Let's Talk About Birds: Parrots as pets

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This is one of a series presented by the National Aviary, which works to inspire respect for nature through an appreciation of birds.

Parrots are among the most beautiful, intelligent and comical birds in the world. Both in the wild and in captivity, parrots are long-lived social animals that mimic sounds. Pet parrots can be lifelong companions that are incredibly devoted. But they require a great amount of care and commitment.

Parrots include more than 350 species of parakeets, cockatiels, cockatoos, Amazon parrots, conures, macaws and lorikeets. Many species live in tropical forests around the world, but some live in grasslands, temperate forests and mountains. They can be small, like the 4-inch pygmy parrot. They can be large, like the 3-foot hyacinth macaw. They even can be heavy and obscure -- the kakapo, a New Zealand parrot, is flightless, nocturnal and weighs nearly 9 pounds.

Their stunning beauty and endearing reputation make parrots desirable pets. However, the traits we love can be a challenge to manage at home.

Pet parrots have a great tendency to exhibit natural behaviors. For example, parrots naturally call loudly to stay in touch with members of their flock. In a home, pet parrots scream and call to keep in touch with their owners. Parrots have a strong natural urge to chew. Pet parrots will seek out household items to chew and may destroy furniture and other belongings. Parrots use their incredibly strong beaks to crack open seeds and nuts. Pet parrots can bite very hard if they feel threatened, scared or even excited.

Parrots are smart, but not all pet parrots are as talented as Snowball, the dancing sulphur-crested cockatoo, made famous on YouTube, or the National Aviary's Max, a yellow-naped Amazon who sings "Happy Birthday." And while all parrots mimic, pet parrots may copy sounds you don't want to hear every day. Our African grey parrots can mimic a fire alarm.

Pet parrots require a longer time commitment than other pets. Small parakeets can live more than 15 years. Amazons and cockatoos can live into their 40s or 50s, and the largest macaws can live 70 years or more. A blue and gold macaw rumored to be kept by Winston Churchill lived to be 107!

Pet parrot owners need to know and provide the proper activities to occupy busy parrot brains and beaks. If you have a pet parrot or are considering one, join the National Aviary on Nov. 10 for its Positive Parroting Workshop. Supported by Kaytee Avian Foundation and The Banfield Charitable Trust, the 6-hour course includes training demonstrations with the National Aviary's parrots, nutrition and health information, tips on housing, and a session on making inexpensive parrot toys at home. Call 412-258-9439 for fees and registration.

Of course, you can enjoy these gorgeous birds throughout the year by visiting the National Aviary. Make sure to get your tickets for "Parrots of the Caribbean," our live parrot theater show, and discover all of our parrot species on exhibit.



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