourself at a disadvantage when it comes to adeptly reading your bird’s body language. If you harbor a fear of being bitten, and chances are you will be at some point, a smaller bird might be right for you. Birds can sense apprehension and some will use it to intimidate and manipulate you.

Housing: Do you have the space in your living room for a cage that is 3 or 4 times the size of your refrigerator? Don’t forget about the play stand.

Damage: The bigger the bird, the bigger the beak, the bigger the holes in your shirts/furniture/carpeting/doorways…

Certainly, there are species that are correctly defined as high maintenance, either behaviorally or in their special needs. For instance:

  • The Lory owner needs to be well educated about their unique diet and will need to find creative solutions to the “messes” they make because of their nectar-based diet. They don’t so much poop as squirt and the wall behind the cage will not fare well. Nor will closely placed furniture, or the floor, for that matter.
  • The African grey can be overly sensitive to its environment, can be phobic, and will mimic every sound emitted in your household. This can be endearing, annoying and/or embarrassing. Dad will have to stop swearing like a sailor and couples will not want to keep their African grey’s cage in their bedroom. (A discovery some friends made when their bird replayed the audio portion of the night before in the presence of their dinner guests.)
  • Then there’s the cockatoo who might be best served by an owner that has some serious experience in parenting, as they require someone who is adept at dispensing tough love to keep them from developing bad habits. Cockatoos always seem to be wanting things that are not good for them.They are constantly seeking attention. Sometimes you must deny them and it is difficult not to give in at times. It’s easy to make mistakes with them and many should have the number of a local rescue tattooed under their wing.(Some will simply come with the number 666.) Cockatoos are my favorite species, but this is a bird that I really think belongs in the hands of an experienced bird person.

In the end, the answer to the question of which bird to get is more related to the person considering parrot ownership than it is to any parrot species. It boils down to what kind of potential bird owner you are, what your circumstances allow for and how tolerant you are to the behaviors that certain species are famous for. There is no patented “right” first bird.

I have watched people who wanted a macaw as a first bird do the “responsible” thing and start with small birds, eventually graduate to a medium sized birds, and finally get their macaw. The result is a house full of birds, all needing attention, when all they wanted originally was a single macaw to dote on. I think that people should get the bird they want, but ONLY when certain, beyond a doubt, that they are up to the challenge. Many new owners do very well with a large first bird. I have also seen people fail miserably with cockatiels, who are known for their friendly and compliant natures.

Know what you are getting into. Exhaustively research any species you are considering. Understand that ANY bird will be a huge, long-term commitment. Most importantly, be brutally honest about your limitations as a potential bird owner and don’t go for a bird that you aren’t able to give 100% to.

 Author Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.


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35 comments

  • What a great article. I’ve been doing exhaustive research and realized that I want the bird that I want, not the one that everyone thinks I should get.

    Aman on
  • I think it depends on the person and their lifestyle, present and future. My first and only bird is my eclectus. As long as you do your research and can make the huge commitment, a larger parrot shouldn’t be a problem.

    sarah on
  • My first bird of my own was a cockatiel, shortly after that purchase I bought a peach face, and then my Corella. I really wanted a larger bird, or as I say something I can cuddle, and my Cooper fits the bill perfectly, he is a giant snuggle birdie who loves to cuddle up under mom’s chin more than anything else in the world… Even his toys and destructiveness will stop immediately when I come in for a snuggle. I don’t think that there is any “right” bird to start with. I think it comes down to personal preferences and what a person is willing to do. Smaller birds require just as much time, and attention as the larger birds do. And regardless of the size of the bird, they can all take a nice chunk out of your hand.

    My little cockatiel was attacked by a neighbors dog and when my husband rescued her from the labs mouth he was attacked by her. She took a nice hefty chunk out of my husbands hand and he has the scars to proof it. You wouldn’t think such a small bird could do so much damage.

    side note She is fine, but it was a very scary situation, she escaped from her cage, and the lab grabbed her. Luckily they have soft mouths, and he wasn’t trying to kill just capture and return. If you have outside cages be sure to ALWAYS keep them locked with bird proof locks… It seems even a little cockatiel can figure out the locking mechanism on some of these cages…

    Christina on
  • I was about 8 when I got my first bird. My Mom got me a budgie, cage seed, grass cups, cuttle bone, and that paper with the grit glued to it, and bird grit. Hey it was back in the 60’s so don’t yell at me. We named him Petey. He was just the first of many. I could list the reasons why we lost most of them but I won’t. Some were accidents, Some were due to early ignorance. But all were loved. The only bird I got that I learned to hate was the conure I got when I was pregnant. It was not tame. I had twins, and every time I went near the bird it would scream and wake the twins. I took it to a pet shop. It was a very stressful year. having twins, and loosing my Dad. Plus Both sets of parents moved away. I just could not deal. That was still early bird years. Still didn’t know what we know now. My next bird was a tiel. Then I had more tiels. They are great birds. pretty, friendly and the kids could hold them with out fear of getting bit. Loved the tiels. Now I have a U2, and a Hawkhead. My oldest has a Peach front conure, and 2 parrotlets. My youngest has some tiels and a budgie, and a B&G macaw. We have learned a lot. Its no longer feeding birds seed like in the 60’s. I cook and freeze a mash of veggies, legumes, pasta, grains, etc. and then they also get fruit and fresh veggies as well every day, with nuts and a small amount of seed mix and pellets. and toys tons of toys. They are the kids now. And unlike when I got the budgies the first conure and the tiels. after that, joined a bird club, subscribed to the now defunked Bird Talk, and were the Halkhead is concerned. found a Hawkhead group on Yahoo. They gave me the best info on that breed of bird. Bird Talk did not like Hawkhead parrots. They said very little about them but it was all negative. Which is very wrong. They are not that bad bird they make them out to be. They are like a cross between an Amazon and a Macaw. Unless you decide to breed them. Then you have a velociraptor. This is a great group of people. they helped me get Duncan, My Hawkhead Parrot. They put me in touch with some one who had some babies they were selling and when the time was right, I sent the bank check and they sent my baby.
    Now if I could just get my sweety Sammy (my U2) to get along with my Duncan. Sammy doesn’t like to get along with any one. He doesn’t like to share me.

    Candace Rocha on
  • Some birds are easier to care for than others. Within a species there are still personality differences. There are the physical requirements for a bird, large birds – large cages, Lories – mess, some birds are very noisy and so on. Be sure to consider these. Given the time requirements I don’t see myself owning more than one bird. I don’t know if I could pick a starter bird. There are many good choices, do some research, figure out the time commitment – it’s more than you realize. Your bird will be your companion.

    Michael Cerda on

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