Parrot Essentials

Wavy blue parrot


Without a doubt, pet parrots are extremely intelligent and playful creatures that can make incredible companions for people of all ages. From parakeets to cockatiels, all the way up to the majestic macaws—the largest parrots kept as pets—they all have some common requirements and needs to keep them physically and mentally healthy for their long lives.


A parrot’s cage must be sturdy and large enough for a bird to flap their wings freely—the bigger the better. The wire gauge must be strong enough so a parrot cannot bend or break the wire, which means it must be stronger for larger parrot species considering how much bite strength they have. The spacing between the bars must be small enough so that the bird cannot put its head through the bars. Cages should also be easy to clean and keep the surrounding area clean as well. This means if a cage guard is not built into the cage, one must be sold with the set-up. This is necessary since parrots can be very messy pets.


At least three perches of different diameters must be included in every parrot’s cage. Some perches have more than one size grip-like branches or have a wave-like shape—these are great to utilize in a bird’s home. They can be made of different materials, however, any perches, as well as swings and ladders, that are made out of porous materials such as wood and rope need to be scraped/cleaned regularly and replaced every six months or so. Perches made out of plastic can be washed as needed and reused for up to a year or more.


Since parrots’ nails grow constantly, perches made for keeping the nails shorter are a necessity in parrot cages. These can be made of plastic that has a sandpaper feel, or from cement or gravel that will need to be replaced more often. Place this type of perch up higher since the bird will utilize it more often than other perches. Note that perches, swings and ladders should never be placed above each other or over any food and water dishes to ensure any messes or droppings don’t fall into the tray below.


Dishes must be sturdy, easy to clean and accessible. Most cages include two cups that can be removed from the outside through small doors. It is important to add more dishes if the ones included are small or if there is more than one bird in the cage. A second set of dishes should be sold with the cage so the parrot owner can simply place one set in the dishwasher while the other is in use. Ensure the customers know that dishes need to be kept clean and sanitized at least twice a week, or more often as needed.


Many species of parrots are kept in captivity, which means they have different nutritional requirements. Stores should carry the correct diets including pellets, which can be made for certain groups of parrots—like cockatoos—or certain species that have even more specialized needs, such as Eclectus parrots. It is important to stress variety in any parrot’s diet; they need to be given other food such as fresh vegetables, grains and small bits of fruit. Many companies offer healthy treats for birds. Supplements, which should include vitamins, minerals and amino acids, need to be included in a bird’s diet and are usually sprinkled on the food every day. However, if the parrot is eating mainly a pellet diet where these nutrients have been added, supplements should not be given. If a bird is eating pellets, it should make up approximately 60 to 70 percent of the diet, but should never be 100 percent. Birds need to consume other types of food to stay healthy.


Paper or litter can be used at the bottom of the cage and should be changed as often as needed. In most cases this would be at least once a week, but it depends on the size of the cage and the number of birds kept. Many types of litter are available, however don’t use corncob—it can carry a fungus that birds are susceptible to—or litter-like shavings that are too light and can be blown everywhere when a bird flaps its wings.


If using paper in the bottom tray, black and white newspaper or white paper towels can be safe to use as long as there are no colored inks, which can be poisonous to birds. A better alternative, however, is to use cage paper that is antimicrobial and offered in many sizes—so it is easier to use in the cage trays. Parrot owners can put in a few layers and just throw out the top layer when needed. Another advantage of paper is that the droppings can be observed easily to see if there are any changes that may indicate the bird could be ill.


A beak conditioner needs to be offered at all times to parrots, since their bill grows constantly. Although eating helps keep the beak in good condition, parrots need to be able to chew as well. A beak conditioner made from gravel or another material is perfect for all parrots to use. Cuttlebones can also be used for smaller species. It is also important to offer toys made of wood that can be chewed on to help keep the bill in good shape.


Last, but certainly not least, parrots must be given a variety of toys to keep them mentally stimulated. Studies have proven that parrots have the intelligence of a three-year-old child, which means they need to play and interact to prevent getting bored. If bored, a parrot may begin to yell more, bite and be more destructive to itself—such as feather plucking—or nearby items. They can even go insane, which means parrots need to have a mixture of toys made of various materials and in sizes tailored to the specific parrot. Toys should be replaced when chewed up, or changed out every month, to keep the boredom at bay.


Parrots are fun, curious and smart, making them a fantastic pet. The larger the bird, the more attention they need, and a store should never sell a parrot until they ask the potential bird owner about their schedule, and what they want and expect from a pet. Once the right bird is found, be sure that the customer has everything they need to keep their new pet happy and healthy. PB


Robyn Bright has a master’s degree in parrot biology and more than 40 years of pet industry and retailing experience.