You know, I love my birdie boo. But like all bird owners, I know people only see the fruits of my labor and not the actual labor. We- parrot owners- make it look way easier than it is, because we’re frankly nuts.
So, maybe you’ve seen the videos on youtube and pics on Instagram and fallen in love with the idea of a bird-baby, or “birb” for short.
Maybe you’ve done your reading on diet and lifestyle and how many hours of interaction a particular species needs per day with their human to find a perfect fit for your lifestyle and apartment or house. You know where to find breeders and how much that bird typically costs and found the perfect cage.
This is doable! With smaller birds, it’s not even that expensive!
Well, I need to be completely honest with you. There’s a lot you don’t see and which parrot owners conveniently forget about when describing costs- especially if a partner or non-bird person is in earshot.
So, here is costing of all the other, unseen factors when getting a bird.
But first…Here’s why we don’t take advice seriously.
You may think some of the following are unnecessary, but even with all the care I’m about to detail, I’ve run up almost two grand in vet care fees in the last two years.
If I didn’t get my bird to an avian vet when I did (if I didn’t have access to a specialist, or didn’t have the means to pay for one), I would have a dead bird before he saw his third birthday.
These animals are not designed to recover from illness. They are designed to breed before dying in numbers that over compensate for their fragility.
I would encourage you to join a bunch of parrot owners groups on Facebook. Really pay attention to the number of death announcements and lost bird announcements vs birthdays for animals over 3-4 years old. Cute pics don’t matter. Just look for the birthdays over 4-year-old birds. They are rare compared to the daily death lists. If that many birds can die each day, that many can have birthdays, but those numbers are not equal.
Because although we read that the animals live for 20, 30, even 80 years, in practice, it seems that most do not see their third birthday based on the never-ending stream of death and lost bird announcements. And this is something my vet sadly confirmed.
“The two most common deaths”, he told me “are by toxicosis” – nibbling something in the house that is poison to them- rings, zippers, plastic coating on cages, house paint, many types of house plants, or even furniture material, exposure to air contaminants like cleaning product traces on surfaces or present in the air in any amount- “or from a seed diet, which doesn’t apply to you”.
But even with my all organic, vet approved pellets, making and freezing veggie chop in tiny ice cube trays to have fresh food every day, watching what he nibbled at, banning all air pollutants in house, and keeping his cage so clean, it wasn’t enough to keep Floki healthy.
So really ask yourself : how much can you afford to pay in vet fees if it comes down to it? Because we never think we’ll need to.
Because if we really thought we’d get gored by the bear or die in childbirth, we’d never leave our caves or pro-create.
We are designed to ignore cautionary advice.
And the worst thing is, when I read all the care requirements, I thought they were overboard as well, until Floki got sick a second time.
Floki’s complete list of symptoms, in case you’re wondering
- was a bit more cuddly than usual
- didn’t scream me awake one morning
- his poop was softer than usual that morning (I was keeping an eye on that because the no-scream thing really had me worried)
He was eating and playing just fine as normal, I didn’t even notice the “more cuddly” thing until the morning he didn’t scream.
He was in the vets less than an hour later that same day. He has been under treatment since early July and I hope the next vet visit on Monday will be his last, but it may well not be.
Advice always seems overboard until something bad happens to you or someone you care about. Then it’s so obvious.
All those people posting about suddenly dead birds on FB didn’t influence the ones with sick birds to get to a vet immediately. They were good owners who took great care of their bird. So it couldn’t be that serious, right?
All those posts about dead birds due to other pets didn’t affect other from posting “cute” pics of their parrot playing with their cats or dogs. Their dog would never do that!
And all the people saying that pellets had to be separate from veggie mash, and that it was better to feed the parrot small amounts multiple times a day to avoid bacteria, that many fruits and veggies were too rough for conure digestion, and to change the water several times a day just didn’t land until my bird was sick two times in two years before the age of three.
I just stood there asking “but..he has no contact with any other animal….I keep his cage clean…how can he get an infection?”
I already knew the answer, deep down – all those people telling me to do that “over the top” stuff had explained it was to make sure no bacteria were around. I just couldn’t believe it was really necessary. I mean, come on, tap water has chlorine, right?
So, you will probably read this and also think this won’t apply to you as well. You’ll find reasons to rationalise away each point below. It will be different in your case, you’ll tell yourself.
I am here to tell you to that although this denialism is what keeps our species doing personally-dangerous yet important-to-our-collective-benefit things like discovering new continents an injecting ourselves with the pox vaccine we just invented- if you value the life your pet, you should take this seriously.
Because yes, it applies to you.
First, up, Parrots need to be with people or other parrots.
If they didn’t, they would cost less. My parrot cannot be left alone for many hours a day. 4 hours occasionally is acceptable, but for longer than that or more frequently than that he must be boarded or have a bird sitter stay with him. I would not be able to work in an office and have Floki without him mutilating himself or developing a severe personality disorder. I have turned down travel to places I might otherwise enjoy or benefit from because of this.
For this reason, I have many carrier cases and a few bird harnesses to take him with me when I run errands or go to the park or for a long walk. These aren’t optional for a single parrot.
I even planned my wedding around his bedtime and asked my mom to sit with him while I got ready that day.
Parrots also need a reliable routine to feel safe and secure and be emotionally and physically healthy. And catering to that routine costs me emotionally, socially, physically and financially.
This is why Floki is so friendly, adorable and gentle with humans.
People who don’t do this have very different birds.
Since parrots get PSTD and other trauma issues, it’s much easier to just avoid giving your parrot a personality problem than to try to tone down a problem that’s developed.
So with that said, let’s see those..
Hidden parrot costs
- Teflon-free frying pans. Teflon, and non-stick coatings in frying pans (toasters, toast makers, muffin tins, irons, hair straighteners, etc) are deadly to birds, whether you sense it or not. We bought ceramic pans as soon as we got a budgie and for everything else, we keep two doors closed between the bird and those things and ventilate right after so the fumes are gone. We can do this thanks to the layout of our flat and the weather. Even with this, our vet commented that Floki’s feathers looked like someone in the house smoked, so we had to be really careful about the doors being closed all the time when we cook or fry or have anything in the air. €40, because we were stupid and bought from a department store and not Amazon.
- Throwing out candles (scented or non-scented, the wick puts soot in the air) incense, cleaning sprays. These are deadly to bird lungs. Maybe €15 total including sprays. I didn’t have that much in the way of candles/incense when I moved to Madrid, although they were a big part of my UK chill time. If you really can’t live without cilit bang, maybe rethink having a bird.
- Buying steam cleaners, microfibres cloths to replace spray cleaning, making our own non-toxic to birds cleaning sprays. Thankfully, the latter is not too expensive with cheap vodka and vinegar. €116. But honestly, this is worth it.
- Humidifier or dehumidifier depending on your location. Their lungs need humidity, but fungus and mould (on walls or in food, whether visible or invisible, on perches, snuggle huts, etc) are deadly to them. €30 for a humidifier . My dehumidifier in the uk cost more like £150, but it depends on the readings from your hygrometer whether you need that kind of power. I had a tropical tank on a ground floor apartment, so the humidity there was often at 70-90%.
- Hygrometer. €8.99. This determines whether I put on the humidifier. Believe me, if the air isn’t right (dry or dusty), the bird is a pain all day. It’s like he knows something is off, but assumes being on my and shoulder will fix it.
- Perches, toys. They need these way more often than you imagine to prevent boardroom/screaming. Like, new, homemade, or rotated toys each month. If you rotate toys, this becomes more like a 20-40 euro expense per quarter after you have enough toys,
- Carrier cases. there are different types depending on whether we are traveling by train or car or to the vets – where he needs security and a hard case in case anything weird happens like something falls from above, and a softer, mesh carrier for when I’m just taking him along somewhere since I’ll be out all day. This is a less secure cage, so I need to be sure it will not be a long trip. The hard case can have perches and food bowls attached so it’s better for longer trips, as well as being car/train safe. Total = €28.29
- Snuggle huts at different sizes and materials to find one that he would sleep in but not chew. €24.99
- Daily exotic Fruit. Mangos, papaya, strawberries, blueberries, kiwi, banana, cantaloupe, fresh pineapple. These may be expensive for a weekly budget but they are unfortunately required in his diet, every single day. This was the diet advice I thought was not necessary, btw, so instead I offered what I thought was a super healthy mix of vegetables every day. I spent 15 euros on that these fruits this week, but the truth is, you can freeze the fruits so it’s not like a weekly expense. It’s just that the hubs also eats fruit for breakfast so when the good stuff is around it becomes a weekly expense, because he doesn’t want to be less important than the bird.
- Daily Veggies. Sweet potatoes, carrots, broccoli and red, green and yellow peppers. For people in northern climates, this might be more doable. I buy these frozen because in this heat veggies travel too far to have the optimum nutritional profile.
- Travel cage and bag to keep it in. This cost me about 150 plus shipping. I use this sturdy design for the same reason I won’t use the smaller cages from pet stores (see point 13. Even small birds break out eventually when hormones strike)
- Boarding. €12 a day at the avian vets (because like we said, parrots can be sick and seem just fine). €14 a day with veterinary care. For when the Airbnb doesn’t allow pets or he needs meds more frequently than our travel schedule will allow (it’s 5 hours on a train to the north of Spain). For for 4 days €56
- Escape-proof cage & duplicate cage for visiting the in-laws so he’s less traumatised when we reach our destination. I finally bought this metal monster when I realised that the smaller cages you buy in pet stores can be broken out of by first my lovebird and then a tiny finch, both of whom I hope found a human willing to care for them, rather than starve in the cold. You could not pay me enough money to keep my bird in one of those today. The big metal monster keeps my bird safe from whatever hormonal fueled urge to escape he may face one day. I got the duplicate cage because this is Spain and there’s no way around the fact we will be visiting the in-laws at least bi-annually, so a full sized cage makes sense rather than having him in his tiny travel cage. Each cage cost almost 200.
- Poop-off liquid for accidents on fabric chairs or other hard to clean surfaces. £8.99
- Time off work for vets & travel to vets: I work at home for myself so I don’t need to request time off for his visits, but I would have had to if I worked in an office. I may have had ten appointments with the vet this year. Honestly, I see them a lot. I’m also unaffected by travel costs since they are exactly nine minutes away from my front door by foot, including traffic lights. If this doesn’t apply to you, factor the cost of ten visits, cos a tiny illness takes a long time to treat in birds.
- Air purifier. This is for reducing the amount of dust in the air since Madrid is dusty and for reducing the amount of bird dander so I do not develop a lung reaction. Not everyone buys this, but since my lungs are affected sometimes by dust and exhaust that makes it’s way in the flat, so will the birds. 119.99 but I don’t need to buy filters for it, which is the “gotcha” for air filters.
- Non-toxic cage spray. That kills viruses, fungi, bacteria. I wipe his cage bottom grill with this every morning. £6.99 and some cheap €3 plastic bottles.
- Bird scale. This was also part of my “I keep reading I need to do this but I don’t think it’s necessary” thing that has now been proved to be actually necessary. I also thought the kitchen scale was fine since it’s in grams, but it turns out I need 0.01g measurements to record how much he eats and weighs each day. The good news is you don’t need to buy the kinds that are branded for bird owners. I got mine from amazon for £9.99 shipping to Spain, so £15 overall (and free shipping in the uk with prime). Much better than the ones going for £49.99
- Bird light. I knew birds needed full spectrum UV light for their immune system and feather health but was hoping being by the window in the full brightness of Madrid would be enough. Even though I knew the windows filter out some UV rays. So after he got sick the first time I got a bird light that fixes onto the roof of his cage and some bulbs. £96
- Bird harness in two sizes, plus shipping to spain (baby and adult size). To take him with me to the local park or when I’m in a place without fear of Hawkes (I see many of these over Madrid) and where he might enjoy interacting with people. He still doesn’t like this harness so it’s remained unused since he was a baby and more easy going. More or less €59 plus shipping
- Extra tickets for trains. Yeah, they bill for pets now. €5 each way, so 10 for the last trip.
- Replacement chains, shirts and clothes. Parrots will break chains and chew through t shirts, vests and basically anything you’re wearing. Lets say €40 but mostly for clothes since after the first chain broke I stopped wearing chains around him and take off my wedding ring like the vet recommended.
- Throwing out nail varnishes. I had to throw mine out except for what I wear on my toes after he chomped through the dry varnish and sent me to the vet yet again! I seemed the colours fascinated him so he wasn’t letting up and out went my lovely Opi, Essie and Revlon collection. Probably about £50 worth at least.
- No more bleaching my brows or doing my hair at home. No ammonia- for whatever reason- in the house. Hair has to be done at salon. €150 every other month
- Throwing out oven cleaners. Just. no. Unless you want a dead bird. Cleaning an oven without oven cleaner, total hell.
- My Jasmin and Lilly plants. These had to go outside since they are toxic to birds and shrivelled up in the Madrid heat. My plumeria got decimated by my lovebird when I brought it indoors for the winter, too. Lets say, €30. They weren’t huge plants, but it’s more that I really loved them and my jasmine was growing well indoors. You need to check if you plants are toxic, because birds can get on them in a flash no matter how careful you are. They’re like toddlers width wings.
- Our paper lantern. €5 Love bird saw this a giant hanging chew toy. We have discouraged Floki from paying any attention to the thing on the ceiling and hope he will continue to distrust it.
So…excluding the duplicate page, vet fees, fruits and veggies that’s..
in parrot care costs in the two and half years since I got Floki
and another 2k in vet care, give or take.
Are you really ready for a pet bird?
Cos I’ve had charming, adorable, comical, smart, social guinea pigs that did not cost anything like my parrot does in terms of lifestyle changes or care costs. It’s just that I’m allergic to everything with any kind of fur and the hubs doesn’t like reptiles.
Of course, love and companionship is priceless.
But it’s also important to know very clearly what you’re getting into.
So, with the vet bills I’ve paid despite all the above precautions, you can see why I’m fully on board with those “crazy” care guides now.
It doesn’t matter what non-parrot people think of how “over cautious” I’m being. I know what has not worked at keeping my lil guy safe and healthy.
And I have zero interest in going through this every year.
PS. if you’re looking for safe, reliable parrot advice, Manda’s youtube and blog are currently my “go to” advice places. I printed out her daily plate photo and have it hanging on my fridge now so I can mentally “tick” off all the elements.