Colorful feathers, lilting songs and a low-maintenance routine are just a few reasons a bird can be an ideal pet. "They're pretty easy to care for—you don't have to walk them or scoop their poop, and they don't shed fur or scratch the furniture," says Larry Nemetz, a veterinarian and owner of the Bird Clinic in Orange, CA. But to succeed at bird ownership with flying colors, you have to keep certain things in mind:
Some species are more family-friendly than others.
Budgie parakeets are popular because they're gentle and can talk; cockatiels can often talk, whistle and do tricks. Want less lip? Canaries and finches are beautiful but only chatter softly.
You'll need a vet.
Check in with one soon after you buy your birdie to learn how to handle and care for it; after that, annual visits are a good idea.
Your bird will want to spread his wings.
Make sure his cage is big enough that he can flap without touching either side, or else he'll be uncomfortable. (Don't let him out to fly free, though—he may get confused and fly into a window.) Place the cage in the living room or bedroom, not the kitchen; fumes from things like cleansers and disinfectants can be hazardous.
He'll go for the greens.
Besides pellet foods, seeds and grains, most birds need table scraps like kale, lettuce and carrots (don't worry, your child will be only too happy to fork 'em over).
Your feathered friend is fragile.
Supervise to make sure your child handles him gently. "It's very easy to squeeze a bird and block its airflow, so stay close by as they interact," says Nemetz.