Little-Known Facts About Pet Birds

Before you add a pet bird to your home, check out these facts

Blue-and-yellow macaw eating nut
Blue-and-yellow macaw Manoj Shah/The Image Bank/Getty Images

The practice of keeping birds as pets has been around for centuries, but we're still a long way from knowing all there is to know about our feathered friends. Even so, the knowledge we have accumulated up to this point has brought to light many fascinating facts about the birds we share our lives with. Check out a few of these little-known bird facts; they'll inspire interest and appreciation for your pet.

Bird Body Language

You may know that a dog wagging its tail is friendly, but do you know how your pet bird acts when it is frightened or is considering biting you? Like humans, pet birds exhibit different body language depending on the species, but some behaviors are common in all birds.

  • Tail Flaring. When your bird fans his tail feathers out, it is excited, over-excited or about to bite you. About half the time you handle a bird when it is flaring its tail, you're going to be bitten.
  • Puffing Up. Usually, this means leave me alone, although a small amount of puffiness can mean the bird is relaxed.
  • Dilated pupils. Visible in large birds, dilated pupils indicate a calm and docile bird. If the pupil is a pinprick size, the bird is agitated and about to bite.
  • Raised crest. In crested birds, a raised crest indicates the bird is excited or happy to see you. A completely flat crest indicates fear.
  • Preening. Only a relaxed bird preens. A bird preens to clean and groom its feathers.
  • Beak Clicking. Your bird wants to be petted or is indicating pleasure.
Sun conure preening
Sun conure preening  Steve Clancy Photography / Getty Images

Some Pet Birds Live a Very Long Time

Be cautious when you choose your pet bird—it might be a life-long commitment. You may be caring for that the little parakeet your child wanted long after she leaves for college. Know the life expectancy for any bird you bring home as a pet.

  • Large parrots can outlive you. Macaws and Amazons are the longest-lived pet birds. With excellent care, your bird may live up to 100 years. African grays live about 25 years, as do conures. Cockatoos may reach 40.
  • Medium-sized parrots, such as cockatiels, reach 25 to 30 years old. Lovebirds are shortest-lived at about 10 years. 
  • Small parrots. The average parakeet lives up to 18 years. The quaker parakeet lives much longer—about 25 to 30 years.
  • Canaries and Finches. Most canaries live 10 to 15 years, but some reach 25 years. Finches are the shortest-lived of the pet birds. Most finches live only about 5 years, although a few reach 20. 
Amazon parrot
Amazon Lucas Carandino / Getty Images

Pet Birds Are Not Domesticated Animals

Dogs and cats have been bred by humans for thousands of years for qualities that make them desirable as pets. Birds have not. The pet bird in your home is the same as that bird's wild cousin. It hasn't been domesticated to be a good pet. Instead of the bird seamlessly fitting into your home, you have to adjust and teach the bird acceptable behavior. The only pet birds that can be considered even slightly domesticated are parakeets and cockatiels.

Rainbow lorikeets (Trichoglossus haematodus) at Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary.
Wild cousins rainbow lorikeets (Trichoglossus haematodus) Bob Charlton / Getty Images

Birds Appreciate Music

Many birds react to music in a positive way. They may dance. They may sing along or imitate the sounds they hear. Start out by playing serene music for your pet—soft classical or New Age music. Stay away from thrashing heavy metal. The music you play doesn't have to be melodic. Try a recording of nature sounds. The sound of light rain, waves and waterfalls may make your bird feel good. Stay away from recordings that have any predator calls, though. You don't want to upset your pet.

Wait until your bird is in a good mood and turn on the music. Repeat this several times and your pet will associate music with a good mood. 

Illustration of parrots singing into mic
TongRo Images Inc / Getty Images