How to pick a pet bird?
December 10, 2018 8:50 AM   Subscribe

What bird would your recommend that's: 1. low maintenance; 2. friendly; and 3. quiet

I have no bird ownership experience. My spouse grew up with Budgies and Sun Conures, but hasn't had to care for a bird as an adult.

We both work full time, though between the two of us someone will work from home 1-2 days per week. We have a quiet household, with a laid back lab. I'm looking for a good "entry-level" bird for us to get. I'd appreciate any advice from the experiences of BirbFilter. Thanks!
posted by LegallyBread to Pets & Animals (17 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I think quiet is relative when it comes to birds, as most of them do make noise. Can you clarify?
posted by ancient star at 9:03 AM on December 10, 2018 [2 favorites]

No bird fits those criteria, unless you can clarify further what kind of chatter/chirp/squawking/singing you find acceptable and how much daily maintenance, care and stimulation you are willing to provide.

But based on your question, I’d say you seem to want a fish.

I have lived with dozens of species of birds spanning several genera and families, and I just don’t think you can have all three of those traits at once, sorry.
posted by SaltySalticid at 9:15 AM on December 10, 2018 [35 favorites]

Chickens, you keep them in the back yard where it doesn't matter if they make noise.
posted by aniola at 9:19 AM on December 10, 2018 [7 favorites]

Just make sure your dog doesn't eat them.
posted by aniola at 9:19 AM on December 10, 2018 [3 favorites]

Birds are pretty high maintenance, if you only get one. They are flock creatures and leaving one alone all day in a cage is cruel, even if you are home at least once or twice a week. I'd suggest getting a pair of peach faced lovebirds, you'll have to spend a lot of time with them for them to be friendly with you when they have each other, but I cannot stress enough that birds are very social, so you can want a low-maintenance pet, but a happy bird is a bird who has either a human or other bird companion at all times, which is pretty high maintenance.

The presence of the dog will stress them out, you'll want to have their cage in a room where the dog cannot go or watch them, so they have a stress-free home base. Honestly, birds and dogs or cats are not a good combination in most cases.

Source: bird owner for 25 years
posted by cakebatter at 9:21 AM on December 10, 2018 [15 favorites]

If it weren't for the dog I'd recommend a pair of doves (particularly ring-necked doves are very pretty, gentle birds and the cooing might be less of a noise issue), but they need more free-flying room I can't imagine them not being retrieved by even a usually quiet, well-behaved lab.
posted by theweasel at 9:34 AM on December 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

A properly cared-for and socialized bird is about as much work (or more) than a dog. Even with a companion bird to keep them company, they need good care and a LOT of attention from you if you want to achieve #2: friendly. Some birds will never become friendly. Some will only ever like one person. Birbs gonna birb.

'Quiet' depends on your personal noise tolerance. Having the birds in a separate room from the dog is a good idea for them feeling safe and being protected, but having the birds off in another room and not regularly interacting with you and your partner is not a good way to get them socialized.

Seconding that house birds + dogs is not a great combo. The suggestion of chickens is not a bad one, as long as you have a sturdy run the dog can't get in to. Also then you get eggs :)
posted by ananci at 9:43 AM on December 10, 2018 [4 favorites]

A pair of birds is a decent suggestion, except that they are twice as loud, twice as expensive, and you have twice as many fragile animals to care for.

Birds are loud. Pretty much any species you are going to consider is going to be loud. My budgies are loud AF, even if only one is chattering; my lovebirds can make an ear-piercing squawk; my cockatiel is the quietest of all of them, and he can definitely make himself heard. Other birds just get louder: conures, quakers, any sort of 'too or macaw are all very loud. Canaries can be loud, but they are very pleasant if you get a known good singer.

Birds are not low maintenance. They are delicate little creatures. Be prepared to get rid of all items that could have a nonstick coating. No air fresheners or scented candles or incense. Cages will need to be cleaned at least once a week. They will throw their food everywhere; the dogs might actually help with this, lol.

They will need a good deal of interaction if you have a solo bird; birds kept in pairs or groups will not be as friendly to you but will get their social needs met that way. They need ample time out of their cages (with the possible exception of canaries and finches if you have a big flight cage). And while I'm on cages: it needs to be the biggest cage you can possibly afford, with correct bar spacing.

You will not get both low maintenance and friendly. Even with my hand-raised snugglebug of a cockatiel -- frequently cited as a good beginner bird -- you get out what you put in. It does take quite a bit of work to have a friendly bird. They aren't like dogs -- birds don't usually actively seek out love from people unless they are taught this.

And the dog thing is another wrinkle; the birds need to be able to have out of cage time and time with you, and this needs to be in a room/area the dog cannot get into. All it takes is one snap -- not even a fatal bite, because the bacteria from a dog's mouth will kill a bird quickly.

Avian vets are expensive as fuck and birds are, as I may have mentioned, delicate.

I'm a third-generation crazy bird lady. I'm happy to answer any other questions you might have.
posted by fiercecupcake at 9:52 AM on December 10, 2018 [9 favorites]

Oh, and let's say you get a pair, which will honestly not be quiet, low maintenance (except socially), or usually friendly (pairs/flocks tend to bond strongly to each other and not to their humans). What if:

* one dies and the survivor refuses to eat or drink
* they get along fine for years, then suddenly are violent and require two separate cages
* they have babies

More to think about there: are you ready to buy a new cage? Supplement a laying hen? Deal with the babies? Spend a couple hundred on a vet appointment today (because birds often can't wait till tomorrow)?

Oh, and I didn't even get into the commitment you're making: even budgies, which are usually the cheapest and sold as entry-level birds, can live to 15 or so -- the oldest on record was 29. That's a much longer commitment than most people realize. Tiels often live into their 20s.
posted by fiercecupcake at 10:07 AM on December 10, 2018 [5 favorites]

You're only going to be able to get 2 out of three of your requirements I suspect with whatever bird/s you get. And you're not going to get a quiet bird. I'd avoid parrots if the bird can't come out of the cage during the day & quietness is a requirement, yes even budgies, when thinking of a parrot think of owning a small feathered 2 year old for time & effort commitment or you will need a huge aviary with lots of toys for them to destroy.

A pair or 2 pair of zebra finches in a large cage are a nice set up. A large cage for them is not as large as for much larger birds. They do make a steady amount of noise but it's usually soft peeping noise as the bonded pairs talk to each other. They will have each other to interact with and if you put lots of nests, nesting materials & little foraging toys/treats in their cage they don't really need or like too much human interaction, so you being gone all day won't bother them. What you'll get in return is a pretty hardy bird for one so small that is always doing busy doing something fun to watch, specially if you give them things to interact with. They won't need too much time investment beyond cleaning & feeding, but it's not going to be a super friendly sit on your finger & do tricks kind of bird, it's more an eat a tasty morsel through the bars of the cage out of your fingers kind of bird.

You will still have to stop using things like air fresheners, non stick pans, essential oils a lot of cleaning products etc as like all birds they have sensitive lungs. You'll also have to be careful with drafts but they are a pretty tough bird all around & a good beginners bird.

I would be very careful with birds around a lab, even a laid back one, they are bred to retrieve birds for hunters and you might be surprised how interested they'll get around a bird fluttering around.
posted by wwax at 10:09 AM on December 10, 2018 [4 favorites]

We had a pair of budgies that lived for a dozen years. The first one was friendly and well socialized because I wasn't working and spent time with it. We got the second six months later because I was going back to work and he was never as friendly as the first one. You do want to be able to let them out and fly around as well as being out so they can socialize with you.

Later we got two pair of zebra finches. Like wwax said, they can just hang out together in a large cage and be pretty happy. They are fun to watch and then gentle chirping was a cheerful noise for me. Unfortunately one got sick and we lost all four within a short amount of time.
posted by metahawk at 10:19 AM on December 10, 2018 [3 favorites]

Yeah, little finches are probably your best bet here. They're still birds, with all the attendant maintenance, and they aren't super friendly, but they're pretty quiet and fun to watch. Amazon has some amazing deals on cages -- don't buy from your big-box pet store, the markup is insane and you can easily get 4x the cage size for the price on Amazon. If you go this route, be VERY careful to note the bar spacing -- you don't want a tiny bird like a finch to get their head stuck in a cage meant for a conure.

I had canaries for years, and if you are all right with a hands-off bird that does some amazing (but still pretty quiet) singing, that'd be an OK choice. Same deal -- get an enormous cage and a lot of enrichment. Male canaries are usually fine solo. Knowing what I know now, and having had quite a range of canaries, be prepared to pay for a good singer and find a breeder who knows what they're doing. My last canary (RIP) was a red-factor American Singer, and his songs were incredible.
posted by fiercecupcake at 11:39 AM on December 10, 2018 [3 favorites]

+1 to everyone telling you about the work, upkeep and elimination of items from your household. Avian vets are indeed expensive as fuck, like fiercecupcake said and not every town has one. How far is it to the nearest vet that sees birds?

If you plan to have them out of their cage for any appreciable length of time (and you should, for non-finch pet birds) you need to ask yourself, and be really, truly honest (and being a dog owner, I know this is something you've thought about):
Are you happy with the current amount of poop in your life? Is there already too much? If yes, no birds.
If you think, "I can handle more poop, little birds make little turds, this seems reasonable to me!", let me ask you:
-Do you have pretty things that you would not like there to be poop on?
-Do you have things that can be perched/landed upon, like curtain rods, window treatments, tall bookcases, picture frames, chairs or other furniture or items with delicate fabrics or surfaces that you would not like pooped on?
Because there will be so much poop. Surprise, unexpected poop because of access to the vertical plane.
Because a healthy bird will poop every 10-30 minutes (depending on activity and size), and that's a lot of poop to deal with. And depending on their diet, it might be different colors (though usually green) and can stain. Poop-off is your friend, but it's not a stain remover and it's not safe for delicate fabrics.

If you think, "I think I can handle all of that!" let me ask you this, because being a lab owner I know this is something you've thought about:
Are you happy with the current amount of chewed-on/up things in your life? Is there already too much? If yes, no birds.
If you think, "We have a dog, and our things are already lived in with a dog, I can handle a little bird beak, this seems reasonable to me!", let me ask you:
-Do you have pretty things that you would not like there to be chewed on?
-Do you have things that can be perched/landed upon, like curtain rods, window treatments, tall bookcases, picture frames, chairs or other furniture or items with delicate fabrics or surfaces that you would not like chewed on?
Because there is potential for so much chewing. Surprise, unexpected chewing because of access to the vertical plane.

Now granted, finches and other more.. ornamental birds might not have these issues to the same degree, but if your partner is used to conures and budgies, a finch might not be enough bird, you know?

Lastly, some birds are powder down birds, which will bring a whole new layer of dust... to everything you own.
posted by ApathyGirl at 2:29 PM on December 10, 2018 [8 favorites]

On further consideration of my experience and these many good answers:

A pair of zebra finches (or domesticated variants thereof) is one of the more low-maintenance and quieter birds to own, though they will not be friendly in the sense of accepting handling, and any free-flight time will involve stress and capture nets. And they are not so much quiet as not loud; expect a constant soft chatter of ‘bee...pee, DEE?’ Etc. At best, you can learn to chirp to them and elicit response; and they will learn to not freak out when you enter a room or laugh or make any sudden move or sound.

A single male domestic Canary may be your best bet for low cost, low maintenance, and not an extremely long lifetime, if you can accept loud birdsong at any odd time. But again not generally able to be handled or ‘friendly’ in he traditional sense of dogs or parrots or cats or even some snakes (that love to cuddle).
posted by SaltySalticid at 4:14 PM on December 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

Java rice finches can be friendly if you get a young or tamed one - they are illegal to own in California though. Female canaries are relatively quiet and can be somewhat friendly. I assume your quiet preference is relative and realistic. Australian grass parakeets are relatively quiet as well but require effort to tame and encourage friendliness. If low maintenance means little human interaction, get two but get them separately at least a year apart to facilitate friendliness.
posted by txtwinkletoes at 7:35 PM on December 10, 2018

I had a parakeet that basically met those requirements. We trained him to stay in one room (uncaged) and built him a playground that he hung out on much of the time. He chirped but wasn't too loud. Our computer was in that room at the time (this was the desktop era) and he flew over to sit on our shoulders while we used it. We recorded our voices and played music for him while we were gone, and spent a good amount of time with him to keep him happy.
posted by metasarah at 7:37 PM on December 10, 2018

Thank you everyone, that was a lot of good advice! I really appreciate the Mefi community.
posted by LegallyBread at 10:26 AM on December 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

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