“All my birds were free” I repeated again to the couple staring across the table at me.
I was at a bird show in Columbus, Ohio where a group of people were watching a slide show of my birds on a laptop. It was supposed to be showing off the products I was selling, but these determined soon-to- be bird owners were far more interested in the adorable cockatoos and beautiful macaws in the pictures. They had obviously worked their way past several tables of colorful birds quietly noting their price tags. Most were several hundred, but the three month old baby umbrella cockatoo that had captivated them was $1400.
As the pictures rotated every 3 seconds on the screen revealing the next adorable photo of Pele, my umbrella boy, I could see them fall even more in love with the idea of bringing home baby. When they asked me how much I paid for him, they were stunned at my reply. I told them I adopted him from a rescue organization, and it was clear they thought they had struck gold. A free bird – now they could finally have that cockatoo they had always wanted! They gave me a brief story of their financial difficulties and how they could never afford to buy one, so they needed one for free.
Not having time nor the desire to engage in a lengthy conversation about the commitments of parrot ownership, I let them slide back to the screen to watch one more round of “free birds.” It was interesting to see that although the photos centered on the birds, there was almost no recognition of their surroundings.
It made me stop to think about how much my free bird really cost…I was shocked! Pele’s indoor cage was over $1000. His outdoor aviary, which is nothing short of mandatory for such a high energy animal, was $2490 delivered. Those were big chunks, but I knew that going in. The really surprising part of it all was the monthly upkeep. His toys alone, many reused and home made to save money, still cost between $300-$500 per year. Of course he loves the expensive pine nuts and shelled pecans at $7.99 / lb. The dry food, the beak appétit, and his must have nutriberry before bed cost $50 - $80 every single month.
Slowly it dawned on me that I did not own a free bird; I had simply leased one! I paid for him every month without fail. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that getting a parrot is a heck of a lot like getting a car. There is that big initial hit (or at least there should be if you are properly setting up your bird) for a cage, outdoor aviary, travel carrier, and initial cage decorations. Then there are those constant ongoing payments for destructible toys and food - similar to gas and my monthly insurance bill.
As I looked at my industrious parrot gnawing relentlessly on the $190 Atom play gym he was supervising from, I continued on, amused with my new auto analogy. Play gyms are like those bigger expenses that you know are coming at regular intervals, like new brakes and tires. And then there are those major things that break out of the blue that drain every last ounce of money and sanity from your life. I thought back frowning to last year when a freak snowstorm collapsed the roof of the aviary.
Then there was this January where I came downstairs to find him a bloody mess. $1100 later the vet diagnosed him with Folliculitis. 3 weeks later my umbrella was back to normal, but my bank balance was not! The costs of owning a parrot are ongoing forever. I decided to name my next parrot money pit, or perhaps I would just get another car instead. Although I tell my parrots each day they are priceless to me. It turns out that free does have a price.
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