Buying a bird

Please note that these guides do not constitute legal advice and any information provided in the guides should not be construed as legal advice or legal interpretation. We do not accept any liability for any loss caused by your reliance on this guide.

Choosing your bird

  • Do your research first; never buy on impulse, as some birds need a lot of care.
  • Think about the longevity of the bird you choose; do you want a short or long-lived one? For example, the African grey parrot can live for up to 50 years. The cockatiel will live for between 10 and 24 years, the budgie between eight and 10.
  • If you are new to birds, the best place to start is with a smaller bird such as a budgie. They are very sociable, easily tamed and are good company. They are also good with kids; larger birds tend to prefer adults.
  • Make sure the place you are buying from is clean and well-maintained.
  • Look at the cage the bird is in; it shouldn’t smell, as birds don’t smell.
  • Look at the bird. Signs of a healthy bird are bright eyes, alertness/curiosity and sleek plumage. If the plumage is ruffled up, it’s a sign of a sick bird…


  • With small birds in particular, you may end up spending more on the equipment than on the bird itself.
  • Buy the cage that suits your bird, not the one that fits nicely into a certain spot in your home.
  • Birds need space to move around, so get the biggest cage you can afford.
  • Perches are very important. Don’t buy plastic perches; they may be easy to clean but are very hard on feet, and can lead to wear and tear. A natural-wood or rope perch is a good option.
  • Most birds that people buy belong to the parrot family, and are naturally inquisitive and active. So toys are important. They are clever (African greys have the IQ of a five year old!) so, if you buy seven toys, don’t put them all in the cage at once but rotate them.
  • Add a source of calcium to the cage, for example, some cuttlefish bones (available from pet shops); also, get hold of an iodine block for them to nibble on.
  • You can get sandpaper for the base of the cage, or just use newspaper. Clean out the cage regularly. With budgies, do so two or three times a week; bigger birds will need this done daily.


  • A diet solely comprising parrot feed is not balanced, and can be a bit fattening. For bigger birds, incorporate pellets.
  • For all birds, always offer some sort of greenery, such as lettuce, parsley, baby spinach. In the wild, birds don’t just eat seeds all day.
  • The water bowl is very important. Change it every day.


  • There are two types of bird: hand-reared and parent-reared.
  • Hand-reared birds are a bit more expensive but will be trained and are used to being handled. You can handle them every day. In fact, they want and need interaction with people. If you’re buying a budgie, and won’t have much time to keep them company and interact with them, buy two so they can keep each other company.
  • Parent-reared birds can still be trained, but take your time. Get them used to your hand slowly so that they’re not scared of it.


  • Let the bird out every day in the living room for as long as possible. It is cruel to keep a bird in a cage all the time.
  • Make sure the room is safe for them to fly in, and that there are no open windows or chimneys they can go through.
  • If you’re wondering how you’ll get them back in the cage, you can train them from a young age to allow you to pick them up. You can do this either with your hands or using a soft, clean cloth.

Veterinary care

  • Most parrots are prey animals; in nature, if they show any sign of weakness, they’ll be eaten by a hawk or other predator. So signs of illness are extremely subtle.
  • The classical signs of a sick bird are sleepiness, inactivity, not eating, not talking (in a parrot’s case), diarrhoea, droopy eyelids and fluffed-up plumage.
  • If you see these signs, take your bird to your nearest vet immediately.

We spoke to Bairbre O’Malley, a vet and bird specialist based in Bray, Co Wicklow.