Exotic Bird Keeping

Insider Info

For exotic bird hobbyists, there is no better pet.

"They amaze me daily with their intelligence, and give me joy many times a day in watching them play, talk, snuggle or snooze," says Lori Bucevicius. "I am thrilled to be able to share my home with them."

There are many different types of exotic birds people care for as pets. They were traditionally imported from places like South America, Africa and India. These days, most exotic birds available are bred in North America.

Most exotic birds kept as pets are a parrot species. The Latin name for the species is psittaciformes. There are more than 300 bird species in this parrot category, including:

  • Macaws
  • Cockatoos
  • Parakeets
  • Budgerigars or budgies
  • Conures
  • Lovebirds
  • Lories

Exotic birds can vary in size, colour and personality. For example, pygmy parrots are about 20 centimetres in length. The hyacinth macaw is over a metre tall. As for their personalities, just ask a bird owner.

"A pet bird has such a big personality in a little package. They think they're bigger than they really are," says Sue Simone, a bird owner in Long Island.

Many people get birds because larger pets are not suited to their homes. As long as your bird is quiet, they make excellent apartment pets.

Birds need to be around people! Don't expect to have a good bird if you never spend any time with it.

"There's a common misconception that parrots are pets you can just leave in a cage like a hamster. These animals need play and contact. If you want a pet that's pretty, get a goldfish," says David Siebert, a bird owner in Palm City, Florida.

Birds should be placed in the hub of the home away from direct sunlight and drafts. You should be willing to spend a bit of money on a cage. Your bird should be able to expand its wings completely in one direction. Depending on the size of your bird, you can expect to spend $50 to $500 on a good quality home. You'll also need food, perches, and toys so your bird doesn't get bored.

Contrary to popular belief, birds do not live on seeds alone. Like most creatures, they need a balanced diet with some fruits and vegetables, breads, meat and dairy products added.

"You have to feed them more than seeds, or you'll cause liver damage and premature death in your bird," says Siebert.

Birds themselves can really vary in price. There's a price range for just about everyone.

"The costs for birds can run anywhere from about $15 for a pair of zebra finches to $15,000 for a pair of hyacinth macaws," says Denis Sloan, a bird owner and breeder in Indianapolis.

You can reduce set-up costs by buying used equipment or making your own cages. However, it's very important to make sure the equipment is safe and clean before you put a bird in it.

An example of the total costs for keeping a cockatiel are:

  • Bird: varies, around $90
  • Cage: $65 - $80
  • Travel carrier (to transport bird to the vet): $15-$20
  • Initial bird exam by vet: $50
  • Microchipping (Vet inserts microchip under bird's skin): $30
  • Wing and nail clipping (if you can't do it yourself): $8-$12 every three months
  • Bird check-up (once a year): $20
  • Food (bird food, millet, human food, treats): $10 monthly
  • Toys: $10 yearly

With our hectic lifestyles and smaller living spaces, birds are an increasingly popular choice among pet lovers. As many as one in seven house pets in North America is a bird.

Almost anyone can get into bird keeping. You don't have to take it for walks on cold winter days! A parrot can live as long as 75 years, which means many people can enjoy a bird for life. It also means the owner has to be really committed to the idea of keeping a bird.

"Raising a parrot is much like raising a child. I often think that you should have to raise a parrot before you're allowed to have kids," jokes Siebert.

For bird owners who'd like to combine their hobby with a career, there are opportunities in breeding, working in a pet store or becoming a veterinarian who specialises in birds.

Getting Started

Birds can make wonderful pets if you're willing to put in the time and the effort. If you think you might want a feathered friend, think hard about it before you get one.

"Like any pet, you have to be prepared to look after it," says George Guthrie, a former bird breeder in Princeton, British Columbia.

If you buy a young bird, don't expect it to start talking right away, says Guthrie. Even an African grey -- a big, talkative bird -- has to be at least a year old to be ready to talk. Sometimes people get disappointed when their bird is not what they expected, and then they start to neglect them, and that's very bad for the birds.

Visit pet stores and breeders and ask lots of questions. The more you know about it, the better selection you'll make. "Don't feel awkward about asking lots of questions. We're all learning more about birds as time goes on," says David Simone, a bird owner in Palm City, Florida.

Once you've decided you want a bird, doing some reading should be your next step.

"I would suggest that if a person had a bird in mind but didn't know much about it, they should go to the library and get some books and start reading up on it," says Denis Sloan.

When the time comes to pick out your bird, thoroughly check it out at a pet store or a breeder before you buy. Look at the bird. Make sure the bird looks alert, has shiny feathers with no bald patches. But keep in mind that baby birds look a little ragged.

Hold the bird to feel whether or not it's too thin and to get a feel for its personality. There is one thing you should watch for, though. "If a breeder or store lets you touch a bird without washing your hands first, you should leave. Good bird stores will have washing stations they insist you use before handling the birds," says Siebert.

Even if you think a bird looks good to you, take it to a vet for a check-up and arrange to return the bird if it's not healthy. You'll need a good aviary vet anyway, so you should start right from day one.

Finally, keep in mind that all birds need some level of training. There may be some growing pains at first, but you can work through them.


The Avicultural Society of America
Station B
P.O. Box 5516
Riverside , CA
United States


The World Parrot Trust
Non-profit organization dedicated to the safety and ethical treatment of captive and wild parrots

Up at Six Aviaries
One of the best bird sites on the Internet and your best source for aviculture information

The American Budgerigar Society
Your best source of information about keeping, breeding and exhibiting budgies

The Virtual Parrot
The home page of the Real Macaw Parrot Club

Back to Career Cluster


  • Email Support
  • 1-800-GO-TO-XAP (1-800-468-6927)
    From outside the U.S., please call +1 (424) 750-3900
  • North Dakota Career Resource Network
    ndcrn@nd.gov | (701) 328-9733