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Ten Reasons Why

In a couple of months time, my beloved Galah Chicken will turn two.

When it comes to owning a parrot (and especially when it comes to owning a cockatoo), you're always on a learning-curve. Given the many things I've learnt over the last eighteen months, I've created an Instagram page for her, not so much as a "look at my cute pet" page, but more to document what owning one is like. ​

The analogy that you're looking after a toddler with wings and a beak that never grows up is true. In addition to that, here's ten things you really should know before you remotely consider getting such an animal.​

1) It might outlive you

If well looked after, the life expectancy of a cockatoo is a bloody long time. Whilst a dog or cat might just make it past fifteen, a galah could possibly make forty, fifty or even sixty years. I am aware that she might outlive me.​

And for that reason, you need to have a conversation or make provision for your parrot's care in your will. What's going to happen to them if you die before they do?​

2) They're noisy

Female galahs are quieter than males on the whole, but that's not something that really makes much difference when they're honking their head off and having a bonkers moment. I've checked Chicken's loudness and she's routinely up to 95dB - so that's most ​certainly as loud as most power tools and sometimes akin to going clubbing. Let's also not forget that birds don't care too much if they have a damn good shout right next to your ear. My ears have on occasion had sustained ringing due to her screaming down them. Be warned that you need to live somewhere with good soundproofing or where you have neighbours that don't mind the noise. ​

And to be fair, that can apply to all parrots, not just cockatoos.​

3) They're messy

All parrots are like this. All parrots throw stuff on the floor. You'll never stop them and the only thing you can do is become very handy with a vacuum cleaner.​

Do not be surprised when that nice bit of fruit you've given them gets immediately thrown on the floor.​
Do not be surprised when they run along your work surfaces and toss everything they find to the ground, no matter how lovely, tasty or expensive it is.​
Do not be surprised when they poop on your furniture, carpet, or whatever. Get good with a dedicated cloth or wet-wipes.

It is a behaviour that you'll never train out of them, so live with it.​

4) They're moody, have long memories and have temper tantrums

When I get up each morning, the first thing I do is let Chicken out of her cage. She has a little stretch, turns into the fluffiest bird ever and always wants a cuddle. She's an extremely affectionate bird. However one time in ten she'll be an absolute arse, like a bird with a sore head. She'll try and swipe for my face or just want to sink her beak in to everything in sight - and that's normal. You sleep badly? So do they. She seems to need about ten hours a day and she'll be cranky if she doesn't get it, just like a two year-old.

Ever had a toddler? Remember that protest they do when you've rumbled them for doing something they shouldn't? Cockatoos are no different. She knows when she's doing something she shouldn't and will actively put her wings out and scream at me like a proper drama queen. ​

Unlike a toddler, she'll never "grow up". ​She knows who she likes, she knows who she doesn't and old grudges die hard. Just remember that the problems really start when they don't like you.​ (But we'll come to that later)

5) They Chew - A lot​

Another aspect of having a toddler is that you have to child-proof everything. Electrical cables in view? Hide them. Food they shouldn't eat? Hide it. ​

Parrots use their beak like a third hand. They test and sense everything through it. They'll chew your phone, they'll chew the charger, they'll chew your sofa, they'll chew your door, they'll chew your TV. They'll chew everything and have a particular knack of finding the very thing they shouldn't chew to be quite chewable. Beware, not just to protect your stuff, but to protect them too.

6) You'll Need To Change Your Lifestyle​

So there's another aspect that most people don't even consider when having birds - a lot of things are toxic and there's lots of things you'll have to stop using. Aerosols in any way, shape or form are out as it'll play havoc with their respiratory systems, as will fragranced items (such as plug-in air-fresheners and candles), diffusers and a variety of household chemicals. Non-stick frying pans are out, due to the coating releasing toxic fumes. Remember why miners used to take canaries down the pit with them? It's because their delicate respiratory systems would give the first warning of toxic fumes (or gas). First warning = keeling over.

7) You'll Need An Avian-Friendly Vet

Registering a parrot with a vet is more complicated than a dog or cat. Parrots are considered "exotic" and chances are that most vets are relatively inexperienced when it comes to exotic animals. If you have a parrot, you'll need an avian vet. ​

Chicken is registered with an avian vet. In fact she's registered with the only avian vet that's in the area, which is a 25-mile drive. So far I've been lucky. She's had no ailments and just a yearly checkup, which cost about £35. That was necessary to check her weight, the back of her throat and safely trim her claws. Beware though, avian vet bills can mount up quickly.​ Most veterinary insurance plans only cover cats or dogs. If you want your parrot covered, you'll probably need to speak to Exotic Direct and at a guess it'll cost you at least £25/month.

8) Toys​ & Food

Birds destroy things, that's their job. They have to. Their beak continues to grow throughout their lives and chewing is what keeps it from getting too long. Also, a bored bird will turn its boredom on itself and pluck its own feathers out - and once they start it's really hard to stop, resulting in a bald bird with mental health issues.​

I usually buy a couple new toys a month and rearrange the contents of Chicken's cage on a regular basis to prevent boredom. It's not surprising to find that she's destroyed a toy completely in days and there's nothing but poopy, mangled remains left. That's a sign she's enjoyed herself.

Additionally, don't buy the standard parrot food that you get in most petshops. It's shit.​ It's full of sunflower seeds (which are the bird equivalent of you living on a diet of Mars Bars), whole shell peanuts (which contain mould that can trigger aspergillosis) and things that looks like dog biscuits. It's junk. Parrots love trying new types of fruit and veg and if you do give them seed, ensure it's a quality, low-fat version. Birds can get obese and have liver issues.

9) It's A Wild Animal

Wild animals have no discretion about pooping on you.
Wild animals have no discretion about eating you or your clothes.
Wild animals also take bloody ages to train. Be aware that whilst it *can* be possible to have a cuddly little ball of feathers that does tricks, changes are you've got fingers like pin-cushions and lost a bit of blood in the process. Chicken is great now, but it's taken about a year to do the training.

10) Or It Might Just Fucking Hate You

Sad, but true.

Picture the scenario. You've bought a parrot, let's say you've bought an African Grey. You've probably paid over £1,200 for the bird, a couple hundred pounds for a good sized cage (the bigger, the better), plus a hundred pounds for food, toys and other stuff. You get it home and initially it's silent and then as time goes on you realise it doesn't actually like you as it starts to be nice to your partner/relative/offspring instead. Remember, just because you bought it doesn't mean that it has to like you. I've seen a good few instances where people have bought a bird, it likes someone else and then attacks the owner. When that happens, you really do end up feeling rejected, which is understandable.

And there's no way to mitigate that when you buy a bird in the traditional pet-shop manner. The best thing to do is to either adopt a rescued bird that you know likes you, or adopt someone else's. There's a bird out there for everyone, it's just not necessarily the bird you think you want. If I'm honest about it, I'd never have normally bought a galah, but as we took to each other, she's turned in to a lovely, bonkers sidekick for me and is a great contrast to Oz, who I've now had for about twenty years.

As you read this post, though, you're probably saying to yourself, "yes, but you've got one" and you'd indeed be right. However, having had exposure to parrots for twenty-five years, I'd like to think I knew what I was letting myself in for, and even then I've learned new things. I took a short break a few weeks back and was absolutely paranoid about whether I could find someone who was "parrot friendly" and could care for them whilst I was away. As luck would have it, I found a lady who was excellent and it completely put my mind at rest, so I won't feel so nervous about going away again.

The one thing I can say about having Chicken is that we do have a bond. It's odd. She's a wild animal that lets me handle her, feed her and cuddle her. She hunts me down when I'm elsewhere in the house and calls out for me when I'm not in the same room. I'm one of her flock, so if she bites my fingers occasionally and poops on the sofa, I can take it. If you take the plunge yourself, just be aware that it's a massive commitment and a significantly harder challenge than buying a dog or cat, but the rewards for me (and hopefully for you) far outweigh my shredded hands.
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