Parrot Adoption: What to Expect

side-angle view of a green parrot who was available for adoption

Parrots are intelligent, sensitive, curious animals, and consequently bird care can be much more challenging than some people anticipate. If you're thinking about parrot adoption, here are some things to expect when bringing a bird home.

Parrot characteristics and behavior

Whether captured in the wild or bred in captivity, many parrots are at most only a few generations removed from their native habitats. So they retain many of the survival instincts and social behaviors of their wild relatives. They are not domesticated animals like cats and dogs, who have been selectively bred for suitable "pet qualities" for quite some time. Because of this, it is possible that the parrot you adopt may never really bond with you. 

Moreover, in the wild parrots are prey animals and are highly alert and easily stressed. Consequently, pet parrots might have adverse reactions to objects or situations (such as sudden movements or loud noises) that would barely affect dogs or cats.

Another factor to consider when adopting a parrot is their high intelligence. In fact, some species' intelligence is equivalent to that of a 3- to 5-year-old child. They also are extremely social and active animals. They have a very complex psychology and can easily develop behavior problems, such as feather plucking, if they don’t receive a great deal of daily mental stimulation and interaction with humans and/or other birds.

Also, note that parrots can be very noisy. In the wild, they use loud vocalizations to call the flock to a food source, to warn of danger, or just to keep in contact with flockmates. Providing your parrot with ample socialization and enrichment activities will help to keep the noise down, but all parrots will be noisy from time to time. However, while all parrots are vocal, many pet parrots won't learn or choose to speak human words. 

Parrots use their powerful beaks to eat, chew, preen, and hold objects. They also might use them to bite when they become frightened or agitated or are defending their territory. Learning to read your bird’s body language and understanding bird behavior will help you to recognize when your parrot needs space.

Parrot life span

Small parrots, such as cockatiels or parrotlets, can live to be 20 to 30 years old. Larger parrots, such as Amazons, cockatoos, or macaws, can live to be 60 to 80 years old. So adopting a parrot is truly a lifetime commitment — for your lifetime and possibly beyond. If you think your pet parrot might outlive you, you will need to arrange for a future home for your parrot after you are no longer around.

Parrot care

All dogs are the same species, as are all domestic cats. But there are more than 350 species of parrots. If you adopt a parrot, you’ll need to learn about that particular species’ care and behavioral needs.

Here are some parrot care basics:

  • Because they are highly intelligent, parrots require a great deal of attention. You’ll need to spend at least two to three hours a day interacting with your parrot outside of the cage. And you’ll need to provide some entertainment for your bird for the rest of the day, such as bird-safe toys, radio or television, music, and contact with other people or other parrots.
  • Most people don’t realize that parrots are messy. Plan to spend time regularly cleaning the cage, around the cage, the bird's play area, and any other areas of the house where the bird is allowed.
  • A parrot requires a complex and varied diet of pellets and fresh foods, which can be costly and time-consuming to prepare.
  • You’ll need to be mindful of your parrot’s wild heritage and try to simulate some of a wild parrot’s experiences in your home. For example, birds benefit greatly — both psychologically and physically — from free flight, so it’s important to provide a safe area that will allow your parrot an opportunity to fly. Also, foraging is a great activity to stimulate their minds and replicate searching for food in the wild.
  • You’ll need to parrot-proof your house, both for the safety of your parrot and also to prevent damage done by the parrot. Many common household products and items can be hazardous to a bird.
  • If you already have other parrots in your home, you’ll certainly have a head start in knowing what to expect and what care is required. But know that any new bird can change the dynamics in terms of care and behavior.

Incorporating a pet bird into your family

Unless you and any other household members are prepared to accept, love, and care for pet birds exactly as they are — cuddly or aloof, talkative or not, shy or outgoing, comical or reserved — it's best not to adopt a parrot.

Adopting a parrot for your child is only advisable for an older child or teenager — and only under certain circumstances. If your child is particularly kind, sensitive, and aware around animals in general and is especially drawn to birds, then a smaller parrot, such as a cockatiel or a budgie, can be an appropriate choice. However, remember that you, not your child, are entirely responsible for ensuring the safety and well-being of the bird. And when the time comes for your child to leave home, the bird might still end up being yours for many years to come.

If you have other animals, such as a dog or cat, there are additional considerations. Other animals are a danger to a parrot, so managing interaction is imperative. This can mean that birds have their own room that the other animals are not allowed in or that only one animal can be in a space at a time.

Parrots for sale: Why to adopt a bird

If you decide that a pet parrot is right for you, please adopt from a bird rescue organization. There are several good reasons to adopt a bird rather than buy one. 

First, it's the right thing to do because commercial breeding operations are flooding the market with exotic pet birds, many of whom end up in rescue groups when people realize the complexities of caring for these animals. If you buy a parrot from either a pet shop or a breeder, it simply makes the problem worse. But by adopting rather than buying a parrot, you help reduce the demand that drives the commercial breeding of pet birds.

Also, if you purchase a parrot, you probably won’t have a great deal of support if you have questions about your bird’s behavior or care down the line. By contrast, reputable parrot rescue groups do provide that support, offering advice and resources as you and your bird adjust to life together.

Another good reason to adopt a parrot, rather than buy one, is that you’ll most likely spend a lot less money. A parrot can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars, depending on the species. Adopting a parrot costs considerably less, and you will have the satisfaction of knowing you have saved a life.

If you are interested in adopting from Parrot Garden at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, our available parrots can be found at bestfriends.org. The first step is to submit an application, and we will contact you with additional resources and information. You can contact us at parrots@bestfriends.org. To find a parrot rescue organization near you, visit the Avian Welfare Coalition.