Selecting A Companion Bird – Pet Bird Species Profiles

After contemplating all the pros and cons of owning a parrot (or rather, allowing one to own you!), you may decide that a parrot is the perfect companion for you and your family. After this first major hurdle is accomplished, deciding on a species is the next logical step. This may seem like a confusing issue in itself considering the number of species available, but there are a few questions you can ask yourself that will make the selection process a little easier: (not necessarily in order of importance)

  • What size parrot do you want to acquire?
  • How experienced are you in regards to parrot ownership?
  • What noise limit is acceptable to you and possibly your neighbors?
  • What temperament and personality traits are you looking for?
  • What are your size limitations in regards to required avian furniture?
  • What are your time restraints in regards to how much attention you can give to your avian companion?
  • How many people will be interacting with the parrot on a regular basis?
  • And last but certainly not least, how much money do you want to spend, both now and in the future?

The answers to these questions will automatically exclude certain types of parrots, and will leave you with a manageable list of species to choose from. Listed below are the most commonly available species and some general information about each one. Hopefully this list will be of some help in narrowing your search for the perfect companion parrot. Please keep in mind that these are generalizations based on our own experiences. Prices quoted can fluctuate widely depending on geographical location.

Commonly Available Species

AFRICAN GREYS

Obviously from Africa, these medium sized birds (approximately 13 inches in length) are quite famous for their intelligence and talking ability. Their feathers have a scalloped appearance, are subtle shades of grey and they sport bright red tail feathers. The two commonly available types are the smaller Timneh Grey, and the larger Congo Grey.

These birds appear to be somewhat reserved and have a distinguished air about them. They have a tendency to be nervous, sensitive and high-strung, though admittedly not all Greys fit this profile. Their body language is difficult to understand if you are not familiar with this species. They also tend to bond more strongly to one person. They sometimes become nervous around small children, possibly due to the high activity level of children. Some Greys are prone to feather-plucking in stressful situations. They can be loud but usually reserve the majority of louder vocalizations for morning and evening. These birds are delightfully entertaining as they have the ability to perfectly mimic not only human speech but also the tones and inflections associated with human speech, along with various sounds such as microwaves, telephones, doorbells, motorcycles, squeaky doors, barking dogs, and meowing cats. just to name a few. Some people say that Greys are not the “cuddlers” that cockatoos are, but I have found many Greys who love to be scritched and petted while cuddling with their owners. Psychology studies are currently focusing on their ability to understand and verbally communicate with human trainers. Timnehs are generally priced at around $600.00, while Congos sell for slightly higher amounts ($850).

AMAZONS

Hailing from the forests of Central and South America, Amazons are medium sized birds with stocky bodies, full yet relatively short wings, and powerful beaks. Their main color is green, but with various additional colorations noted around the forehead and tail, and on the wings. The most commonly available species include the Yellow-Naped, White-fronted, Tucuman, Lilac-crowned, Red-lored, Blue-fronted, Double-yellow headed, Panama yellow-front, Yellow-crowned, Orange-Winged and Mealy Amazon parrots. Sizes ranges from 10-18 inches total length.

Quick learners and highly intelligent, amazons are also excellent talkers. They do tend to be somewhat unpredictable at times, especially when they reach sexual maturity; any amazon owner will do well to learn this bird’s body language, as well as educate themselves on the subject of parrot psychology. They are strong-willed and require a dedicated, educated owner with a strong personality themselves. These birds can be feisty at times, but when tamed and trained appropriately can be one of the most lovable, manageable, entertaining birds available. Amazons usually tend to bond to only one person, and preferences for one human sex over another is not uncommon. Their life span in captivity has been reported to reach anywhere from 75 to 100 years, with proper care and diet. There are about 10 commonly available subspecies, and prices for any of these range from $500.00 to $1000.00.

BUDGIES

Also commonly known as parakeets, these small (approximately 7″ in length) and inexpensive Australian birds are blessed with boundless energy and loving personalities. These little jewels are perfect for first time aviculturists, and children who wish to have a bird for a pet. With loving attention and care, these little wonders can be as sweet and gentle as any pet bird could possibly be. They are one of the few companion birds that are not usually hand-fed; as long as they are handled regularly and on a continuing basis, they will retain their friendly nature. They are capable of learning speech, though their voices tend to be a bit high and squeaky, and they do not mimic tone nor inflection of a human’s voice. They have a high energy level and prefer manipulative, shiny toys to wooden ones. The range of colors available in the budgie family is astounding and are too numerous to list here. Prices range from $10.00 to $100.00.

CAIQUES

Originating from South America, these charming little parrots are enjoying a recent popularity surge, and with good reason. They are medium in size (approximately 9″ in length), compact, and just a bit on the stocky side with a square-shaped tail. They are packed with incredible energy and mischievousness, and can be very loving and affectionate to not only their owners, but “unknown humans” as well (if they are properly socialized). They are very active and playful, commonly independent and strong-willed, are blessed with happy-go-lucky attitudes, and need a human companion with a strong, decisive personality as their flock leader. These birds will often challenge their owner’s “pecking order”, but can usually be persuaded that they are definitely not “top bird” with consistent “Step Up”, “Step Down”, “No”, and “Okay” commands. They do have the ability to speak, but their pronunciation is somewhat lacking and their voices are sometimes described as a shrill whistling. Their short attention span during “training” sessions is possibly due to their high activity level. They enjoy playing with “activity” type toys, such as ladders, swings, and chains they can hang from, and enjoy chewing on toys that they can literally destroy. Life spans can reach 25-40 years or more in captivity. The two types commonly available are the white-breasted caique and the black-headed caique, with the latter being the more common of the two. Prices typically range from $400.00 to $900.00.

COCKATIELS

The sheer number of color combinations available in these little birds is astonishing. Closely related to and resembling their Australian neighbors the Cockatoos, these much smaller birds (average 12″ in length) with their jaunty little crests and bright, inquisitive personalities are one of the most popular companion birds available. The males can often be good talkers (few females exhibit the ability or inclination to speak) though they also lack the ability to exactly mimic the human voice. They do pick up lengthy, detailed tunes with ease, and enjoy whistling, although teaching a cockatiel to whistle before teaching speech may hamper your speech-training efforts. Cockatiels seem to pick up speech faster from females or young children, possibly due to their higher-pitched voices. With proper training and taming these affectionate little birds can steal the heart of anyone looking for a smaller companion bird. The life span of a cockatiel can reach 25-30 years with diligent care and proper diet, and their popularity continues to be widespread. They are an excellent choice for beginner aviculturists as well as children. Prices start at approximately $50.00 with the rarer color mutations costing more.

COCKATOOS

There are several different types of cockatoos, the most commonly owned being the Goffin, Moluccan, Umbrella, Bare-Eyed, Citron, Sulfer Crested, and Lesser Sulfer Crested. Sizes range from the medium Goffin’s (approximately 12″) to the larger Moluccan (approximately 26″).

These beautiful feather-white birds, some with touches of peach, salmon and yellow under the tail, behind the crest, and on the cheeks and neck, are packed with personality and are considered to be the most lovable, touchable, and huggable of all the preferred companion bird species. Their very appearance is impressive, and display behavior is breath-taking as they toss out their crests, hold out their wings and strut about! They are very personable and require a lot of attention, and can at times be very demanding as well as loud. They are famous for their penchant for chewing and their favorite material is wood; make sure you can afford to buy plenty of destructible toys for this species! They can be prone to feather-plucking and mutilation if their needs are not adequately met, and are considered, more so than some other species, a “high maintenance” companion bird. Their talking ability is somewhat limited, but they more than make up for it in their unlimited capacity to show affection. Properly socialized cockatoos will remain friendly with a number of different people, and their life span can reach over 75 years with proper care and diet. Prices vary widely depending on species, but commonly range from $400.00 for the less expensive, and on up into the $1000.00 price range and above for the more expensive, less common species.

CONURES

Ranging in size from small (approximately 9″ inches) to medium (approximately 12″), the conure family is one of the largest groups of parrots. There are numerous subspecies, too many to list here, though I will differentiate between a few of the most popular for the purposes of separating size, speech and noise attributes.

Originating from Central and South America, conures come in a variety of dazzling rainbow colors, and have individual personalities to match. They are said to be one of the noisiest of all parrots, are generally very playful, active and mischievous. They also make adorable, wonderful companions that will entertain you for hours with their hilarious antics! A good companion for beginner aviculturists and experts alike.

White-Eyed/Dusky/Suns/Nandays/Jendays/Gold-Capped Conures:

Overall, probably the noisiest “sub-group” of the conure family. Calls can be quite loud and “screeching”, as well as rough and scratchy sounding. Speech is limited or absent, and quality is lacking in tone. Basic colorations vary: White-Eyes are predominantly green as are the Duskies; Sun Conures are green with fiery orange and red blending on the head and cheeks, and turning to yellow as the color flows down the back; the brighter colors spread as the bird matures. Nandays are again predominantly green with black “masks” and some black on the wings, and orange “socks”. Gold capped conures are shimmering shades of green with splashes of burnt orange on the breast, spreading to the abdomen. A somewhat lighter orange is presented above the cere, on top of the head, and around the eyes. I personally have two sun conures and a gold-capped conure, and have experience with the others listed here. In my experiences, I’ve found that this particular group does not necessarily “bond” to one family member, (though they do sometimes have a preference if given a choice) and are willing to be handled by almost anyone if properly socialized while young. They are bright, inquisitive, and can learn tricks and potty-training quickly. They are very active and are strong chewers. They are generally calm and quite affectionate, and love to be scritched and stroked. My conures do of course have the ability to screech and scream, but rarely do except when I arrive home from work, and when we begin to stir around in the mornings. If given a few minutes of attention and affection at these times. they are satisfied to return to their cage-tops and play quietly by themselves.

Green-cheek/Orange-Front/Peach-Front/Maroon-Bellied:

These conures are slightly smaller (averaging 9″ in length) than those listed above, but general characteristics are the same. They are slender birds with tapered tails, voices are usually high-pitched and squeaky, and they are playful and active little acrobats.

Prices range from the low-cost, abundant Nanday conure at approximately $175.00 to upwards of $400.00 for the popular sun conures. Life expectancy is 25-30 years.

ECLECTUS

Arguably the most beautiful of all parrots, these breathtakingly gorgeous creatures are from the South Pacific Islands and their popularity has soared in the United States in recent years. These particular parrots are sexually dimorphic, meaning that their sex can be ascertained by simple visual assessment. The males are an iridescent green, and look rather plain in comparison to the females, who sport shimmering hues of red, purple, blue. Their feather composition on the head, neck, breast and belly resembles fine hairs as opposed to the feathers of other parrots. They need frequent bathing in order for their unique feathers to remain in top condition. Compared to other parrots, the beak of the Eclectus is soft, and designed to penetrate the skins of fruits and green nuts, as opposed to cracking open hard nuts. They are fair talkers, and appear rather delicate. These charming and stately birds measure about 14″ in length, are usually quietly passive, even-tempered and a bit serious in nature, while being blessed with sweet personalities. They are social birds and enjoy interacting with their human family. Prices are usually in the $1000.00 range.

LORIES/LORIKEETS

Native to Australia Tasmania and the islands of the South Pacific, lories are approximately 8-12 inches in size while the smaller Lorikeets are usually 5-9 inches in length. These birds are very colorful as well as playful, and “hop” about in lieu of the usual parrot “waddle”. Their movements are exaggerated and they are a delight to observe, especially during their play-time. They subsist in their native habitat largely on a nectar diet, which has in the past suppressed the likelihood of their becoming a popular pet in the United States. While still known to be messy eaters, commercial dry food is now available for these parrots which almost guarantees their popularity as companion parrots to grow rapidly. Lories are excellent mimics and most can learn to talk easily. They are also exceptional whistlers. These birds are beautiful and can be quite loving. Prices range from $250.00 – $600.00.

LOVEBIRDS

One of the most popular small companion parrots, lovebirds are native to Africa and are easily true to their name. The choices of color mutations are staggering, and their sweet faces and personality make them a perfect choice for a first-time companion. They are undemanding and do not require much space, are hardy birds and breed easily. Talking ability is slim to none, but they more than make up for that with their playful and loving personalities. Pet quality in this species depends largely on obtaining a youngster, spending time in taming and training lessons, and keeping it as a single pet. Lovebirds in pairs become bonded to each other very quickly, leaving little or no room for human interaction. life span is usually 5-15 years. Prices for these birds are very affordable, with few costing more than $100.00, and starting at approximately $50.00.

MACAWS

This group is undeniably the king of all parrots, both in size and sound. The different popular types include the blue and gold, the green wing, the scarlet, the military, and the hyacinth. The “mini” macaws (including the severe and the yellow-collared) are about half the size of their larger cousins, but all are extremely intelligent and sensitive. They are magnificently beautiful, mostly good-natured and loving, and are good talkers. Some have subtle differences in personalities, but all make wonderful pets with proper training and socialization. Life span can reach upward of 75-100 years. Prices for this family range from $500.00 to $1000.00 for the mini macaws while the larger ones usually start at around $1000.00.

PARROTLETS

These tiny treasures measuring approximately 6″ in length make excellent first-time birds. There seven species of parrotlet: Pacifics, Spectacles, Sclater’s, Blue Wings, Green Rumps, Mexicans, and Yellow Face, with the Pacific (Celestial) and Green Rump being the most commonly kept as pets. Originally from Mexico, Central and South America, their popularity has enjoyed an upsurge in recent years, while still remaining reasonably priced. Parrotlets are lively and fun-loving as well as sweet and affectionate in nature. They do have the ability to talk in high, squeaky voices. Like lovebirds, parrotlets kept as a single bird, (or at least in separate cages if you have more than one) make the best pets. Because they have not been commonly bred as companion parrots until recently, their life span in captivity is unknown; it is thought to be approximately 25-30 years. Breeders are currently working on a multitude of color mutations. Their tiny size makes them adorable companion parrots, and their price ranges from $100.00 to $350.00.

PIONUS

Currently growing in popularity, this group of medium sized birds known as the pionus is from Central and South America, and consists of eight species: the dusky, white cap, bronze wing, blue head, Maximilian’s, white capped, plum-crowned, and the coral bill. The characteristics of this species are much like the Poicephalus: most have sweet, gentle dispositions and a quiet demeanor, along with a loving and mostly mellow attitude. They are not destructive chewers, generally have a sweet disposition, are small in size and are very captivating. They do have the ability to talk, and are quite happy in families where they are handled by more than one particular person. They are stocky birds with short, square tails, and all sport a red coloration underneath their tails. While not as commonly bred or available as some other species, they are well worth a second look if you happen to find any available. Prices normally range from around $400.00 to $750.00.

POICEPHALUS

Boasting characteristics similar to those of the pionus, this clan of species from Africa is also enjoying a surge in popularity in the United States in recent years. Their good-natured personalities are hard to match, and with proper training can be sweet, gentle lovable companions. They aren’t too noisy, nor difficult to handle. They are hailed as the perfect “apartment” bird, due to their relative lack of screaming and/or screeching. While not the admirable talkers that Greys and Amazons are, they can learn to speak a reasonable vocabulary with training, and love to make sounds such as whistle, squeaks, chirps and chattering. The most common of this group include the Senegal (8″-9″), the Meyers Parrot (8″-9″), the Jardines Parrot (10″-12″), and the Red-bellied Parrot (8″-9″). This medium sized bird ranges in price from $250.00 to $500.00.

PSITTICULA

Originally from parts of Africa, Malaysia, India and Indonesia, Psittacula is the genus name for Ringneck parakeets, and there are four subspecies noted: P. k. borealis, P. k. manillensis, P. k. parvirostris, and P. k. krameri. All of these species are very similar in color, with the Indian Ringneck being the best known and most generally available. A popular myth exists that male ringnecks make better pets than females. It has been our experience that the personality of the bird as well as the amount of attention it receives on a regular basis play a much greater part in determining their pet potential than whether they are male or female. Ringnecks can easily acquire an extended vocabulary. Their speaking ability can outrank that of smaller birds, although their speech may not be quite as clear as the larger parrot species. They usually begin talking at around one year of age, though some start much earlier depending on how much time and energy the owner expends on training. To maintain a bond with the owner these social creatures must be given adequate quality attention and play time on a daily basis. If subjected to the amount of attention required only by daily necessary chores of watering, feeding and cage maintenance, they will become nippy and unfriendly quite quickly.

Ringneck parakeets are some of the most beautiful of all parrots. They are sexually dimorphic, usually at two to three years of age. They are graceful, elegant, and distinguished birds, with slender bodies and coloring in shades of soft pastels that appear to have been “painted” on with an artists brush. They are generally easy-going and playful, but reportedly do not bond to humans nor to their avian mates as other species do. Talking ability is fair to good, and they must be handled daily to retain their tameness. Prices generally range from $250.00 to $500.00.

QUAKER (MONK) PARAKEETS

At the center of a never-ending controversy regarding their destructive habits, quakers are unmercifully slaughtered in their native land of South America. Here in the United States, they make excellent first time pets and are my personal favorite. They are full of life, very active, and make good talkers. They love affection and will cuddle their owners for hours. They can also be quite loud, even if kept as single pets; though they seem to be less prone to raucous “jungle” noises if they learn to speak. They are in the small to medium range, measuring an average of 11 to 12 inches in length. The standard green is the most commonly available, ranging in price from $75.00 to $300.00. Several other mutations are being bred, including blue, lutino, cinammons, and a pied. These mutations are only now becoming available in the United States, and are quite costly. life span averages 25-30 years.


With the multitude of species to choose from and the vast differences in personalities and traits, it’s easy to see how anyone could be overwhelmed trying to make a decision on what type of bird would be best for them. The more information that is obtained on each possible choice, the easier that decision will be.

Breeders are excellent sources of information, and most of them are more than willing to share their experiences and advice with a potential bird owner, regardless of whether you decide to purchase your bird from them. Knowledgeable pet store owners and employees are also usually willing to share information, and bird fairs/shows have literally hundreds of breeders who are more than willing to let prospective customers “pick their brains” regarding any and all aspects of bird care.

There are numerous newsletters, magazines, books and article available on a multitude of subjects related to bird care, and scores of avian sites are springing up daily on the internet, authored by both private individuals as well as avian-related businesses and breeders. Bird clubs and societies are being created in increasing numbers, and many are creating web sites which feature numerous well-written, informative articles authored by well-known breeders and behavior specialists from around the United States. For the responsible person interested in obtaining as much information as possible about the care and keeping of their pet bird, the opportunities to obtain this information are virtually endless.