Tips For Birds As Pets | Things To Do With Kids |

Finding herself newly divorced and starting a new job in December 1991, Jessica Savage, a mother with four young children, had no money for Christmas, much less a present for her daughter’s Christmas day birthday. That’s where Claire came in — the parakeet who saved her daughter’s birthday as a belated gift.

Jessica adopted the bird with her first paycheck, and while she was a gift for her daughter, Claire quickly became a treasured member of the whole family. Claire was the first of many parakeets adopted by Jessica and her family over the years.

“Because we didn’t own a home, with rentals, it’s hard to have a cat or dog,” Jessica said. “A parakeet was a nice in-between pet, because they’re less trouble than a cat or dog and most rentals allow it.”
Today, she has a parakeet named Moonlight.
Petco’s Director of Animal Care, Education, and Compliance Dawn Burch says a bird is a good option for families that want an interactive pet, but may not have the space for a dog, or have a family member with an allergy to pet fur.

Although it varies by location, potential bird parents can adopt parakeets (also called budgies), cockatiels, conures, other small parrots, finches, and canaries from Petco or other area pet supply stores, and occasionally birds can be adopted from the Animal Services Center of the Mesilla Valley. Each type of bird has its own needs, but, universally, pet birds need lots of companionship and attention.

“Sharing your life with a bird won’t be as physically demanding as pet parenting a dog,” Dawn said. “Species like finches and canaries are better suited for people who want a bird that is entertaining to watch, but don’t desire to handle or directly interact with the pet as much.”

For hands-on pet parents, birds in the psittacine (parrot) family often form a strong bond with their human companions, Dawn said. There are approximately 350 species of parrots, with life spans ranging from 10 to more than 60 years.birds

“Birds such as cockatiels and canaries can learn elaborate tunes while conures, small parrots, and parakeets can even learn to mimic words . . . With patience and persistence, some birds can even learn to perform tricks,” Dawn said.

Parakeets are a popular choice in households with young children. “Budgies are very social and intelligent,” Jessica said. “They get lonely, and they get bored. They need to be stimulated. I think it’s a great pet for families with kids.”
Aside from life span and desired levels of interactivity with your bird companion, there are other factors to consider.

Proper Space

Historic Mesilla restaurant La Posta, open for 81 years, is well-known for its Mexican food, steaks, and margaritas. According to owner Tom Hutchison, however, it’s the aviary in the lobby that customers remember most. The aviary is home to six birds — two macaws, two yellow-headed amazons, one cockatoo, and one African grey — that range in age from 4 years old to more than 20 years old. The aviary is nine feet tall and approximately 80 square feet, with three compartments.

“(Habitats) should be large enough to provide the bird with room to stretch its wings without touching the bars,” Dawn said. “Some species of birds such as canaries and finches will benefit from flight cages, which are large enough for the birds to fly around and interact with one another.”

General environment

Birds need perches of varying textures and diameters to encourage proper foot health, Dawn said, as well as toys for their enrichment and engagement. The toys should be rotated to prevent boredom. Other items needed are covered food and water dishes, a bird bath for smaller birds, and a cover for the habitat at night. Consider the location of the bird’s habitat in the home. The cage should be placed away from drafts and where the bird can get quiet time as needed, but also not left alone constantly, Dawn explained.

As Tom pointed out, birds can be messy, so you must be committed to keeping their environment clean and tidy.
Be prepared for loud noises and make sure they are acceptable to those around you. Remember that birds can be sensitive to aerosols and chemicals, including those found in non-stick cookware.


Just like humans need to stretch their legs, birds need to stretch their wings — by flying or otherwise getting out of the cage.

“Some birds will need daily interaction outside of their habitat in order to thrive and help prevent behavioral problems such as screaming and feather plucking,” Dawn said. “While keeping one bird alone is best for developing a strong bond with the pet parent, keeping multiple birds is ideal if pet parents are unable to devote enough time for enrichment and engagement with the bird.”

Jessica stressed the importance of interaction. “It’s a process of training. You can’t just get a bird and say ‘oh, it will be over there in the cage,’” she said. “The bird will be bored and lonely.”

Think about your other pets and how a bird will fit in with them. “It’s hard having a cat and a bird,” Jessica says. “It was a lot of work to keep the bird safe from the cat. I had to develop strategies to deal with that. So, you have to think: how will it fit into your environment, other pets, other people in your house?”

Veterinary Care

Also, consider veterinary care. Birds do not generally require vaccinations, Dawn said, but annual exams are needed to ensure the health of the animal.

“Your veterinarian will be able to assess the overall condition of your bird, closely examining the bird’s skin, feathers, eyes, nostrils, beak, and feet for any abnormalities,” she said. “Any concerning behaviors or symptoms such as eye or nasal discharge, abnormal droppings, or other unusual occurrences should be discussed with your veterinarian.”
Tom said the birds of La Posta get a general health exam every three months with a veterinarian to get their beaks and claws trimmed and clipped, get weighed, review their diet, and have their overall health assessed.

Ethical Sourcing

Illegal international wildlife trade affects birds just as it does many other species of wildlife. Awareness of this illegal practice is crucial to ensuring a bird you adopt is not poached from the wild. Vet the origin of the bird, and research breeders as much as possible.

“Our birds (at Petco) are all sourced responsibly from breeders and are never wild caught,” Dawn said. “We have a strict vendor certification program that ensures all birds are traceable . . . birds are banded so we are able to track them throughout their journey.”

Tom said he and his wife, Jerean, usually adopt their birds from previous owners.
“Most of our birds have come from owners for a variety of reasons. They no longer want to take care of them or want more of a social environment for them,” Tom said.birds

What if you cannot keep the bird?

Nobody expects they will not be able to keep their pet, but sometimes the best laid plans do not work out. Dawn suggests pet parents first talk to friends and family members to see if anyone can take on the pet. “Bird rescues are another excellent resource to turn to,” she said. “These rescues are experienced with providing proper care of birds and will vet new homes to ensure the bird is going to be placed in the best home possible.”

At Petco, birds can be returned within 30 days of purchase with a valid receipt if adopters decide they can no longer properly care for the bird.

“Pets of any type should never be released into the wild, and birds are no exception,” Dawn said. “The species of birds available are oftentimes not native to the region and can cause harm to the ecosystem, and pet birds are generally not suited to survive in the wild.

Pet birds have never had to find wild sources of food and can easily starve or succumb to weather conditions. Releasing pets into the wild is harmful for the environment and the pet.” With these considerations in mind, you can decide if a feathered friend is the right addition to your family.

To download bird care guides in multiple languages, plus find a variety of other avian resources, visit the Association of Avian Veterinarians website at


Written by Tracy Patrick Roy

Originally published in Neighbors magazine.

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