Need recommendations on buying a parrot
January 19, 2006 10:08 AM   Subscribe

I'm thinking of buying a parrot, and I'm leaning towards a White-Bellied Caique. Does anyone own this type of bird? Can they recommend it?

I'm looking for a bird that's not too loud, not too big, likes people, and would be good around a family. Talking is nice, but really not that important. I had originally been thinking of an African Grey, but I've heard that while they're excellent talkers, they're not crazy about being handled. Cockatoos seem very friendly and affectionate, but they're way too loud. Macaws are beautiful, but they're huge and need an enormous cage. I know no bird is going to be perfect, but from what I've seen/read, it looks like the Caique is a pretty good fit.

I saw several baby Caiques at the Marc Morrone's pet store, and they seem great. The store's prices are really expensive, but it's local, and I can pick out the bird myself right now. I also looked up some breeders online, and their prices are much lower. But if I buy through them, I have to put my name on a list and wait for a bird to become available, which could be a couple of months. And since they're all out of state, the bird gets picked out by someone else, boxed up, and shipped to me, which seems like a lot of stress on the little guy.

Other than cost, is there any difference going through a pet store vs. a breeder? And is this a good bird to buy? This is a lot of money to spend, and the bird could live 40+ years, so I want to make sure I do this right.
posted by Gamblor to Pets & Animals (12 answers total)
I have no experience with white-bellied caiques, but I can heartily recommend a conure -- there are many types. They are small, pretty quiet, affectionate, spunky, and can be taught to speak.

With any bird, however, I'd recommend breeders over pet stores. The birds are more likely to have been hand reared and socialized.

I couldn't find any great links, but here's a good one.
posted by pmbuko at 10:31 AM on January 19, 2006

I researched this about a year ago pretty extensively. Couple things you need to know:

1) All parrots are noisy. Some less noisy than others. pmbuko recommends conures. Green-cheeked and Blue-crowns are a little quieter than others, generally. But all conures (especially suns and jendays) are noisy.

2) Caiques are damn cool little birds. If they're socialized properly they are darling little clowns who love to be handled. As I recall, they don't talk much - I fell in love with one and eventually opted not to go with a bird at all because my existing pet situation (3 cats, 2 dogs at the time) did not lend itself well. I just didn't feel I could give the bird a good home. They're relatively quiet for parrots. Consider also that the bird's behavior may change as it reaches sexual maturity. Some breeds of parrot are known to chronically masturbate. I'm not kidding.

3) All parrots need lots of attention. They want to be around you a lot.

4) Breeder over pet store. I would make certain exceptions - there is a pet store here in Dallas which specializes in parrots with a very knowledgeable staff and owner. But usually a breeder is a better bet.

Keep in mind that there is the cost of the bird, yes, but there is also the cost of cage, food, toys, and well-bird-check with a vet who does birds. That can run you on average of $150-300.

Search on some of the caique enthusiast sites. There's plenty of information out there.
posted by TeamBilly at 11:17 AM on January 19, 2006

Have you had birds as pets before? Have you talked to many people who do? You need to consider how you and other family members feel about guano on themselves, their clothes, the furniture and the floors, as well as bird dust and seeds sprinkled liberally about. Further, keeping a beast who would by nature prefer to be flying through the trees, in a cage or at best loose in a house may begin to feel unkind. And the beast itself may grow to let you know how it feels about being pent up this way by way of shrieks and nips, no matter how docile it starts out.
posted by fish tick at 11:19 AM on January 19, 2006

I would highly recommend that you pick up a copy of The Guide To The Well-Behaved Parrot, which has excellent information for existing and prospective bird owners.

Good luck. I wish I could own a bird right now, but I really can't swing the cost and lifestyle changes that one would require. They are manifold.
posted by TeamBilly at 11:31 AM on January 19, 2006

PLEASE BE SURE! They live a long time and are smart and emotional creatures.

Getting a parrot is similar to adopting a toddler for the rest of your life.
posted by SwingingJohnson1968 at 11:37 AM on January 19, 2006

Response by poster: Have you had birds as pets before?

I've had many pets before, but I've never owned a parrot. I've had finches, which is not remotely the same, I know. That's why I'm trying to put a lot of planning, thought, and research into this before I proceed.

Have you talked to many people who do?

Several friends, but I can only personally ask so many people. That's why I'm asking here.

You need to consider how you and other family members feel about guano on themselves, their clothes, the furniture and the floors, as well as bird dust and seeds sprinkled liberally about.

Are you speaking from experience? If you've had bad experiences, then please pass them along, as that's something I want to take into consideration.

Further, keeping a beast who would by nature prefer to be flying through the trees, in a cage or at best loose in a house may begin to feel unkind. And the beast itself may grow to let you know how it feels about being pent up this way by way of shrieks and nips, no matter how docile it starts out.

Certainly that sentiment could apply to most any animal kept as a pet. I don't know if it was your intention, but that comment makes it sound as if you're against keeping pets, period. I'm really not interested in debating the ethics owning pets in general terms. I love animals, I'd like to purchase a parrot, I want to take good care of it, and I want to ensure it's a good fit with my family so everyone (including the bird) will be happy.
posted by Gamblor at 11:44 AM on January 19, 2006

conures can be kinda loud, but they're so sociable and affectionate, plus they do talk which just seems really cool to me - I nearly got one once... I ended up deciding it was foolish with a cat and without a stable living situation, but they are charmers, and people say, at least, that you can train them to be more quiet. Conures are also quite a bit less expensive than Caiques from what I can see.

I would definitely choose a bird you get to hang out with first - not all of them will be equal, and you want to get one that starts off on the right foot, so to speak, because parrots are intelligent and social, and will be affected if they're unhappy - they can be quite mean if things aren't right for them. So just make sure you're ready to take on the responsibility - it is more like having a kid than almost any other pet, I would say, partly because they live so long, and partly because their nature is to rebel a little, try to push the boundaries, in a way that's not really true of dogs or cats (as a rule, anyway). They're little troublemakers.
posted by mdn at 11:49 AM on January 19, 2006

I've got 2 friends have a Grey Africans and I looked up the breed you are interested in, the White-Bellied Caique. That breed lives 30 years average.

I was fascinated by how intelligent these birds were and they told me (my friends, not the birds) that these birds require lots of devotion for decades. The Greys have the mental capacity of a 3 yr old child. Amazing pets but a huge responsibility.

Just so you know, these type birds are nothing like finches which you stated you had.

This is really a new family member similar to a child for 30+ years. And a exotic birds are not like a dog or cat. You need to have it's future planned in your will like you would a child.

Just know what your getting into.
posted by SwingingJohnson1968 at 12:06 PM on January 19, 2006

on post-view, well, swingingjohnson made my point more succinctly...
on preview, I meant the first comment; I think you sound like you are aware of what you're getting into, and you already said you knew finches were totally different.

It sounds like you are taking this seriously, and basically on the right track. If loudness is a major issue, just remember that you're kinda playing the odds - some species will be more likely to be quiet, but there's no real guarantee, so it's good to think about how you'd feel if they diverge a bit from the expected traits of their type. African Greys are probably the best bet there, but they do tend to bond to one person rather than enjoy playing with everyone. They're kinda more serious birds :) (as birds go, anyway). If being affectionate and quiet is more important to you than the ability to talk and the cost, which seems to be the case, then it looks like the Caique is good fit, and you've already spent some time with them. I was taken with the character and talking ability of the Conure, and also didn't want to spend as much as you're willing to, but they are definitely a higher risk for noise.

I think breeder vs. pet store is kind of a false dichotomy. There are bad breeders out there, and there are good pet stores, and it looks as if the one you link to is focused on birds enough to be good at taking care of and socializing them. Sending a bird to a new home across state lines etc sounds more traumatizing to me, so if you can get the history of the bird from the pet store, and they really seem to care about/ understand the animals they're selling, then I wouldn't worry too much about it not being directly from a breeder.

Good luck! let us know what (who) you go with.
posted by mdn at 12:24 PM on January 19, 2006

I sweetest bird I've ever met was a sun conure. He was very friendly with everyone and would gladly sit on a stranger's finger. I also have a friend who has a sun conure that is one of the meanest birds I've ever met. He warns people who enter his house to keep their distance from the bird and that they may be subject to attack. Also, depending which bird you get, he quite possibly may outlive you.
posted by wsg at 12:25 PM on January 19, 2006

We've had various small parrot-type birds, though no big ones. In my experience the worst part (apart from guano, dust, noise and everything getting chewed) is the bird's dependence on having company, close company, all the time. None of the parrotish birds we've had were happy by themselves -- they'd get morose and nasty and sometimes very noisy if they were alone.

You'll be taking on a long-term dependent ... which can be fun for a while of course.

Thankfully our last bird (a very sweet cockatiel) flew off a couple of years ago, and has been replaced by a cuddlier, less troublesome dog.
posted by anadem at 2:45 PM on January 19, 2006

Conures can be fine, or they can be loud and vicious. Not all are, but my grandfather hand-raised a sun conure who turned out to be awful on both counts. When the sun conure died, my grandfather got -- wait for it! -- a white-bellied (aka yellow-thighed) caique.

Caiques cannot speak. It's not that they don't like to; they're physically not set up for it, from what I understand. But they do whistle, screech, and make other sounds, and they do so pretty frequently. They're smart -- they can obey commands ("go to potty" is my grandfather's favorite trick), and they associate sounds of their own with certain things/people/actions (my grandfather's whistles yoo-hoo to call for him, makes a certain screech for eagles overhead and a different screech for ground predators, and so on).

Thing is, caiques need a lot of attention. This is not a bird like a finch that you can put in a cage in the kitchen. A caique should be out of his cage, and preferably interacting with someone or playing with toys he's given, every minute he's not asleep. If there's a chance your kids are going to get bored in a month or two, this is not the bird for you. Caiques are smart and interested in everything, and they can get bored -- and when they do, they can act mean or petty.

Now, my grandfather is retired and has no life beyond his bird, but he takes the bird to the drugstore with him -- it goes everywhere except restaurants. Caiques will be happy sitting on your shoulder or your head, or hanging onto your shirtfront. You're your bird's flock, and he wants to hang out with you! I would not get a caique unless I, or someone else in the household it liked, was able to be with it for an enormous part of every day. If you and your other household members have nine-to-five jobs, this isn't the bird for you.

Remember when I said caiques were intelligent and interested in everything? They are. And although this makes them very entertaining pets, it makes them get into places they shouldn't. Since you're going to be leaving him out of a cage, but probably on a stand (right?), you can either trim his flight feathers and birdproof everything he can walk and jump to, or you can leave him unclipped and birdproof everything. It's a chore either way, and some people don't approve of trimming. But it's important to be especially careful when birdproofing -- all birds can get where you think they can't, but caiques are especially good at it.

Pet store birds can be problematic. If someone's been cruel to them, even just a handler they only saw briefly, they often remember it all their lives -- my grandfather's bird is terrified of my father, who has a distinctive look. Also, although I know nothing about the linked pet store, it's very important to be aware of the source of pet-store birds -- you don't want captures. (Anyway, I don't see that he's selling caiques...?) Probably the ideal would be to buy from a breeder, and for you to take the time to go out of state, choose the bird if possible, and transport it home yourself. Be aware that as a baby, the bird will need even more care and attention than it will as an adult -- you'll probably have to feed it by syringe for awhile, and that can be a serious project.

There are lots of specifics -- diet, perches, toys, nighttime setup -- that I could go into, but I don't see why. There are tons of websites and books, and even a caique magazine, if I'm remembering my grandfather's coffee table correctly. If you have any questions I didn't address, asking is cool -- I spent a ton of time with this caique -- I'm the designated heir if the bird outlives my grandfather -- and I think I know most stuff about it.
posted by booksandlibretti at 3:01 PM on January 19, 2006

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