Student? Bird?

Birds can be a good choice of pets for university students.

I say can be because sometimes you won’t be around enough, or will have too much work, or may be allergic to them – or whatever. It means thinking about whether your situation is right for a such a pet, or whether you’d rather save yourself the effort and have a hamster instead.

Small birds such as a budgie or cockatiel can cost around £150-200, which includes a start-up kit of cage, bedding, toys, perches, and food.

The best and most affordable pet of all, however, is probably along the lines of a society finch or canary. They’re cheerful, hardy, cute little things. You won’t be able to cuddle them, most likely, but they’re interactive never the less. My canaries cost £70 for two birds, cage and accessories, and two weeks of food. Mind you, they came together in a tiny round cage that needed to be replaced with bigger, separate ones – which was an extra cost. But outside of that, finches and canaries are inexpensive to maintain. They need fruit and vegetables, which you probably eat yourself, and about 2 teaspoons each of canary seed a day. Once every few months, I buy a big bag of food, which I freeze most of and dish out as needed. It costs about £2 for each bag of seed. The canaries also get fruit or vitamin sticks as a treat, which serve as a good source of entertainment, too. They get toys, as well, but these can be made inexpensively on your own.

Best of all, a finch can be left on its own for far longer periods of time than a parrot can.

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Canaries are good pets, but still require out-of-cage time and lots of enrichment.

A parrot is not appropriate for a student who is out most of the time, who enjoys partying (or socialising, to be honest), or someone looking to get a full-time job upon graduating. Perspective owners should consider the future: how will your bird be affected once you’re not a student any longer?

Furthermore, as a student, money is always a concern. Parrots cost a fair bit more than finches. They need lots of toys and perches and other expensive accessories. Making your own toys and perches is one way to save money, but then you’ll be hit with a vet bill. Avian vets are painfully expensive – and yes, all birds do need to see a vet regularly.

Besides all this, parrots’ diets are highly complex. While they have a relatively straightforward base diet of seed and pellets, they need plenty of fresh fruit and veg and a hot meal per day. The prepared meals must be healthy, low in salt and fat, and full of good nutrients. A lot of people end up changing their diets for the better when they bring a parrot home, as it makes more sense to serve the bird some of what you eat. Be prepared to splash out on a UV lamp (birds need these, as most are vitamin-deficient), as well as expensive vitamins for their water. This is part of a bird’s basic care.

Another consideration as a student is where you’re living. Many parrots are considered okay by landlords, but beware. Parrots are voracious chewers. They can go through a lamp or baseboard or couch alarmingly fast. If you’re in rented accommodation, owning parrots might not be the wisest choice. Parrots also fling what they eat, so be prepared for your floor and walls to be stained with bits of chewed-up food. You’ll be spending a lot of time washing and hoovering. Do you have the time for that in between your studies? The answer may well be yes, but it can honestly drain you. You’ll never really have free time again. For some people – like me – this is okay. It’s something you devote yourself to. But say goodbye to the idea of down-time.

Once you get ready to move away from your student accommodation, consider where you’ll be staying next. Are you prepared to put up with the hassle of finding a pet-friendly place? Will any potential housemates be open to the idea of a bird in the house? Not everyone wants to live with these messy, noisy pets.

If you do have roommates or neighbours, know that parrots are extremely loud – even the quietest of them. The people you live with probably won’t appreciate the repetitive noises of your pet, and you may end up having to re-home the animal. If your housemates throw parties, it is your responsibility to ensure that your parrot is safe around the guests, especially if they’ve been drinking.

Next, ask yourself what your schedule is like and what it’ll be like in the future. Birds depend on being part of a flock and suffer mentally when their person is away. New toys and foraging opportunities can help amuse a parrot while you’re out in class, but a parrot will not do well if you’re away for more than a few hours. Fail to provide a bird with amusement, or stay away from it too long, and you will quickly learn about avian behavioural issues. These include screaming, biting, and plucking.

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Sometimes birds pluck even when they have the best of care.

If you like to party or go out randomly and socialise, know that parrots like routine. You can raise your pet without one, but nevertheless, it will not be happy when you break its schedule. Your birds have to come first, so if you enjoy throwing parties or staying out late, a parrot probably isn’t for you. Parrots need 12 hours of undisturbed sleep in a dark room, and having noisy and/or intoxicated guests round really isn’t conducive to this. Similarly, if you’re the kind of student who likes to travel or go away on surprise holidays – or even just home to visit your folks once in awhile on a whim – you need to think of how your parrot will react, and who will care for it. Many birds react negatively to change. If you are attracted to birds as pets because of their beautiful feathers, know that birds who feel neglected will pluck compulsively.

Finally, parrots require a lot more of your time than just playing, including training and socialising. Do you have the time and inclination to take it out and introduce it to new people and fresh experiences? Do you have time for training? When you get home from class or work, will you be able to provide 4-6 hours of one-on-one entertainment for your pet? The bond with a parrot is hard-earned, and owning one is an intensive experience. Unfortunately, I don’t exaggerate these claims of how demanding they are. Without this kind of care, they will pluck, bite, and scream, and neither of you will be happy.

If you weigh the pros and cons of buying one, and decide that you do want a bird and can provide for it during and after uni, start doing some more research. Find out about the ones you’re interested in – and consider adoption.

Not all relinquished birds have issues. Some of them are given up due to financial problems or a death in the family; some are found having escaped; some are simply unsuited to the previous owners’ lifestyles – such as a new baby or different job. If you’re up for a challenge, and have the time and patience for a ‘troubled’ pet, there are definitely some of those out there, too. Check out Birdline Parrot Rescue if you’re in the UK, or just do a Google search for rescues near you. Rescue birds need homes and are already out there; most of the time it even costs considerably less than buying from a breeder. It’s worth considering. It’s also highly rewarding to watch the progress of your adopted companion.

Brought into your home under  the right circumstances and with the right mind-set, a parrot can be a very rewarding pet.

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Just imagine the photo opportunities.

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