I often get asked, "what kind of parrot should I buy for my children" or, "is a parakeet a good bird to get for my 10 year old child?" I do not really like getting asked this question because I know the answer I will give is bound to disappoint the questioner. The simple fact is, I do not believe a parrot is a suitable pet for young children. The good news is that I've discovered a fantastic solution. So this article will be presented in two parts. First, why parrots do not make suitable pets for children and then about a fantastic alternative.
Parrots and parakeets are complex social birds. They require daily interaction and extensive care. They are not domesticated and do bite. Even hand fed parrots end up reverting to their wild state if not properly tamed, socialized, and continued for its entire lifespan. Speaking of life span, parrots live for a very long time. Budgerigars can live up to 20 years; many of the other parrot species may live 30-50 and possibly more. Children's interests change rapidly as they are growing up and it is often difficult to look a few years ahead, let alone 20.
Parents often won't take into consideration the lengthy lifespan of a parrot when impulse shopping at a pet store. For any child between 5-15 years old, it is quite likely that even the shortest lived parakeets will still be around by the time they are off to college. Most campuses do not allow pets and a busy college student is hardly in position to take care of a pet anyway. Buying a parrot for the short term with the idea of setting it free or giving it away in time is not a solution. They cannot survive in the wild if captive raised because they lack the skills to survive and often the climate is unsuitable. Rehoming a parrot on the other hand is likely to cause it major trauma and separation anxiety. They have major difficulty adapting to a new home.
Owning a parrot requires daily care and attention. While a very young child may have enough time to do all the daily parrot chores (cleaning cage, washing bowls, providing clean food/water, changing toys/perches), as the child grows older may become busier and unable to care for the bird. High school and college preparation are very time consuming, forget even teenage activities. Since the bird lives inside a cage, it entirely depends on its caretakers to clean and provide for it. It cannot for one day be neglected. It needs to have fresh food and water provided daily.
Cape Parrot chewing my shoe!
Then there are things that only the parent can take care of. The parrot may need occasional vet checks and grooming (trimming nails and possibly wings). Supplies go fairly quickly as parrots are very destructive. New food, toys, and perches need to be purchased regularly. This can get expensive pretty quickly. While a budgie costing a mere $20 may sound appealing, the store is not dumb. They will sell the bird at cost or even a loss because over a hundred dollars in supplies is necessary. Under the most meager estimates, it will cost $100 in supplies for a $20 bird. More realistically it should run $200-$400 in the first year and at least $100 a year thereafter for its entire lifespan. So we're no longer looking at $20 for a cheap little pet. $100 a year for 20 years is $2,000. Let's not forget the $20 for the bird there, so you're looking at $2,020 and up across the lifespan to own a budgerigar. Other parrots are even more costly. $100 a year is the most conservative of estimates as a bag of food for a few months will run $10-$20, toys typically cost $10 each. With a $100 a year budget that is only enough to treat the bird to the most meager of living. Any owner that is more involved will likely be spending a lot more than that.
Parrots are quite difficult pets to own. They are not domesticated and have a lot of personality. Being terrestrial mammals ourselves, birds are quite unfamiliar to us. While it may be a bit more intuitive how to hold or pet a dog, we require much greater knowledge about how to take care of a bird. Parrots require taming and training to maintain handle ability. It is very important not to encourage biting by doing whatever the parrot wants (typically to be left alone) in response to biting. It is difficult for a child to resist a bite and even more so not to be scared in the future. It is actually very likely that after getting bit by the parrot a few times, the child will no longer want to have anything to do with it. In order to understand the basics of handling a parrot, reading some books and online websites is highly advised.
I advise parents only to acquire a parrot if they want one as a pet for themselves. They can allow the child to learn about responsibility and caring for a pet but only under parent supervision. If the child gets older, moves out, or loses interest, it would simply remain the parents' bird.
Now I've learned a fantastic alternative to buying an actual parrot for children that are interested in one. My little sister has been obsessed with Nintendo DS since she got one for her birthday. Recently I had learned that she was playing a parrot game on it called Parrot Pals. She came over to tell me what the game is all about.
I apologize in advance if I make any technical mistakes as I have not actually played the game myself but am just going by what a six year old told me. So apparently the player gets to choose from an African Grey, Lovebird, Budgie, Sun Conure, or Cockatiel as their pet and then has to monitor the bird's status. The player can choose which foods to feed and can even clean the cage. Of course none of this is difficult or time consuming as it is in reality. Also, the player can speak into a built in microphone to teach the parrot to talk.
There are many reasons why I think this game is better for children than a real live parrot. First of all, I think it provides instant gratification. If you push a button to feed the parrot, the parrot goes and eats. Everything happens in the now. Whereas a real parrot has distinctive free will and cannot be forced to eat, talk, or play on demand as the ones in the game can be.
The game can be played on demand but also be abandoned at will. There is no long term commitment and a living animal does not have to face the consequences of a poor decision or neglect. A little effort goes a long ways in the game and can bring happiness to the child with instant feedback. Real parrot training can take weeks or months before any results are visible.
A Nintendo DS runs a little over $100 but can be reused for multiple games. The Parrot Pals game seems to retail for around $20. This is still less than the cost of purchasing the cheapest available parakeets (budgies) and bears no long term costs (besides buying additional games, haha). It's great to give the child a taste of what parrot ownership is about and then when he or she is independent, can make the choice of buying a parrot for him or herself.
Showing parrot game to Truman
Another great alternative is the Webkinz series of stuff animal toys. They come in all different kinds and there are several parrot ones available. They usually cost under $20 and come with a code so that the child can play with them on the internet. These are fantastic for anyone on a tight budget but not as realistic as the Nintendo parrot game.
In conclusion, I believe being brought up around parrots is a fantastic experience for children but only as long as there is a primary adult care taker responsible for the bird. Buying a parrot with the intention of a child taking full responsibility is risky and may be impossible in the long term. The Parrot Pals game made for Nintendo DS is a great way to give children the thrill and experience of owning a parrot without purchasing a live animal. So if you are wondering whether to buy a parrot for a child or are yourself a parrot owner and get asked this question, the line of virtual games has come such a long way that this is the best recommendation to make.