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Chapter 17 Companion birds.

Chapter Objectives

* Understand the anatomy of companion birds

* Understand the role of companion birds in society

* Learn what kinds of birds are companions

* Learn the basic bird-related terms

Birds are increasingly popular as pets in the United States. Birds come in a wide variety of colors, sizes, and personalities, and can be excellent companions. Some types of birds sing, others can learn to talk, and some birds can learn more complex tasks. Bird ownership is a large responsibility. Birds can have very specific needs in regard to nutrition, housing, and social interaction, so it is important to thoroughly research bird ownership before acquiring a pet bird. Furthermore, some birds may live up to 100 years, and outlive their owners.


Although companion birds and poultry have many similarities, they have some important differences. Some of those important differences relate to the external parts of the bird (see Figure 17-1), and the terms that are used to describe those parts. The internal anatomy of companion birds, including the digestive system, skeleton, and reproductive tract, are virtually the same in companion birds and production birds. The following are terms related to the external parts of companion birds:

Beak The hard mouthpart of a bird. The beak is shaped differently for the various species of birds. Songbirds have pointed beaks whereas parrot-related birds have curved beaks.

Bend of wing The joint where the humerus meets the ulna and radius.

Breast The chest of the bird. Central tail feathers The primary feathers at the center of the tail.

Cere (ser) The thick skin where the beak joins the head of the bird. The cere may be different colors in different sexes of the same species of bird.

Cheek The area of the face under the eye of a bird.

Coverts (kuhv-erht or ko-vehrt) The small feathers that cover the bases of large feathers on the body.

Covert feathers are named based on their location.

Crown The top of the head.

Ear coverts Feathers over the ears.

Forehead The part of the head in front of the eyes and above the beak.

Foreneck The area where the wishbone is located, and that is analogous with the cervical vertebrae right above the breastbone.

Lateral tail feathers The large tail feathers to each side of the central tail feathers.

Mantle The feathers across the back.

Nape The back of the neck. Orbital ring A ring of unfeathered skin around the eye.

Secondaries Smaller, lighter feathers than primary feathers.



Birds are not divided into breeds as are many of the other animals. Two primary orders of birds constitute companion birds. Birds will be identified by the following order and species:


Passerine (pahs-er-en) is the largest order of birds, with more than 50 percent of bird species being passerines. Most songbirds are passerines. Passerines have three forward-facing toes, and one rear-facing toe. Passerines are also referred to as Passeriformes (pahs-er-ih-formz). The following are birds in the passerine order:

Canary Canaries originated on the Canary, Madeira, and Azores islands off the coast of Spain, and are members of the finch family. These small birds are most often thought of as yellow, but can be a wide variety of colors. Their lifespan is approximately 15 years.

Finch A broad category of passerine birds that may be kept as companions. There are many varieties of finches, each with distinctive characteristics. These birds have short, pointed beaks, and may be a variety of colors. Common pet finches include zebra finch, purple finch, goldfinch, and society finch, in addition to the canary that was previously mentioned.


More than 300 species of birds are in the psittacine (siht-ah-sen) order. Many of our common companion birds are in this order. Psittacines have strong, curved beaks, and four toes, with two facing forward, and two facing backward.

African gray parrot One of the most popular of the parrots, the African gray is primarily grey, with a red tail. The bird is medium-sized (13 inches), and has two common varieties: the Congo gray and the Timneh gray. African grays are very intelligent, and may learn to talk. Some African grays have learned to count and to differentiate colors. They may live more than 50 years.

Amazon parrot Birds between 10 and 20 inches in length, Amazon parrots have a heavy body and relatively short wings. They originated in South America, and come in a wide variety of brightly colored species.

Budgerigar (parakeet) (buhdg-re-gahr) A native of Australia, the "budgie" is a very popular "beginner" bird because of its small size and bright coloring. The birds are about 7 inches in length, and colors include albino, blue, violet, and yellow, as well as the traditional green.

Cockatiel (kohck-ah-te-l) The cockatiel is native to Australia, and is approximately 12 inches long. Cockatiels may be gray, white, yellow, or a combination of these colors. Their average lifespan is 25 years.

Cockatoo (kok-ah-to-oo) The cockatoo is native to Australia and is primarily white in color. These birds can range between 12 and 25 inches, depending on the variety selected. The most distinctive characteristic is the contrasting-colored crest of feathers on the head of the cockatoo that the bird can raise when excited. Cockatoos can live up to 75 years.

Conures (kahn-yers) Conures originated in Central and South America and can range in size from between 9 and 12 inches. They come in a wide variety of colors.

Eclectus parrots (ehk-lehk-tuhs) Eclectus parrots originated on islands in the South Pacific. They are 14 inches long, and either green with a yellow beak (male), or red with a black beak (female). Eclectus parrots may live up to 30 years.

Lovebird The lovebird is a small species of parrot from Africa. These birds are between 4 and 7 inches in length, and can be a variety of colors and patterns. Lovebirds live from between 5 and 15 years.

Quaker parrot Quaker parrots are also known as monk parrots, and originated in South America. They are between 10 and 11 inches long, and are primarily green, although other colors rarely appear. Quaker parrots live between 25 and 30 years.

Parrotlets These tiny parrots are less than 6 inches long, and originated in South America. They are intelligent and can learn tricks. Their expected lifespan is between 20 and 30 years.


Sale of Animals

There is a market for the sale of birds and hatchlings to prospective bird owners, or to retail shops that sell birds.


Historically, some types of birds, such as falcons, were used by the aristocracy for hunting small game; however, birds serve exclusively as companions in modern society.


Aviary (av-e-ar-e) An outdoor enclosure for birds that is large enough for birds to fly freely.

Beak trimming The practice of trimming the tip of the beak to keep the beak properly aligned. The bird may experience difficulty in eating if the beak is not maintained.

Cage A portable enclosure for a bird. A properly sized cage should allow birds to fully extend their wings.

Cuttlebone (kuht-tehl-bo-n) The shell of a cuttlefish. The cuttlebone is provided in the cage for the bird to wear its beak down.

Hand-raised A bird that has been raised by humans.

Nail trimming A practice in which the ends of toenails are trimmed. It is important to trim the nails so birds do not scratch themselves, or the owner.

Feather clipping The practice of trimming the primary feathers to limit flight. Feather clipping is an important way of controlling birds.

Feather plucking A behavior in which birds remove their own feathers. Feather plucking is an undesirable behavior, and indicates a stressed bird.

Perch A stick or dowel provided for the bird to sit on in the cage. Some perches have rough surfaces that assist in wearing down toenails.

Self-mutilation Any behavior in which a bird causes injury to itself.


Birds are the third most popular companion animal in the United States. Companion birds range in lifespan from 5 years to over 50 years, so the commitment to have a companion bird is a major one. Each species has significant differences in nutritional, social, and housing needs, so it is important to research the species before selecting a companion bird.


Match the bird with the characteristic.
1. -- African gray   a. A passerine.

2. -- Canary         b. Green South American parrot.

3. -- Cockatoo       c. A parrot that may learn to talk.

4. -- Monk parrot    d. An Australian bird with a distinctive crest.

5. What item can be provided in the cage for birds to naturally wear down their beaks?

6. What is the most common order of birds?

7. Name two species of birds that can learn to speak.

8. What is another name for a parakeet?

9. What type of bird was once used for hunting?

10. What management practice limits the ability of the bird to fly?

11. What order of birds has two toes facing forward, and two toes facing backward?

12. List three types of finches that are common pets. Select a species of companion bird, and research the proper diet for that bird.
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Author:Brandy, Colleen
Publication:An Illustrated Guide to Animal Science Terminology
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2008
Previous Article:Chapter 16 Feline.
Next Article:Chapter 18 Exotic companion animals.

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