Checkout Lane: Finding the right feathered friend

Ashlee Fairey

Parrots may have tiny brains, but they're no birdbrains: They can be very intelligent and make wonderful pets. Some of the larger types of birds - such as the Amazon or African grey parrot, macaw or cockatoo - can have the intelligence of a 2- to 5-year-old child, said Michelle Anderson, owner of Park Avenue Birds & Pet Supply in West Bridgewater, Mass.

They can be trained not only to mimic sounds and phrases, but some birds can even learn to respond to questions, she said.

Birds can show extreme affection for their owners.

“Cockatoos are the teddy bears of the parrot world,'' Anderson said. “They'll follow you around the house like a puppy.''

Birds also demand a lot of affection in return.

Some larger birds require five to six hours of companionship each day, said Jim Gentile, owner of The Pet Shop in Boston. If ignored, they can become aggressive and self-mutilating.

“You wouldn't leave a 5-year-old child to its own devices, would you?'' he said.

Birds should have enough space in their cage to spread their wings, and they should have plenty of toys to keep them occupied and mentally stimulated, Anderson said.

Depending on your pet's level of intelligence, good toys could be ladders to climb and chew-things, or even puzzles.

The larger the bird, generally the longer it lives. Amazon parrots live to be around 50 years old. Some macaws can live to be 105 years old, Gentile said.

Smaller birds like parakeets live 10 to 15 years. While not as intelligent as parrots and cockatoos, they can be just as cuddly, Anderson said.

Just be sure when selecting a bird that it was hand-fed as a baby, she said; it ensures the bird will welcome human touch.

Smaller birds are also much less expensive: You can buy a parakeet for under $30 and a cockatiel for around $100. Parrots can cost upwards of $1,000, and rare macaws can go all the way up to $20,000, Gentile said.   

“In this economy, the smaller birds are the most popular,'' Anderson said.

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