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We've recently added anew member to the family, A Quaker Parrot ( which is really a parakeet also known as Monk's Parakeet). Hal, as our new bird is named after the green Angry Bird, was sort of a spur of the moment purchase, but we had been planning to buy a bird. But looking on dooyoo for information on parakeets, I was struck by the huge difference in the experience of the two writers, and this can hold true for any type of bird. Choosing a bird is a complicated decision - and a pet shop is usually not your best solution, I will be reviewing parakeets in specific here, but the same information on choosing a bird holds true for any member of the parrot family, or any other bird you wish to have as hand tame pet - so even if parakeets aren't your thing, please skip down to the Buying a bird section if you are considering any type of bird in the near future.
Parrot or Parakeet - what's the difference?
Parakeets are members of the parrot family, so they are actually still parrots, just a specific type of parrot. there are a few dozen species of parakeets that I am aware of ,and probably many more and the variation between different types is massive. Some make great pets, other would be better suited as aviary birds. In general a parakeet is smaller than other parrots, and has longer tail feathers, but this is not always the case. The smallest parakeet to my knowledge is the common Budgie, which can get up to about 7" from beak to tail . The largest member of the family is the Alexandrine Parakeet which can exceed 25" from beak to tail, making it larger than many birds classed simply as parrots.
I believe most, if not all parakeets can learn to talk. However some types pick up speech readily and others are very unlikely to talk. If you want a talking bird, research whichever breed you are considering carefully. Budgies for all their size are meant to be a good choice for talking pets, but I have never seen one with a vocabulary anywhere near that of a larger parrot. Rosellas on the other hand are unlikely to be great talkers. Some types can be taught tricks as well, and ours can come to your call if he is on top of his cage. He most certainly will not come when called to go back into the cage though.
Why we chose a parakeet?
To be perfectly honest, it was pure chance that led us to choose a Quaker Parrot. We had planned on taking a baby parrotlet, but many details disturbed me, and I'm afraid the bird may have come from the avian equivalent of a puppy mill. A Quaker Parrot came up on Gumtree, the owner had only had him two weeks but it wasn't working out. He is only 5 months old, and very affectionate and desperate for attention so he is working out very well with us. However, parakeets were on the list of birds we were considering due to size and initial investment. I wanted a hand tamed bird, and hand reared is definitely best for this. A hand reared African Grey or Macaw can easily cost into the £1,000's. I do not have room for a large enough cage for a large parrot, nor do I really wanted the larger voice of a Macaw - although parakeets can be very loud as well so be warned. They tend to be noisy when bored or lonely - so if your bird screeches all the time - it is your fault. But even the occasionally loud vocalisations can be an issue if you live in a flat or terraced housing - you don't want to choose a pet that will drive your neighbours mad.
Before you buy - is a bird the right pet for you?
Budgies can be quite content with another bird for company while the owner works long hours. Most parrots and parakeets need a lot of attention though. If you work full time you may need to keep two birds, and they may not bond as deeply with you as a result, but you can not can to devote at least an hour two every day to keeping your pet company - do not consider one of these animals alone. They literally go insane. They can become vicious, or commit horrible acts of self harm. I used to have a friend who begged me every week to take her Macaw and Cockatoo. She had paid a fortune for these birds but the cockatoo was bald from self harm and the Macaw was a vicious ********. Both were sadly insane. One attacked itself, the other anything else. They screamed and cried, beat themselves against the bars of the cage, and were otherwise miserable. A good trainer may have been able to rehabilitate them, but it was out of my league. The best solution would have been for them to be placed as aviary birds with others of their own kind. These were lovely animals destroyed by someone not knowing what they were getting into when buying them. My friend had acquired them already badly damaged, but soon became to frightened of them to do anything with them herself. I would have taken them - but only to rehome - not to keep.
If you want a member of the parrot species you must either keep two with plenty of toys and means of entertainment or keep one with and treat it like a child, with regular attention, training and entertainment. Otherwise, no matter how tame and lovely the bird is when you get it - it will turn into a nightmare. This can be done, even if you work a full time job, with a large cage and plenty of toys - but will you really want to devote time to the bird every night when you come home? Can you have it flying loose while you unwind and sitting on your shoulder - often jumping about and pulling your hair for attention while you watch telly? A parrot of any kind is as time consuming as dog if it on its own. A pair can tolerate less human interaction - but will become less tame if not handled daily. Most people who have owned a parakeet have either loved the bird or hated it. There is rarely any middle ground. If you can not devote adequate time - expect non stop screaming, biting, destruction of anything it can get its beak on, and self harm as the bird little by little goes mad - just as you would if confined for life to a cage with no books, television, computer or other entertainment and no contact with another human, or even a friendly pet. A content bird usually sleeps at night - one going mad may scream all night as well and quite often loudly enough that not only will you never have a good night's sleep again, neither will your neighbours.
Bird shopping - the wrong bird.
I may have limited experience with birds, I've had a few and members of my family have had more, but I've had more than my share of experience of mismatched owners. My first bird was a canary which belonged to an elderly lady. Its cage had two inches of filth on the bottom, the perches were covered in waste, and the poor bird's feet were glued together with waste so badly that it could not stand on its perches. The woman bought, was annoyed that it wouldn't sing, and eventually stopped caring for it. I also used to take in unwanted pets when I worked in a pet store, which I only kept until I could rehome them. many of them were simply never suitable for their well meaning owners, but most people don't really know what to look for when buying a bird. Two of my temporary pets were Kakarikis, or New Zealand parakeets. These are beautiful small birds, but very, very active. Theoretically they can learn to talk, and there are You- tube videos of talking kaks. Realistically it is unlikely. They can also be hand tamed, but again, it is rare. These birds came into our pet shop at 12 weeks. I tried to hand tame them, unsuccessfully. They were sold by my manager, who honestly believed they could be hand tamed and learn to talk. Three months later they came back after having very severely bitten the hand them fed one time to many. The pet store was not allowed to accept returns, so I took them home and found a fellow who wanted them for a small aviary, built into a conservatory, which they would be grand for.
The problems often arise from an unsuitable species, but as often as not they arise from the conditions in which the birds have been kept as well - and the age of the bird. Hand taming an older bird is an uphill battle and many people fail. I wouldn't want to try it myself. You need to be very clear exactly what you want in a bird - and research accordingly. Please do not buy the famous breeder or pet stores line "you can tame the bird in no time". I've just had one try to convince I could easily tame a bird myself, that does bite now and has been in her pet shop for a year. Personally, I highly doubt it, even if I wanted to be bitten repeatedly in the process. Hand taming a bird is very difficult task, made more difficult the older the bird is. If you have a very young bird you may be able to hand tame it, but the odds are, for the average owner, if you get an aggressive bird it will remain an aggressive bird. Keep in mind you are going to be bitten - a lot when hand taming any bird - even a young one. I've had budgies draw blood, where the Macaw mentioned before had sent a few people to casualty for stitches. Even a tame bird is likely going to nip occasionally. This isn't a real bite, and doesn't do any real harm.
The right bird - the wrong breeder - don't buy from a bird mill.
A good hand tamed bird is expensive. The breeder will easily have over 100 hours of work in your bird before selling. It can be tempting to pick one up cheaper, but it can be false economy as well. Some of the warning signs for me were - pressure to take more than one bird, despite the fact that siblings should never be allowed to mate and same sex pairs of this breed are known to fight like two pitbulls - the fact that the owner had far too many species of birds, it would be impossible for him to be hand-rearing so many young birds, wanting to sell hatchlings etc.... Keep in mind parrots and parakeets are highly intelligent animals. Improper care when young can do lasting harm. If in doubt leave.
A good breeder - worth every extra penny you will pay:
A good breeder may have hand reared or hand tame birds. Hand reared means they were removed from the parents at an early age and fed by the breeder. This is very time consuming and expensive with heating, foods etc.. and the price of the bird is going to reflect this.
Alternatively, the parents may be very tame personal pets. The owner may have handled the babies from a young age, and starting feeding them treats by hand. These may not be as completely attached to humans as the hand reared bird, but they will still make a very good pet. They are more likely to breed easily as well if this is an issue.
A good breeder should be happy to show off his aviary - if he has one. If not he should show you where the parents are kept. They should be very clean (scattered seed is OK layers of poo or dirty water are not). The parents should look healthy and curious. He should enjoy talking about his birds, and should be asking you a few questions as well. A very good breeder will at times refuse a sale. If he does, listen carefully to him. He is most likely saving you a lot of heartache down the road. A breeder who really loves his birds doesn't want them to go to the wrong home and a certain type of bird may just not be suitable for your current lifestyle.
The biggest hallmark of a good breeder is quality , not quantity. Just like with dogs, a good breeder is apt to have limited numbers of animals for sale. A person with new litter of pups or new clutch of birds every other week can not possibly offer proper socialisation.
Buying from a pet shop:
You can find hand reared birds in pet shops, but unless the staff have gone to the trouble of continuing to socialise the bird, the benefits of hand raising will soon be lost. Also many birds sit in pet shops far too long and can become mentally imbalanced due to what amounts to solitary confinement with adequate thought to the birds social and psychological needs, even if the physical needs are met. If the bird is kept in the company of other members of its own species it will be much better off - but will be bonded to other birds - not humans.
I would consider buying from a pet shop only if one of the following conditions is met. If the bird is obviously tame, and you can handle it there and then, or at least see staff holding the bird comfortably, then the bird should be able to adjust to you as well. You might also arrange to order a bird through a pet shop, picking it up the day it comes in. If it is hand tamed - no worries. If not, some species can be hand tamed if young enough. I would never take a bird that had been in the pet shop for any period of time unless it already tame.
Buying from a private seller:
This is the option we took. We were lucky to find a wonderful bird whose owner could not keep it. He had only had it a short time, but apparently there was a problem with his 1 year old daughter. The cage was not stable and could easily be knocked over with a child pulling at it, and as gentle as the bird was, most birds will nip if you poke at them through the bars. If buying from a private seller - ask him or her to hold the bird first. If they appear afraid to touch it - I would worry. The bird may be uncomfortable with you as a stranger, but it should be comfortable with them. If they can handle it easily, even if it is a bit nippy you should be able to tame it. Be aware though there are a few birds that take a hatred to males or females. The bird being a bit nervous with you is fine. If it wants to attack you it might be a poor choice. You be aware that many birds sold in private listings are being sold because they are too aggressive, but there are also many for whom things just aren't working. The owner may have taken on more hours at work, had a new baby, have to travel or otherwise be unable to keep up with a birds needs.
Wherever you buy from be aware of the following warning signs:
The bird is listless and inactive.
The bird has faeces stuck to its underside.
The bird shows no interest in humans - parrots and parakeets are very inquisitive.
The bird has large bald patches - this means it is extremely stressed and ripping its own feathers out. If the bird is friendly enough I might overlook this - enough attention and stimulation will often ( not always) cure the problem. But if the bird is frightened of you and self harming - you may have an uphill battle. Keep in mind - a terrified bird will attack as well if it is cornered, and giving this bird the attention he so desperately needs is going to be nearly impossible if he is terrified of you.
The bird bites the owner or pet shop handler. The bird, continues to try to bite you, and bites hard enough to cause pain.
The pet shop worker puts on large gloves before touching the bird - often saying he is really tame, but we wear these for all birds..... He isn't tame and unless he is very young isn't likely to become tame.
We found Hal by chance, but he ended up being a perfect choice. Quaker Parrots are listed as only lower than African Greys in the ability to speak and learn. They are the only animal known by science to name their young - each baby in clutch will have it's own name and come when the parent calls it. They are also thought to teach their young language - something which makes them completely unique in our knowledge of animals ( I expect other species do as well - we just don't know it). Older siblings often stay with the family and help the parents with rearing the next clutch. These are highly intelligent and social creatures, which are willing to see humans as part of their family, making them the perfect pet for owners with time. They do need a lot of time though and will call out and show visible distress if left out for too long - they need to interact with the family. We are hoping to teach ours tricks, will provide further mental stimulation for the bird, but it does already come when called and make some attempts at mimicry, as well as begging for food. It has a bird playground which it loves, and enjoys ripping things up as well.
I have read these form strong one person bonds, but after reading about how they have strong family groups in the wild, I was confident this was a bird which could bond to the whole family. This has proven to be the case and it is very affectionate with my husband, myself and both children.
The Quaker parrot is only about 11" from beak to tail, making them easier to house than most parrots. Ours is green with light blue and grey. They can also be found in a beautiful shade of sky blue, and occasionally a very light almost white blue. Quakers are more cold tolerant than most parrots, a good thing for us as we do not heat the house at night and have a lifespan of up to 30 years. Although very intelligent and friendly, they do become possessive of their cage and may nip if grabbed out of the cage or poked at. It is best to open the cage and let the bird come to you. I don't blame them at all for nipping anyone poking at them. Very young children require supervision. Older ones need teaching. Adults who get bitten teasing or poking an animal in my house are likely to find me more dangerous than the bird.
Feeding and Housing:
This varies so much by type of parakeet that I can go into adequate detail. I will only say to research your specific breed very carefully. Hal was being kept on large parrot mix, which was totally unacceptable for him, and is likely OK only because he had treat sticks and people food. He could not eat the monkey nuts or corn, had eaten all the sunflower seeds and didn't like the chili. He also had tons of grit - all wrong for a parakeet and no cuttle bone. Most parakeets will need an appropriate sized seed, pellets or both. They will also need plenty of fruit and veg. As to cage size - the bigger the better, but you will have to look up specific breeds. Our cage is 23" x 14" by 31" but he is allowed out for several hours each day to play and has a separate bird playground. If your bird must be kept caged while you work all day a much larger cage would be needed for this species. Budgies on the other hand would need far less, while Kakakiris, although much smaller, should have more space as they are difficult to let out and get back in, and need a lot of activity.
I would highly recommend that you consider a parakeet if you are looking into buying a parrot type bird. They can be a wonderful pet. But be sure you get a gentle, inquisitive bird, not one that has already been damaged by poor handling, and be sure you can meet all of the animals needs before buying such an animal.
The going rate for a hand tamed Quaker Parrot is around £200. Expect a cage and accessories to cost another £125 - £200. Of course I paid far less with the previous owner taking a major loss for his two week experience of pet ownership, but it could have been far worse if he had held on too long and the bird was no longer able to adjust readily to another family.
Other parakeet species can range from £5 for a budgie to £400 = for a more unusual breed. Even at £400 though, they are far more affordable than a large parrot. The lifespan however is a bit less with an expected life expectancy of a captive Quaker being only 25 -30 years, compared to 50 - 70 for an African Grey. This suits me well enough though, as I don't expect to be here in 70 years to continue caring for the bird. Budgies on the other hand can live up to 12 years, but according to most of the sites I have visited are more likely to live only 5 -8. There is some variation here though with some sites claiming 3 -6 and others 5 - 10 so I have gone for the median.
I got a indian ringneck parakeet a while ago. After begging my mum to let me get a bird; promising to clean up its poor, clean its cage and that it would be quiet i was finally allowed one. To be honest, i wish my parents hadn't let me!
When we got the bird he was very scared. He would just sit in the corner of his cage, occasioanlly coming down to eat some seeds and drink some water. After a while the bird got used to being at home, and would sit on my finger and eventually we let it out and it would fly around and sit on the curtain rail.
I liked Bird (we called it Bird because we originally called it bluey, because it had a blue tail, but the bird turned green and i couldnt think of another name!), the problem was the rest of the family.
Bird only liked me, and even saying it liked me was stretching it. It would bite me if it wasnt in the mood to play, and was not a very affectionate bird like what i had read on websites. It would bite the other members of my family and it made a lot of noise.
We did teach it to say hello, but it would rarely say it. When i let it out, it was a challenge getting it back into the cage, it took about 10-15 minutes of getting it on your hand, slowly walking to the cage, trying to put it in the cage then it flying away, and you going from either side of the room as it would fly away, knowing what you were going to do.
Eventually it got too much for my dad and he made me get rid of it. It was sad, but i was slightly grateful to no longer have to deal with it.
I wouldn't suggest a bird to anyone really, although it obviously works for some people. In trying to make the bird easier to handle, i got its wings clipped. This was horrible. When i brought it home from the vets, it would try desperately to fly but would just thrash to the floor. It was horrible to watch. I actually think the bird became depressed after this as it wouldn't leave its cage and would only sit in the corner.
I liked bird and was attached to it, but it was just too hard, and my family hated it, so sadly, it had to go.
I have a Black Headed Caique and his name is Jasper, he is my best friend in the whole world and I mean that!! I got Jasper just over a year ago now to replace another parrot that I had, Cleopatra, she was an Golden Mantle Rozella but would never be tame as she was not a house pet, not what the pet shop told me when I bought her bought that is life!! So I swapped my beautiful bird for one that I was advised would become tame and very friendly. Once I got him home I was in desperate need of finding a name that was unusual for a pet, he seemed quite comical so I called him Jester I liked what I had decided until one of my friends was in and asked what I had called him "Jester" I said that's nice my friend replied!! But later on the day my friend is not very good at remembering names and hummed into the cage "Jasper??", I asked what she called him and she said Jasper and it stuck from then on in as I loved it and so does Jasper!! So the months were going by and Jasper was no where to near to being tame at all, so I decided one day to sit with my hand in his cage without taking it out (6 hours before he came to my hand) so we had made a pact to be friends he touched my hand and was happy with it in his cage, now it was his turn to come out into my cage, and he loved it. After many cut fingers and nipped noses we became good friends, really good friends. I have so much fun with Jasper these days he always makes me laugh with his antics and he loves to whistle and say hello... If you are going to buy a pet bird this is the one to have but you must have a lot of time for them as it is not fair to have them just in a cage these are fun loving birds and they need to be loved!!