I often feel the reason why a large majority of parrots end up in rescue is due to people not knowing how it truly is to live with one. The experience is like nothing you can read on paper, no matter how much you research on their care. Their intelligence and emotions run so deep, it’s something that you have to witness in order to fully understand.
A common misconception that a unbelievably large amount of people have is that humans are above every other creature on this earth emotionally, mentally and physically—most folks reading this article wont think that way, but regardless, parrots are a prime example of why that belief isn’t true. Every parrot is its own individual, just like a person, so it is hard to speculate exactly what every parrot owner’s experience will be like. There are some birds out there that may not like human interaction, or need a lot more work getting there. The majority of my birds are not the cuddly type, preferring more social interaction such as training sessions, singing, being talked to, or just sitting on a play stand beside me feeling like a part of the flock.
I have heard the question “does it talk?” a countless number of times. It is never guaranteed that a parrot will talk, regardless of the species, even if they are the happiest parrots on earth. I have witnessed many occasions where at first, a new bird introduced to our rescue will talk up a storm only for the speaking to diminish within a couple months as he realizes all of his needs are being met; so in his eyes, perhaps there is no longer a reason to talk. Of course, the opposite has happened where a bird comes to us completely silent, and leaves as a happy chatterbox. In general, a happy parrot will call out loudly to the morning sun, and bid farewell in the same fashion as the sun sets. For the groggy morning person such as myself, this may not be so delightful. Thank goodness for my husband who is a chipper morning person that talks, sings, and screeches right along with them to make their morning complete—a daily morning comedy show while I begin my day with coffee, water bowl changes, and filling every bird’s dish with fresh food.
So what exactly is it like to be owned by a parrot? Think of mother/fatherhood and having a child. Expect to have to teach them how to live a happy life in captivity; they need to learn how to play with toys for continuous enrichment, step up onto your hand and onto a stick in the case of emergency, and they need to be introduced to many new foods—whether they like it or not. Parrots need continuous training and guidance for their own mental health, and also to strengthen the bond between bird and parront. This can include target training and trick training; for more information on training I highly recommend Barabara Heidenreich’s work as she is very highly thought of throughout the world of parrots.
Expect temper tantrums. That’s right, birds have temper tantrums, and depending on the species they can be incredibly similar to a child’s tantrum. A temper tantrum from a bird can include screaming (or telling you how it really is), foot stomping, and biting. Depending on the time of year or the bird’s mood on that particular day, “time outs” can be a frequent occurrence. For this we use a separate cage, have the bird step up on a stick, then into the cage for a five-minute time out. We make sure to always wait until the bird is being quiet before he is released from time out as to not reward him for screeching. During this entire process we remain calm and patient—most times even finding humor in it all since their reactions can be oh-so-dramatic and child-like. A little temper tantrum can be rather endearing.
“Does it bite?” is another common question we receive. The answer is, parrots are wild animals, and no matter how tame they may seem, they will still bite. They get into moods just like people can, or sometimes if something scares them, they will bite the person who is near them. Parrots also have breeding seasons where they can become more aggressive. Depending on the species of bird, these breeding seasons can last for months. Keep a first-aid kit with lots of band-aides nearby. This is why it is very important to get to know your bird and their body language. I still get bit by my African Grey who I have had for almost 10 years, and I know him well— it happens to everyone who is owned by parrots.
If you have already raised human children of your own and thought you escaped the treacherous event of stepping on Legos or similar toys, think again; soon you will have a drawer, or in my case several shelves full, of spare toys and toy parts. Many of my Sundays are spent leisurely making bird toys. It is important for them to have a variety to keep their intelligent minds busy—a busy bird is a happy bird. I find toy making to be a sort of therapy, the equivalent to crocheting, and nothing is more satisfying than watching your feathered family member dig into his new toys.
Diet is another important factor that should be mentioned, and certain food items may vary depending on what species of parrot you have. In general, parrots thrive off of daily fresh foods. We give all of our birds fresh cut vegetables and fruits every morning including (but not limited to): carrots, broccoli, snap peas, yams (cooked), raspberries, blackberries, strawberry, mango, banana, sprouted lentils, green beans, parsley, kale, turnip, beet and mustard greens. We also bake large batches of bird bread – or sometimes birdie casserole – every Sunday, portion it into smaller bags, and freeze it for longevity. Every bird here goes crazy for fresh bird bread! Your feathered friend can also have bits of whatever you are eating – just be sure to avoid junk foods, and never feed them avocado, caffeine, sugar-filled items, or alcohol as those things are toxic and can cause unrepairable damage or death. Meal times at our home are shared with our birds; everyone loves to eat with the flock, and I feel this is important for their mental health.
Plan to give up use of non-stick pans, perfumes, aerosol sprays, air fresheners, candles and incense; a bird’s respiratory track is very fragile, and their lungs are paper-thin. Using any of these items around your parrot it detrimental to their health. If you are a smoker and smoke in the home or around your parrot, you are not only harming yourself, but the damage to your feathered family member is even more severe. The smoke not only goes into their lungs, but the nicotine sticks to the oil of their feathers—when they groom themselves, their body is undergoing a massive nicotine intake. If you think your nicotine fits are bad, you have never seen an addicted parrot. Nicotine addictions in parrots will lead to feather plucking, self-mutilation (breaking the skin), heavy breathing and wheezing, vomiting, increased heart rate, collapse, coma, cardiac arrest and death. Although I quit smoking long before parrot ownership, our parrots have made us live healthier, more fulfilling lives with an overall healthy diet and no more chemicals allowed in the house, and I wouldn’t change that for the world.
I’m sure I am missing something regarding being owned by a parrot—there really is a lot to it. Not a day goes by without laughter, song, and farting noises reverberating throughout my home—and without them, it wouldn’t be a home at all. Each bird forms a different bond, and all of the bonds run deep. It truly is an honor and a privilege to have a parrot claim you as its friend and companion— unfortunately this is something that bird owners frequently take advantage of. They are wild animals kept in captivity, and in the words of French author Antoine de Saint-Exupery; “You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed.”
As my main job unrelated to the rescue world, I am a full time writer for a collector car insurance company. Between this job and the rescue, I enjoy sharing my experiences throughout my journey with parrots. Stay tuned for periodic updates!