I adored the book “Alex & Me” by Jewish scientist Dr. Irene Pepperberg about her relationship with Alex, an African gray parrot. When Alex got jealous that another bird might be too smart, he would purposely train them incorrectly.
Thus, I was delighted to meet veterinarian Steve Fairchild, and to learn that he treats a variety of birds in his East Cobb practice. “Many birds are highly intelligent. They are very observant, have great memories, and some species are great problem solvers. The more intelligent the bird, the more interaction and mental stimulation they require to thrive and stay healthy.”
Fly in as Dr. Fairchild shines some aviary light.
Jaffe: In your practice you are seeing more folks with birds as pets?
Fairchild: I see a slight increase in bird owners in East Cobb. But there is a more substantial increase in more urban areas, where people are living in apartments and condos, where either pets like cats and dogs are not allowed or space is inadequate. They are also a better choice for those who have allergies to dog or cat dander. Most birds thrive when they have constant interaction and stimulation. Daily care is required for clean water and fresh food as well as cage cleaning.
Jaffe: Can one get a bird if there is a cat or dog at home?
Fairchild: Birds can be owned by dog and cat owners, but precautions must be taken to prevent interactions, which may end in the bird’s demise. Cats pose the greater threat as they are usually more able to climb and jump than dogs. Larger birds may be able to better protect themselves, but common sense and caution should always be used when predators and prey animals are housed together.
Jaffe: Is it expensive to maintain a bird?
Fairchild: The initial purchase ranges from $25 to $100 for smaller birds to several thousand dollars for larger parrots and macaws. Maintenance for the birds is related, again, to their respective sizes; larger species require larger cages and areas to play, more feed and larger toys. Some species also have more specialized diets, which tend to be more expensive. Smaller birds may only cost about $20 a month to maintain; larger breeds can cost much more.
Jaffe: What about the health of birds and passing of diseases?
Fairchild: Common ailments for birds include respiratory infections, leg and wing injuries, diseases of the skin and feathers, eye infections and injuries and nutritional disorders. Birds are very sensitive to temperature changes and chemicals in the air. There are several diseases that can be transmitted from birds to humans. By buying healthy birds from reputable breeders or stores, and by using good hygiene after handling them and cleaning up after them, most of these illnesses can be avoided
Jaffe: I have heard of folks accounting for birds in their wills.
Fairchild: Parakeets may live up to 10 to 15 years; larger parrots and macaws may live up to 50 to 60 or more. Obviously, the typical lifespan of the bird to be adopted should be taken into consideration, as upkeep and medical expenses will be higher, and special arrangements may be needed as these longer life span birds may outlive their owners.
Jaffe: Are you linked into the rise of falconry?
Fairchild: Falconry has increased in popularity and has also been used to handle rodent and unwanted bird problems and promote wildlife education and conservation. I started providing first aid and rescue medicine to raptors such as owls and hawks many years ago when I practiced in Habersham County, and provide medical treatment for some routine problems with raptors used for falconry now.