Softbills As Pets

Handraised Speckled Mousebird Chicks

Pet Softbills?

The term “pet” can mean different things to different people, so a hobbyist is wise to analyze carefully what their expectations are of the bird that is to share their life.

Generally, a “pet bird” means the bird craves human contact and touch. They like to be cuddled and stroked, and are happiest when with their owner. The pet bird is usually expected to be able to be carried around on the owner’s person and to stay in certain areas of the owner’s choice, like specific perches, so it may be enjoyed and interacted with for lengthy periods of time. It is usually housed inside in a cage, with frequent periods of freedom outside of the cage to allow more interaction with the owner. Many species of handraised parrots fit that description, but unfortunately most softbills do not.

When considering a species for a “pet” bird, reflect on the species’ interactive behavior in the wild. How physically affectionate are individuals to each other? Do individuals engage in allofeeding or allopreening? Do individuals nestle or sit closely to each other when at rest? Do individuals play with each other or with objects? Typically the more affirmative the answers to these questions are, the more a handraised bird of that species will most likely make a good “pet” bird.


Hornbills such as this Von der Deckin Hornbill often tame easily.
Young hornbills such as this Von der Deckin Hornbill often tame easily.

Handraising for Pet Quality

Although many softbills can be handraised and become tame, only a few species make good pet quality birds.  All pet birds do best when handraised and well socialized.  Pet owners need to be aware that once mature, a handraised bird’s attitudes towards people can change permanently or when in breeding condition.  They can become wary or so unafraid as to be aggressive to humans.  Some handraised birds imprint on humans to such an extent that they cannot breed successfully.

Great “Pet” Softbill Species

  • Mousebirds – the best pet softbill; cuddly, playful, love being petted, can be kept in an apartment!  Hard to find as there are so few breeders.
  • Toucans and Toucanettes – cuddly, playful, but expensive, and toucans are too big for most households.
  • Tockus Hornbills – cuddly, playful, used to be hard to find handraised but now more are available.
Handraised Red Faced Liocichlia comes over to be petted, even in a large aviary setting.

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Copyright 07/09  Kateri Davis