Starter Birds

Starter Birds

 August 1st, 2011
Posted By:

pacific parrotlets

A questions that we often hear at Birdtricks is: “what is a good first bird to get?”. It’s a difficult question and one that I answer reluctantly. I will try to offer my opinion…

First, I want to say that I don’t really believe in “starter” birds. It is often said that a smaller bird is more suitable for the first time owner. I don’t entirely agree.

All birds are created equally. There is no one species of parrot that requires less care or commitment than the others. Every single species needs the same considerations to health and diet, enrichment and attention. In this regard, there is no diffference between a budgie or a hyacinth macaw. Basic care requirements are not minimized because a parrot is smaller.

Hyacinth macaw

You might ask yourself why a larger bird is more appealing to you. Believe me when I tell you that a smaller bird is every bit the parrot that a larger bird is.They are as intelligent, interactive and demanding  – they just come in a smaller, less intrusive package. A larger parrot is not a better parrot.

There are, however, significant logistical differences in the ownership of larger vs smaller birds to consider. Size is very relevant in the following areas:

Vocalization: It only makes sense that the larger the bird, the louder the voice. If your hearing is sensitive, or if you have nearby neighbors that own shotguns, you might reconsider getting a larger parrot (check THIS out).

Biting: As a new owner, you will find yourself at a disadvantage when it comes to adeptly reading your bird’s body language. If you harbor a fear of being bitten, and chances are you will be at some point, a smaller bird might be right for you. Birds can sense apprehension and some will use it to intimidate and manipulate you.

Housing: Do you have the space in your living room for a cage that is 3 or 4 times the size of your refrigerator? Don’t forget about the play stand.

Damage: The bigger the bird, the bigger the beak, the bigger the holes in your shirts/furniture/carpeting/doorways…

Sulphur crested cockatoo, blue and gold macaw

Certainly, there are species that are correctly defined as high maintenance, either behaviorally or in their special needs. For instance:

  • The lory owner needs to be well educated about their unique diet and will need to find creative solutions to the “messes” they make because of their nectar-based diet. They don’t so much poop as squirt and the wall behind the cage will not fare well. Nor will closely placed furniture, or the floor, for that matter.
  • The african grey can be overly sensitive to its environment, can be phobic, and will mimic every sound emitted in your household. This can be endearing, annoying and/or embarrassing. Dad will have to stop swearing like a sailor and couples will not want to keep their african grey’s cage in their bedroom. (A discovery some friends made when their bird replayed the audio portion of the night before in the presence of their dinner guests.)
  • Then there’s the cockatoo who might be best served by an owner that has some serious experience in parenting, as they require someone who is adept at dispensing tough love to keep them from developing bad habits. Cockatoos always seem to be wanting things that are not good for them.They are constantly seeking attention. Sometimes you must deny them and it is difficult not to give in at times. It’s easy to make mistakes with them and many should have the number of a local rescue tattooed under their wing.(Some will simply come with the number 666.) Cockatoos are my favorite species, but this is a bird that I really think belongs in the hands of an experienced bird person.

Umbrella cockatoo

In the end, the answer to the question of which bird to get is more related to the person considering parrot ownership than it is to any parrot species. It boils down to what kind of potential bird owner you are, what your circumstances allow for and how tolerant you are to the behaviors that certain species are famous for. There is no patented “right” first bird.

I have watched people who wanted a macaw as a first bird do the “responsible” thing and start with small birds, eventually graduate to a medium sized birds, and finally get their macaw. The result is a house full of birds, all needing attention, when all they wanted originally was a single macaw to dote on. I think that people should get the bird they want, but ONLY when certain, beyond a doubt, that they are up to the challenge. Many new owners do very well with a large first bird. I have also seen people fail miserably with cockatiels, who are known for their friendly and compliant natures.


Know what you are getting into. Exhaustively research any species you are considering. Understand that ANY bird will be a huge, long-term commitment. Most importantly, be brutally honest about your limitations as a potential bird owner and don’t go for a bird that you aren’t able to give 100% to.


Facebook comments:

Add New Comment

35 Comments on “Starter Birds”

Odyssius  08/01/2011 8:23 pm

I got an amazon for my first bird, after about 12 months of research. I joined a bunch of forums, interested to learn from experienced bird owners and swap stories. Almost all the bird people I spoke to were extremely rude and condescending, telling me I shouldn’t get one because they are not “first birds” and that I should get a conure instead. They would cite all the reasons why I couldn’t take on a parrot like that (none of which were relevant to MY character, as none of these people knew me). Some even went so far as to sabotage my attempt to buy another forum member’s amazon. It was very disheartening, and although I understand their concerns, it put me off talking to other bird people. They never took into account my personality, or the amount of research I’d done, or anything. They just jumped to the conclusion that I had no idea what I was getting into and that I’d fail miserably.

I now have my amazon, and he is brilliant. He has no bad habits, his training is going well and he is a very happy bird. I might have made a few mistakes (and might make a few more in future) but I’m committed to him and I’m not going to give up or toss him aside if it gets “too hard”. I would only give him away if it was better for him, not for me.

Patty  08/03/2011 12:55 pm

This is where my reluctance to answer “what is a good first bird?” comes from. The right answer is found in self evaluation. No one can answer this question better than themselves. The problem is getting people to be look honestly at their capabilities and possible life changes in the future.
I’m sorry people on the forums were so hard on you. Their advice comes from the heart, but they can be forceful about it at times, perhaps because they have seen things go so wrong when people don’t heed their warnings. I think a better plan is to accept a person’s decision, right or wrong, and be there to help if things come undone, if only for the bird. Obviously, they made a mistake when evaluating you.

Michelle  08/03/2011 3:04 pm

I have had Love Birds for 30 years and I now have 2 Macaws also. I studied, researched, read books and took classes but still there is no way to know how any bird will act or how you will manage it until you are in that situation. I wish they were all as easy as my first Love Bird because he was perfect. Unfortunately it’s like people, all different personalities

JO  08/03/2011 3:09 pm

Umbrella Cockaoos – “Velcro Birds” are very loud, especially when you walk away from playing with them – and they do stick like velcro, don’t come loose easily, and peek out from under their cage covers to see where you are! The ultimate stalker bird, peeking around corners to see if they can see you, and if they do, well cover your ears! My African Grey even tells her “QUIET!” when she starts! LOL – but I love her anyway!

Fran Riggs  08/03/2011 3:25 pm

For 4 years I thought about getting a bird, before I agreed to adopt a 15-year old Orange Wing Amazon, from a “rescuer” who could no longer keep “Kermit.” (It was the “the-bird-or-me” demand from her husband…) Kermit took to me and my other pets with no hesitation, and has become a big part of our routine for 10 years now. He is demanding, noisy, messy, and affectionate — just like any 2-year old. Sometimes I need a vacation from him — but usually he gets to go; he loves to travel!

Name (required)  08/03/2011 3:44 pm

good afternoon ! thanks for making me laugh ! i have 4 birds grey cockatiel sun and jenday conures and yes a 666 bird an umbrella cockatoo 3 years old and a bad 2 year old for the next 50 !! seriously though he is loving and fun does need lots of activities i meet the challenge and everyday is a new adventure. he is loud once in a while but beeps like a horn barks like a dog does chinups and laughs at people, oh sun conures jenday conures and grey cockatiels are all great and have plenty of my attention. cockatiels are very brave birds

maree  08/03/2011 4:07 pm

Well Chet, I started out with a cockatiel that I found out on the driveway half dead from the weather & exhaustion, then bought her a young mate of which we stil have. A lutino we called him chuckie as he is a bit cheeky. Then I fell in love with a friends cockatoo. Now we have Crawford. We had no idea what we got into but after 7 months of loving him and earning his trust, we now have a reasonably well behaved 17year old that has missed the love & affection he never got with his previous owner. He use to bite me & scream whenever my partner left the room but now accepts life in our flock with me & my partner.

Christine  08/03/2011 4:12 pm

Michelle is right every bird has a completely different personality. I compare them to my 3 sons… as with kids each is individual and unique.
You just need to give them your love and hope you’ve made the right decisions as you go along

I married at 16 had my first child just before my 18th BD.

I often joke “I wish I had my birds before I had my kids, I would have been a much better parent” I

Lisa  08/03/2011 4:19 pm

we wanted a large “first bird” and a yellow, collared macaw chose us as her parents when she was 5 months old. As the largest of the mini macaws, she is everything we had hoped for. She likes sounds better than words, but is definitely not loud at all. She is so sweet and will go to almost anyone, but favors men. Now 5 years later we are starting to think about a second bird and are leaning towards the military macaw, the smallest of the big ones.

Vickie Ensign  08/03/2011 5:07 pm

Consider a “used” or disabled parrot. They can be very appreciative, not always easy, but for someone who wants to make a difference, take in a “used” bird. I took in a 20 year old disabled blue fronted amazon who needed to be re-homed due to an illness in his family. Someone pulled his flight feather follicles off of the bone so he cannot fly. His right wing look askew, but otherwise he is a lovely parrot, not at all demanding, who loves to play with his toys and be handled. He has learned new words, to ring a bell, is working on roller skating and is a total joy. He gives great big kisses and understands what I say, loves to travel, is brave about new situations and is a joy. He is now 26 years young, microchipped and a good friend and both of us are lucky.

Wendy Bausch  08/03/2011 5:46 pm

Well said, Katherine!!!!

Just my opinion, but I thought the whole idea behind this topic was to get ppl away from the idea that there is a “Starter Bird” out there….so why continue to say that one breed over another would be the best bird to start with?

I have had many birds in my life anywhere from a budgie to a macaw and I can honestly say that all of them were rewarding but very time consuming, even at age 12 I was ready to take the responsibility of having a bird *OWN ME*

At the present time I have a 5 year old female Quaker, 8 year old male Meyers, 11 year old female B & G Macaw, and a 41 year old male Umbrella Cockatoo. And I’m very proud to say that all 4 birds were adopted from a local rescue. With that said, please adopt a parrot in need!!!!

Just wanted to add a big LOL to Chet cuz I looked under my U2’s wing and there is no 666 tattooed on him!!!!


mary HIestand  08/03/2011 6:28 pm

About 5 years ago a Senegal bird flew into our yard and onto my husband’s back. He brushed “Sherbert” away and called me. I went out side and put out my finger and Sherbie jumped right on and he has been with us ever since. We are NOT bird people let alone parrot people. But Chet and Sherb have trained me and he is our absolute love. Sherbert goes with us on trips along with our labador dog . We got very lucky to have such a wonderful guy fly into our lives. I can’t imagine life without him now as he has greatly enriched our lives. We hope that we have given him as much love as he has given us!

ray levine  08/03/2011 6:31 pm

watch out for special diet of the loving quaker… they have a geneticabnormality and can’t have human fatty foods — they develop ”’ fatty liver syndrome at an early age…

caiques are the clowns of the parrot world … brilliant, they have controlling personalities…. and tremendous beak strength which they can use during hormonal mating season… and when they don’t get what they want ”quickly enough”’… one needs to have experience with bird non-verbal language to appreciate these lovable companions….

brotegeris [grey-cheeks] are a great” first bird” BUT SO ARE ”BUDGIES…”BEST ADVISE::: research what the species is supposed to be like… then realize and accept the reallity that like children… EACH IS AN INDIVIDUAL…

ray levine

Nichole  08/03/2011 7:11 pm

I think if you get a budgie and treat him as if he were a macaw you will find your self very satisfied! They are a brave, playful and loyal companion when trained.

georgia kula  08/03/2011 7:34 pm

IF you are fortunate enough to have a bird store available where you can visit the baby birds that are available and talk to other bird people, you learn alot and you if it is meant to be are likely to bond with one and I agree that the bird has some say in the matter as well. My sun conure was jumping up and down in the large tank he was in when he could see me. Long story short, I have a really beautiful and sweet sun conure, Fritz, about 4 years old. I have acquired most of my little flock in similar ways.

Maria Geczi  08/03/2011 8:18 pm

I agree that all birds have their own personality. I started with a parakeet first and he died after a year. I wasn’t going to give up and I got a Grey cockatiel and he only liked me so he was a good talker and he was very nervous and did not like to come out of his cage. I had him for 23 years and loved him dearly. In between that time I was given a Lutino cockatiel because their owner didn’t want him. He was a great bird, friendly and loved to come out and visit. He didn’t speak when I got him. But learned pretty bird from my other cockatiel. He was 13 when I got him and died at 22 years old. I love birds and decided to get a Senegal Parrot that I gor when she was 5 months old. She is so wonderful. She loves her time out. I have been trying to teach her to speak. It sometimes sounds like she says something but not clear. I only had males before and I won’t give up but it seems as though females are harder to train to speak. I would’nt trade Cali for anything I just love her. But as you can see the personalities of all of my birds were different. They are like people and you just have to choose which is better for you. And the time you are willing to spend with them. Birds love to be with their owners.

Crystal  08/03/2011 11:30 pm

I started out with an eastern rosella. Although people say that eastern rosellas are hardly “friendly” and are meant for more experienced bird owners, i think they can be tamed easily, just like the cockatiel and budgies that i bought soon afterwards. All in all, i just think if you pay much attention to all species of birds, you’ll find that they are all able to be tamed, and become loving pets 🙂

Sue  08/04/2011 1:37 am

I don’t understand the problem. It’s an easy question to answer. A good first bird is the same as a good 20th bird… The species is called “WISE RESCUE”… They come in all colors, sizes, ages, personalities, etc. Need is the only thing they all have in common.

Randy Walton  08/04/2011 2:14 am

Agree with the article! I started with birds, like so many, with a budgie when I was young… then several budgies. 40 years on, I decided I really had missed on out having birds around and did the research and decided on a male Red Sided Eclectus. Found a breeder that hand raised then along with several other species and got “suckered” into the 2 Sun Conures that were in the same feeding box as the Ekkie. Turns out 6 years later, the Ekkies is a dream and the two conures are referred to as velcro-birds.

I have to agree… if you know the requirements of the species and can handle those needs…. Ekkies for instance require a high fruit and veg diet and a good degree of interaction, then any bird is straightforward. In point of fact, easier than a dog and just as affectionate in a beaky/feathery sort of way! My only comment on level of difficulty deals with quantity… more is definately a challenge!!

David  08/04/2011 8:46 am

Question: Our cockatiel (Bobby) loves to sit on my finger and have me pet the back of his neck with my chin. (And he loves me to pet his beak with the tip of my finger.) But he doesn’t like me to pet on his back or neck with my hand or fingers. Is this peculiar to cockatiels?

Goatess  08/04/2011 9:14 am

And don’t think she’s joking about the African Grey and your bedroom noises. My African Grey “tattled” on my husband. Seems he was watching some porn on the computer (in the same room where Woody, our CAG, resided), and didn’t put his earphones in. A couple days later, a friend and I were sitting around chatting, when we heard moans coming from the bird room. My friend said to me, “Is that —?” and I said, “Oh, god, yes, I think so. . . .” Then we both burst out laughing!

Vavoom  08/04/2011 9:44 am

CONURES: I have a sun conure (age 4) & a blue crown conure (age 2). My Sun doesn’t vocalize often, but when he does it’s usually loud screeching. My Blue Crown on the other hand, he babbles all the time & makes a variety of sounds. He mocks me & the dog & he’s also learning words & constantly wants to play and/or get into mischief LOL! My Sun mainly likes to ride around on my shoulder or climb under a blanket with me & lay on my chest & chew holes in my t-shirt! For them both being Conures, they certainy have very different personalities and they like different things… I do enjoy & love them both tremendously, but they are definitely a huge commitment even though they aren’t “large” birds!

Vicki  08/04/2011 11:40 am

I fell in love with my friend’s caique and after some research got my own. Frisco is blast with his antics and some talking. He and I should reach our golden years together since they don’t live as long as a macaw. I couldn’t bare the thought of him ending up in rescue. He is a whole lot of fun in a small package. If you aren’t familiar you should check them out.

bill taylor  08/04/2011 4:52 pm

I’ll argue for a Few ‘starter’ birds. Having lived out the aphorism that you, “..have to ruin a bird or two to learn how to care for all the rest.”, I’d hate to have learned a few lessons with a Macaw or one of my rescue Cockatoos. Starting with your ambition, a large, expensive and possibly dangerous bird is showing more faith in education and luck than I have. I like Cockatiels, as much for their durability and resilience as for their cheerfulness.
In a culture that firmly believes in punishment as a prime behavior control, there are Lessons to unlearn dealing with birds. Birds take punishment as the abuse it really is and want nothing more to do with you, unless totally dependent from the egg for all support, in which case they just get really neurotic, just as humans in the situation do. Healthy birds would normally fly away and never revisit the spot, or anywhere they expected you to be. The best intuitive bird handler I know struck a Molly in anger after a bite, they are sort of friends again, after a looong time.
Living with large parrots calls for more emotional control than I see most exercising with their own children. And the demands for attention get more difficult with a larger or more intelligent bird. Best to find out what You are made of with a smaller bird??

Kirsten  08/05/2011 3:31 pm

My parents were very good on making sure that 12 year old me didn’t get anything but a budgie or a cockatiel. Even now, I’m really happy that they stuck to that because with the same cockatiel now and a budgie, I seriously doubt I would be able to take on any more birds at this point with school and life. My mom also always wanted a cockatoo but it took a trip to a parrot refuge for her to see that I didn’t want a cockatoo because of the noise, the mess and the amount of care for which these birds need. Those birds may have given us each a small nip, but the fact that they drew blood was enough to convince her NOT to get one until she’s ready to absolutely commit!

Deborah Vincenti  08/05/2011 11:28 pm

I have two African Greys and one Blue and Gold Macaw,my female Grey I have had for 18 years this year, and I beleive there is not a first bird for people all birds are like a kid once you have them you need to be there as long as they or you live . If that is not what you want then don’t get one at all, it tears my heart up to see birds that were bonded then dumped because they are to loud or make such a mess,please don’t get any bird if you are just looking to try and see cause they don’t get over it !

Patty  08/05/2011 11:29 pm

I always love it when you throw in your eloquent 2 cents worth…

Dianna  08/07/2011 2:54 pm

Having been a rescue for going on twelve years, I have had experience with so many different species of birds, and in some ways I do believe in “starter birds” because there are certain birds that are just not a good bird for someone who has never had a bird before.
I do not believe that a Lovebird should be owned by a person who has never had a bird before because Lovebirds tend to be so much moodier than their counter-parts. I have a Lovebird now that does prove my point.
In my opinion, a Green Cheek Conure is a GREAT first time bird because although they require a lot of attention and care, they are pretty easy going, while at the same time having all of the qualities of larger birds. Other Conures tend to be a little louder and demanding than the Green Cheek, and in my opinion, they tend to be a bit nippier.

If the person has TRULY done the research on the bird that they want, then they should look for their bird, which would be one that picks that person or is adaptable to change. The problem that I have found is that not very many people do TRULY research the type of bird that they have gotten, then they get dishearted with that bird, which leads to neglect, and in many times abuse. That is usually the time that I get the bird here and the owners have already done their damage to the bird.

I am even on file with my local animal shelter, and I am the one that they call when they get birds in, or they will sent the people directly to me. If it truly a love that the owners have for the bird, then I work with the owners so that they can keep their bird, but 9 times out of 10, the people have gotten so disenchanted with the bird that they just want rid of it, and some people have even tried to flat out kill their birds before contacting me.

TJ  08/17/2011 5:08 pm

Personally, I think the Cockatoo’s are the loudest of the parrots. My Amazon is loud but more in the high frequency of his screech and both are far louder than my blue and gold macaw. They all have their different tones/sounds but they are all great.

Richard Schultz  08/20/2011 9:56 pm

I started with a cockatiel but lost him I now have a green cheeked conure and have had him for 7 years now. He has travelled over 100,000 klms with me around Australia and loves travelling. I am now settled in a small flat and he is just as happy as long as he is with me, Smokey is very affectionate to me and very protective which can be a bit annoying sometimes around other people. He can really sense if someone is afraid of him and will strut and fluff up at them. He talks a lot and calls me daddy, if I growl at him he responds with stop it behave yourself and then rushes over to me and says do you love smokey . He is a real little charmer and I would reccomend them as a ist bird they can be a bit nippy sometimes but I guess all birds do that occaisionally

Michael Cerda  08/20/2011 11:55 pm

Some birds are easier to care for than others. Within a species there are still personality differences. There are the physical requirements for a bird, large birds – large cages, Lories – mess, some birds are very noisy and so on. Be sure to consider these. Given the time requirements I don’t see myself owning more than one bird. I don’t know if I could pick a starter bird. There are many good choices, do some research, figure out the time commitment – it’s more than you realize. Your bird will be your companion.

Christina  11/06/2013 6:05 pm

My first bird of my own was a cockatiel, shortly after that purchase I bought a peach face, and then my Corella. I really wanted a larger bird, or as I say something I can cuddle, and my Cooper fits the bill perfectly, he is a giant snuggle birdie who loves to cuddle up under mom’s chin more than anything else in the world… Even his toys and destructiveness will stop immediately when I come in for a snuggle. I don’t think that there is any “right” bird to start with. I think it comes down to personal preferences and what a person is willing to do. Smaller birds require just as much time, and attention as the larger birds do. And regardless of the size of the bird, they can all take a nice chunk out of your hand.

My little cockatiel was attacked by a neighbors dog and when my husband rescued her from the labs mouth he was attacked by her. She took a nice hefty chunk out of my husbands hand and he has the scars to proof it. You wouldn’t think such a small bird could do so much damage.

*side note* She is fine, but it was a very scary situation, she escaped from her cage, and the lab grabbed her. Luckily they have soft mouths, and he wasn’t trying to kill just capture and return. If you have outside cages be sure to ALWAYS keep them locked with bird proof locks… It seems even a little cockatiel can figure out the locking mechanism on some of these cages…

Candace Rocha  11/06/2013 10:25 pm

I was about 8 when I got my first bird. My Mom got me a budgie, cage seed, grass cups, cuttle bone, and that paper with the grit glued to it, and bird grit. Hey it was back in the 60’s so don’t yell at me. We named him Petey. He was just the first of many. I could list the reasons why we lost most of them but I won’t. Some were accidents, Some were due to early ignorance. But all were loved. The only bird I got that I learned to hate was the conure I got when I was pregnant. It was not tame. I had twins, and every time I went near the bird it would scream and wake the twins. I took it to a pet shop. It was a very stressful year. having twins, and loosing my Dad. Plus Both sets of parents moved away. I just could not deal. That was still early bird years. Still didn’t know what we know now. My next bird was a tiel. Then I had more tiels. They are great birds. pretty, friendly and the kids could hold them with out fear of getting bit. Loved the tiels. Now I have a U2, and a Hawkhead. My oldest has a Peach front conure, and 2 parrotlets. My youngest has some tiels and a budgie, and a B&G macaw. We have learned a lot. Its no longer feeding birds seed like in the 60’s. I cook and freeze a mash of veggies, legumes, pasta, grains, etc. and then they also get fruit and fresh veggies as well every day, with nuts and a small amount of seed mix and pellets. and toys tons of toys. They are the kids now. And unlike when I got the budgies the first conure and the tiels. after that, joined a bird club, subscribed to the now defunked Bird Talk, and were the Halkhead is concerned. found a Hawkhead group on Yahoo. They gave me the best info on that breed of bird. Bird Talk did not like Hawkhead parrots. They said very little about them but it was all negative. Which is very wrong. They are not that bad bird they make them out to be. They are like a cross between an Amazon and a Macaw. Unless you decide to breed them. Then you have a velociraptor. This is a great group of people. they helped me get Duncan, My Hawkhead Parrot. They put me in touch with some one who had some babies they were selling and when the time was right, I sent the bank check and they sent my baby.
Now if I could just get my sweety Sammy (my U2) to get along with my Duncan. Sammy doesn’t like to get along with any one. He doesn’t like to share me.

sarah  11/07/2013 9:11 am

I think it depends on the person and their lifestyle, present and future. My first and only bird is my eclectus. As long as you do your research and can make the huge commitment, a larger parrot shouldn’t be a problem.

Aman  09/22/2014 3:45 pm

What a great article. I’ve been doing exhaustive research and realized that I want the bird that I want, not the one that everyone thinks I should get.