The mother of cockatiels presents: The cost of ownership – an important but rarely spoken about issue.
By Kathleen Boshoff

I would like to discuss an aspect of bird care that makes us all uncomfortable: money.

At Cheeky Beaks, we often receive pleas for help when a bird falls ill and the owner cannot afford the hefty vet bill. We are sometimes told when educating the public on correct diet and cage size that they cannot afford an appropriately sized cage or a better diet for their parrot – and unfortunately in a great many of these cases, we are so financially strained from our own fosters and vet bills in the organization that there is little we can do to help.

So if Cheeky Beaks can’t always help with your personal vet bills who can?
Unfortunately, the answer to that question is very depressing – there are a few organizations who try their best to help but even they get inundated. Clinics at the SPCAs are typically only equipped to see cats and dogs and more often than not will turn bird owners away.

I am going to address individuals hoping to adopt/buy a bird now, I will discuss two scenarios and explain why we often see them fail at Cheeky Beaks:

1.) A person has just retired at the age of 60 – they have 1/3 of their pension available immediately and the rest will be paid in monthly amounts.
This person is excited – they have always wanted a parrot and now they have the money and the time to make this dream a reality.

Why does this fail?
In a lot of these cases, things go very well for the first decade or so, then the person’s health starts to decline – more and more medical costs are being thrust on them, they are struggling to get by. Then their parrot falls ill – possibly due to an incorrect diet, possibly due to a dirty cage as the owner can’t clean the cage anymore with their health problems – the owner surrenders the bird being unable to afford vet fees.

What would it have cost them?
A good diet for a parrot is composed of chop, pellets, and healthy seed – the pellets go for anything from R70 to R1000 a month depending on the brand.

  • For chop (vegetables, fruit, grains) – about R20 to R300 a month.
    A healthy seed mix will cost you about R70 a month (depending on what brand you get)
  • Parrots/parakeets go through toys like maniacs – chewing is important for beak health – new toys and perches every three months (or every month for larger destructive species) can cost you anything from R500 to R1000
  • Parrots/all birds need to see an avian vet at least once a year for a health check – birds are unfortunately not like cats and dogs where illness is physically visible and vet visits can be further spaced – an avian vet visit will cost between R250 and R500+, depending on the vet.
  • An emergency requiring surgery or treatments can easily rack up a bill of up to R10 000 and almost no avian vets allow monthly payments – therefore it is essential to have an emergency fund for your bird.

This brings us to a yearly cost (assuming the cheapest options are followed throughout and a monthly payment of R100 into the emergency fund): of approximately R7530 p/a

2.) A 23-year-old has just gotten his first job and is renting a garden cottage – he has always wanted a parrot and with his newfound freedom takes the plunge.

Why does this often go wrong?
The 23-year-old is going through a transition phase – over the next few years/the next decade it is very likely that this person might buy his own home or flat, he might get promoted or change jobs, he might get married and start a family and when this person’s three-month-old baby needs diapers, the water and electricity bills are to be paid, the payment on the house and car are due… very often there is little room in this tight budget for a parrot.

Am I saying you should never get a parrot/bird?
No, I am saying that a bird is a 15 to 80 year expense – being able to afford a parrot now does not equate to being able to afford one later.

Consider the following points before you get a bird:

1.) Can I currently afford the setup for the bird (cage = R1000 to R11 000, perches and toys = R500 to R2000)?

2.) Does my budget currently allow for the month-to-month expenses associated with a bird?

3.) Am I anticipating any major (and costly) life changes in the next 5 to 10 years?

4.) I have stable employment or if not I have a solid social network to support me through tough times

5.) What will happen to the parrot should I pass away or fall ill? (Setting up a will, making arrangements with friends or family, etc.)

All we ask is that you carefully consider any feathered addition to your family as we owe it to our birds to provide high-quality care.