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While many kinds of birds are popular pets, the parrot really takes the cake. There are over 250 species of parrot, among which you likely recognize parakeets and the iconic African Gray. The popularity of parrots is no mystery—who isn’t spellbound by their vocalizations, especially when they speak our own languages? With that, having so many other desirable qualities for a companion guarantees human attraction to these birds. Parrots have appeared in television and film and sometimes even achieve stardom in their local areas. They’re a part of our cultures and households, but how much do we really know about them?

First, there’s the matter of what makes a parrot a parrot! Curved beaks and feet with two toes facing the front and two facing the back are among the most important criteria. In terms of taxonomy, their family is Psittacidae. The variety of species makes other generalizations a little more difficult but, for the most part, parrots are from warm climates and while their diets mostly consist of nuts, seeds, and fruits, they are in fact classified as omnivores!

What about their vocalizations? Parrots are able to learn to imitate numerous sounds and human speech. They also whistle and chatter and even they even scream. Each vocalization indicates something different about the parrot’s emotional state and desire for interaction. For instance, whistling or singing generally indicate contentment. It’s important to make time to learn your individual parrot’s cues and how much attention and interaction they desire.

Before you get your parrot, thoroughly research where they’re coming from. Will your parrot be a rescue? Are you getting your new feathered friend from a responsible breeder? Unfortunately, the black market trade in exotics (which includes birds such as parrots) is alive and well, and it’s contributing to dwindling wild populations of parrots and even endangering some species. It’s our responsibility as pet parents to put our money only in the hands of responsible pet providers.

There are several considerations when it comes to providing care for a parrot you plan to get or even to improve the care that you give a parrot companion you already have. Firstly, don’t neglect annual health examinations that can detect illnesses that are not immediately apparent, like psittacosis. You’ll want to arrange an examination for each new parrot you bring into your home, as well. There is one vaccination available you might consider for your parrot that protects against avian polyomavirus (APV) but its value is debatable. Adults are less likely to be affected by the disease unless they have a compromised immune systems but regardless, talk to your parrot’s veterinary team about the risks and benefits of the vaccine compared with your bird’s risk.

You’ll also want to bring your parrot in for regular beak and nail trims since they tend to overgrow in domestic environments. In the wild textural variety in their local environment, including their perching surfaces, prevents overgrowth. You can read more about nail trims and their importance for a variety of pets here.

Elements of home care to pay attention to include habitat and diet. Make sure you can offer your parrot a temperature-appropriate environment, as most don’t do well with low temperatures. Additionally, ensure your parrot has plenty of space in their cage and isn’t constantly confined. Recommended cage sizes for parrots vary based on the species, but generally the more space the better! Be mindful about bar spacing though. Feeding your parrot pal a balanced diet isn’t difficult and you can find food options for them at any specialty pet store. Don’t forget to throw in a fresh, tasty treat every once in a while, such as banana slices.

Parrots have been kept as pets for centuries and you’ll undoubtedly enjoy your new companion. Remember that parrots have long lifespans so you’re getting a friend for life when you bring this bird home.