Parrots make wonderful pets, that is very true. Treated right, they can be loving, sweet, affectionate little babies who never fully grow up it seems. They'll always be happy to see you come home, excitedly wait for your time together and provide you with a loving, long term companion for 30+ years with some species.
HOWEVER, there is a lot more to all the wonderful feathered love than just the positive. I have 6 wonderful parrots myself. Lucia, my soon to be 8 year old sun conure, Yamato, my 9 year old quaker parrot, Nero, my 1 1/2 year old yellow sided green cheek conure, Virginia, my year old love bird, Cassandra, my 1 1/2 year old cockatiel then there's Mango, my fiance's 2 1/2 year old lovebird. Though they vary in age, have been cared for the same way yet they have VERY different personalities, quirks and troubles.
In this post I will share with you some of the things you may face that pet shops don't warn you about and only experience can really teach, but hey, knowing about these things ahead of time never hurts when it comes to preparing yourself. Keep in mind, there is no way I can cover everything but I can at least cover some things.
Also, you'll only see Lucia and Yamato mentioned in this post as I only had those two at the time I originally typed this.
We all know birds poop just like any animal but what you may not know is that some parrots don't just stand on a perch and do their business, oh no, some have some very particular habits attached to this common bodily function. Things I have noticed are varied and each bird's habits can be very different. Lucia has a habit of holding it in when she sleeps or if she's perched on my shoulder. I never taught her this, I was more than willing to accept the fact that poop happens when you have a bird and, sometimes, it happens on you. Well, this little conure will hold in her dumps for a while and then, when she can't hold it anymore, out comes this massive, two tablespoons sized dropping, or what I call her megaton sh**. When she's on me I'll bring her to her cage once in a while so she can poop without holding it however, it's when she first wakes up in the morning that it can be an issue.
If you take her out before she's taken that morning poop, well, she's going to try to get it out before she gets on your shoulder. The unfortunate side effect of this habit of hers, however, is that the massive morning poo sometimes ends up splattered on the floor, and trust me, that thing splatters, or, as my fiance' was unlucky enough to find out, on your foot. Lucia has had this habit for a long while, she first started doing it at about 4 months and never stopped so, for me, it's no longer a surprise, for others however, well, the poop meets foot occurrence says it all. My answer to this problem? She doesn't come right out of her cage in the morning, I give her ten minutes to do what she has to do THEN I take her out.
Then there's Yamato. You've heard of parrots tossing seeds out their cage? Well Yama (Short name for him) poops out his cage. I've tried to stop him from doing it but now he'll just wait until my back is turned and do it anyways. He will literally cling to the side of his cage, push his butt against it and poop right out the side of his cage. Only way to take care of that is by cleaning around his cage with a wet mop, thankfully the one we have cuts through his poo pretty well.
These are the two quirks Ive encountered personally but I've heard of parrots using a single toy as a toilet, pooping in their water or food dish all the time (That isn't common, most parrots like their food dish clean, water dish, it's hit and miss) and even parrots who try to eat or play with their poop (Normally a sign of a health issue, if your parrot does that get them to the vet). So yea, poop habits can be an issue depending on the parrot.
--Seed and veggies everywhere!
The old throwing food all over habit. In my household, thankfully, only one of my feathered babies causes that huge food mess. Yamato keeps his food pretty contained, a shell will fly out the cage from time to time but overall he's neat with his digging through his food dish. However, the big culprit of the food mess all over is Lucia. She will rummage through her dish violently and throw food all over the place, push it through the bars of her cage and purposely drop it on the floor and even fling it at people just because it amuses her. Your best bet to take care of this issue is a good vacuum (I suggest a shop/wet vac) with a hose.
You can try those cage skirts to keep the food in the cage, you can try deep food dishes but if a parrot wants that food to go on the floor, it's going on that floor one way or another. You can try to train them out of it but, depending on the parrot, they'll just wait until you're not looking then fling a seed at the back of your head like Lucia's done to me after trying to teach her to not make the food mess. Gotta know how to pick your battles.
--Om Nom EVERYTHING!
Here it's Yamato who's the little saint bird. Lucia, however, will chew ANYTHING! Can her beak grasp it? It's getting chewed. Is it shiny? It's getting chewed. Is it near her? It's getting chewed. Let me tell you, when a parrot chews something, they can totally destroy it. Due to it she has a large number of chewing toys in her cage, which don't last long, so she can get it out her system before she gets a hold of things outside the cage. It doesn't always work.
Only way to deal with this issue is to watch any parrot outside of the cage and, if they start to chew on something, stop them and tell them no. Over time they will associate the word no with you stopping them from chewing on something. The way I've found to stop Lucia when she chews on something is to get my hand between her and what she's chewing and push her away from it. She doesn't like that but it doesn't hurt her so she associates the discomfort of being pushed back with being told no and will stop chewing on something when I tell her no to avoid that uncomfortable push back. . .most of the time. She does have her own will and sometimes she really wants at something just a no won't stop her so I have to push her back again.
--Biting and beaking
Every bird bites, no matter how tame, how sweet and how gentle, every bird is, sooner or later going to give someone a bite. However, there are warning bites and bites that mean business.
Most gentle birds never get beyond a warning bite, an uncomfortable, skin denting message that can cause some blood to be drawn but is never anything serious. When a bird does this they are giving you a very clear warning, either they are scared, you did something they didn't like, you hurt them a bit but not too serious, you're in their territory and they want you out of it or they're just in a cranky mood. You can minimize the occurrence of this kind of bite but you can never truly train any bird out of it. Most of the bites that come from parrots are this kind of bite, trust me, that beak can do a lot more damage than what the parrot has chosen to inflict.
Then there's the serious bites. You WILL know if a parrot delivers one of these because you will have to go get stitched up by a doctor, they can and often do go to the bone with these major bites and some parrots have been known to right out break smaller bones. I have only ever experienced one serious bite in my 17 years of keeping birds of many different types and that bite came not from one of my birds but from one I was fostering. The one that gave me that bad bite was a sulfur crested cockatoo and, apparently, dyeing my hair made me look like someone who had abused her. She was fine with me then I dyed my hair a different color and got a serious bite that went right to the bone. I avoided stitches because she only got me with the tip of the beak and not a side which would have caused a longer puncture so I just had to keep my thumb well bandaged for about two weeks while it healed. These serious bites are very rare with what most call tamed birds, the ones you can handle but, like what happened with that foster, they can occur, doesn't mean they ever will but it is a risk you must accept.
With Lucia and Yamato, surprisingly, Lucia is the only one who has given someone a serious bite. She didn't truly bite me but she has really bitten two others. It's rare for her to seriously bite anyone, most people she likes but those two shared a personality trait she didn't like: They were higher energy and somewhat louder than average young males. Just a type of person she doesn't like it seems. She's also a lot fonder of women than she is of men with me being the only exception, any other guy that comes near her I warn because they are at a much higher risk of getting a bad bite.
Yamato has never given anyone a serious bite but he gives warning bites to anyone and everyone for any reason under the sun, even just because he wants to before laughing at their reaction to the pinch. So yea, bites will happen, they may be common or they may be rare but if you have a parrot, sooner or later you're going to get some kind of bite. Thankfully most parrot lovers never experience anything worse than a warning bite from their feathered family member but that doesn't mean it can't happen.
Then there's what's called beaking. This is when a parrot will right out grab your finger, beak around it with a little pressure and use it to keep themselves stable as they step onto your hand. So many people mistake beaking for a bite because it isn't the most comfortable thing and can hurt a little but it doesn't really cause any blood unless the beak is way, WAY too sharp. This is just how a parrot keeps themselves stable on a moving, unstable surface like your hand. Some parrots also beak you when they're playing, Lucia does this to me all the time because she likes to "wrestle" with my hand where she grabs my fingers, rolls onto her back and tries to keep my fingers in her grasp as I try to squirm them free. It's a fun game for her but leaves my fingers a bit sore. But it's worth it to play with her. Any parrot owner must get use to beaking and learn to tell it apart from warning bites because beaking will happen and it will happen commonly. Too many good parrots get the label of "Biter" because the humans don't know the difference between the two.
--Scream and Screech
Most people have heard it before but I will say it again: Parrots can be very, very loud. Every parrot and most birds in general will get especially loud during certain times of the day called "flock call times". This is when they call out to the other members of their flock, human or otherwise, and listen for a reply to make sure all members of their flock are alright. If they don't get a reply many of them will get even louder. I have made it a habit to go into the room when they start to flock call so they know I'm alright and I'm showing them I'm checking to be sure they are alright. You can't avoid the noise, you can teach a parrot not to scream so much but it is still going to happen. Just get use to it, it's natural for them and it's how they talk. Also, don't yell back at them, yelling makes them scream louder and get into contests to show you who can be the loudest, not something that's going to help you get back comfortable noise levels in your house.
Also, don't cater to their screaming. It'll teach them that screaming lets them get what they want and that is not a habit you want them to get into. Flock call time is one thing in the morning and evening, that's going to happen anyways but other times the best thing you can do is either not respond to the screaming or calmly talk to them. Parrots will scream to alert you to a danger or problem so checking on them isn't a bad idea just make sure not to treat them in any way for that screaming.
--Parrots are very sensitive
I'm not talking emotionally here, though some are emotionally sensitive too. I'm talking about sensitivity to their environment. Fumes, high levels of smoke, nail products, hair products, air fresheners, non-stick cook ware, scented candles, cleaning products, body spray, anything that puts particles into the air is a risk for feathered family members. I am a former smoker myself and I always tried to keep my smoke away from my baby birds back when I smoked. I would not smoke when they are on me, I would not smoke in the room that I keep them in at the time (the living room) all that. We use natural cleaning products for the safety of the birds, body spray is used in a different room well away from them that gets aired out somewhat commonly, we are careful with our cookware and air out the kitchen when we use it. We do many small things like that which help keep the baby birds safe.
Then there's natural factors, like temperature and drafts. You do not want to put a parrot near a drafty window or door because they will get sick very easily. The reason for this is due to a need for pretty stable temperatures. Rapidly fluctuating temperatures will weaken a parrot's immune system dangerously and very quickly. Try your best to keep the temperature as steady as you can in the home, they are comfy in the same temperature range as you are. If it is too warm or cold for you then it is too warm or cold for them but unlike you who will likely be alright with a little chill or sweating your parrot could easily get sick from it.
Parrots can be possessive. Some get aggressive when someone comes near their favorite thing or person, others are just watchful to make sure said thing or person isn't hurt or taken from them. It varies by parrot personality. Those that get aggressively possessive normally do require some attitude adjustment and the only way to do that is to be willing to chance a few bites to show them that, no, you AREN'T going to stay away from something or someone just because they claimed it. I had this issue with Yamato and his cage. Oh he use to hate me putting my hand in his cage no matter if he was in it or not and he would lunge at me to the point of flying over to make his point clear with that beak. What did I do when he did this? I would put my hand right in his cage anyways, setting it right on his perch and just dare him to bite me. Trust me, I got a few nips from him doing this and he got scorned for each and every warning bite but eventually he realized he wasn't going to win that battle. Now I can reach right into his cage and pet him while he's in there without too much trouble unless he's in a bad mood but with Yamato, bad moods happen.
The key to breaking those aggressive habit of possession is to go near and touch what or who they're possessive of anyways. The reason why is because parrots will try to show some dominance, especially parrots with flock leader personalities like Yamato has. If you let into these habits they will think that they have more power in the flock than you do (And trust me, they DO see you as a flock member) and they will keep doing things like that and not listen to you. You have to show them that you are the flock leader, not them. This is done by pretty much right out defying any attempt at authority that the parrot shows to you. They will nip and sometimes right out bite you in a last attempt to make you do what they want but when you still defy them, most of the time they will back down. That brings me to my next point.
--It's still a flock to them
You may not have flight or feathers but, to any parrot you live with, you are a flock member. Even if they don't like you, you are still a flock member and, for a parrot, that's family. Most people don't realize that the chain of command for a flock does exist but it is different for different types of birds. I've had two sun conures and known others with them, sun conures tend to have a very lax chain of command in the flock where they all have pretty much equal say. Because of this you don't often find a sun conure with a huge flock leader ego though it can happen it really isn't common. I've also dealt with a few other types of parrots, cockatiels, who have a slightly stricter but not too strict flock chain of command, black capped conures who, like the sun conure, have a very lax chain of command, etc.
However I did not know that quaker parrots have a rather strict chain of command when I got Yamato. More so, I had no idea Yamato was going to grow up to have a flock leader personality meaning he is constantly challenging me for the place of head honcho in the house. He's already made the lady of the house back down from him so needless to say he sees himself as higher on the chain of command than she is and that won't change until she stops being scared of this little three and a half ounce bird. Sure she is fine when he's in his cage and can't get her but the moment he is out that cage and looks like he may bite she gets jumpy. I am constantly getting nipped and lunged at by Yamato for any and every reason because he thinks he'll finally make me back down, then he finds out it just makes me grasp his beak so he can't bite at all and he gets a stern talking to. Much of his aggression comes from him having that flock leader ego problem, once he's reminded of his place in the flock though he settles down and starts acting sweet again, at least for a month or so.
Most flock leader personality parrots end up being rehomed many times, they tend to be the parrots that you just can't get to stop biting no matter what you try. If you end up getting a flock leader you have to approach them differently. They can be sweet, loving parrots, they just have a bit of an ego issue and need to be reminded that they aren't the head of your roost from time to time. Yamato loves to clean me and get kisses and rubbed behind the head when he's not trying to challenge me for leadership and, if I'm sick, he instantly gets protective of me and more attentive because I'm still a member of his flock so yes, the flock leader ego birds can be great feathered babies, you just have to learn how to handle them.
Due to parrots having this flock mentality you don't just have to worry about the rare flock leader ego bird, if something happens to you they will worry and if they lose you they will be crushed. Naturally their flocks are larger normally but in a home setting those flocks tend to be much smaller so they get much, MUCH more attached to their flock members. You can't ignore them, they need your attention so they don't get lonely and they need to know you're alright or else they will get worried and a worried parrot can stop eating and, if it goes on too long, start plucking themselves. A lot of people think just getting them a companion, another parrot, will help with that but that isn't always the case. Another feathered friend can help their loneliness even if in different cages but it won't stop them from worrying about you. All the more reason to take care of yourself for your flock's sake.
--Those wings aren't just for decoration
Do not keep your parrot in the cage all the time, it is not healthy for them mentally or physically. Those wings need to be used even if they are clipped (I personally am against wing clipping but I can understand the need in some situations) because it gets the blood pumping and keeps your parrot in shape. Flying is good for their health, strengthens their heart and respiratory system, stops them from getting overweight and is really good for their mood. Even if their wings are clipped just having the space to flap them is good for every parrot. Yamato loves to fly and I'll tell you, when he takes off he's like a little green bullet. I actually can't keep visual track of him when he's flying around the house due to my extremely low vision but I can hear him and hear how fast he's moving. One moment he'll be close enough to see just a green blur of next moment I see nothing but hear those wings all the way across the room. Birds love to fly most of the time, it's just in their nature. Also, those worried about my ability to keep track of Yamato when he's flying due to my vision, don't be concerned, I always have someone who's fully sighted in the room with us when Yamato is out of his cage so they can keep visual track of him while I listen for where he is so he's well watched after.
Lucia, however, flies with all the grace of a drunken paper airplane. She's a very awkward flier which is odd for a sun conure. The reason why, however, is because her breeder was a dumbass who clipped her wings too short and damaged the cuticle where her flight feathers grow from. Her breeder also did a number of other stupid things including force weaning, machine feeding too hot of a food which caused Lucia to have crop burn and selling them too young. That breeder has since been shut down, I saw to that when I found out how bad of shape Lucia was in when I got her and got in contact with every organization and animal protection branch I could to get the guy investigated so there's one less horrid breeder out there. Due to her wings having been clipped wrong as a chick, however, Lucia's flight feathers will never grow in right even though she has still learned how to fly despite this. She may be a slow flier and prefer to walk and be carried because of it but we do encourage her to fly for the physical benefits. We just have to be careful with her because she is a special needs parrot due to what happened when she was a chick.
(Footnote: Those wondering why I'm against wing clipping, it's because flight is a parrot's natural defense. Taking that from them can raise their anxiety levels unhealthily and can make a parrot very, very jumpy knowing that, if something happens they can't escape under their own power. Also, improper clipping can cause many issues such as cuticle damage, which happened to Lucia, and cutting the flight feathers too short making any fall a dangerous one. Even though I have a parrot (Yamato) who is a flight risk I won't clip their wings, instead I take greater responsibility and make sure they can't escape through a door or window or anything like that by being sure those exits are not opened while they are out. A little extra personal responsibility can go a long way to keep even a flight risk parrot safe. That said, I can understand for those who have kids which can open the door without warning why clipping wings can be a logical option for you but make sure it's done right and the parrot can still lighten their fall just in case. Also, if you do clip wings make sure any other pets are not able to get near your parrot when they are out, as I said, clipping the wings takes away their greatest defense and I HAVE heard of people who's sweet dog that had never shown aggression to their parrot or any other animal or person before decided to just take their beloved bird out with one bite and no warning.)
--Bird Brain isn't as much of an insult as you may have thought
Parrots can be extremely clever and can have a huge personality in those little bodies. Some birds take sport in trying to outsmart their human flock members, my little Yamato is one of them. This tends to be more of an amusing quirk than a bothersome one most of the time but there are some times when it can spell trouble, especially if your parrot's version of the game is to be a little escape artist. We had this issue with Yamato for a little while. No matter the type of lock or how we secured it this little green bird would find a way out and come right to us all proud of himself for it. It was cute but we knew it was also dangerous. Our answer to this issue was a spring loaded latch style cage, one that takes us some effort to open this way, even though Yamato knows how the latch works he just doesn't have the strength in that little three and a half ounce body to work the darned thing, doesn't mean he doesn't still try from time to time but we know he can't open it if it takes us some strength to lift that latch. You can get the most complex latch possible which may just be more fun for them to undo but it normally takes something they just can't physically operate to stop the escape artist in their tracks.
They will also use those clever little brains to figure out how to get what they want, be it by manipulating you or by distracting you so they can just grab it. Yamato once teamed up with another pet to get my ex-boyfriend, and still good friend's, hot dog bun and succeeded. Lucia has been known to wait patiently until you turn your head to steal something from your plate or hand even though she showed no interest in it before thus giving you no reason to feel like you had to guard it. They also wise up to tricks you use to get them to do what you want. Sometimes they will start training YOU and it is your job to recognize this when it happens. Sometimes it's really harmless and amusing antics but once in a while it can become a bit of a problem. As the human and, hopefully, flock leader, it's your job to recognize when it is a problem and address it.
Then again sometimes their cleverness, like dismantling a toy and begging you to put it back together, can be pretty endearing. That little game is akin to to when you give them a problem, like a hard shelled nut or foraging toy, and they have to figure out the solution. You putting the toy back together is the same thing.
--Watch what they eat
I won't post a full list in this post but there are some things parrots really shouldn't have. Avocados are the big one, they are very toxic to parrots and even tiny amounts can kill! A bite of avocado to a parrot is like a swig of pure arsenic to a human so keep them away from avocados at all costs. I personally love avocados but I never, NEVER have my babies out when I eat it, I store it in a bag in a separate area of the fridge from their veggies and I clean my lips, rinse out my mouth and clean my hands to the point they get a bit red after eating any avocado just to keep them safe. They should also be kept away from chocolate, dairy (Some parrots have a tiny bit of cheese from time to time but it has to be a very small amount and very rarely) non-fruit sugars, seasonings and a number of other things. I just wanted to make sure to warn about avocados because that is perhaps one of the biggest food danger to any parrot.
These are just some of the little things pet shops don't warn you about when you take home a parrot but hopefully these little tips and warnings will help you decide if a parrot is a good match for you and, if you already have a parrot and are at a loss maybe it'll help you to know you are not alone in both the good and the bad. These little feathered babies are great, loving pets if treated right.
Got questions? Even if silly or you think it's stupid, ask away. You would be surprised how many seemingly unimportant things can actually be pretty significant in the end. Even if the question is just out of pure curiosity.