Remy, Buddy, Maggie and Betty Boop keep Tara Hurlin on her toes.
She calls her flock of birds—an African grey parrot, a red lory, a Goffin’s cockatoo and a citron-crested cockatoo—captivating, curious and humorous.
“They are quite the group,” says the 27-year-old from Traverse City, Mich. “Their intelligence always leaves me in awe, and they form bonds like no other pet I have come into contact with. They are feathered children. Especially the cockatoos—it is like having a permanent toddler in your house, temper tantrums and all.”
Like other pets, birds need care and maintenance. Though they’re less popular than dogs or cats, they require just as much time, attention and training.
And, they’re no less of a companion, says veterinarian Dr. Anthony Pilny, of the Center for Avian and Exotic Medicine in New York City.
“Bird owners want to have a little bit less traditional pet, but one that still fulfills the need of having a pet,” Pilny says. “I know people who walk their bird, travel with their bird, and want them on their shoulder. They become a companion just like any other pet.”
Bird owners often have an admiration and fascination with the winged creatures.
Others are more uniquely interested in mimicry and teaching their birds behaviors, words or songs. Whatever characteristics appeal to a person considering bird ownership, getting one shouldn’t be a fly-by-night decision.
“Try to find ways to be around birds first,” Pilny says. “Hold and visit with them.”
A certified avian specialist, Pilny recommends cockatiels for first-time bird owners.
“I think they’re the all-around perfect bird,” he says. “They’re a small size, have a great personality and they’re easy to tame. They don’t tend to be biters, and they’re good with kids.”
He steers most first-time bird owners away from large birds like macaws, a brightly colored long-tailed parrot whose lifespan can reach 100 years old.
“When a 75-year-old retires and they get a parrot, they have to make a provision for that bird,” Pilny says. “Birds are one of the most surrendered pets, especially the larger parrots.”
Birds should be kept in the largest cage “you have room for, can afford and keep clean,” Pilny says. Birds can be left uncaged and unattended, but they must be in a bird-safe room.
“If a bird is unattended, it needs to be somewhere it is safe,” he says. “A bird left unattended can disassemble a piece of furniture, destroy blinds and more. They are destructive by nature.”
And, don’t underestimate their intelligence, Pilny says. It should be respected and nurtured.
“They figure things out, but it doesn’t negate the fact that they need basic training,” he says. “They make associations the same way other pets do, too. People need to put effort into that.”