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Birds: Pretty to look at, but noisy!

Birds of all sizes and varieties -- from macaws to finches, owls and condors -- have been blessed with the gift of voice and the ability to use it continuously, day after day.

A bird's vocal organ is never without air and that organ, the syrinx, allows them to sing two notes at a time. The significance to you: They are noisy pets.

Despite this, they are wonderfully intelligent companions that are growing in popularity because they are pretty to look at and quite independent. If your home is your sanctuary, a bird will make it your aviary.

Caring for birds is not difficult, but they have special needs. They like to be active, to be challenged and must be housed in a place that is not too hot or cold. Some need 12 hours of darkness or sleep and most love human interaction or other bird companions. They should all be released from their cages periodically to explore their surroundings.

You should be sure that a bird is the right pet for you before taking one home. If your home has glass doors and other such "hazards," it might be too costly to bird proof and too dangerous for the bird to live there.

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Some birds in the parrot family will talk in your language, imitate you and other family members, or the ringing of your phone and doorbell, so be prepared for false alarms. Male canaries will sing you to sleep and wake you up with song in the mornings, so the less vocal female might be more appealing to some.

Birds have different behavioral patterns but all will adapt -- though noisily -- to the atmosphere of your home. Watching the family's activities will keep them entertained and will also prod them to speak or screech at about the same volume level as your family interacts.

Some birds, such as finches and lovebirds, are less vocal than others, but they all love to scream at times. It's their way of communicating when playing, mating or talking with you and other birds. It's not always a sign of unhappiness.

A parakeet, lovebird or finch is an ideal choice for the home, but birds of prey, such as an owl, are not. The feeding habits of such birds will make caring for them hard work.

Marc Morrone, curator for Parrots of the World in Long Island, N.Y., says the cost of bird supplies can be as low as $100 a year, or run into thousands of dollars, depending on the type and number of birds you choose.

The colorful macaw can cost as much as $2,500, and a bird that size will need a bigger cage and more to eat than the smaller lovebird, which costs around $125.

Buying your bird and getting everything set up will probably be the most-expensive part. You'll need a suitable cage, a cage cover, food cup, millet spray, perches, vitamins, nesting material, cuttlebones and toys.

Cages range from $12 to hundreds of dollars. Individual grooming products such as bird gravel to aid digestion and wheat germ oil to promote bright healthy feathers range from $5 to $12. Birds eat easy-to-find foods such as pellets, seeds, fruits and veggies which can cost $100 or more annually.

Your bird will need to visit a veterinarian about once a year, says Morrone. Expect to pay around $100. You can keep costly vet visits to a minimum by maintaining your bird's health. Keep your bird cage clean, the bird well fed and allow it to do what is instinctive. Yes, your bird needs to fly sometimes, so you'll need to consult your vet or another expert about clipping its wings and accomplishing this safely without losing your pet.

Molting is an important stage in your bird's life. It will shed its feathers and can become restless during this process. Be aware of it but don't try to help by pulling feathers for the bird. Allow it to shed naturally and carry out its usual grooming. The feathers will grow again and if they don't, you'll need to see your vet.

Bigger birds such as macaws can live for 40 to 50 years, and smaller ones, such as canaries, live seven to 10 years on average.

Parrots of the World has an excellent checklist for prospective bird owners. Cockatielcottage.net lists the life spans of a wide variety of birds. PetPlace offers information on the annual cost of owning a bird. And Pets-Warehouse provides information on housing your bird, grooming, prices and products.

 
 
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