Birds as Pets
Birds make marvelous pets, adding color, movement, and sound to our households and cheering us with their companionship. Keeping birds as pets, either caged or perched, is a very old tradition. The ancients so valued birds that they used them as a unit of exchange.
When you acquire a bird as a pet, you are embarking on an avian adventure. You are also assuming responsibility for a living creature whose needs conform to human needs in as many ways as they differ. Vendors—particularly in this time of discount and warehouse merchandising—are not always as well informed as they should be. Therefore, it is very important—for your own sake, as well as your bird's—to seek the most highly reputed bird dealer in your area. Research nearby avian veterinarians and aviculturists before making your purchase.
Two organizations can help inform your bird-owning adventure, the American Federation of Aviculture and the International Aviculturists Society. Cagebird Hobbyist Magazine is another great resource. It comes free with a membership in the International Aviculturists Society (see “Resources”).
Following are listed some favorite domestic bird pets.
Canary (Serinus canarius)
This Old World finch is the most time-honored bird pet. Wild finches were captured in the Canary Islands and Madeira, the Azores, the Fortunate Isles, and some parts of South Africa and then introduced into Italy in the sixteenth century.
These songful originals were gray-green in color, but bred in captivity most assiduously by Germans, their shades soon extended into white, yellow, vivid green, orange, blue, red, and brown. The different canary breeds, with their substantial differences in color, features, song, posture, and personality, are as follows:
|Scotch Fancys||Red Factors|
Canaries in Mining
Early miners used to carry caged canaries into mines to test for noxious gases. Coal exudes methane, hydrogen sulfide, carbon dioxide, and carbon monoxide. If the canaries died, gas concentrations were too high to sustain life.
Maturing in one year, canaries are 4½
Canaries can be finger trained, but they are not very affectionate, nor do they talk. Males have a very nice song. Flamen Oil added to their water during molting season gives extra brilliance to their feathers.
Tweety Bird first appeared in a 1942 cartoon, A Tale of Two Kitties, a Warner Brothers production directed by Bob Clampett. After that, Tweety was a character in many cartoons. He did not pair up with Sylvester until 1947, in The Tweety Pie. The Sylvester and Tweety Films are still being produced and aired on TV, making Tweety our oldest living canary.
Zebra Finch (Taeniopygia guttata castanotis)
Until about 1950, these Australian natives were considered just another exotic bird. But the success with which Zebra Finches breed in captivity, their robust health and small size (less than 5 inches) soon established them as a terrific and often very affordable alternative to Canaries and Budgerigars. They are a little nervous and need a cage big enough for flight.
Ready breeders, members of this species mate relatively easily even with Zebra Finches of other sizes and colors. For this reason, there are many varieties, listed below:
|Creams (recessive)||Silvers (dominant)|
|Greys||Zebra Finch hybrids|
Bengalese (Lonchura domestica)
Also known as the Society Finch because of its affable personality and squeaky little tune, the Bengalese is the oldest known domesticated cage bird. Its domestication extends so far back that we are unsure of its exact history. The Chinese and the Japanese can rightfully claim credit for Bengalese development. Despite the species’ antiquity, there are few varieties:
|Chocolate Selfs||Fawn Selfs|
|Chocolate and Whites||Fawn and Whites|
Budgerigar (Melopsittacus undulatus undulatus)
“Budgerigar” is a perversion of the Aboriginal word for these Australian grass parakeets, first imported into Britain in 1840. Breeding in captivity, particularly between subspecies captured in different territories, produced marked mutations in color pattern and intensity in these “budgies.”
Larger than most parakeets, budgies tend to live longer, up to 15 years. They mature to 7 inches in length in six to eight months. Clutches are three to six white eggs that hatch at sixteen to eighteen days. Nestlings wean at four to five weeks.
Budgerigars have smaller vocabularies than parrots, but can become marvelous mimics. Young cocks are the fastest learners and can be trained to do tricks.
The color varieties, based on the standards of the Budgerigar Society, are as follows:
Damage to parakeets’ native areas and diminishing wild supplies have induced governments to ban the export of many varieties outside Budgerigars. Hence, captive breeding of these beautifully colored birds has intensified, since it is often difficult to replace stocks. The following are the most popular and plentiful of the numerous species and subspecies among bird pet owners. Overall, parakeets are affectionate and easy to train.
Many large, long-tailed, ringneck parakeets from the forests of the Indian subcontinent and surrounding countries are popular pets. Alexander the Great brought a ringneck back from the Orient and gave it his name, Alexandrine.
Alexandrine Ringneck Parakeet (Psittacula eupatria nepalensis)
Blue-Winged Grass Parakeet (Neophema c. chrysostomus)
Derbian Parakeet (Psittacula derbyana)
Indian Ringnecked Parakeet (Psittacula krameri manillensis)
Malabar Parakeet (Psittacula columboides)
Moustached Parakeet (Psittacula alexandria fasciata)
Plum-Headed Parakeet (Psittacula c. cyanocephala)
There are three main groups of Australian parakeets: the smaller (8 to 9 inches) grass parakeets that reproduce well in captivity, the broadtailed rosellas (11 to 15 inches) that require more room, and other Australian parakeets. The friendly favorite and a great starter bird for children, the Cockatiel, is an accomplished whistler, sometimes able to whistle entire tunes. Australian parakeets live up to 25 years.
Grass Parakeets— Budgerigars (Melopsittacus undulatus undulatus), Bourke's Parakeet (Neophema bourkii), Elegant Grass Parakeet (Neophema e. elegans), Splendid Grass Parakeet (Neophema splendida), Turquoise Grass Parakeet (Neophema pulchella)
Rosellas—Adelaide Rosella (Platycercus elegans adelaidae), Barnard's Parakeet (Platycercus zonarius barnardi), Common Rosella (Platycercus eximius eximius), Crimson Rosella (Platycercus elegans elegans), Golden-Mantled Rosella (Platycercus eximius cecilae), Mealy Rosella (Platycercus adscitus pallicaps), Western Rosella (Platycercus icterotis)
Other Australian Parakeets— Cockatiel (Nymphicus hollandicus), King Parakeet (Alisterus s. scapularis), Princess Alexandra Parakeet (Polytelis alexandrae), Red-Rumped Parakeet (Psephotus haematonotus), Rock Pebbler Parakeet (Polytelis anthopeplus)
South and Central American Parakeets
Conure and conurine parakeets so called because of their long, conical tails, have larger heads and beaks and more slender bodies than their Australian and Asian counterparts. Conures are usually more moderately priced. These parakeets may live up to thirty-five years. Very bright and often destructive, both sexes are talkative performers and make affectionate pets if acquired at a young age.
Ornithomancy is the ancient practice of divination based on the appearance, disappearance, and activities of birds. Some readings seem strictly superstitious by today's terms—for example, the appearance of one magpie meant sorrow and the appearance of two or more meant happiness. On the other hand, the robin's return forecasting spring is reasonable, even scientific.
With their ability to fly away into the clouds, birds were thought to be the reincarnated souls of the dead. As such, communication with them revealed omens for those presently living in human form. Throughout Europe during antiquity there was much emphasis on learning the mystic language of birds and its predictive meanings.
Bee Bee Parakeet (Brotogeris jugularis)
Brown-eared Conure (Aratinga pertinax ocularis)
Canary-Winged Parakeet (Brotogeris versicolurus chiriri)
Golden-Crowned Conure (Aratinga a. aurea)
Jenday Conure (Aratinga jendaya)
Nanday Conure (Nandayus nenday)
Patagonia Conure (Cyanoliscus patagonus byroni)
Petz's Conure (Aratinga canicularis)
Quaker Conure (Myiopsitta m. monachus)
Queen of Bavaria Conure (Aratinga quarouba)
Red-Bellied Conure (Pyrrhura f. frontalis)
Tui Parakeet (Brotogeris st thoma)
White-Eared Conure (Pyrrhura f. leucotis)
White-Winged Parakeet (Brotogeris v. oersicolurus)
Parrots and Cockatoos
Their intelligence, marvelous talent for mimicry, spectacular plumage, and long life have made parrots popular pets throughout the history of civilization. These large birds can be kept on open perches with food and water installed on either end. (Do not leave them unsupervised outside their cage since they love to chew.) Parrots may live 40 or more years.
African Grey Parrot (Psittacus erithacus)
Blue-Fronted Amazon (Amazona a. aestiva) (Argentinian)
Double Yellow-Headed Amazon (Amazona ochrocephala oratrix)
Festive Amazon (Amazona f. festiva)
Grand Eclectus Parrot (Lorius r. roratus)
Great Black Cockatoo (Probosciger aterrimus)
Greater Sulphur-crested Cockatoo (Kakatoe g. galerita)
Great White Cockatoo (Kakatoe alba)
Leadbeater's Cockatoo (Kakatoe leadbeateri)
Lesser Sulphur-crested Cockatoo (Kakatoe s. sulphura)
Maximilian's Parrot (Pionus m. maximiliani)
Mealy Amazon (Amazona f. farinosa)
Red-Fronted Amazon (Amazona v. vittata)
Roseate Cockatoo (Kakatoe r. roseicaapilla)
Vernal Hanging Parrot (Loriculus v. vernalis)
Yellow-Bellied Senegal Parrot (Poicephalus s. senegalus)
Yellow-Fronted Amazon (Amazona o. ochrocephala)
Lories and Lorikeets
Brilliant, playful lories have brushlike tongues for lapping nectar and eating fruit. These eating habits and their hygiene needs make them more difficult to tend.
Chattering Lory (Domicella g. garrula)
Swainson's Lorikeet (Trichoglossus haematodus moluccanus)
If trained as young birds, pet macaws make gentle and very affectionate pets, despite their daunting looks. Unfortunately, their companionship can be very costly, ranging from $3,000 to $15,000. Macaws’ big beaks make them habitual chewers, and they can be very destructive. They need to be kept in cages unless they are supervised.
Blue and Gold Macaw (Ara ararauna) Dwarf Macaw (There are dozens of types, all in the Ara genus.)
Hyacinthine Macaw (Anodorhynchus hyacinthinus) Red and Blue Macaw (Ara chloroptera) Scarlet Macaw (Ara macao)
Lovebirds, at 5–7 inches long, are technically short-tailed parrots, although they are often confused with Budgerigars. They originated from central through southern Africa and islands off the coast. They are most friendly with their mates, but will be more affectionate toward humans if they are single. However, they can be very aggressive toward a third bird, so keep them alone or with a mate. Lovebirds can learn tricks and sometimes master a few words. They mature in eight to twelve months and live ten to fifteen years. All have green feathering combined with red, blue, black, yellow, or gray, depending on the species.
Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach
First published in 1970 by Macmillan, the inspirational story of Jonathan Livingston Seagull gave wings to readers’ hearts. With thousands of copies sold and a movie, soundtrack, and paperback version from Avon later, the bird who wanted to fly as fast as thought still has impact. Jonathan teaches us to express our real nature, to question arbitrary boundaries, and to explore the unlimited idea of freedom.
The following birds have also been successfully bred and kept in captivity:
Parrot Finches, Australian Finches, Mannikins, Doves, Mynahs, Toucans, Tanagers, Waxbills, Weavers, Whydahs, and Quail