Is an exotic bird the right companion for me?

Is an exotic bird the right companion for me?

They’re the fourth most popular pet in North America but if you’re thinking of bringing one home be sure to weigh the pros and cons.

September 7, 2019

“A parrot is a wild animal with wild behaviour,” says Dr Sophie Hébert-Saulnier, a veterinarian at the Montreal Bird and Exotic Animal Hospital. “Exotic birds aren’t like dogs and cats, who have had thousands of years to adapt to us. In the wild, the voice of a large species might carry 2-3 km. They are destructive, messy, expensive and they often bite—enough to draw blood.”

But there’s no hiding that they’re interesting.

“Birds are complex and intelligent,” says Dr Hébert-Saulnier. “They are social creatures who require a lot of time and stimulation. And they live anywhere from 10 to 100 years. People must consider where the bird will end up after they die.”

Still interested? Really? Ethical ways to get your bird
“After knowing all that’s involved with an exotic bird, if someone’s still interested I recommend they adopt rather than buy,” says Dr. Hébert-Saulnier. Keep in mind however that adopted animals may have experienced multiple owners and trauma. With rescued animals, it may also be impossible to know about an animal’s background and potential behavioural issues. “Most rescued birds are in their adolescence,” according to Geneviève Douyon, a veterinary technician who works alongside Dr Hébert-Saulnier. “You must be prepared to put in the work.”

Josée Dubreuil runs Perroquets Secours, a charitable organization that rescues and returns lost birds as well as finding homes for exotic birds. “One of our main goals is to educate anyone looking to adopt,” she says. Contrary to popular belief, parrots don’t “imprint” in a permanent way, she says. They’re capable of transferring their affections to a new owner, which makes adoption an interesting option—especially given that many exotic birds are in shelters waiting for new homes.

“Wherever possible I recommend adoption,” concurs Dr Hébert-Saulnier. “But in some situations, for example with rare species or when introducing a baby into a home with other birds, a reputable breeder can be a better option.”

The right breeder
Finding a trustworthy breeder can be a tricky venture. Here are 4 questions you can ask to help narrow your search.

1. Where do you keep your birds? Note: Geneviève Douyon advises an on-site visit to ensure animals are well-cared for.

2. How many types of birds do you breed? Note: Breeding more than 2-3 types can be a red flag.

3. How many clutches of baby birds do your birds produce per year? Note: It’s essential for breeding birds to rest between clutches.

4. At what age do you let your birds go? Note: Age will vary according to breed but birds must be properly weaned.

Exotic bird care 101
You’ve got your bird but how do you care for it? Depending on its size, you’ll need a large cage which allows your animal to fully spread its wings. A bird room is great and an aviary is even better. Plan to let your bird explore outside of its cage for a minimum of 4-6 hours a day. “Most of a parrot’s time in the wild is spent foraging for food,” says Dr Hébert-Saulnier who advises against the practice of clipping wings. “If you get a bird, expect it to fly!” she adds.

“The best thing you can do for your bird is make their water available all the time and hide their food … and make them work for it,” says Geneviève Douyon. “Give your birds lots of chewable toys,” adds Dr Hébert-Saulnier. “And offer regular training and stimulating activities. Throw in a properly balanced diet with a variety of fresh food and regular medical care from a knowledgeable and experienced veterinarian with birds.”

Follow these instructions and you’ll be off to a good start!

Cover : Catherin Arsenault

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