Parrots are incredibly smart and capable birds, famous for their ability to learn tricks and talk like humans. These winged pets are also inquisitive, social, and happy to make new friends. Now, the term “parrot” is used to describe a wide range of birds that live in the tropics and rock fancy, colorful feathers. As for parakeets, they’re native to Australia and boast long, elegant tails. Technically, parakeets are parrots: they belong to the same family.
That said, there are quite a few differences between these two, enough to confuse a first-time bird owner. For example, parrots are much larger and live longer. Parakeets, in turn, tend to be more affectionate and quicker to bond. So, should you adopt a “classic” parrot or a parakeet? Which birdies take more effort as pets? Read on to find out!
At a Glance
It’s no secret that birds are intelligent creatures, and parrots are arguably the best among their peers. Overall, there are roughly around 400 parrot species on the planet, each with a different appearance, habitat, and behavioral patterns. Most parrots are native to the Americas, Asia, and Australia. The list of popular groups includes macaws (the largest ones), cockatiels, parrotlets (the tiniest birds), the African grey, cockatoos, and parakeets, to name a few.
As a general rule, the larger the pet, the more it’s going to cost and the harder it will be to maintain it. That’s why cockatiels are significantly cheaper than macaws ($60–$100 versus $1,000–$5,000 or more). Parrots can be messy, especially when they’re excited about their food), but that’s a small price to pay for having such fun companions by your side.
Personality / Character
Parrots are praised around the globe for their ability to mimic a wide range of sounds, including our speech. Some species are better than others at this, of course. Character-wise, parrots are no strangers to showing affection to fellow birds and human parents. With the right people, they are active, lively, and playful. However, certain breeds/groups are a bit standoffish and like to be left alone most of the time.
Another thing to keep in mind: parrots won’t hesitate to bite someone’s hands when provoked. So, make sure to teach your kids how to handle such a pet. Furthermore, parrots can be very vocal and keep whistling and repeating the same phrases for hours, which could cause problems with neighbors, especially if you live in an apartment.
Training / Exercise
Yes, parrots can be trained, and they very much enjoy spending time with their owners. By socializing with the pet, you get to warm up to each other and strengthen your bond. Now, birds take a bit more time and effort to learn new tricks compared to dogs, but you’ll literally have decades to get there! With patience, you can even potty-train the birdie, although it won’t be easy. Next, parrots are capable of learning words and phrases in a human language.
Cockatoos, macaws, lovebirds, and African grey parrots are the best species in this regard. But, if you practice patience and use correct techniques, it shouldn’t be hard to teach any feathered buddy English.
Parrots have sturdy bodies, relatively short necks, a pair of strong, muscular legs, two wings, a curved beak, and four clawed toes on each foot. Speaking of that, the front toes (digits I and IV) are facing forward, while the ones in the rear (digits II and III) are pointing back. This is a rather common thing in bird anatomy, and it’s called the “zygodactyl foot”. As for the tail, its size and shape vary depending on the species.
But it’s usually a bit squared off and relatively short. Parrot tails can also be a bit narrow at the tip yet wide at the base.
Diet / Cage
Every parrot has specific needs when it comes to diet, habitat, and care. But, in general, all parrots like to munch on pellets, grains, nuts, and seeds. They also eat veggies, fruits, berries, and insects. Greens could be a part of the picture as well, but only as occasional treats. Ideally, you should consult with a veterinarian on this. If it’s a particularly large breed, the vet might recommend supplements for it.
Also, parrots are freedom-loving birds. Keeping them in a cage for a long time is NOT a good idea; instead, make sure to let them roam freely for 1–2 hours. The cage, in turn, should be large enough for the parrot so that it doesn’t feel cramped in it. And it’s up to you to keep it in tidy shape (clean it every week or so and do a thorough clean once a month).
Health / Care
In the wilderness, parrots keep their beaks and nails in tip-top shape. Pet parrots don’t need much grooming, either; however, you’ll still have to trim their nails. Be very careful, though, as you might accidentally damage the nerve, causing the pet severe pain. This is especially true for the beak. It’s much harder to clip it without nicking the blood vessels hidden behind it. And what about clipping the wings? Well, the reason behind it is to prevent the pet from flying away.
But, after going through with it, you can’t abandon the parrot, as it won’t be able to survive in the wilderness without its feathers. On average, it’s recommended to trim the wings once in 1–3 months.
Thinking about adopting a smart and chatty pet? Then you’ll hit the bull’s eye with parrots! These birds are fun and engaging and can learn “human”. They tend to be strong-willed, though, and hate being locked up in a cage all the time. Also, their vocal nature can be a bit too much at times. On the bright side, parrots are among the very few pets that can outlive their owners. They aren’t easy to maintain (especially the larger breeds), but for an experienced owner, these buds are a sure pick!
From a biological point of view, parakeets are not a different species. They’re just a group of tiny parrot breeds hailing from Australia. Overall, there are 115 parakeet species out there, characterized by their long, slender tails and compact bodies. In the States and the EU, the budgie is the most popular parakeet species, and it will cost you next to nothing at a local pet store ($40–$60). It will be even cheaper if you adopt the bird from a shelter/rescue center.
Exotic breeds cost more (up to $1,000), but, overall, parakeets are cheaper in maintenance.
Personality / Character
Let’s start by saying that every single parakeet can repeat after a human. They listen to, memorize, and mimic our speech perfectly. Also, in the wilderness, parakeets are more social than other parrots and prefer to stick together, forming pairs and entire colonies. These birdies tend to be more open-hearted and affectionate, too, which allows them to create strong bonds with human parents.
For this reason, parakeets are easier to tame, train, and maintain. That’s why they’re often recommended as starter pets both for adults and children. They can be rambunctious, of course, but parakeets are playful and sweet-tempered. In contrast to most birds, they aren’t afraid to interact with humans and rarely bite, even when confused or frustrated.
Training / Exercise
Parakeets are active, curious birds and need about an hour outside the cage every day. They’ll be happy to stay in the cage as well, but only if you pack it with swings, perches, and other accessories to keep them entertained. As for the training routine/list of available tricks, it’s practically identical to that of a parrot.
The biggest difference between parakeets and the rest of the parrot family is, of course, their size: these birds are significantly smaller. Another thing that makes parakeets stand out is the tail, or, rather, its feathers: they’re always long and pointy. Lastly, the head of a parakeet tends to be a bit rounder compared to most parrots. Other than that, these birds are very similar to their bigger brothers and sisters. You’ll get roughly the same colors, beak shape, and, of course, zygodactyl feet.
Diet / Cage
The dietary needs of the average parakeet aren’t that different from other parrots. Make sure they get enough pellets, grains, and seeds (70% of the diet), plus some veggies and fruits (20%). Legumes can cover the remaining 10%. Now, due to their compact size, these pets don’t need lots of space to feel at home. So, a small or average-size cage will do just fine (20L x 20H x 30W inches is a good place to start).
That said, parakeets are social birds and don’t mind sharing space with other feathered pets. Always think this through before buying a cage.
Health / Care
Parakeets have a relatively short lifespan and live for 5–15 years. If you take excellent care of these birds, they might keep going for 20+ years, but that still puts them behind parrots. In any case, don’t forget to keep the pet’s nails and beak in proper shape, clean its cage once or twice a week, and maybe also mist it now and then to help with the grooming.
Parakeets are near-perfect birds for first-time owners (with kids). They aren’t clingy, needy, or hard to maintain. Plus, compared to other parrots, they are much smaller. More good news: parakeets are joyful, inquisitive pets that love nothing more than to bond with their human owners. That said, these social birds prefer to live in pairs; so, ideally, you should adopt two pets instead of one. If that doesn’t sound like a deal-breaker, go with parakeets!
Which Bird Is Right for You?
Summing up, both parrots and parakeets can be incredibly rewarding as pets. It all comes down to what kind of a winged buddy you’re looking to adopt. To the naked eye, they are the same. However, parrots are much bigger, and they have a significantly longer lifespan. A well-cared-for parrot often outlives its human owners, while most parakeet species don’t make it past the 15-year mark.
On top of that, parrots are a bit more intelligent and do a better job of learning complicated tricks and words. Parakeets, in turn, are easier to take care of. And you won’t have to buy a large cage for them. Lastly, the Australian feathered beauties are more affectionate and less noisy. So, if you’re in the market for a lifelong companion and aren’t afraid of a challenge of two, go with parrots. But for first-time owners, parakeets will be a much better pick.