Many people think having a bird as a pet is a no-brainer, but birds are complicated, intelligent, social creatures that require special care, maintenance and commitment. So before you take off on a bird-owning flight of fancy, here are some things to consider.
• Unlike dogs and cats, birds are not domesticated, which means your home is an unnatural and potentially hazardous habitat for them. Left alone, birds can crash into windows, drown in toilets or get burned near hot stoves. As well, their delicate respiratory systems make them vulnerable to harmful fumes, such as those from cleaning fluids, microwaves and cigarette smoke.
• Caring properly for a bird isn't easy -- or cheap. "Smaller birds are often the better choice," says Dr. Anne E. McDonald, a veterinarian in Vancouver with a special interest in birds, adding that they are generally easier to care for than their larger feathered friends and don't live as long. Smaller species live from eight to 30 years. Larger birds can live 60 years -- a big commitment for you.
• Smaller birds, such as budgies, finches and canaries, are less expensive, too, at between $30 and $150 each, while parrots and macaws range from $700 to more than $2,000.
• Birds live in flocks and need a companion -- either you, all day long, or a bird buddy. But that doesn't mean you can simply plunk another bird into the cage and the pair will live happily ever after. You'll need to play matchmaker and introduce them with care, or the relationship may never work. Ask your vet for guidance. And note: lovebirds is a misnomer; they tend not to like each other at all.
• Think twice about bringing home a bird if you have a cat or dog. "As a general rule, you can never entirely trust these animals with a bird," says McDonald. To them, birds are prey.