Canaries, finches, parakeets, budgies, conures, cockatiels, amazons, cockatoos, ringnecks and quakers are among the many breeds people will find the Arizona Bird Store.
“We hand-raise babies,” said AZ Bird Store owner Debbie Schweikardt, who owned the former Cage World in Mesa for 19 years before moving to the current location near Dobson and Broadway roads in 2013. “When we get babies in, we run them through a panel of four different tests before we open them up to the public.”
She said birds don’t breed in Arizona during the summer because it’s too hot with few food sources so she doesn’t have as many birds at the moment.
“But this time of year, the birds know there are going to be fresh flowers and grasses and other food sources to feed their babies,” said Schweikardt, adding that no breeding is done at the store.
For anyone who never has had a bird for a pet, Schweikardt said cockatiels are “super cuddly and super friendly.
“They’re bred that way,” she added. “If they lay three eggs and three babies hatch, they’re only going to raise one baby. They’re going to let these other two go. They’re going to put all of their focus and attention on this one baby. So, innately, this is an animal that’s going to be very co-dependent – like an only child.”
Scheikardt said she takes the babies
out of their nest at four weeks and starts hand-feeding them, “getting them super-used to people.”
Hand-feeding the babies socializes the birds and makes them more comfortable with humans, enabling an easier adjustment to a new home.
For those who live in apartments, condos or townhouses, Schweikardt said canaries, finches, parakeets and budgies are suitable whole conures and amazons are very loud.
“We also wouldn’t recommend a macaw or cockatiel for an apartment, although people do have them,” she said. “Some of the smaller birds can be pretty loud, too. Many times, they call out to each other. Most of the time birds are very active a half-hour before the sun comes up, a half-hour afterward and a half-hour before the sun goes down.”
She advised that birds make great pets for kids.
“They’re very forgiving. They’re very docile and passive. I’m sure every once in a while you’re going to get one that likes to bite and are a little unruly but when we raise little babies, they’re super sweet and have been handled ever since they were four weeks old.”
Schweikardt recommends setting boundaries for handling the birds.
“We recommend you handle them one hour a day because they’re clingy,” said Schweikardt. “Let’s say you’re talking on the phone, they know you’re talking but it’s not to them and they don’t like that. So they start making a lot of noise, banging their toys around.
“The human will try to comfort them, rewarding the animal for acting out and throwing a tantrum. They’re smart. Do that one or two times, they realize they’re getting attention. We try to educate people. Don’t do it. Set some boundaries. You’re in control of this animal.”
Owning a bird is relatively inexpensive in comparison to a dog.
For little birds, a complete setup with a cage runs $100. Schweikardt said hand-fed parakeets start at $60 and hand-fed cockatiels at $200.
Grooming every other month costs $15 but the store has a special: buy four sessions and get two free.
“Food is much cheaper than dog food,” added Schweikardt. “The thing is to get good food. We sell it at the store. We don’t encourage people to buy their bird food at Walmart.
“These are exotic animals. Some of their diets are going to be a little precise but we always want to give them a good feed with plenty of vitamins, plenty of minerals and plenty of amino acids. We always suggest feeding them fresh fruits and vegetables. Sometimes if you don’t do that early enough they won’t take to it later on.”
She explained that manufacturers make pellets with grains, fruits, vegetables that have all of the necessary vitamins and minerals birds need.
“We recommend that to be 80-percent of their diet and then 20-percent fresh fruits and vegetables,” said Schweikardt, who said it’s OK to feed birds things like French fries and tuna fish – “things you wouldn’t think to feed them but they might totally love.”
Birds live a long time so getting one as a pet can sometimes be a life-long commitment. Macaws live 50-60 years, the lifespan for cockatiels is 20-25 years and finches/canaries generally last seven-nine years. A good diet contributes to a longer life.
Compared to dogs and cats, Schweikardt said birds are lower maintenance but it depends on the owner.
“The bigger the bird, the bigger the cage, the bigger the mess. But birds aren’t necessarily anything you have to take out as long as you have them in a cage and got everything they need and it’s big enough.”
Employees at the store work with owners who must give up their birds by putting them on consignment.
As far as grooming services, Schweikardt said, “We do the wings, trim the beak, microchipping, DNA testing because with a lot of birds, you can’t tell the difference between male and female.”
“We recommend grooming every other month such as the wings…We change the shape of the wing so they won’t be able to fly on top of somebody’s house or a tree a half-mile away.”
Clipping wings isn’t painful to the bird. “It’s not even like hair because hair is something that continually grows,” explained Schweikardt. “Feathers, when they grow, are basically dead after that. There’s no blood supply. There are no nerve endings. Twice a year they molt.”
She said some people want their birds to fly and not clip their wings but Schweikardt said it’s the equivalent of taking a dog that has never been trained to walk on a leash and letting them go.
“It’s out of control. They’re just doing instinctively what they’re going to do,” adding that letting birds fly has resulted in a lot of them getting outside which can be dangerous.
“Birds don’t like a lot of temperature changes,” Schweikardt said. “They don’t know how to fend for themselves. They can’t go from a warm temperature during the day to a cold temperature at night.
“We also run a lost and found. Ever since this way of thinking started to happen, our lost team is just going crazy. Accidents happen. We totally get it. We understand.”
Trimming nails is included in the grooming. “That’s usually what brings people in,” said Schweikardt. “It’s a necessary evil.”
When owners go out of town for a weekend, Schweikardt said to put out an extra bowl of water and food. But a trip lasting longer than a weekend, it’s best to have someone look after your bird or board it.
“We offer boarding here,” said Schweikardt. “It’s minimal. $15 a day. Then bird owners feel confident if something were to happen, we’re going to know what to do. With birds, any exotic, if they’re sick, they don’t allow that to be known.
“A lot of it is due to survival. In the wild, if you have a flock of birds and one or two are not looking good or feeling good, they’re a liability. They’re going to draw predators to this flock and potentially they get the whole flock sick. So, they’re killed off. They spend an enormous amount of time pretending they’re fine by eating, etc. People who know exotic animals know how to look for warning signs.”
Information: azbirdstore.com, 480-833-4001.