Jan Robson has been a volunteer with Greyhaven Exotic Bird Sanctuary in Surrey, BC, since 2003. She has been director of volunteers and director of education, and now focuses on education and pet therapy. She is also the doting mom to seven rescued parrots: a mitred conure, four lovebirds and two budgies. To pay for her addiction to her feathered friends, she works as coordinator of the dementia helpline at the Alzheimer Society of B.C.
If you are looking for an unobtrusive, low-maintenance, low-cost pet, a parrot is just the ticket.
Now, if you already have a bird in your life, you’re either laughing your head off or thinking, “She can’t be serious!” Well, parrot-lovers and parrot-lover wannabees, I am most certainly not serious! In a nutshell (pun intended!) parrots are noisy, messy, demanding little individuals. Here are a few facts about having a parrot in your home:
Parrots are loud. Even the small parrots, such as lovebirds, parrotlets and budgies, can be quite shrill when they vocalize. While training can help to contain the noise somewhat, vocalizing is an important part of a parrot’s social communication. And, make no mistake about it, they are very social creatures. If they do not have an avian flock, they will look to you to be a flockmate, and there are many responsibilities inherent in that role.
Parrots are messy. The mess! In the wild, parrots eat
off and on throughout the day, dropping food as they go. This is helpful
to the ecosystem: By making a mess, parrots share their food with other
creatures in their habitat while distributing seeds to
promote plant growth. But in your living room, it’s not so helpful. Having a
parrot in your life means a chunk of what once was your free time will
now be devoted to vacuuming and scrubbing.
Parrots need interaction and stimulation. While your
parrot can be trained to play quietly in his cage for periods of time, it requires patience in most cases, and either the ability to buy a
vast array of safe toys or the creativity to make them. Parrots need to
chew and shred to keep their beaks healthy and their minds active, and
it is up to their human guardians to provide safe materials for that
purpose. Otherwise — and often in spite of your best efforts — your
antique dining room suite may end up being “refurbished” by your zealous
little axe on wings. Of course, you can prevent this by keeping your
bird in his cage all the time, but parrots are extremely intelligent —
think a young child between 2 and 5 years of age — and they
require ample exercise and stimulation.
Not all parrots talk. At least your parrot will learn
to talk to you and sing your favorite song, right? Maybe. Just as some
humans are fluent in several languages and learn new ones easily, some parrots will pick up on human language and others never will. Some
will not copy words, but they will copy sound. This sound might be a
sweet whistle or it might be the telephone ringing at extra-high volume
or the car alarm that sounds every time your neighbor goes out to his
garage. So if you want a pet that speaks your language, you might be
setting yourself, and your little friend, up for failure,
disappointment, and re-homing.
Parrots are not domesticated. Parrots are wild animals. In her book The Parrot Who Owns Me: The Story of a Relationship,
author Joanna Burger says it best: “There is no such thing as owning a parrot. You can’t
have a parrot as a pet. A dog, certainly, a cat maybe, but a parrot,
never. Quite the contrary; you are the pet, and parrots vary in their
ability to make good masters. Be warned — being owned by a parrot is not
for the faint of heart.” Remember, parrots are not domesticated
creatures like cats and dogs. Even those bred in captivity still have
one foot firmly planted in the wild.
In the right home, parrots can be wonderful companions.
So why would you want to adopt a parrot? This is much more difficult to
articulate, and I think it’s perhaps because the answer comes from the
heart rather than the head. Parrots are smart, funny, independent,
sensitive and, well, just incredibly beautiful. Emily Dickinson said, “Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul, and
sings the tune without the words, and never stops at all.” And that’s
the thing: They perch in your soul and steal your heart, and you will
never be the same again. My friend Shelley, a serial cat guardian,
wrote me the following note when I was nursing a dying budgie and
simultaneously considering adopting a foundling budgie: “Birds are the
closest creatures to angels I believe I’ll ever see, and who doesn’t
want the company of angels?”
Having decided that you are prepared for eternal dedication to a
feathered master, why should you consider adopting? We all know about
the huge numbers of cats and dogs who are abandoned, abused and given
up for various reasons, but most of us don’t consider that this is the
case with parrots, too, and the numbers are growing.
Check the website
of any parrot rescue organization and you will see the same story: Their
numbers are going up, they cannot even begin to take in every bird who needs a home, and they are frustrated. Ignorance is one of the reasons
for these increasing numbers. Too many people purchase parrots on
impulse, without doing their homework first, and the harsh reality of
caring for the bird sends them straight to a rescue organization, a
veterinary hospital or back to the store where they purchased the bird.
Lifespan is another reason: Parrots can live upwards of 50 years,
depending on the species, and this means more than one home in most
The bird in the rescue organization is already there, waiting for you,
waiting for the opportunity to love and be loved. As the “parront” of
seven rescued birds, most of them with issues, I can state categorically that
any challenges they have brought to the table — and there have been
many — have been more than compensated for by the love and dedication I
have received back from them, as well as the satisfaction I get
watching them live a good life. Adopt, my friends, but only if your
heart can handle being expanded beyond belief.
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