Oh birds!
November 28, 2012 1:22 PM   Subscribe

So we're unexpectedly in receipt of a pet bird. What do we need to know?

So there's this little green parrot, Kiwi. She's been happily living in someone's office for a good many years now, but new owners say the bird has got to go. This hopefully won't turn into a permanent situation, but somebody's got to take the bird until a permanent home is found.

Given that we already have three dogs and three cats, it'll be interesting to say the least. Luckily, we have a room that we can close off to the other animals when direct supervision is impossible, so safety from the other animals shouldn't be an issue. (hopefully they'll pay the bird no mind, but I'm planning for the worst, not the best)

We'll get advice from the present owners about feeding schedules and the like, but I really know nothing about birds. I do know this particular bird is fine venturing beyond her cage, at least when other animals aren't around. (I have a terminally cute picture of her sitting on my shoulder some years back) However, I've got little clue regarding caring for birds.

What needs to be done to make the house bird safe? I've heard that just about anything will kill them, so I'm somewhat concerned about this aspect, but fortuitously, we just had our furnace inspected and it's not spewing large volumes of carbon monoxide or anything. We do use a gas stove and oven for cooking, but the kitchen is on the other side of a poorly insulated and drafty house. What else do we need to know? Does anyone have any good resources on pet birds?

Any tips you have would be greatly appreciated. Whether this ends up being a two week thing, two month thing, or twenty year thing (I don't know how long small parrots live?) I'd like to make Kiwi's stay as pleasant and healthy as possible. Talk to me like I'm three, because I really have no clue beyond my 7th grade science teacher having had a couple of cockatiels at school, whose cage cleaning duties I had to attend to a couple of times. I don't even know what temperature they need to be kept at.

Sorry for the rambly style. I really have no idea, so I don't even know what information is relevant or what I don't know. There's lots of unknown unknowns for me here.
posted by wierdo to Pets & Animals (31 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
To be blunt: Why are you taking the bird? Parrots have specific needs, and depending on the species may develop strong bonds and emotional issues. This is not an undertaking to be taken lightly. Do you even know what species you are dealing with?

Is there a parrot club or other avian society near you? They may be better equipped to handle this.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 1:28 PM on November 28, 2012 [4 favorites]

Whoa. I have a friend who rescues parrots. Taking a pet parrot is not at all like owning another kind of pet. Parrots have massive special needs, and they live 100 years, and it's really easy to screw them up so badly that no owner will ever be able to tame them properly. My friend spends at least 3-4 hours a day with her birds.

Don't take it. Seriously. You're in for a world of hurt. Find an avian rescue center.
posted by zug at 1:30 PM on November 28, 2012 [11 favorites]

Do you have a picture of Kiwi you can share? That might help. 'Parrot' can mean a lot of different birds, and the scenario will be very different for a Pacific Parrotlet and a Jardine, for instance.

On another reading - You have some serious issues right away. Cat saliva is generally immediately toxic to birds, and closing off a parrot from the rest of the family all day in a separate room is really bad news for a social animal.

Please, please, reconsider.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 1:34 PM on November 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

I don't think this is a complete no-go for you, but keep in mind my first red flag was that you'd have to keep the bird in a room where the other animals couldn't go. Parrots are sociable animals, and they need to be around you, because you're their flock. A bird won't be happy off in a room by itself.

I will agree that this is not like taking in a cat or even a dog -- birds are definitely more difficult in many ways. If you're not sure what kind of bird Kiwi is, perhaps you could post a picture?

Small parrots do live a long time (Quakers can live to 30!) and do best in a stable environment. If you change your mind and need to rehome her, bear this in mind.

Immediate fixes? No scented products (air fresheners, candles, incense); no nonstick pans (the coating can give off a gas when overheated that kills birds); no avocado or chocolate.
posted by fiercecupcake at 1:37 PM on November 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

Is this a parakeet or an African gray? Having a "parrot" ranges from being like having a flying mouse to having a ten year old that can easily bite your finger off. The very omission of this detail makes me concerned. You may well be able to handle this, but many of these guys are thinking creatures that it's all to easy to really screw up.
posted by cmoj at 1:38 PM on November 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

not all "parrots" are OMG special needs and live for 100 years. It could be budgie. The first step would be to establish exactly what it is. There are 372 species of parrot and many of them can be small and green.
posted by missmagenta at 1:41 PM on November 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

If no picture, can you give us a rough description:

- Length of body?
- Long thin tail or short and wide?
- Beak shape? Like an eagle, or like a lovebird?
- Distinguishing marks, like rings around the neck or colour patches around the eye/beak/wingtips?
posted by WinnipegDragon at 1:45 PM on November 28, 2012

Best answer: I agree with fiercecupcake - no scented products, no teflon. Also, be careful with cleaning products - birds are really sensitive to chemicals.

I would also make sure you're not placing the bird next to a draft - I have a parrotlet, and she used to live next to a window, until she caught a cold that way due to the draft. I also try to keep my house no lower than 65 in the winter, because she can't get too cold - I imagine that would depend on the type of parrot she is, though.

Also - does the bird get covered at night now? I think my parrotlet needs 12-14 hours of darkness, and if the room she is in has light in it, she gets really cranky at night, because it disturbs her sleep.
posted by needlegrrl at 1:56 PM on November 28, 2012

missmagenta - That's fair. In my experience, most laypeople don't call budgies "parrots", but given that the OP seems fairly unknowledgeable about birds, perhaps it is a parakeet or a budgie or something simple to take care of.

My brain immediately went to something like "blue-fronted Amazon" and was very concerned, but that may not be the case at all. OP, if you can provide a picture and/or a description, that would help greatly.
posted by zug at 2:00 PM on November 28, 2012

Best answer: Closing the bird in another room is not a good idea. We have cats and a tiny parrot. Parrot gets a lot of supervised time out of the cage. But we have his cage in the living room where he can hang out with us even when he's inside. He gets a lot of interaction throughout the day. Even when we aren't home, he can see the world going by out the front window and he likes to chatter at the cats.

It's true that birds are a special kind of pet, the way they form attachments and need regular interaction with their "flock." In all honesty, I wasn't prepared for just how much he would need when we got ours, and if I had *really* realized, I'm not sure I'd have brought him home. But he is a goofy guy and a spirited addition to the family. Makes going on vacation tough because he needs more care than most people want to give him.

Obviously, this bird needs to go somewhere, but if you aren't at least pretty sure you can give her what she needs, try to find something for her as soon as possible.

With regards to safety and feeding and such... I try to keep a fume-free home, and non-stick pans can be toxic. There's a list of foods that are toxic to parrots (here. Depends on the breed, but feeding birds different stuff is fun for everyone. He doesn't get it often, but our bird would kill me for yogurt, and rice crispies. We eat pretty clean, so I let him taste just about anything I'm eating. Besides that, when the bird is out, it's like having a toddler, they're curious and into everything, just keep an eye out. Notorious issues for us: decorative stuff on clothing, and jewelry, he pulled the sequins off one of my daughter's shirts, and he nearly pulled an earring out once.
posted by upatree at 2:03 PM on November 28, 2012

That wasn't meant as a personal attack on you ;) I agree that the bird would probably be better with experienced bird handlers... who don't have lots of dogs and cats!
posted by missmagenta at 2:13 PM on November 28, 2012

Response by poster: FYI, the separate room is where I spend most of the day, and this parrot isn't exactly new to the world. The point was that during unsupervised time, Kiwi won't around the other animals. It's more like a flying mouse and it's lived in an office environment its entire life so far. We're taking it because the present owners can't find anyone else to take him/her. My SO used to consult for them and developed a pretty good bond, but it's been a couple of years since she's been out there.

I've been informed that it's a Cinnamon Green Cheek Conure, which wikipedia tells me is a parakeet?

(and I say it because I don't know if Kiwi is a she or a he)
posted by wierdo at 2:17 PM on November 28, 2012

Meh. My sister's conure chased the German shepherds and the cats around...by running at them. Trust me, they didn't want to be caught. That thing could bite.

My best advice to you is back issues of Bird Talk from the library. Less hysterical shrieking and judginess as you do some reading up.

Birds are very social, fwiw, so I think he'd love to hang out with you in the room where you spend most of your time. Definitely seconding the word on drafts, and I would keep the wings clipped. They can escape in the weirdest ways when you least expect it.
posted by thelastcamel at 2:23 PM on November 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: OK, I had to say something to counter some of the well-meaning caution upthread. I used to host a green cheeked conure named Kiwi (really!) for weeks on end as a teenager, while her owner traveled abroad. She had her own cage and outside perch, and that is really about it.

She was the easiest pet I have ever cared for. She was potty trained, mellow, fun, and loved to sit on my head when I played piano (I think she snoozed up there, but never could tell...). Once a week, I'd run the shower for her at luke-warm, and let her bathe for 10 or so minutes. She would come out about 50% smaller, until her feathers fluffed up again. That was really about it - very low-maintenance and very affectionate. Oh, and she could say one word: "bird!"
posted by Atrahasis at 2:27 PM on November 28, 2012 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Bird owner here.

Birds need not just attention, but interaction. Plan on at least an hour of direct out-of-cage, interactive play time. When the bird is in the cage, try to put her in the room that you are in the most. isolation and loneliness is cruel to a parrot no matter how big or little he is and will drive them insane, especially if they can hear the rest of the family and pets interacting with each other. Set up a light during the day and a radio to quietly play music, put lots of toys in their cage to keep them engaged and not bored.

Teflon fumes, cat saliva, chocolate, avocado and banana peels and lots of houseplants are deadly to parrots. They are very curious and will explore anything new with their beak so parrot proof places your new friend is going to explore. Keep in mind that parrots are extremely good at hiding illness, so any visible signs warrant a trip to an avian vet.

Feed them lots of fresh vegetables and grains, and a little bit of fruit and eggs in addition to their seed or pellet mix. Fresh water every day, and offer a stream or bowl of water for a bath.

Check out a parrot-owner web site or book for a basic understanding of parrot psychology for an understanding of how to deal with misbehavior or biting. Birds like to test boundaries and there are specific ways that really work in rewarding good behaviors and setting limits.

You'll be fine, just remember to give plenty of attention!! If this little birdy has been in an office around people all day and he goes to sitting in a room alone all day with no simulation or friends then he is going to be tortured, so just do anything to guard against that.

Edit: feel free to memail me after you get the bird if you want to talk about it then!
posted by cakebatter at 2:28 PM on November 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Pic from 2009.
posted by wierdo at 2:34 PM on November 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Cute! Definitely a conure.
posted by thelastcamel at 2:45 PM on November 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I would also not classify a conure as a flying rat.. they are very intelligent and can be trained in all sorts of ways, from potty training to circus tricks! The flip side is that they can also be very willfull and naughty if you allow them to push boundaries.

My cousin has a black cheeked conure and their household revolves around the bird, they love him and even take him on car trips regularly!
posted by cakebatter at 2:50 PM on November 28, 2012

One-time conure owner: a green-cheeked conure is WELL out of the flying-mouse range of the parrot bell curve. Budgies and (to a certain extent) cockatiels may be semi-cool with a sedentary, decorative cage life, but conures are really smart, very social and active, and very greedy for stimulus in the form of new things to chew and explore.

(Just to give you an idea, our nanday conure, relative to your green-cheek, did the following:
--spent hours at a time outside her cage exploring
--had her own complicated hierarchy of personal preferences for different humans,
--pinged us multiple times per hour in a pretty nuanced and expressive bird-language (different cries for base-touching, for affection, for anxiety, for summoning)
-- watched tirelessly for predators outside the window, and did raucous alert calls when cats appeared
-- not only sat on shoulders but cuddled and preened her 2-3 favorite people, plus begged for preening from them
-- enjoyed problem-solving, including figuring out how to unscrew the bolts from various cage toys and learning to get a peanut tied to a string by reeling it up hand-over-hand
-- had a tireless appetite for chewing, and decorated her nest-box carefully with various chewed-up pieces of household items
-- would dance and even roll over to grab the attention of passersby.

All of which is to say that if this conure has been kept in a quiet office its entire life, then it may well have adapted to an existence with minimal stimulation and exploration-- but that'd be in a miserable, Count-of-Monte-Cristo, crazy-solitary-confinement-prisoner kind of way, not in any fashion that's healthy or natural for the bird. If you're adopting it, I think the humane thing to do will be to think long and hard about whether you can offer it a considerably richer and happier life than the one it's been leading-- including, if necessary, helping with whatever behavioral rehab is necessary to deal with the sub-optimal life it's already led.

If you're instead looking for the bird to continue being the equivalent of a green hamster, then please please consider, as others have suggested, releasing it to an avian rescue center instead of keeping it yourself. These really are intelligent, complicated animals, and just because you can keep them with little maintenance, doesn't mean you should.
posted by Bardolph at 2:52 PM on November 28, 2012 [6 favorites]

Hi there. wierdo's SO here. I just wanted to offer a bit more info on Kiwi to help clarify/address some of the concerns.

She's a parakeet and she was given to the office by a breeder because she was born with some toes missing and couldn't be sold. I am an avid animal rescuer and would never purchase a pet. Four out of the six animals in our house came from the street and were temporary fosters that we fell in love with.

I have only spent a few weeks a year with Kiwi in the past, and unfortunately, I was not on the team last year, so I haven't actually seen Kiwi in about a year and half. However, every year I came back it took her less and less time to get used to me. We really bonded. She would spend most of the day with me and would jump off her cage and try to follow me out the door when I left for lunch. I know it will take her a bit to get used to me again, but I have no doubt that she and I will bond again as we have in the past.

She is very sweet. She rarely has accidents while on someone's shoulder or head. She lets me hold her and rub her belly, her head, etc. She likes to sleep cuddled up next to my neck. She loves to play with pieces of paper. She loves baths and donuts.

She will be in the office with wierdo all day and will get my attention in the evenings when I'm home from work. She will not be 'alone' that often. She is used to sleeping in the office by herself everynight from 5pm to 7am so she will definitely have more interaction than that.

They contacted me about taking her because they know how much I love her and how much she loved me.

I grew up with a cockateil and we had a cat. It wasn't the madhouse that our house is now with 3 cats and 3 dogs, but I'm just saying the cat didn't poison the cockateil. Our pets are used to new pets in the house and I think will adapt easily and quickly. That being said, we are expecting to have to be extra careful to ensure Kiwi's safety.

And yes, she does bite strangers. I'm pretty sure she would bite a cat or dog if they tried to get near her (our big dog loves to tickle/pinch the cats, but not hurt them).

I understand and appreciate everyone's concerns, but I just wanted to assure you that we are animal lovers and will love Kiwi as much as any other home would.

Also, we plan on taking her on our roadtrip to Florida for Christmas. We take three weeks to drive to Florida and back every year and bring the three dogs. Kiwi will join them and my parents and sisters will also love to dote on her when we're there.

Thank you again for all your input - we really do need the help. I hope this helps reduce some fo the concerns for Kiwi's wellbeing and happiness.
posted by Georgia Is All Out Of Smokes at 3:12 PM on November 28, 2012 [4 favorites]

Oh, so cute, thank you for the photo! I also have a green cheek conure. Maybe I should have said some good things about having him (also, I say he the way you say she)? He's super funny and while he doesn't say human words, he's a good mimic of sounds and it's always funny to see what he picks up. His favorites right now: the sound of the shower being turned on, the neighbor's dog barking, me yelling for my daughter (he doesn't say her name, but mimics my speech rhythm and pitch perfectly), he chuckles whenever anyone laughs and lately he sort of grunts when one of the cat walks around meowing. His favorite fruit is raspberries and he looks like he's been in a war after eating them. When I want him back in his cage and he doesn't want to go, I put half an almond in his food dish and he can't resist, he goes in after. He loves to play the pond "game" on my ipad, especially if we get out a dragonfly. He sleeps in my hand, which is very sweet. He likes to groom my eyebrows and my husband's beard. He gets really really pissed off if he can hear us having fun in a room where he can't see us and will squawk very very loudly until he can see us again. He loves to be groomed when he's molting, but he bites really hard if you accidentally pull or pinch in a way he doesn't like. He likes to sit on heads, but has never once pooped in anyone's hair. In fact, when he's on our shoulders, he does his best to not poop on us at all, he hangs off the side and leans his butt waaaay out and tries to hit the floor. He is a tiny tiny parrot with a huge personality. She won't like being in a room alone if she knows you're home. We have a big stand thingy to put the bird cage on in the living room, so he can be in here and the cats can't get to him.
posted by upatree at 3:34 PM on November 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

(And to add to upatree's great account: yes, birds can be a lot of work and can be very demanding, but there's definitely a return on investment. I say this looking at my two very silly budgies. My family's always had psittacines of one kind or another, and one thing I can say is that they have definitely got personality! Think of this as adopting another family member, which it sounds like you already do, and you'll be on the right track.)
posted by fiercecupcake at 3:39 PM on November 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: thanks for the update Georgia - it sounds like you guys will give the little dude a lot of love. Having a separate room for her where she'll have company for most of the day, and quiet at night should actually be really good for her.

Birds love chewing on things, so you will need to be careful about what she can get to - electrical cords are particularly exciting for birds, so they all have to be covered or hidden. Be sure to provide her with lots of interesting bird-safe toys to chew, so she doesn't get bored and chew up your stuff. Since you have other animals, any areas outside of the room she will be living in will have to be considered "not bird safe" My house is like this too - my guys get the run of one room, but are not allowed to fly freely in the rest of the house. Of course, they totally want to, and will try to follow me out when I leave the room. My trick to prevent accidents is this - I have a light curtaing hanging in the doorway to that room, so that when I leave, I get behind the curtain, then open the door. That way there is never an open doorway that they can just swoop through if they want to explore. also prevents any nasty closing-a-door-on-a-bird accidents.

good luck and feel free to memail me with any questions
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 4:20 PM on November 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

You sound like you will be a great bird owner from your update!

Just to clarify, the cat saliva isn't some latent thing, but just in the case that the cats do take a swipe or get a little playful, it only takes once. One of our birds, a budgie, escaped last year, and the neighbors cat gave her a nibble. She had to spend three days at the bird hospital and barely made it because just the exposure to cat specific bacterias in one little bite made her blood septic in 48 hours. She wasn't injured, just one little scratch.

So that is the cat concern.
posted by cakebatter at 5:02 PM on November 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Okay a conure is like a mini-parrot but they are not on the level of an Amazon or Macaw. Still they are intelligent, will bond and need a ton of interaction.

Just ask yourself if you are going to be the forever home for this bird. If so, press on and start learning. If not, I still think you should consider an avian rescue.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 5:31 PM on November 28, 2012

I have been contemplating getting a parrot, or a smaller bird such as a conure or parrotlet. I've been contemplating it for 22 years.

I'm still not 100% sure I'm ready for the commitment. Unlike a lot of other animals, it can be harmful to these wonderful creatures to try to care for them and fail.

Don't rush into anything.
posted by Protocols of the Elders of Sockpuppetry at 6:43 PM on November 28, 2012

Someone's probably already sad this but they're very sensitive to gas, smoke, fumes, etc. so the kitchen isn't the best room. I wonder if separating it from the other animals might increase its appeal for them, as opposed to introducing it as a new member of the family and integrating it into the rhythms of the household.
posted by Mertonian at 11:47 PM on November 28, 2012

Best answer: Sorry if some of the initial responses read as harsh-- your follow-ups really clarified that you're interested in giving the bird a decent quality of life, so that's great!

The best new-parrot-owner advice I can think of is to try to be as observant as you can of your bird's body language. Even though parrots are harder to observe than dogs (being smaller and covered in feathers and all), they have the same kind of nuanced, expressive body language, and getting to know that will go a long way toward helping you understand what your bird is game for and how best to interact with it at any given moment.

The set of the feathers (held close to the body vs. puffed out, and on which parts of the bird) and body posture are good initial things to try to watch. IME, for instance, soft ruffly feathers on the head, neck and body of a conure are a sign of relaxation and cudde-openness, EXCEPT if the body is held very stiff and erect, with wings slightly away from the sides-- which is a threat and pre-biting display; feathers held close and sleek, with the head slightly bent, signify anxiety, and relaxed head/relatively sleek body generally means intellectual interest, like solving a puzzle or contemplating biting into something new. Conures also pinpoint their pupils to demonstrate emotion; ours did it when she was thinking really hard, or when she was extremely angry about something.

I'm sure your bird will have its own little body-language quirks, but just as with dogs, learning to tell the difference between (for instance) a frightened parrot and a playful one is likely to streamline your interactions quite a bit, as well as potentially saving you some nips. I never saw a bird that bit without first signalling loud and clear I AM NOT COMFORTABLE WITH THIS PLEASE GO AWAY.
posted by Bardolph at 9:38 AM on November 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Thanks everyone. I appreciate all your tips/advice/concerns.

We pick her up tomorrow and I am SUPER excited and anxious for her to get home.

I really do love her a lot. I was always heartbroken when I had to leave her in the past and longed to be with her. So I think this is serendipitous.

Yay for our new family member!
posted by Georgia Is All Out Of Smokes at 1:00 PM on November 29, 2012

pictures, please!
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 3:23 AM on November 30, 2012

Response by poster: Of what, my bloody hands or Kiwi?

Actually, Kiwi and G are getting along very well, almost as if they hadn't just gone a year and a half or whatever without seeing each other. He doesn't like me so much, but he does tolerate me moving him around on other things, so I can get him in and out of his cage and such. Pretty good for less than 24 hours, I think.
posted by wierdo at 12:58 PM on December 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

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