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Good “beginner” parrots?

A very common question posed on message boards about parrots is, “what’s a good pet parrot for someone who has never owned one before?”

The species listed usually include parrots that are relatively gentle, are quiet, and are not prone to severe behavior problems such as self mutilation.  One thing that I do think is important for potential parrot owners to understand is that there are no completely low-maintenance parrot species that can be kept as companions.  A single parrot will always need some time out of its cage daily, a good-sized cage, a daily serving of healthy fruits and vegetables, toys and a clean living space.  However, some parrot species do tend to be mellower, better adapted to living as pets and easier to handle than others.

The other thing I think is important for potential parrot owners to understand is that it’s a bad idea to get a parrot only because you want a talking bird. The reason I say this is that parrots live a long time and the novelty of owning a talking animal will wear off.  Additionally, even among species that are well known as being talkers, there will be individuals that don’t say much, or only learn to do sound effects (like whistles).  I also know a lot of parrots that can talk quite well, but have a few favorite words they say over and over again.

Finally, the descriptions below are meant as generalizations.  A neglected bird of any species can become aggressive or shy, and a lot of a bird’s personality will depend on how it was raised and socialized.

Anyway, the species I tend to recommend are (arranged by size):

Small Birds

1) Lineolated Parakeet (Bolborhynchus lineola).

“Linnies” are my top pick under “parrots that are great for people new to parrot ownership.” The first parrot I got was a linnie, and in general they are very quiet, gentle birds. They are perfectly fine to keep in apartments, and are quite small, yet they are smart and can learn to do tricks.  Some linnies can even be kept tame while being kept in pairs, which makes them a good choice of pet bird for people who work long hours. The two birds can keep each other company during the day and the owner can enjoy them while at home.

Budgies

Budgies

2) Budgerigar (Melopsittacus undulatus)

Yes, budgies are parrots too! The budgie is the most popular parrot of them all, and for good reason. They have pleasant voices, are small, are fun to watch, and males can learn to talk. The drawback to getting a budgie is that few people hand feed them as babies, meaning that many are not tame with people. However, it is not difficult to tame a young budgie, and it’s not impossible to find breeders who do hand feed their babies.

Budgies are very active, friendly birds, but, on average, are a touch more nippy than the average linnie. They are another bird species where individuals may remain friendly despite being kept in pairs, and a pair of budgies can make a nice addition to a household where people are not home very often. The two budgies can keep each other company.

3) Cockatiel (Nymphicus hollandicus)

The cockatiel is in the same scientific family as the cockatoos (Cacatuidae). These delightful birds originally come from Australia, but, like the budgerigar, they have been bred in captivity for a long time.  They are the second most popular parrot species and, if socialized well with people, can be very friendly. They aren’t too loud and many can learn to whistle tunes.

4) Bourke’s Parakeet (Neopsephotus bourkii).

This little parakeet is another native of Australia. Their quiet nature makes them a great choice for people who live in apartments. They are also generally quite non aggressive and some people even keep them in large aviaries with other gentle species like cockatiels and society finches.  They are not quite as active as budgies, but can make nice companions for people looking for a sweet bird.  However, daily handling is necessary to keep one tame.  What makes them particularly nice for people who work during the day is that Bourke’s Parakeets tend to be crepuscular, meaning that they are active during dusk and dawn.

Green-cheeked Conures

5) Pyrrhura conures

The Pyrrhura genus of conures includes several species of South American birds with long, mostly red or maroon tails and dark green wings. Species that are common in aviculture include the Green-cheeked Conure, the Maroon-bellied Conure, the Black-capped Conure, the Crimson-bellied Conure, the Pearly Conure, the White-eared Conure, and the Fiery-shouldered Conure.

Conures have a reputation for being noisy, but the Pyrrhuras are quiet birds. If socialized well from a young age, most conures will be friendly with people. Some individuals become nippy around their cage, but this can be remedied by teaching the bird to step-up on a hand held perch. The problem can even be preventable with young birds by teaching them to step-up on a hand from their cage using lots of positive reinforcement.

Conures tend to be active, so they need lots of chew toys and relatively large cages for their sizes.  The other larger conures can also make great companions, but many people cannot stand their shrill voices.

Medium Birds

Maximilian's Pionus

6) Pionus parrots.

The genus Pionus contains several species of medium, short-tailed parrots from South America. Common species include the Blue-headed Pionus, the White-capped Pionus, the Bronze-winged Pionus, the Maximilian’s (or Scaly-naped) Pionus and the Dusky Pionus.

As a general rule, Pionus parrots are quiet and relatively non-aggressive. They are suitable for apartments. Some birds, males in particular, may become a bit territorial around the cage and may become nippier during the breeding season. However, such behavior can be managed with proper training (e.g. by teaching the bird to step up on hand held perches using positive reinforcement).

Pionus parrots are not terribly needy or clingy, and are often content to hang out on a play stand next to their owners. Two things that owners should know about these birds is that they can get very wheezy when stressed or excited and they do have a bit of a musky scent to them, which can get stronger when the bird is excited. Amazon parrots also release a musky scent when excited.

The plumage of a juvenile Pionus can look a little dull in comparison to other parrot species. However, their colours become more intense as they age.  In the sunlight, adult Pionus are gorgeous birds and many of their feathers will even look iridescent.

7) Poicephalus parrots.

A juvenile Meyer's Parrot

The genus Poicephalus contains several medium parrot species native to Africa.  The most common member of the group is the Senegal Parrot.  However, Brown-headed Parrots and Meyer’s Parrots can make great companions…if you can find one. Brown-headed Parrots are reputably very sweet, calm birds and the people I’ve met who have one have nothing but great things to say about them. However, they are quite rare.  As a generalization, Poicephalus parrots are quiet (for parrots!) and they are not terribly clingy, but like any parrot, a Poicephalus parrot would need to spend some time each day out of its cage, and they do need some attention from their owners.

Most of the members of this genus are medium birds, but the Jardine’s Parrot and Cape Parrot are large birds.  They are generally calm, although some do have a tendency to bond to one person.  I’ve met a lot of Senegals that have a favorite person and won’t allow other people to hold them. However, some are very friendly and having many different people handle a parrot from a young age will help prevent the parrot from bonding to and guarding just one person.

The members of this genus that are common as pets include the Senegal Parrot, the Red-bellied Parrot, the Jardine’s Parrot, and the Meyer’s Parrot. Less common Poicephalus include the Brown-headed Parrot, the Rueppell’s Parrot and the endangered Cape Parrot.  The last two members of the genus – the Yellow-fronted and Niam-niam Parrots – are extremely rare in captivity and I’ve never seen them for sale as pets.

Red-bellied Parrots are quite unique among this group in that the adult males and females are very easy to tell apart. The females are mostly green and grey while the males have a bright red belly.

8 ) Quaker Parakeets

Quaker Parakeet

Quakers are fun, chatty, medium-sized birds that occur naturally in South America.  However, they have been introduced to many other places in the world, and there are feral populations in the United States and Europe (among others).  Unlike other parrots, wild Quakers buil d very large nests out of sticks. One Quaker nest may contain several chambers, each of which will be used by a different breeding pair. They will, however, use artifical nest boxes in captivity.

Of all the small and medium parrots on this list, the quaker is the one most likely to become a good talker.  Some male budgies can learn to talk and some develop very large vocabularies, but they can be hard to understand. Quakers have much clearer voices.  However, note that even among species with reputations for being good talkers, there will be individuals that just do not say much.

The big caveat I want to note here is that some quakers are very chatty and they can be noisy at times.  Their natural vocalizations are loud and  squawky. Before getting a quaker, consider whether that will bother you. Quakers are also very busy birds and should have relatively large cages and lots of chew toys. Some quakers will even weave things like straws and wooden coffee stirrers in the bars of their cage.

The other warning I have here is that quakers are actually banned in some states and restricted in others. Before getting a quaker,  make sure that they are legal where you live.  The reason they are banned in some areas is that they are very hardy birds and released pets have formed feral populations in some areas. This doesn’t mean that most pet quakers could survive in the wild – the feral quakers in the United States are likely the descendants of wild-caught birds.  Pet parrots should never be released into the wild.

Large Birds

9) Alexandrine Parrot

Alexandrine parrots (or parakeets) are elegant, long-tailed birds native to Asia, from Pakistan to southeast Asia.  Males have a black and pink ring around the neck that the females lack.

Alexandrines can be very friendly, talkative birds if handled frequently.  Most Alexandrines do love to chew, so they need to be given access to safe, non-toxic wooden toys.   They can also be somewhat loud.

Alexandrines are related to the smaller Indian Ringneck Parakeets, which can also make nice companions.  Many Alexandrines and ringnecks are good talkers.

What about those who want a species that does not have a reputation for being a good “starter bird?”

I left birds off this list that have unusual dietary requirements, are very large, have strong tendencies to become feather pluckers, have the potential to become very aggressive, are extremely active, or are very rare. There are also a few species I wasn’t sure if I should add to the list or not. Lovebirds and parrotlets are in that category. They’re small, playful birds that can be a lot of fun but they do have a tendency to be nippy.  On the other hand, a lot of people adore these little birds and some lovebirds and parrotlets are very friendly.

Do people who have never had a parrot before have to stick with the smaller species? Well, I don’t think anyone should get a parrot they don’t really want.  It’s unfair for someone to get a small bird and then neglect it later on once he gets the type of bird he really wanted.  If you have your heart set on a macaw, then maybe that’s the best type of bird to get, even though they aren’t usually considered good pets for first time bird owners.  However, I recommend doing a great deal of research before getting a bird like a cockatoo or large macaw.  Actually, no matter the species one wants, it’s best to carefully research the care it requires, whether it be a cockatiel or cockatoo. If a person does a lot of research, talks to other parrot owners, and gets some experience with handling parrots, then he may do just fine with whatever type of bird he decides to get.  One can learn a lot about parrots by joining a parrot club or volunteering for a rescue, something I highly recommend for people who live in areas that have good bird clubs or rescues.

I’d also like to clear up the myth that all birds in rescues are unsuitable for first time owners.  Sometimes, very friendly birds end up at rescues, not because they were mistreated or are aggressive, but because their owner just couldn’t keep them anymore.  Don’t completely discount adopting a “second hand” bird because you’ve never owned a bird before.   However, I don’t recommend that first time parrot owners take on the difficult cases (very aggressive birds, birds who self mutilate, etc.) unless they’re really confident with what they’re doing.

Related Posts (from this blog)

An introduction to the Lineolated Parakeet

Living with a Maroon-bellied Conure

Other Links

I don’t believe in “starter birds.”

(an essay on the “starter bird” concept from the “Parrot Nation” blog.

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  1. January 30, 2010 at 1:28 am
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  3. July 23, 2010 at 7:17 pm
  4. April 18, 2012 at 7:17 pm

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