Small But Mighty
Parakeets and cockatiels may be diminutive in size, but retailers that are able to sell them stand to make big sales while gaining loyal customers.
During the past two years, I’ve traveled all around the U.S. visiting many types of pet stores. One common problem among stores that sell live birds, whether in Colorado, Florida, Illinois or New York, is a shortage of cockatiels. Considering that this small parrot is the second most commonly kept pet bird after the parakeet (budgerigar), and that together these two species make up almost 80 percent of caged bird sales, this is a serious problem.
When I’ve asked pet shop owners what they believe is causing the shortage, the most prevalent answer is that bird breeders are getting older and retiring, and their children are not getting into the hobby. It also seems that people just have way too many things happening in their lives to get into breeding livestock, in general, as I’ve heard it can be hard to find small animals as well.
It is essential that pet stores offer cockatiels as well as parakeets. Both species are at the lowest end of the price spectrum for a parrot species, and they make excellent pets for older children and adults, as they are smaller and not as loud as the larger parrot species. And while parakeets can be very playful, outgoing birds, cockatiels are known to be more affectionate.
Unlike the larger birds that can develop bad habits or even become mentally disturbed if left alone too long, parakeets and cockatiels can be left alone during the day when the owner is at work. It is best that pet owners supply parakeets and cockatiels with a mirror or two in their cage, so they always have a “friend.”
Unlike other parrots, it’s extremely rare for a parakeet or cockatiel to become overly bonded to their reflection, and therefore become untame and not want to come out of its cage. This can occur, and a bird can become less attached to the owner, when more than one of the same species is kept in the home. Owners who want to keep their pet parakeet or cockatiel tame should opt to keep only one of either species. While it sometimes works if another parakeet or cockatiel is brought in later, it is better for the owner to get a different species of bird than the first, in order to keep their birds tame.
Many find these small pet birds to be great companions, as once they are tame, they love to be out with their owners. Cockatiels are almost always hand fed, like larger species, which means that the chicks are removed from the parents usually within the first two weeks after hatching and are fed by people. This causes the birds to be super tame and friendly, making them excellent pets. Rarely are parakeets hand fed, but if they are, they can be wonderful as well. They do cost more, but the price can be well worth it.
So, where can stores get young birds to sell, especially cockatiels that seem so much harder to come by nowadays? First, look for bird clubs in your area. There’s usually one or more in each state, and you can check with the American Federation of Aviculture (AFA), as many clubs are affiliated with this national organization. Also check with any local exotic veterinarians that handle birds and see if they know of any breeders. At the very least, you can make some connections with a vet and send your customers to them.
Getting good bird customers to consider breeding is another great way to get local pets. You may be able to offer food and supplies, and possibly cash as needed, in exchange for young birds. If hand-feeding is not possible for these customers, a store can either do the hand-feeding themselves (learning proper techniques from experts, breeders or exotic veterinarians) or have the customers handle the baby birds once they are starting to feather out, usually around three to four weeks of age for cockatiels. If a baby cockatiel is taken out of the nest box and held everyday from the time it is three to four weeks old until fledged (usually at seven to eight weeks of age), it will also become very tame like a hand-fed bird.
Some large-scale breeders—usually located in Florida and California—as well as livestock wholesalers, can be a great source of young birds for a store. Check the internet, and talk to other storeowners that are not competitors, as well as breeders and wholesalers at the national trade shows, to get what is needed for livestock.
The old saying that you can’t sell what you don’t have certainly applies to pets. And where a customer buys the pet is almost always where they will buy their supplies. In fact, it’s best to create setups for new bird owners and offer them at a special deal especially if—or only if—the customer buys their bird there as well. PB
Robyn Bright has a master’s degree in parrot biology and more than 35 years of pet retailing experience.