A Case For Cockatiels

May 6, 2015
Ed.: Not Smudge. But who can resist this?

Ed.: Not Smudge. But who can resist this?

Bless my parents for sitting through the countless PowerPoint presentations I created as a child to prove my case for having a pet. Due to my parents’ allergies, a dog or cat was out of the question, and my suggestions of a horse or pig fell flat (shocker). We had tried hamsters and fish and looked into getting a turtle, but nothing seemed to be able to fill that pet void in our household.

Then came Smudge, the smallest cockatiel in the cage at PetSmart, who came home with us about 9 years ago. A cockatiel’s lifespan can be close to 20 years with the proper care, and we would often joke that my brother Bobby would have to take Smudge to college with him. Well, my brother is going to be a senior at the U of M in the fall, and Smudge is still hanging out in the living room with my parents and youngest brother every night – looks like he’s here to stay.

People are often surprised to hear that my family has birds – be that four, when we had an additional cockatiel and two parakeets, three of whom have now passed. I don’t have nearly as tight of a bond with Smudge as my brothers do. Smudge lets them scratch and massage his head while he’ll sometimes refuse to let me pick him up, but rounding out nearly decade with this feathered friend has lent me some insight into the world of pet birds. My pros and cons of owning a cockatiel:

Pro: They’re really smart.

Smudge picks up on sounds and small jingles fairly easily and loves to sing. He even has different sounds he makes to get the attention of each member of my family. For my dad it’s a scratchy chirp, while for my brother it’s a louder scream. We’ve taught Smudge how to sing the Minnesota Rouser, and my grandpa taught him the “Andy Griffith Show” theme song. He mimics the sound of my brother brushing his teeth, and whenever we walk near the microwave, he makes the sound that it makes when you open up the door. One of my favorites is Smudge’s rendition of “The Imperial March” from “Star Wars,” a.k.a. Darth Vader’s theme song.

Pro: They’re small and fairly easy to care for.

As long as the cage is clean, there’s food in his bowl and he gets to hang out outside his cage when we come home, Smudge is happy camper. Baths are easy (they love them) and his version of a “walk” is making his way from one side of the living room to the next.

For cute.

For cute.

Con: They’re needy and require a lot of attention.

The moment we pull in the garage, it’s like sirens are going off. Even coming downstairs in the morning has Smudge screaming to say “hi” and insist on being placed on your shoulder. The flip side of being smart is that they require a lot of social interaction. Smudge wants to be in the middle of the action, and if he’s not, he’ll let you hear about it until you finally place him on his stand in the living room. If you think a dog’s bark can get annoying, try a high-pitched shriek.

Con: They can’t be easily house-trained.

At what point do you consider yourselves “crazy bird people”? I think it happened when my mom bough a bird diaper online. No joke. Smudge absolutely hated it, and while the product was a good thought, it hasn’t been used like we had hoped. You know the feeling when you just got a car wash and you come to find a bird made itself at home on your windshield? Try having that happen when you go to relax on the couch.

Though my family jokes that Smudge and I hate each other (he’s a much bigger fan of my brothers and I have no patience for his shrieking), I appreciate the humor, entertainment and companionship he has brought to our otherwise pet-less family. Cockatiels fall into a unique middle category of pets: less work than a dog or cat, but requiring more attention and a larger commitment than a guinea pig or hamster. Chances I’ll be getting my own cockatiel when I’m older? Slim to none (sorry, Smudge). But I do love the touch of sass that Smudge brings to our living room, and I still giggle whenever he imitates one of my mom’s loud sneezes.

Smudge freestyling (with a little sample of “The Andy Griffith Show” theme song)