How to Buy a Parrot: The Ultimate Guide

Introduction
Parrots are stunning, intelligent birds, and they make fantastic and rewarding companions, however, they require a lot more thought and attention than a typical family pet.

This article takes you through some of the points to consider before purchasing a parrot, but it is only an overview, and you really should do thorough research on specific species and their requirements before taking the plunge and buying a parrot.

This article will concentrate on some of the characteristics of parrots that make them a challenging pet, and make clear the responsibilities you will face as an owner. The aim in not to put you off making a purchase, but to make sure that after the purchase you have a happy experience. Characteristics differ between species, and once you understand the implication of each characteristic it will help you select a parrot that you can take good care of.

We will look at:

  • Longevity
  • Size
  • Intelligence
  • Mimic skills
  • Noise
  • Cost
  • Cleaning requirements
  • Suitability of your location
  • Weaning
  • Legal requirements
  • Feeding

Disclaimer: my favorite is the cute little Meyers Parrot, and I am totally biased when I say you really should check this breed out when you are choosing your new pet!

Longevity
Some parrots live to be as old as 100 with larger species tending to live longer than smaller ones. Thus you need to either select a species that matches your lifestyle, or if your heart is set on a large parrot you need to make arrangements for its care in the event that you die. This is no easy task as older parrots as pets can develop behavioral issues when they are switched to a new owner, especially if they were not trained properly. It is your responsibility to raise your pet in a way that maximizes the chances of a smooth transition. Lifespans of 60 common species are indicated below:

Species Estimated
Lifespan (years)
Budgie 8
Lovebird 15
Lineolated Parakeet 12
Bourke’s Parakeet 12
Orange Fronted Conure 15
Half Moon Conure 15
Green Cheeked Conure 15
Mustached Parakeet 18
Plum Headed Parakeet 18
Derbyan Parakeet 18
Green Rumped Parrotlet 20
Pacific Parrotlet 20
Mexican Parrotlet 20
Green Naped Lorikeet 20
Dusky Conure 20
Blue Streaked Lorikeet 20
Black Capped Lorikeet 20
Chattering Lorikeet 20
Cockatiels 20
Jenday Conure 21
Sun Conure 22
Red Bellied Parrot 23
Senegal Parrot 23
Gold Cap Conure 23
Nanday Conure 25
Blue Crown Conure 25
Meyer’s Parrot 28
Alexandrine Parakeet 28
Caique 30
Hawk Headed Parrot 30
Jardine’s Parrot 30
Quaker Parrot 30
White Capped Pionus 40
Dusky Headed Pionus 40
Bronze Winged Pionus 40
Hahn’s Mini Macaw 40
Blue Headed Pionus 40
Maximilian Pionus 40
Cape Parrot 40
Uncape Parrot 40
Noble Mini Macaw 40
Yellow Collared Mini Macaw 40
Severe Mini Macaw 40
Eclectus Parrot 45
Illeger’s Mini Macaw 45
Lilac Crowned Amazon 50
White Fronted Amazon 50
Red Lored Amazon 50
Double Yellow Headed Amazon 50
Blue Fronted Amazon 50
Yellow Naped Amazon 50
African Grey 60
Cockatoo 80
Military Macaw 80
Blue and Gold Macaw 80
Catalina Macaw 80
Green Winged Macaw 80
Harlequin Macaw 80
Scarlet Macaw 80
Hyacinth Macaw 80

Size
The smallest parrot is the South Pacific Pygmy Parrot which measures just three and a half inches, the largest is the Hyacinth Macaw which measures just under 40 inches, and with over 370 species there are parrots of all different sizes in between.

hyacinth_macaw_parrots_as_pets

Obviously a large parrot requires a larger cage, and the process of choosing the appropriate cage is described here, but in summary it is best to buy the biggest cage that your budget allows. At a minimum the diameter at the most narrow point of any cage must be twice the parrot’s wing span, and the cage height should be at least double the height of the bird.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that a smaller bird requires less attention or care, as this simply isn’t the case. Whilst smaller birds tend to live for shorter periods, they require all your love and attention during their lifespan and are just as intelligent as larger birds.

So the size of your parrot is a factor that you need consider in relation to the cost of the cage, and lifespan.

The height of 60 common species is presented below.

Species Height (inches)
Green Rumped Parrotlet 5
Pacific Parrotlet 5
Mexican Parrotlet 5
Lovebird 6
Lineolated Parakeet 6
Bourke’s Parakeet 8
Orange Fronted Conure 9
Red Bellied Parrot 9
Senegal Parrot 9
Meyer’s Parrot 9
White Capped Pionus 9
Half Moon Conure 9.5
Caique 9.5
Budgie 10
Green Cheeked Conure 10
Green Naped Lorikeet 10
Dusky Headed Pionus 10
Dusky Conure 11
Blue Streaked Lorikeet 11
Gold Cap Conure 11
Bronze Winged Pionus 11
Mustached Parakeet 12
Black Capped Lorikeet 12
Chattering Lorikeet 12
Jenday Conure 12
Sun Conure 12
Hawk Headed Parrot 12
Jardine’s Parrot 12
Hahn’s Mini Macaw 12
Blue Headed Pionus 12
Maximilian Pionus 12
Lilac Crowned Amazon 12
White Fronted Amazon 12
Plum Headed Parakeet 13
Cockatiels 13
Quaker Parrot 13
Cape Parrot 13
Uncape Parrot 13
Red Lored Amazon 13
Nanday Conure 14
Noble Mini Macaw 14
Eclectus Parrot 14
Double Yellow Headed Amazon 14
African Grey 14
Blue Fronted Amazon 15
Yellow Naped Amazon 15
Blue Crown Conure 16
Yellow Collared Mini Macaw 17
Illeger’s Mini Macaw 17
Cockatoo 18
Severe Mini Macaw 19
Derbyan Parakeet 20
Alexandrine Parakeet 23
Military Macaw 27
Blue and Gold Macaw 34
Catalina Macaw 34
Green Winged Macaw 34
Harlequin Macaw 34
Scarlet Macaw 34
Hyacinth Macaw 39

Intelligence
All parrots are intelligent and this means that you will need to provide enough distractions to keep them occupied. This means spending time with your pet, especially if you are keeping a single bird, after all these are naturally sociable animals that would live and travel with a flock in the wild. Some species of parrot are said to have the equivalent intelligence of a human toddler, and you know how much attention they need!

In addition to spending time with them you will need to provide the right environment: a cage or aviary of an adequate size, opportunities to fly outside the cage, and toys to play with. These toys will need to be rotated regularly or your pet will soon become bored.

A selection of parrot toys

Photo: A selection of parrot toys

If the needs of this intelligent bird are not met it leads to behavioral problems, and physical manifestation such as feather-plucking. If you let your parrot get to this reduced mental state it is very challenging to nurture them once more into a happy bird.

One contentious issue is that parrots have a small cerebral cortex yet this is the area of the brain that it is established that humans use to think, however, it is contended that birds use a different part of their brain for intelligence – the so-called medio-rostral neostriatum. Whatever the case may be you will note that parrot are indeed intelligent. This intelligence does not always translate into excellent mimicry as many other factors come in to play as you will read in the following section.

Mimic Skills
Parrots talking are entertaining and delightful, but never buy a parrot because you want a talking bird since even the most naturally talented mimics sometimes don’t say a word. Whilst you can select a species such as the African Grey (which are the best mimics), it is still down to the individual bird as to the level of mimicry achieved. Other species with good talking ability are the Eclectus parrot and the budgerigar.

Below is the ranking of the talking ability of 60 species, but remember that this is indicative only and each parrot is an individual.

Noise

Whilst parrots talking is entertaining they also make all sorts of other noise, and you need to make sure that not only you can put up the noise levels, but also your neighbors. A squawking parrot is a healthy parrot so this is not a trait that you can train away, it is one that you must be happy with if you are going to buy a parrot. In fact one of the reasons I am so keen on the Meyers parrot is that it is a relatively quiet parrot.

To give you an idea of what you can expect, I have chatted to breeders of cockatoos who build special aviaries at the end of large gardens because they felt like their ears were about to bleed during breeding season. Cockatoos have been recorded at just a few decibels below that of a jumbo jet, and you have to be a real parrot lover to put up with the piercing shriek of a conure.

The rule of thumb is that the bigger the parrot the noisier it is likely to be, but below is an outline of the likely noise levels for each of 60 species.

Species Mimicry (A=excellent)
Budgie A
Red Lored Amazon A
Double Yellow Headed Amazon A
African Grey A
Blue Fronted Amazon A
Yellow Naped Amazon A
Blue Crown Conure A
Yellow Collared Mini Macaw A
Derbyan Parakeet A
Blue and Gold Macaw A
Catalina Macaw A
Green Winged Macaw A
Harlequin Macaw A
Scarlet Macaw A
Lineolated Parakeet B
Red Bellied Parrot B
Senegal Parrot B
Hahn’s Mini Macaw B
Lilac Crowned Amazon B
White Fronted Amazon B
Plum Headed Parakeet B
Quaker Parrot B
Cape Parrot B
Uncape Parrot B
Noble Mini Macaw B
Eclectus Parrot B
Illeger’s Mini Macaw B
Severe Mini Macaw B
Alexandrine Parakeet B
Military Macaw B
Hyacinth Macaw B
Green Rumped Parrotlet C
Pacific Parrotlet C
Mexican Parrotlet C
Orange Fronted Conure C
Meyer’s Parrot C
White Capped Pionus C
Half Moon Conure C
Green Cheeked Conure C
Green Naped Lorikeet C
Blue Streaked Lorikeet C
Bronze Winged Pionus C
Mustached Parakeet C
Black Capped Lorikeet C
Chattering Lorikeet C
Hawk Headed Parrot C
Cockatiels C
Nanday Conure C
Cockatoo C
Jardine’s Parrot C
Lovebird D
Bourke’s Parakeet D
Caique D
Dusky Headed Pionus D
Dusky Conure D
Gold Cap Conure D
Jenday Conure D
Sun Conure D
Blue Headed Pionus D
Species Noisiness
Budgie Quiet
Red Lored Amazon Noisy
Double YelQuiet Headed Amazon Fairly noisy
African Grey Moderately noisy
Blue Fronted Amazon Noisy
YelQuiet Naped Amazon Noisy
Blue Crown Conure Fairly noisy
YelQuiet Collared Mini Macaw Noisy
Derbyan Parakeet Noisy
Blue and Gold Macaw Noisy
Catalina Macaw Noisy
Green Winged Macaw Noisy
Harlequin Macaw Noisy
Scarlet Macaw Noisy
Lineolated Parakeet Quiet
Red Bellied Parrot Quiet
Senegal Parrot Quiet
Hahn’s Mini Macaw Moderately noisy
Lilac Crowned Amazon Noisy
White Fronted Amazon Noisy
Plum Headed Parakeet Moderately noisy
Quaker Parrot Moderately noisy
Cape Parrot Moderately noisy
Uncape Parrot Moderately noisy
Noble Mini Macaw Moderately noisy
Eclectus Parrot Noisy
Illeger’s Mini Macaw Moderately noisy
Severe Mini Macaw Fairly noisy
Alexandrine Parakeet Noisy
Military Macaw Moderately noisy
Hyacinth Macaw Noisy
Green Rumped Parrotlet Quiet
Pacific Parrotlet Quiet
Mexican Parrotlet Quiet
Orange Fronted Conure Fairly noisy
Meyer’s Parrot Quiet
White Capped Pionus Moderately noisy
Half Moon Conure Quiet
Green Cheeked Conure Quiet
Green Naped Lorikeet Noisy
Blue Streaked Lorikeet Noisy
Bronze Winged Pionus Moderately noisy
Mustached Parakeet Moderately noisy
Black Capped Lorikeet Noisy
Chattering Lorikeet Noisy
Hawk Headed Parrot Moderately noisy
Cockatiels Moderately noisy
Nanday Conure Noisy
Cockatoo Noisy
Jardine’s Parrot Moderately noisy
Lovebird Moderately noisy
Bourke’s Parakeet Quiet
Caique Moderately noisy
Dusky Headed Pionus Moderately noisy
Dusky Conure Moderately noisy
Gold Cap Conure Moderately noisy
Jenday Conure Noisy
Sun Conure Noisy
Blue Headed Pionus Moderately noisy
Maximilian Pionus Moderately noisy

Cost

Once you investigate various options you will see that parrots vary greatly in price, and this is mainly due to variations in how easy it is to breed each species. This supply and demand factor is quite local, and thus there is a wide range of prices, but below is a very rough indication of what you might expect to pay for weaned parrots. If you buy from an existing owner you will get a much lower price, but may have to deal with behavioral issues resulting from poor training.

  • Amazon Parrots, $300-$1300
  • African Grey, $1000-$1500
  • Budgies, $10-$20
  • Cockatoos, $800-$6,200
  • Cockatiels, $130-$150
  • Conures, $250-$650
  • Lovebirds, $70-$100
  • Macaws, $550-$8,500

In addition to the bird set-up costs vary by species, with larger parrots require larger cages, which are more expensive. Also, some species are more susceptible to illnesses than others, and you need to check that you can afford the specialist vet fees that are an ongoing cost of parrot-keeping.

Cleaning requirements

Not only are parrots noisy and expensive, but they are also really messy! Feathers, faeces, food and water will all end up on the floor of your pet’s cage and it is your job to clean it regularly to avoid health risks. Changing the water on a regular basis is the most important thing to remember.

Photo: A parrot cage draw.

Photo: A parrot cage draw.

Suitability of your location

You need to consider your location before choosing a parrot, for example, if you are very close to your neighbors then buying a noisy cockatoo would not really be fair to them. If you do not have a vet nearby with the Certified Avian Specialist Status, then you might want to think again as to whether a pet parrot is really the right choice.

Weaning

Baby parrots

Photo: Baby parrots.

It is highly advisable to purchase a parrot that has already been weaned as it takes a real expert to manage this period in a bird’s development. Weaning requires multiple daily feedings, daily weighing of the bird, preparation of foods at the right temperature and the conducting of training and socializing – any mistakes made in the early training phase will be very difficult to correct later.

Legal Requirements

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) does not permit trade in wild-caught species, and you should be sure that you are not breaking any laws. It is highly advisable to buy a captive-bred, rather than wild-born bird, not only for legal reasons, but also because a wild-born bird will be harder to keep as a pet, and is really only a good choice for the experience aviculturist.

Feeding

Photo: parrot feeding

Photo: Parrot feeding.

A good diet sits at the heart of good parrot care, and you need to make sure you understand your parrot’s needs before you make your purchase. You need to stick to recommended foods (parrot mix, along with green vegetables and fruit etc.) and avoid foods that can prove fatal (alcohol, avocado, chocolate, coffee, raw potato, salt, and tea).

Conclusion

Now you understand which factors are most important for your situation you can chose a parrot that meets your needs. You will choose from one of the following groupings: Budgies, Cockatiels, Cockatoos, Conures, Macaws, Parakeets, Parrotlets, Parrots, and Lovebirds.

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