Fur, Feathers, Shells, or Scales?

Exotic animals can make great pets – but do your homework first.

(page 2 of 4)


Well, what about birds — pets that can be found in many homes in America?

One of the biggest issues with 
birds is proper diet,” says Pope. “Bird seed is just not satisfactory. It’s like a person eating candy all the time; it has the same nutritional value. We try to get them on foods that are complete diets, just like the special foods they make for dogs and cats.”

Hollywood Feed offers ZuPreem “premium daily bird food” that is a “fruit blend with natural flavors.” Two-pound bags run anywhere from $10 to $16, and different blends are specially formulated for specific birds: Parakeets require a different diet from, say, cockatiels and parrots.

But the biggest issue with birds, say both Pope and Hannon, is keeping them in cages their whole life. “Birds are very sociable and incredibly intelligent animals,” says Hannon. “It is absolutely amazing what species like African Greys can do. And humans have proven that the more intelligent you are, the more neurotic you can become. You can’t just put these animals in a cage and ignore them, but that’s what happens.”

Both veterinarians recommend letting birds interact with people, and even fly around the house, but they caution that owners need to keep an eye on them. “They’ll get into things, just like a dog,” says Pope. “They’ll fly into windows, land on stove burners, even fly into toilets and drown. And a real problem is ceiling fans.”

One option is trimming their wings, which does not mean cutting into muscles or bones; it’s just the removal of certain feathers that affect their ability to fly long distances. “It’s not to prevent flight,” says Hannon, “it’s to control it. We want them to be able to flutter down and land safely without hurting themselves.” He calls some short-tailed birds such as cockatoos “bumble-bee birds” — they are already “aerodynamically challenged” because of their small wing size. “If their wings are trimmed improperly and they can’t fly, and something spooks them and they jump from their perch, they’ll hit the ground like a brick. So, even with trimming, we want them to be able to fly.”

But Hannon also points out that birds have something in common with an animal not known for its flying ability: tortoises. Both live incredibly long lives. Turtles can live more than 100 years, and parrots and macaws can live as long as 60 or 70. “These are pets you’ll have to put in your will,” he says.

In the long run, Hannon says, “Birds are very high-maintenance animals. I do not recommend someone getting a bird as a pet unless they can put the time into it.”


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