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Things You Should Know Before You Get A Cockatiel
(But The Pet Store Won't Have Time To Tell You)

Birds are a whole lot of fun, but if you're thinking about buying one, you need to know about the day-to-day "joys" of bird ownership that no one will ever tell you. Some of them are unexpectedly good, some of them are unexpectedly bad. It's just like having a new baby, only you don't get stretch marks--you get scratch marks instead; it's a big adjustment in your life, but one that is full of unanticipated rewards.

No matter how much fun you expect to have with your new bird, quadruple it.

Their little heads carry more brains per cubic millimeter than you can possibly imagine; consequently, they require lots of attention and stimulation. If you get a bird from the parrot family, it will have the mental abilities of a preschooler. Don't leave him or her unattended in a non-"birdproofed" home, as it will get into a whole lot of trouble. They will find mischief you haven't even dreamed about yet.

Since birds are very curious, they will get up on their tippy toes to look at something that is out of their reach. This mannerism is incredibly endearing.

No matter how many toys you buy for your critter, YOU will probably be the favorite one of all. Depending on your personal preference, this can either be a blessing or a curse. I happen to enjoy it. Visiting friends may not appreciate your bird's friendliness, so be prepared to lock him or her in a cage; your pet will appreciate your guest being put behind bars so that he can continue his rule of the roost.

You will never have a bare shoulder again. Hand-raised birds are real friendly, and they usually like to go for rides. Since your bird is frequently a couple of inches away from your face, it's irrestible to kiss the top of their little bald heads frequently; rumor has it that human men like this, too. Get used to bird breath, as they chew on regurgitated food. Along with their inherent beauty due to their exquisite feathers, they also have perpetual "dandruff." If the white, waxy flakes move, you might want to pay a visit to your vet. In conjunction with learning how to be personal transportation for your bird, you will learn:

You will never have a clean shoulder again. Birds poop. Birds poop everywhere and anywhere. You can't stop this with little birds, as Mother Nature has designed them to let it fall wherever and whenever they feel the urge. You will find little poops in your hair, on your furniture, on the carpet, on your important papers. . . You will regret that you bought furniture that is made out of any covering except leather or vinyl. Everywhere the little birdie can walk or fly, it can poop. A lot. Fortunately, the little poops dry up quickly and are easily vacuumed. A cloth baby diaper draped over your shoulders can protect your skin and clothing, provided you don't mind looking like a Puritan.

You will never have a clean house again. In addition to the poops, there are feathers to vacuum up daily. This phenomenon does not include the molting season, when your home will look like a snowstorm hit it overnight. In molting season, you will probably have to vacuum hourly.

You'll never have a clean desktop again. Birds find shiny metal objects irresistible. The desktop is full of clips, clamps, and pens that tantalize the avian brain. A desktop is Disney World to a bird. The only thing that is more fun to them than paperclips is jewelry. This especially includes the jewelry you are wearing. Be forewarned: beaks can be sharp.

Anything is fair game for use as a chewing toy. This will include your phone cord, your wet hair, your books, paper towels, extension cords, ANYTHING AND EVERYTHING that can be grasped by a beak is a toy. Any shoelaces that you presently own will look completely different within fifteen minutes of discovery, guaranteed. Your beautiful gold jewelry will develop mysterious dents that are the exact same shape as the tip of a bird beak.

Don't think for a New York second that your pet will appreciate being kept in a cage. It may work for a few hours, but if you want to prevent your little buddy from becoming Psychobird from Hell, you've got to let it out of the cage and play with it. Cockatiels are intelligent and curious. They also get moody and tired, just like little children. Compared to birds, human children are somewhat easier to raise, because they sleep more soundly and THEY wear the diapers, not you. Children also grow up, become potty trained, and leave the nest eventually.

If you scratch a bird's head and neck, you will be its best friend for life.

Birds are voyeurs and eavesdroppers. They can get away with stuff for which you and I would go to jail. You might as well build a perch in the shower now, as they love to watch and listen to humans splashing in water. This does not necessarily mean that they wish to join in the fun, which is a good thing; eau de wet bird is not a pleasant smell, but a drenched bird is actually a prettty funny sight. "Pitiful" might be a more accurate description of your sopping wet animal. The reasoning behind the phrase "bird legs" becomes abundantly clear.

Cockatiels can climb, and not just the little birdie ladders that you buy for them at the pet store. Oh, no, those sissy ladders are a piece of cake to them. They use their beaks like grappling hooks and pull themselves up to wherever they want to go. You haven't lived until you've felt a bird climbing up your leg while wearing panty hose and a dress.

Your diet becomes their diet. Count on your pal wanting to taste, and probably share, whatever it is that you're eating or drinking. It's part of the animal's natural intelligence and if you don't want to have a communal meal, complete with bird tracks across the mashed potatoes, put the bird in its cage while you eat. Enjoy the guilt.

Birds can make great watchdogs. They can recognize the sound of your car engine. They can even recognize your regular visitors. My cockatiel likes to ride in the hair of my cleaning lady whenever she's here; I'm lucky that she likes her (Note: this sentence can be interpreted two ways). Their decibel level compared to their size would make Pavarotti turn green with envy. Incidently, the concept of volume control does not register to a bird, and they seem to have a tendancy to talk whenever you're on the telephone, provided they're not busy chewing on the phone cord.

Birds make lousy vacuum cleaners, though not for lack of trying. Just like babies, they put EVERYTHING in their mouths. This includes dried poop. This is the prime reason for putting them in their cage while you're eating. Sanitation and neatness are not high on their list of priorities; being friendly and beautiful occupy the top slots.

Bird sneezes are so dainty!

Don't sleep with a bird unless you can defend yourself. Play fair--a 90 gram cockatiel is no match for a fully grown human during the night. While you could potentially make chicken salad out of the bird, you'll wake up with poop in your hair and on your pillow and on the sheets and on your face. . . Remember David and Goliath?

While watching your graceful pet, you may surmise that ballet was modeled after bird behaviors. Birds do wonderful arabesques every now and then that are delightful to watch; what they consider to be stretching, I consider to be art. Watching them balance on one leg while the other leg goes over the top of a wing to scratch an ear is also an amazing feat of balance. These displays don't take years of lessons or require expensive costumes as it does with human kids. No, sir, these animals come fully trained and attired to put on one heck of a show, all courtesy of Mother Nature. She'll send you a bill.

In spite of some of the caveats listed above, after two weeks with your new companion, you'll wonder how you ever got along without a bird, and why in the world you didn't get one sooner. Interestingly enough, those are the same thoughts I had after I bought my first microwave oven!

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