Best parrots to have as pets

Find out what's the best kind of parrot to have as a pet, and what you should expect. 

The best parrot for you depends on how well your chosen bird fits in with your life style and home.

Parrots can be small enough to fit in a pocket, large enough to weigh over 2 kg.

Click the links below to find out more about: 

The variation in parrot species can be compared to variation in dog species. A great Dane and a Pekinese are both classified as dogs; the ideal home for one wouldn’t suit the other. It is no different for parrots.

Cost varies enormously. You could find a Budgie for £10 or Green wing macaw for £2,500.

Don't forget about pet insurance when buying your parrot. Get a quote for vet fee cover, death and theft cover.

budgie sat on owners handBudgerigars are one of the easiest first time parrots you can buy

Best first time parrot

The obvious choice is the budgerigar or the cockatiel. These are ideal if cost is a factor, as smaller birds require less money to acquire and set up.

That said any pet bird, who isn’t trained to step up out of the cage and go back into the cage won’t be an agreeable pet. If you don’t have time to interact with the parrot and allow out of cage time, then a parrot is not the best pet for you.

The best bird for you also depends on how much time you have to devote to the bird and how much your're willing to learn about parrots in general, and your preferred species.

Budgerigars as pets

These birds make a good first time pet, and many devoted parrot people will tell you that their first bird was a budgie (Melopsittacus undulatus). 

Along with the canary, and the cockatiel, these three species have been domesticated for much longer than other species.

Budgerigars were first bred in USA in the 1850's. They are small birds weighing 30-40 grams, averaging 18 cm in length.

They are easy to find and inexpensive and do not need a large cage. Most budgies and canaries are still fed on bird seed rather than pellets and they can be picky eaters.

My daughter-in-law’s budgie, Pimby, won’t try a new food unless she eats it first in front of him.

In the wild budgerigars eat a variety of seeds (grass seeds), fruits, berries and vegetation. In captivity they are playful and curious and if tamed young, make delightful pets. They are neither destructive nor noisy.

They are not long lived and rarely reach two figures which can be tragic for child owners. Like their larger cousins the Australian Galahs, care needs to be taken that their fat intake is monitored; they can be prone to lipomas and tumours.

A tame budgie will often talk as well as sing and their voice is high and piping. The lone bird will sing continually to her reflection in the cage mirror.

One view about parrots (which is also mine) is that all species do better with a companion either of the same or opposite sex or even a compatible species. To the owner who complains ‘then my parrot won’t be so affectionate to me, will he?’ I‘d answer that "the added enjoyment you’ll get of watching the birds interact with each other is adequate compensation".

Also, since so many pet parrots have to spend 8-10 hours alone while their carers are out at work, providing a bird companion is the kinder option.

Tip: Before buying your budgie ascertain that it has not been bred from too close relatives because inbred budgies generally have a shorter lifespan.

cockatiel in a cageCockatiels along with budgies make a great first time parrot

Cockatiels as pets

Cockatiels along with budgerigars are the least expensive and easiest birds to obtain.

Usually parent reared they can be tamed easily and make delightful first time pets with the added advantage they don’t screech like so many larger cousins. A hand reared cockatiel will cost slightly more.

Cockatiels talking and training

Cockatiels prefer to sing and whistle rather than talk but male cockatiels can often produce a few words in human language.

They harness train easily and can therefore go outside with you. Indeed, some carers are now free flying cockatiels. I would not do so because of the risk of avian predators like crows or hawks.

Pet insurance companies like ExoticDirect won’t cover your bird for free flying.

Cockatiel's ancestry is Australian, and they are related to cockatoos. The normal colour grey with the males’ yellow facial patches now includes attractive mutations of white and pearly.

african grey parrot getting toys out of plastic boxesAfrican greys are highly intelligent. They can make good first time pets, but do require lots of time and stimulation

Are African grey parrots good pets?

This species which includes the Timneh grey is renowned for its talking ability. Like most parrots, they can become unhappy if they are caged too tightly in isolation for a long a time.

They can be suitable as a first time parrot if the new carer is informed enough and sensitive to their body language.

Like the larger birds greys need several hours daily of interaction with their human flock. They need plenty of outside cage time three to four hours daily would not be too much.

A worthwhile investment is an aviary - as large as you can manage. In this way, the parrots receive vitamin D from sunlight and are able to exhibit natural behaviours, enjoying sunshine, rain and chewing branches.

If you are thinking of a grey parrot as a pet Rosemary Low’s A Guide to Grey Parrots as Pets and Aviary Birds provides a good starting point.

Irene Pepperberg. whose grey Alex changed forever how we perceive greys talking ability and intelligence, has written, as well as her scientific publications, a moving biography, Alex and Me (2008) He died at 30, sadly not achieving as long a lifespan as his species is capable.

cockatoo eating a flowerCockatoos are lively birds and suited for more experienced owners

Cockatoos as pets

Cockatoos are captivating creatures, and generally only the white species are available in the UK.

They are extremely affectionate, if hand reared, which has caused the undoing of so many pet cockatoos. They can be challenging pets and I would not recommend them for beginners.

Fluffy Teddy bears as babies they can turn into strong willed individuals demanding more time and attention than the average person can give them. Their love can centre on one human to the exclusion of everyone else and they can defend that person ferociously.

Cockatoos talking and screaming

They have sweet voices although a limited vocabulary. Speaking is one thing - screaming another. Even their natural vocalisations morning and evening to call the flock home can be deafening.

A friend of mine unwilling to part with her Mollucan cockatoo wears ear muffs most of the time. Their screams are the reason for the re-homing of so many cockatoos.

They are birds with a fantastic sense of rhythm. Find out more about why parrots love to dance

macaw biting a ropeMacaws are better for more experienced parrot owners

Macaws as pets

The macaws are considered to be spectacular animals. The Scarlet macaw is the Pirate parrot. There are 17 species of macaw. Amongst those species, most can be found in the pet market.

I’d not recommend a macaw as a first parrot. However if you research enough and have the space and the time, you can succeed in keeping them.

Like greys, amazons and cockatoos they will feather pluck if their environment is lacking. Their cost and the expenses of providing suitable accommodation puts them out of reach of most parrot lovers.

Because of their size, Macaws need far more space than other species. The growing number of owners who decide to free fly generally choose macaws, who are both easy to train and not liable to be picked off by predators.

I have flown Benni, Blue and Gold macaw for four years and he has clocked in over 2,500 sessions. Free flight is too risky for novices. However a group in UK started flying outside using an Aviator harness and with tracking devices on the birds and then progressing to flights at liberty.

You can find out what they are doing on Facebook at Parrot Harness Training and Flight in UK.

If you have insurance with ExoticDirect or are considering bird insurance with them, remember that your bird won’t be insured if you lose it, it gets injured or ill and requires vet treatment, or passes away whilst free flying.

Macaws and talking

Macaws are not renowned for talking though most macaws will say a few words. My Benni has an irritating habit when outside perched in a tree top of copying a dog’s bark. The resident dogs here go frantic, searching for the stranger dog.

sun conure on someones fingerSun conures are beautiful birds

Conures as pets

Conures are growing in popularity because so many people live in flats with less space available. Several species of conure are available. Sun conure's are amazingly beautiful with their yellow/orange colours but they can be incredibly noisy.

The smaller Pineapple conure is less visibly showy and is a quieter bird.

Don't forget parrot insurance! Get a quote here. 

Conures, talking and training

Conures are not known as a talking species however they make good candidates for clicker training.

They readily learn tricks - and trick training using positive reinforcement principles is one of the best ways to interact with your avian companion.

Parrots can learn new activities all their lives, although obviously the younger you start training the easier it is for you both.

alexandrine parrot on someones fingerAlthough becoming popular as indoor pets, Alexandrines are better suited to aviary life

Ringnecks and Alexandrines as pets

Flocks of these green birds are now living semi-feral in areas of the UK. They are growing in popularity as indoor caged birds. Although they can make affectionate pets - my view is that the long tailed parakeets are more suitable as aviary birds than indoors.

Selective breeding as well as natural blue mutation has resulted in Ringnecks of many colours. They have a limited talking ability but can be trained in bird tricks if you have time a skill and patience.

Kakariki are lively birds and better suited to an outdoor aviary

Kakariki as pets

These lively small green birds hail from New Zealand. (And Kakariki is the correct plural. Their name derives from Maori.) They are green with red topknots - yellow pied and blue mutations are now available.

They are increasing in popularity as indoor pets. They can be harnessed however I personally don't think that their lively active nature suits an indoor environment. Their active flight and curiosity is better displayed in an aviary.

Their price is modest £25 for normals but can go up to £150 for all blue specimens. Like lovebirds and cockatiels they are happier in pairs. They breed freely and are excellent parents.

Other species of medium-sized parrots

Senegals, Caiques, Quakers, Pionus parrots - all have their adherents. They make charming pets and can be less problematical than some of their larger cousins.

A useful way to familiarise yourself with a particular breed is to search on YouTube for clips showing each species off.

African grey, Timneh greys, Umbrella cockatoos and some macaw breeds are listed on Annex A of CITES.

This means that you will need to either see or be given a certificate proving that the pet has been acquired legally by the pet seller. This is known as an Article 10 certificate and the pet seller should supply you with this. Find out more about CITES here. 

Where to buy a parrot

You can buy parrots from Avian magazines like Cage and Aviary who have sections on Wanted and For Sale. The cost will depend on the species and locations.

Birds can be bought from pet shops, online merchants, at bird shows and from breeders.

Birds can also be found in sanctuaries and rescues. You may often find the species you want in a rescue, in which case the cost can be free or low but there are conditions to fulfill.

If you are inexperienced, it makes good sense to take someone with you who knows what a healthy bird should look like. If in doubt, ask for a vet examination.

Buying off the internet or sight unseen from anyone can be successful but carries innate risks. An ideal situation is to know a breeder and follow the progress of your chosen bird from hatching to weaning. A conscientious breeder will allow you to visit.

The Parrot Society UK gives the public free, expert advice to cover all aspects of husbandry. If you’re serious about parrot keeping, it is worthwhile joining.

The World Parrot Trust also provides excellent service in answering members queries. 

To find out more about buying a parrot, check out: Five things you need to know about purchasing a bird

Approximate parrot prices in the UK

Budgerigars - pets not show birds (Melopsittacus undulatus
£10 - £90
Cockatiels (Nymphicus hollandicus
£20-£150 (rare type)
Conures £90 - £400/£450 pair
Poicephalus – these inc the Senegal and Red bellied parrot
£40 - £400
African greys £500 - £1250
Amazons£450 - £450 to £800 - £1250 a pair
Macaws£1000-£2000 up to £15,000 for Hyacinth Macaw
Kakariki £25 up to £150 depending on the colours

parrot food selectionA daily diet for my collection of parrots - the right diet is important and can help increase your parrots lifespan

Parrot lifespans

Parrots are long lived in general. As a rough guide - the larger the species the longer the possible life span.

  • Cockatoos: Barring accidents and unwanted illness, you can expect a cockatoo to live into her 30’s and beyond.
  • The oldest bird on record according to Wikipedia was Cookie. A male Major Mitchell cockatoo, he was born in 1933 and he lived until the age of 82.

    He passed away in 2015 at Brookfield Zoo near Chicago, Illinois, United states, and was one of the oldest birds of his species alive in captivity.

  • Budgerigars: These rarely make it into two figures, with the average being five to eight years.
  • Cockatiels: These are said to live longer in captivity than the wild. Ten to fifteen years would be good going. Some reach their 20s.
  • Quakers, Jardines, Senegals, Ringnecks and Conures: These can reach their twenties.
  • Alex, an Alexandrine breeding bird was given to me at 21, fathered his last clutch of two eggs at 24 and simply faded away.
  • Amazons and greys: These can reach 50 but this is rare.
  • Arthritis can become painful for the aged bird. My Lena a wild caught Orange winged amazon, reached her 50's although terribly arthritic. She was given pain medication daily

  • Macaws: These can often reach their 50's.

Advances in nutritional studies and a better understanding of parrot behaviour has resulted in increasing life spans for captive birds. However many parrots still die younger because of nutritional deficiencies or avoidable accidents. 

Check out our article: What to feed your parrot.

Bringing a healthy bird into your home, selecting an avian vet and acquiring as much information as possible on parrots in general, and your species in particular, will increase your chances of a long lived bird.

Advocates of clipping believe that keeping a bird flightless is a safety measure. I disagree strongly. The lack of aerobic activity and the sedentary lifestyle of a clipped bird is the opposite of a guarantee for longevity.

And finally

Like falling in love - no one can predict the outcome of bringing a parrot into your life. If all goes well you are immeasurably enriched.

And whatever you decide – good luck.