Pet Parrot Owner Guide: What To Know

Written by A-Z Animals Staff
Published: April 19, 2022
© TumCruise/Shutterstock.com

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The parrot is family to a broad order of over 350 species. It includes Amazons, lorikeets, macaws, cockatoos, and lovebirds. The beautifully colored creatures are typically located in the warmest habitats. That’s tropical islands, grasslands, rainforests, and savannas.

There are a few exceptions to the rule. The Kea parrot likes the alpine regions on the South Island of New Zealand.

The parrot spans the globe, in many regions as beloved pets. The diverse members share similar characteristics. Parrots are all zygodactyls. That means there are four toes on each foot. Two toes project forward and the other pair point backward.

RELATED: The 10 Most Beautiful Parrots in the World

To be a member of the family, a bird needs a curved beak, often called hookbills, as well as zygodactyl feet. Colors vary by species. Some parrots have numerous shades, like the lories.

Other parrots, such as Vasa parrots, only have a single or two colors. In the case of the Eclectus, the male and female look completely different.

The parrot makes great use of its beak. It’s used to pick up, manipulate and hold objects. Parrots utilize it to climb and eat.

The beaks grow constantly. Parrots use their habitats and diet to wear the beak down. Otherwise, it will overgrow. Overgrowth happens more with captive parrots. Their cages do not have the proper tools for the bird to manage its beak.

Pet owners end up needing to trim the beak manually or paying a pro to do it. You also have to keep the toenails trimmed. Too long and parrots can have difficulty managing perching.

The eyes are lateral, placed on opposite sides of the head. It gives the bird a great field of vision but creates a blind spot in front of the beak. The eye set also means only one eye can focus on any object. That’s called monocular vision.

What keeps drawing bird lovers to the species is, along with that majestic stance, the incredible ability to mimic human speech. But not all parrots speak. And it’s not because they can’t. Some parrots simply choose not to.

In the media, parrots tend to play the sidekick of an eye-patched pirate. But the majority of parrots are in the wild. The regal creatures are of the order Psittaciformes and the family Psittacidae. Their class is Aves.

Eclectus Parrot, Eclectus roratus, pair standing on a branch, green male and red female.
Parrots a costly pet that can live a long time. Here’s what you need to know about owning a pet parrot.

Before Buying a Parrot

Many people put the parrot in the same category as any other bird, believing having one will be easy compared to a cat or dog. They would be mistaken. The parrot is a unique bird that needs your unique attention. Here’s why.

There Are So Many

Different parrots belong to different species. It sounds obvious, but many buyers don’t consider what that means. Consider there are 350 unique birds in the species. Assuming they’re all the same is like saying it doesn’t matter if you get a lion or a cat.

A Bird Needs to Fly

To prevent these expensive birds from escaping, many owners clip the parrot’s wings so they can’t fly away. A bird with its flight taken away is like removing our legs. The practice is a bad idea.

Flying is instinctive for parrots. Birds love to spread their wings, soaring and representing everything we love about freedom. Not all individuals can afford to let them do that, but they should do their best to let animals play.

Birdcages and aviaries should offer enough room to let parrots flap their wings, walk and turn full circle without hitting anything. Parrots should have fun climbing around. If you can tolerate it, give birds time outside the cage to stretch.

Specific Species Dietary Needs

Formulated diets will not do it for every species. Generic diets cannot match the nutritional requirements. The wild Eclectus is a fruit eater. The black cockatoo prefers banksias and marri seeds.

Every captive parrot has its own meal qualifications. That may include a formulated pellet and/or a supplement with vegetables and/or fruits. Here are 50+ Foods Parrots Love to Eat.

Parrots Are Complicated

Parrots have body language and understanding that can make your relationship happier. The creatures touse their bodies, eyes, wings, feathers and vocalizations to manage social contact.

It’s important you make time to socialize with your bird. Knowing you appreciate them only enhances their appreciation of you. Train your pet to wear a harness so that they can accompany you. It’s less likely to run if the bird sees you as a companion.

Parrots Live a Good Long Time

While lifespans vary, parrots live for decades, making ownership a long-term investment. You have to be ready to take care of its needs, even as old age sets in along with potential health issues.

The smaller species like lovebirds and budgies become seniors at six years of age. A cockatiel lives a dozen years before becoming a senior. Larger parrots — your macaws, Amazons, African greys and cockatoos — reach a level of maturity at 30 years.

Even after becoming one of the old guys, the bird can live many more years. Here’s a more in-depth look into the lifespan of parrots.

RELATED: The World’s Oldest Parrot

Parrots Are Not a Kid-friendly Endeavor

Parrots make for great pets. Many species of parrot connect well with respectful and well-behaved children. Generally, though, experts believe parrots aren’t a good choice for a child’s pet. The constant care required and their long lifespan requires attention children may not be able to manage.

How Much Does a Parrot Cost to Own

Parrots are not cheap. Should you find bargain-basement opportunities, consider you’re dealing with a seller that’s in it for the money. Odds are they’re not likely using required or proper breeding methods, which is why they can afford such “great” prices.

A reputable breeder or store may ask for several thousands of dollars for a well-bred parrot. So, though we’re giving you a wide range of potential costs for a parrot, never assume because it sounds like a steal you’re getting a good deal.

African Grey$800–$3,500
Amazon$500–$2,500
Cockatoo$800–$3,000
Conure$250–$3,000
Lovebird$50–$200
Macaw$1,000–$3,000
Mini Macaw$700–$2,500
Senegal$400–$800

New Owner Shopping List: What To Buy

In terms of supplies, the first thing on the list is the cage. You want a suitable enclosure made of non-toxic, durable material. You don’t want any type of finish or paint as birds will chew on the cage. And a cage has to give parrots the ability to move around, spread their wings and play. Even smaller birds like finches need space for walking and limited flights. Make bar spacing proportional to your parrot’s size.

It’s best to buy the largest enclosure you can afford for the space that you have. Talk with an avian vet or breeder (of your specific parrot) to get the down low. The wrong cage will evoke unhappiness in the bird. That can lead to biting, screaming, psychological disorders and feather plucking, just to start.

Get a cage that’s as intrusion- and escape-proof as possible. Stay away from round cages as animal experts say the structures promote mental health issues for birds. Angled cages are best.

And, as you might imagine, what you spend will be based on everything from species, animal size, room in your home, etc. You might spend as little as $20 or hundreds of dollars. Find our favorite picks for parrot cages here.

Other Stuff

Here’s a sampling of supplies and their potential costs. Not all are essential, but they’d certainly make your parrot’s life happier.

Bath$10
Bedding and litter$6–$13
Cleaning supplies$20–$30
Food$30–$100
Food and water bowls$5–$50
Ladders$10–$30
Nail clipper$8–$12
Perches$10–$30 per
Swing$10–$50
Toysvaries
Travel carriers$30–$80
Nail clipper$8–$12
Wing scissors$8–$11
Veterinary services$50–$300*

* This is a long-term yearly projection that entails regular checkups, possible illness, potential medications, etc.)

Ongoing Needs: Best Care For Your Parrots

Take into account how much it’s going to cost to keep a parrot. To not do so will be detrimental to the relationship. Don’t risk a negative impact on your bird by foregoing or scrimping on anything that can enhance both your lives.

CageBuy the best and biggest birdcage you can get. It will be the foundation of your parrot’s well-being.
FoodAdhere to the diet for your species, including any vitamins or supplements suggested by your vet or breeder.
PerchesDiameters should align with bird size. Birds need to comfortably and firmly grip the perch. They’ll use it for standing, playing, climbing, cleaning, rubbing, entertainment and chewing.
ToysWithout them, your bird will get bored and is likely to fill the gap with noise.
Bedding and litterMany owners use newspapers to line cages. Yeah, you save money. You also potentially expose the bird to all kinds of ink. Bad idea.

Parrot Exercise and Ongoing Care

Exercise is a great benefit to parrots. Without it, excess weight and high levels of cholesterol may lead to liver, heart or kidney disease. There’s the threat of body fat, poor muscle mass and decreased endorphins. Not to mention the increased production of hormones that hurts the bird.

  • Perches should be high, allowing for hanging upside down.
  • Have room for sufficient movement like wing flapping.
  • A swing would be a great toy.
  • Separate food and drink so that the bird has a reason to move.
  • Hide food so the parrots playfully forage.

Feeding Your Parrot

Vets say a variety of illnesses parrots suffer is the result of incorrect or poor feeding. Too much sugar, fat, portions, and lack of minerals and vitamins are a big threat.

Parrots should not eat peanuts as it influences Aspergillosis. Parrots have passed away after a regular diet of sunflower mixes which led to thickened arteries. (Parrots love the mixes and should only get the food as an infrequent treat, not a meal.)

Vets encourage owners to make pellets a part of a parrot’s diet. They contain additives that will be of benefit. Wherever you get your parrot, see if the source has a diet sheet.

How Long Will Your Parrot Live?

Parrots live anywhere between 10 to 50 years. Lifespans depend on a variety of factors, including living conditions, age and species.

Ultimately, a parrot is a long-term investment and pet owners need to prepare for this. Remember: the larger the parrot, the longer its lifespan, the greater your expenditure.

Here are average lifespans for certain species.

African grey parrots40–60
Amazon parrots25–75
Parakeets5–18
Cockatiels5–18
Cockatoos20–60
Conures10–30
Eclectus10–30
Finches5–9 years or longer if aviary housed
Lovebirds10–15
Macaws30–50
Senegalsup to 50
Pionus parrots25

Common Health Issues for Parrot

There are detectable signs that your parrot may be ill.

Odd stance or appearanceLoss of balance; excessive feather plucking; trembling; walking in circles
Changes in attitude or behaviorDrooping wings; inactivity; odd vocalization
DroppingsTraces of blood; decrease in droppings; changes in consistency and color
AppearanceSquinting; half-closed eyes; overgrown beak; twitching; symmetry dysfunction indicating swelling
FeathersFluffed, dull, rough appearance; over plucking; unnatural balding or molting
Lower limbsLameness; abnormal growth in nails; swollen joints or feet; discoloration or crusting
BreathingTail bobbing; heavy panting; breathing with beak open; sneezing, exercise intolerance
FeedingAppetite decreases; regurgitation; swelling in crop area; can’t pick up food; straining to pass eggs or defecate
Weight lossmost common sign of parrot sickness

The most common health issues among parrots include:

  • Malnutrition
  • Giardia*
  • Pacheco’s disease
  • Polyomavirus*
  • Psittacois*

* These diseases are transmutable to owners.

Where to Buy Your Parrot

The guidelines for purchasing a parrot applies to bird lovers and breeder. Beforehand, conduct all the research you can. Have a consult with a breeder, an avian vet and your computer.

Vet the seller. See if they guarantee the purchase and look for customer complaints. Many impulsive buyers have snatched up a parrot and brought home a neurotic feather plucker or disease carrier. And, after contacting the seller, found themselves stuck with the bird.

Here’s a list of the most common ecosystems for getting a parrot.

  • Pet stores
  • Bird marts
  • From breeders
  • Aviaries
  • Closed aviaries*
  • Rescue organizations
  • Shelters

* Closed aviaries are a great place to get a parrot. They promote limited exposure to the outside world. That means less chance of getting sick or diseased animals.

Special Considerations With Parrots

Even what appears to be a healthy parrot can be a carrier of diseases. Don’t just accept a health guarantee (any seller will be giddy to make the claim), get certifications and guarantees.

Perform your due diligence. The most reliable pet store should be able to tell you where the bird came from. Ask questions or if they can’t, ask for suggestions for whom you can contact.

Contact a parrot breeder. Find out how often they pair birds for breeding. It shouldn’t be done more than three times annually. They’re overextending themselves and the birds if mating’s conducted more than that.

Another trick is breeders creating an environment that makes parrots think it’s Spring/mating season year-round. Overbreeding is an unethical practice that threatens parrot health and buyer satisfaction.

How Do You Avoid Bad Sellers?

There are a few things you can do to minimize encountering a bad sale.

  • The Association of Avian Veterinarians offers a brochure and resources for finding the best clinician for pet birds. Those resources can also help you navigate the entire pre- and post-preparation process.
  • Go through local newspapers and use the infamous “near me” to find sellers. Respond only to ones that appear promising. Get references and certifications. If anyone demonstrates caginess, move on.
  • The internet offers free directories for finding breeders. BUT: Though it’s free to you, be mindful that some services require breeders to pay for the listing. That means the only real qualification is membership. Every buyer should investigate and question thoroughly.
  • Check out aviculture societies or bird clubs to find quality breeders. These organizations encompass bird lovers, owners and breeders. They are passionate about birds and want everyone to make educated smart choices.
About the Author

AZ Animals is a growing team of animals experts, researchers, farmers, conservationists, writers, editors, and -- of course -- pet owners who have come together to help you better understand the animal kingdom and how we interact.

Pet Parrot Owner Guide: What To Know FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Is Air Conditioning Bad for a Parrot?

Only if the air isn’t directly hitting the bird or its cage. You also need to make sure the a/c’s not blowing mold spores or other contaminants. The only way to do that is with regular cleaning.

Can I Leave My Parrot to Roam Free?

You’re free to do that and your parrot will love it. But it will be your job to not leave the possibility of escape.

What is the Correct Ratio of Pellets, Fruits, Veggies or Seed Mix?

There are too many dietary formulas for the hundreds of species to provide any scientifically accurate answer. Your research and resources are your best bet here.

Do I Need Insurance to Keep a Parrot?

No, but it wouldn’t hurt. On the other hand, if you carefully manage contact with outsiders, maybe you need not worry about it. Do keep in mind not every parrot is legal in all states without licensing. Other parrots are illegal altogether.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.