Matching customers to a pet bird that will be right for them—and vice versa—is an important task for anyone who works in a pet store. It is extremely important for employees to understand not only the general traits and characteristics of different bird species, but to also know the personalities of the birds for sale in the store. This can make the difference between having a happy and satisfied customer, or one that feels they were sold a “bad” bird because the new pet doesn’t meet their expectations.
The first question to ask a potential bird owner is what they are looking for in a pet bird. If the customer want a creature that is completely silent, then no bird will be right for them—as all birds are naturally vocal. If someone wants a tame pet, then finches would not be the best choice, but a species of parrot may be a good fit. It is important is to understand what a customer is looking for before considering which bird would work well for them.
NexPet Co-Op—a national organization of approximately 600 independent retail stores—offers in-store signage to help facilitate a good match between customer and bird. The signage, explains NexPet president Barry Berman, advises customers and store staff which types of birds are best suited for particular customer preferences. For example, “People who want a bird that sings should look at canaries,” he says.
Using signs can be a great start to helping customers choose the right pet, but well-informed store employees also play a key role. If a customer is looking for birds that they can look at and enjoy listening to, then certainly canaries and other types of finches will be a great choice. On the other hand, if a person wants a tame, more interactive bird that can be taken out of the cage, then basically any of the parrot species can fit the bill.
However, there are many other factors to consider before deciding on a pet parrot. One of the most important is the amount of time the bird will be spending alone. Large parrots, including African greys, Amazons, cockatoos and macaws, cannot be left on their own all day while their owner is away at work or school. These birds need a lot of attention and will literally go insane if they do not get what they need. Bad behaviors such as yelling, biting and feather plucking are usually rooted in a lack of attention. New owners who will not be around during the day should never be sold a large parrot.
Smaller parrots do not mind being left alone during the day, as long as they get attention in the morning and late in the day. Many do well with a mirror, as they see it as a “friend” that they can interact with when alone, and normally, they will not become attached to the reflection as they would another bird of the same or similar species. Birds that are tame and bonded to their owner can become very aggressive and/or unresponsive to the owner if another bird is brought into the home, unless that new bird is a very different species and size—still, it all depends on the birds and their personalities.
The most popular species of parrots, according to the American Pet Product Association’s National Pet Owners Survey, are the parakeet (budgerigar) and the cockatiel. Both of these bird species have been bred in captivity for years and make wonderful pets for people of all ages. They are almost always the first bird species owned, and they don’t mind being left alone during the day. Oftentimes, cockatiels are hand-raised, which means that a breeder feeds the young birds until they have fledged and are eating on their own. Hand-raised birds are very friendly and see people as part of their flock, thus they make the best pets in most cases.
With the exception of most parakeets, almost all parrot species are hand-raised these days. Therefore, they can all make wonderful pets, depending on the owner’s time and needs. Birds in the parrotlet, lovebird and conure groups can also be perfect for pet owners who work all day. These birds are generally considered a bit more intelligent than parakeets or cockatiels, and they are usually much more playful and interactive with their owners. Again, however, it all depends on the bird itself. Once it is established what species of birds may work for a customer, the next important thing to consider is the noise factor and personality.
Parrots are generally very vocal creatures, especially first thing in the morning and at dusk. Usually, the larger the bird, the louder it is. Greys are often the exception—they are considered the best talkers, but they don’t tend to yell as much as Amazons or cockatoos. Conures may be considered a smaller parrot species, but they can, as a group, be very loud, with the exception of a few of the smaller species such as the popular green-cheek conure. As with all living creatures, there are exceptions to every rule, so there are some green-cheeks and greys that can be extremely noisy, while there are some Amazons that are fairly quiet. It all comes down to the most important consideration when choosing the right pet bird for a customer: the bird’s personality.
It is extremely important that the store staff gets to know the birds they have available for sale by observing, as well as interacting with the parrots. Parakeets can show a very wide range of personality types. Watch a group of six or so; some may be quiet and shy, while others babble almost constantly and can be somewhat devilish in their behavior to the point of being annoying to the other birds. If a customer is looking for a bird that will be outgoing and interactive, obviously you want to pair that person up with a parakeet that is more outgoing.
Helping a customer choose the right bird can be a demanding yet very rewarding task. It is vitally important to understand what a customer is looking for in a pet bird and the general characteristics of various bird species, as well as the birds’ individual personalities, to be sure that both the buyer and the bird will be happy with one another.
Robyn Bright has a master’s degree in parrot biology and more than 35 years of pet retailing experience.
Matching the right bird to the appropriate pet owner is partly a matter of understanding the differences in the different species of pet bird available. Asking the right questions can be critical. Here is a set of questions listed on a sign provided by NexPet Co-Op, a national organization of approximately 600 independent retail stores, that can help pet owners identify the characteristics they are looking for:
Do you want...
A bird that sings beautifully?
Male canaries are the greatest singers.
A bird that can learn to talk?
All parrots can learn to talk but larger parrots, especially African greys and some Amazons are the best talkers.
A quiet bird that’s fun to watch?
Finches would be wonderful for you.
A bird that can come out of its cage?
Birds in the parrot family can all be tamed; if they are hand-raised they are already friendly.
A great beginner pet bird for families?
Parakeets and cockatiels both can be great first birds for adults and children usually eight years or older.
A bird that will strongly bond to its owner?
Large parrots such as African greys, cockatoos, Amazons and sometimes macaws are best for people who want a close companion. These birds cannot be left alone all day.
A pet you can leave alone during the day?
Small parrots such as parakeets and cockatiels will be fine as long as they have lots of toys.
A pet bird that is affectionate?
All parrots can be sweet but usually cockatiels, African species including greys and Senegals, and species in the cockatoo family can be most affectionate.