Bird ownership can be an incredibly rewarding experience for pet owners, assuming they are properly educated on how to care for their feathered friends. When retailers appropriately support the perfect match between owner and pet, they contribute toward the long-term success of the category as a whole.
According to Terry Gao, president of Caitec Corp., a manufacturer in Halethorpe, Md., bird ownership is trending upward, as reflected by the sharp increase in bird cage sales of all sizes.
“More people are staying at home for more time, which has helped sales in general in the pet space,” Gao said.
Brent Weinmann, president of Vitakraft Sun Seed Co., a manufacturer in Bowling Green, Ohio, and chairman of the Bird Enjoyment and Advantage Koalition (BEAK), agreed that the anecdotal evidence points to support of increased bird ownership—more people at home means more time for pets. However, he said that the pet bird category is not without its issues right now.
“One issue significantly affecting bird ownership is the lack of supply of birds—especially cockatiels, which are often good ‘first birds’ because they are relatively easy to take care of,” he said. “The supply of birds was tight prior to the pandemic, and setting up a proper breeding facility and locating pairs to breed takes time. So it’s likely that even if the demand has been higher in the past few months, supply may not have been able to keep up.”
Availability of birds for pet owners has always been a critical aspect of growing ownership, Gao noted.
“The industry definitely needs more responsible breeding facilities so that we can have healthy pet birds for consumers,” he said.
This is an issue that BEAK has been working tirelessly to address—but there’s no easy solution. According to the organization, many bird breeders and livestock distributors have left the business due to the inability to make a decent living. While there are numerous reasons for this, governmental regulations and requirements from large national retailers have increased operational costs for breeders and distributors, Weinmann said.
“Getting the breeding operation and supply chain to these high-quality standards takes time and requires investment,” he noted. “When the view of large retail management changes [and becomes] focused more on volume and price and begin to drive costs down, the breeders can no longer make a living and thus, after several cycles of this up and down, end up leaving the business.
“Therefore, the most important thing the industry can do is set our standards high and be willing to hold to those standards when economic winds shift,” Weinmann added. “We then allow marketing and education to help demonstrate the value of the bird and keep demand strong even at higher price points. It is better for the bird, the bird owner experience and our businesses.”
This can be achieved through education. It’s something that Andrew King, CEO of King’s Cages International, a manufacturer based in East Brunswick, N.J., takes seriously. King said that proper education is the key to enhancing bird ownership and supporting the future of the industry.
“In the short term, when uninformed store owners look to sell the birds that they have an overstock on, or they make more profit on, it might be good for them,” he said. “But, long term, it is a disaster for all in the industry—especially for the feathered child who does not get the attention it desperately needs.”
King said that those who are most successful—and help the industry long term—are store owners who are honest and direct with customers as to what bird will best fit them. This comes from a true love for birds, which King prefers to call “feathered children.”
John Gerstenberger, vice president of product development and sourcing for Ware Pet Products, a manufacturer in Phoenix, agreed that education is the key to improving responsible bird ownership—and ultimately bettering the category as a whole.
“Educating potential pet parents on the breed of birds that best fits their lifestyle is crucial,” he said. “Retailers must also teach about the key needs and characteristics of each specific breed.”
Weinmann said that it comes down to the “matching process.” Retailers must take their role in matching the ideal bird to the ideal owner seriously.
“Birds are living creatures, and personalities vary from species to species and even bird to bird,” Weinmann said. “It is BEAK’s mission to increase interest in the pet bird experience and to educate the potential bird parent as to what to expect from living with the bird. This includes both pros and cons. Selling or buying a bird should not be taken lightly.”
King said that if retailers take their role seriously, the future of the category will be bright for them.
There is opportunity for all in growing the bird category, Weinmann said.
“The average tenure of cockatiel ownership, according to an [American Pet Products Association] APPA survey, is 16 years,” Weinmann said. “That’s comparable to dog and cat owners. And other than dogs, and arguably cats, birds are the only other species providing communicative interaction to their owners.
“The better the bond we have with our companion animals, the more likely we are to take proper care of them, spend on them, and treat them like a member of our family,” he added.
An Evolving Category
As bird owners become increasingly educated on their pets’ needs, they are seeking the products to support them.
According to Terry Gao, president of Caitec Corp., a manufacturer in Halethorpe, Md., it’s important that manufacturers are focused on how to make bird keeping easier on pet owners with new product innovations.
“In terms of cages, the trends have always been the same—bigger and better,” Gao said. “As for accessories, products that help make bird care easier have always been the goal of new product development.”
But Andrew King, CEO of King’s Cages International, a manufacturer based in East Brunswick, N.J., said that a return to “tried and true” is on the rise.
“There are only so many ways you can make a cage, bird toy or playpen,” he said. “Most of these have been exhausted during the years. We are in the process of bringing back some of the items from 25 years ago.”
John Gerstenberger, vice president of product development and sourcing for Ware Pet Products, a manufacturer in Phoenix, said current trends focus on exercise, functionality, convenience and price point. He noted that items such as the company’s Bird Box and its Birdie Bark line meet these trends while allowing consumers to cater their bird’s habitat to its particular needs and lifestyle.
Attention to diet is also critical. Gao said that there’s been a push in the past 20 years for a more complete diet—something that avian vets and nutritionists agree is more beneficial to birds’ health than a seed-diet only. Even so, Gao said that more than half of bird owners are still feeding an all-seed diet, behooving the importance of continued education. The better that pet bird owners are educated, the better choices they’ll make, he added.