Every day I receive the same phone call. It starts with “Hi, I read online that…”. Don’t get me wrong — the internet is an incredible source of research opportunities to aid in choosing a bird species for your family. The problem is that it can be overwhelming to sift through the misinformation and outdated resources to find the fabulous gems.
To save you some time, I have compiled the Top 5 Myths I hear every day.
Myth #1: Male birds make the best pets. Female birds are nasty and hormonal all the time.
Okay, let’s stop right there and think about this for a moment. Yes, there are some species of bird for which one gender does tend to have qualities that may make them more desirable as a pet, but it’s not always males, and the personality of individual birds holds a much higher level of importance. I strongly advise all new bird owners-to-be to open their heart to either gender, and allow their breeder to help guide them based on the traits that show through in the baby’s first 8 weeks of life.
Myth #2: If your cage is too big your bird won’t want to come out and spend time with you.
Okay, I truly understand where this myth came from: the theory behind it being that a bird with lots of space to explore in their cage will be too busy playing with their toys to want to socialize. But let’s think about this for a moment: even people with very large houses don’t want to stay inside all day every day. The same is true for your bird. Buy the biggest cage you can comfortably afford so that your bird has space to play when he/she can’t be out with you. If your bird isn’t wanting to leave the cage there may be a foundational behaviour issue to be addressed — sizing down the cage isn’t going to help.
Myth #3: Birds are really easy pets to own because they live in a cage.
Birds are not the easiest pet to keep. Are they worth the effort? In my opinion, absolutely.
Birds are living, breathing, thinking animals with a higher capacity for intelligence than we give them credit. I highly recommend scientist Irene Pepperburg’s book in which she describes her research with African Grey parrot “Alex”, the only non-human to ask the existential question: “what colour am I?”. Alex learned to recognize objects by their colour, shape and quantity, even understanding and correctly relaying the concept of “none” when asked how many objects were being presented (there was nothing in the researcher’s hand at the time). Pepperburg’s research proved that Alex’s intelligence was on par with that of a five-year-old human, and he hadn’t even reached his full potential by the time he passed away.
In addition to basic care (feeding, water, cage cleaning) birds require constant opportunities for mental and physical stimulation in order to live a fulfilling life. This can include foraging toys and games (that need to be set up by their human caregiver, and modified to present new challenges of increasing difficulty), new life experiences, and trick training. Are you willing to provide the mental and physical stimulation your bird needs?
Birds, like all pets, can be messy at times! Their cage bars and tray will be soiled, they may fling food out onto the floor, and their feathers molt every year resulting in a vacuum full of old feathers. Is this something you can comfortably manage?
Finally, finding vet care and vacation boarding for your bird can be far more challenging than locating the same resources for a dog or cat. To help you out I have compiled a list of avian veterinarians in Ontario, but even with the aid of this list you may be surprised how far you must travel for a veterinarian specializing in avian medicine. Are you willing to make that effort?
This is, in no way, designed to frighten you away from the idea of getting a bird. Birds are fantastic pets. The information I am presenting is here only to help you prepare for the committment of a bird, and give you some things to think about before deciding a pet bird is right for your home.
Myth #4: Birds bite all the time for no good reason.
Birds bite for many very valid reasons related to communication. This topic is so important to me that I wrote an entire article on the reasons birds bite (and how knowing them can help you avoid a situation where you may be bitten!). Please read it!
Myth #5: If a toy is sold in the bird aisle at a pet store it must be safe.
If a toy is sold in the bird aisle at a pet store it must be something humans will want to buy. Just like the fashion industry, home decor industry and toy industry, the pet industry exists because people are willing to spend money.
Manufacturers of pet products design pet toys to be cute and colourful, funny and otherwise endearing so that we will want them. I mean, does your dog really care if the tennis ball is yellow, blue, pink or green? Probably not. But do you? Most toys in the dog aisle are generally safe, especially because each has a disclaimer on the back recommending the dog be supervised during playtime. Bird toys, however, have no such warning. The intention is that you will buy the toy, put it in the cage, leave the house and go to work that day. Birds are very curious creatures and many will work to pick apart toys, using their feet and beak to separate thin strands of string, snap plastic parts into small pieces, and climb inside larger parts of a toy. I have heard too many horror stories of bird owners coming home to find their beloved pet’s toenail missing after becoming tangled in a long string, or worse.
Choosing toys appropriate for the size and strength of your bird’s beak, and opting for natural toys, even if they need to be ordered online from a bird specialty store (click here for my favourite Canadian bird toy store), is so important. Your bird’s beak can cut through a natural fibre in a way it cannot cut through manufactured string. In the unlikely event your bird ingests a natural toy material it’s a whole lot safer than them ingesting a sharp piece of broken plastic. You get the idea.
Also, just because a toy has a picture of your bird’s species on the packaging does not necessarily mean it has been tested, or is safe, for that species. Toy manufacturers use any stock imagery that will grab a buyer’s attention. Please be aware!