The Advantages of Secondhand Birds

If you are thinking of adding a companion parrot to your home, there are lots of so-called “experts” out there who will give you all sorts of advice.  Some of it is good, some of it very bad, and some of it will be in the middle.  Although people have a tendency to say “free advice is worth what you pay for it,” I disagree that you need to pay tons of money for good companion parrot advice.

Of course it’s very hard to sort out the good advice from the bad, especially if you are inexperienced.  My advice on that score is to read and study a bunch before you jump in and get your first bird.  If there’s a bird owner’s club in your area, go talk to people there, first, before you make your visit to the pet store.  Once you hit that store, the sales people will be looking at you with dollar signs in their eyes.  If you want a parrot, especially a larger bird, they are going to expect that you are going to be spending a pretty significant chunk of change, not only for the bird, but for the cage itself.

Be knowledgeable before you walk in the door.

One piece of advice that I see consistently bandied about is that you should, whenever possible,  start with a baby bird.  I’m going to argue against that piece of advice, especially if you are getting your first bird.

The trouble with a kitten is
Eventually it becomes a

~ Ogden Nash, Famous Poet

The same can be said for companion parrots, though I’m not sure I can come up with a ditty that is nearly as cute.  Well, here’s my attempt just the same:

The trouble with a bappy,
is that he will grow to be quite crappy.
He will bite and he will scream,
to your mate he will be mean,
and when that happens, y’all won’t be happy!

~ Alex, BirdieSchool Web Lackey

Okay, so what is a “bappy” you ask?  It’s a term I’ve seen some folks use to refer to those cute, baby birds that everybody wants, oh so much.

Now it’s true, baby birds are cute.  If they are hand-fed, properly weaned, raised and socialized, they are already quite tame, and they probably are starting life with few bad habits.  They probably won’t pick feathers, bite, or scream, which is all very pleasant.

The problem is, these cute little babies soon grow up to be adult parrots that have the same needs as any adult parrot.  Within a few years, your cute baby won’t be a baby any more, and you’ll see personality and behavioral changes as your bird hits puberty.  For some birds, especially if their owners are unprepared, this can be a challenging time.

Speaking from my own experience, you will make lots of mistakes with your first bird.  It’s only natural.  That doesn’t mean you are a bad person, or unfit to have companion parrots in your home.  It just means that, like with everything in life, you’ll get better at it the longer you do it.  If you get good advice, are a quick study and motivated to do right by your feathered buddy, hopefully your mistakes won’t be too terrible.  You’ll learn from them and move on.

Unfortunately, for some people, the lesson they learn with their first bird is that parrots are too much work.  Maybe your cute little buddy has developed some behavioral problems, or he isn’t as friendly as he once was.  Maybe you just don’t have time for him any more.

A quick scan of Craigslist in the two major metro areas closet to me revealed the following birds looking for homes this afternoon:

  • Male Amazon
  • Male Goffin’s Cocktoo (1 year old)
  • Red Crowned Parrot
  • Pacific Parrotlet (1 year old)
  • African Grey
  • Senegal Parrot
  • Male Yellow-headed Amazon (7 years old)
  • African Grey (10 years old)

Do you notice anything about these listings?  For the ones that list the birds’ ages, none of these animals are very old.  The oldest, at ten, is still a young bird.  I am assuming that most  of these birds were bought “new” as babies by their current owners, so why are so many of them looking for homes only a few years later?

Because it is not cheap, convenient or easy to live with a companion parrot.

So why do I recommend you start out with a secondhand bird for your first feathered companion?  I have several reasons:

  1. Secondhand birds usually are fully mature by the time they are re-homed.  This means that you won’t have to deal with any sudden, major personality changes when your bird hits puberty.
  2. An older parrot is generally cheaper than a recently-weaned baby, and often will come with a cage, some supplies and toys.
  3. If an older bird has been properly socialized, someone else may have done some of the training for you.
  4. As an inexperienced human, an older, wiser bird can often teach you a few things.

So what about the idea that all secondhand parrots are being re-homed because there is something innately wrong with them?  Sure, you will find that there are some birds out there who, because of profound abuse and neglect, are extremely troubled.  However, my experience has shown me that secondhand birds can be wonderful, loving companions.

Take the larger-sized birds I’ve lived with, and their ages when they arrived:

  • Static – female Goffin’s Cockatoo, 4.5 years
  • Coco – male Congo African Grey, 25 years
  • Luna – female Severe Macaw, 18-20 years

I can’t say that any of them didn’t work out, after a period of adjustment, to be great companions.  Even Luna, who had been profoundly abused, eventually came around.  She’s a wonderful cuddler, and a great friend, which I never would have imagined given her history.  Sure, she was a handful at first, but cultivating a relationship with her was a growth experience for both of us.

My only regret in adopting secondhand birds is the regret of not having more time with the ones who have passed on.  I wish I could have had more than nine years with my grey, Coco.  He’s been gone a month, and I miss him terribly.  As hard as it has been to say goodbye to him, I know that I made a difference in his life, as he made in mine.  Our years together were well-spent, and my only sadness was that we couldn’t have had more of them.

But even fear of saying goodbye to an older bird shouldn’t stop you from adopting him.  The truth is, we don’t know how long any of us will live, so we should treat each new day as the blessing it is. Likewise, we should enjoy each of our companion parrots, in all their uniqueness, for as long as we live.

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