The key to selling larger parrots is understanding their unique characteristics and needs, and being able to pass that information along to potential pet parents.
Although parakeets (budgerigars) and cockatiels make up the largest portion of parrot species sold in the United States today, larger birds such as African greys and macaws can make incredible pets for the right owners. To sell these extremely smart and remarkable parrots, store employees must understand their general characteristics, as well as the individual personalities of the birds for sale and what these birds need in order to remain happy and well behaved.
One of the most important things for new or prospective pet owners to know is that large parrots need lots of attention and therefore should never be left all alone for long periods of time. Having a second parrot can help with this issue, but it may cause the birds to become un-tame. The point of buying a hand-fed baby parrot as a pet is to be able to play, cuddle and have fun with the bird outside its cage. However, if it bonds with another bird, it may become less friendly to the owner. Sometimes this can be avoided by waiting awhile before introducing a second bird into the home and/or getting a species of parrot from a different group.
Ideally, parrot owners will be home most of the day so that they can play with their pets regularly. A large parrot left alone too much will develop bad behaviors such as feather plucking or can even go insane. Always find out what a prospective owner’s schedule is, and if they do not have a lot of time and are out of the home often, talk them into getting a smaller parrot species.
If the customer does have the time to keep a large parrot happy, the next step is to find out what they are looking for in terms of personality. Every parrot is an individual and will have its own unique traits, but each species or group usually will have certain characteristics. For example, African greys can be very shy and sensitive, but they are generally the best talkers and not prone to yell like most other commonly kept large parrot species. Of course, there is no guarantee that any parrot will learn to talk, but a bird that is already talking at the store should be able to learn more words at home.
Amazon parrots tend to be active and outgoing, and they can be great talkers. They can also be very loud, especially in the morning with first light and toward sunset, like many parrots. It is important that new owners of large parrots realize that this is normal behavior for them. There is no such thing as a quiet parrot species, so they must take that into consideration before choosing one as a pet.
It is also important that a new parrot owner learns not to reward their pet for yelling or else the bird will yell louder and/or more often. The best approach is to ignore the bird when it gets noisy. If the owner yells at the parrot, it will think that the owner is yelling with it and not at it. Giving a yelling bird attention, even negative attention, is a reward in itself.
Pet owners should never hit the cage or the bird, even lightly, to stop the yelling. This will cause the bird to fear the owner, which can lead to some terrible behaviors such as biting. Ignore unwanted behavior and reward good behavior from the beginning, and this will produce a wonderful and sweet pet.
For example, when a yelling parrot quiets down, the owner can reward the bird with attention and a favorite treat. This is called positive reinforcement, and it can be used in almost any situation with many types of pets. But remember, pet owners must understand—and more importantly, accept—that normal behavior such as yelling for large parrots usually cannot be completely avoided.
The cockatoo family is another well-recognized group of parrots, known for the crest on top of their heads. Although the smaller-sized cockatiel is part of this group, most cockatoos are large birds, such as the well-known sulfur-crested cockatoo, which is a big white bird with a yellow crest.
Cockatoos generally are not the best talkers, but they usually are the most affectionate of the large parrot species. When they do talk, they usually have a higher-pitched voice, while Amazons and greys tend to sound like the person they spend the most time with.
The biggest parrots in the world belong to a group called the macaws. These magnificent large birds have a bill that can be a bit intimidating, and in fact these birds will sometimes test people by lunging at them. But mostly the macaws are very sweet and put that bill toward cracking open nuts, one of their favorite treats. Although macaws are like cockatoos in the sense that these birds are not the best talkers, when macaws do speak, they can have very low and rough-sounding voices that seem to go along with their substantial size.
A number of other species and groups of parrots that are somewhat smaller in size but still usually considered large parrots include the eclectus, caiques and those in the Poicephalus group, such as the Senegal and Meyer’s parrots. These birds may not be seen as often in pet stores, but all of them make wonderful and intelligent pets that are generally quieter like the African grey parrots. Note that although all parrots can be playful, the caiques can be quite the clowns, while the eclectus and Poicephalus parrots often are a bit less rambunctious.
Another important consideration when choosing the right large parrot species is whether the bird will belong to a single owner or several owners in a home. Amazons are known for liking only one person or one gender, while macaws will usually go to many people. Of course, it depends on how well socialized they are when young. If everyone in the family holds and plays with the new parrot when it comes home, giving it treats and lots of attention, then chances are the bird may not become too attached to just one person, but this will always depend on the individual bird. One thing is for sure, however—these intelligent parrots will make remarkable companions for the right owner.
Robyn Bright has a master’s degree in parrot biology and more than 35 years of pet retailing experience.