Friday, February 24, 2012

The difficulty of parrots

Parrots, in my humble opinion, are not good pets. Unlike dogs and cats and horses, whose domestication goes back thousands of years, pet parrots are only a few generations removed from the wild. Prior to the late 70s, if you purchased a parrot, it was likely caught in the wild and sold into captivity. That is changing with stricter laws about this kind of thing, but those earlier times lead to parrots coming into homes as pets that were still completely wild animals. For the most part, they remain so, even if they are bred in captivity.

As a result of this, they are very difficult pets. Stripped of their natural flock, they must adopt a new one - namely the family within which they live. But just because they adopt a new family doesn't mean they adopt new ways of living. They still behave as if they live in the wild. They try to find mates (often you), they nest, they lay eggs, they greet the morning sunrise and sunset with piercing calls, and generally act like - well, wild animals.

I try to convey this to people whenever they talk to me about how much they want a bird. It's hard to tell someone that has their mind set on a certain pet what a bad idea it is, but I still try. Parrots are not good pets for most people. Any parrot rescue can attest to this fact. They are overrun with poor, feather-plucked, neurotic, screaming birds dumped by families that were overwhelmed by what is simply normal parrot behavior.

See, I knew all this prior to getting my parrots. I did careful research before adopting each bird. I knew about species' individual characteristics, personalities, and quirks. I made careful decisions. I fed the right diets, bought the enrichment toys, made sure the birds were uncaged at least 75% if not more of the time. I'm the ideal birdie parrot.

And yet, even I was unprepared for the changes wrought by the addition of our child to the house. My African grey, Titus, has not adjusted well. First, the birds had to be moved from their privte room into a more common area of the house. This leads to less bird "quiet time" - which is essential for normalcy. Unfortunately, I didn't plan that when buying this house. So, first, he is sleep-deprived. Despite covering his cage and keeping it dark where they sleep, they are still aware of us and make noise when they hear us up and about.

Secondly, I just don't have the time to pay attention to him that I once did. Between full time ER work and full time mommy hood, the hours in my day are limited. Thus, he is in his cage more than he is used to.

Thirdly, the presence of competition for my affections has caused him great unrest. He sees me as his mate, and he doesn't appreciate the competitor.

All of this has lead to incessant screaming in my house since the baby was born. He screams all day - if he can't see me, but can hear me, if I go into the kitchen without him, if I shower without him, if I walk out the door to get the mail, or if I'm sleeping between shifts. It's a high-pitched, ear splitting, repetitive scream that goes on and on. My blood pressure probably gets into the 200 range easily when it happens.

It has steadily worsened over the last 5 months, leaving me worried about the next 40 years of this. My nerves were getting frayed, and I was starting to think I would have to find him a new home. This thought made me feel absolutely terrible. I knew what I was getting into when I adopted a parrot. I'm a veterinarian for frick's sake, I'm not Joe Schmo random bird buying consumer.

I digress. A beautiful situation has worked out. My office manager loves parrots. She offered to let Titus come and live at the clinic. I thought it would be a bad idea, giving his vocalizing. Amazingly, the opposite is true. Due to the heavy socializing I gave him as a younger bird, he is making friends with everyone at the clinic. He is out of his cage all day, has loving attention from many of my technicians, gets lots of (healthy) treats and attention. Many of my techs who have never even expressed interest in birds are surprisingly fond of him. His screaming has dropped to virtually nil. I get to see him when I work and interact with him, and he is a totally different, happier bird.

In the long run, I foresee him coming back to live with us when we move next. We'll have to have a bird specific room so that he can get his beauty rest. In the meantime, I could not ask for a happier resolution to a problem that has been eating at me for months now. It was hard to even write about it, but I want to serve as a cautionary tale. Parrots are difficult pets, and they are not for most families!


Kim said...

Parrots are like all other exotic animals...not meant to be pets. They act like wild animals, because they *are* wild animals...not domesticated. A few generations (actually less than a few since parrots live such long lives) of hand-rearing does not make them any less wild. Tigers have been born and raised in zoos and in private facilities for over 75 years but that doesn't make them act any less *wild*. Wild animals are not pets and should not be pets. Good luck with your endeavors on educating the masses on the troubles associated with keeping wild animals as pets...I am a wildlife biologist and I know the difficulties of educating the public about wildlife!

Suzanne said...

I agree with you assessment of parrots. My husband and I have quite a few, but we have no children so we can open cages and bring them all out onto play stands all day long with out worry. It helps that I am a stay at home wife so they never lack for contact.

Even with all that we still have issues with screaming, and I have issues with migraines but we work them out. I wouldn't part with them if I had a choice. I know "some" of the birds feel the same way about me. :D

Training has been very helpful for us. For instance we have an orange wing amazon that came to us at the ripe old age of 10. He came knowing the sound of the loudest and most annoying alarm clock known to man. We had to work with him, walking away anytime he made that noise until he figured it out. He still does it now and then, when he is frustrated but he's getting better, and thats all we can hope for.

Holly said...

I knew better than to get a large parrot, so I got Budgies. I kept them till they died, but what I found is that it takes a certain kind of person to deal with birds and that kind of person is not me. I train everything that I come in contact with & found the birds to be highly trainable, but even with that, there were too many things I didn't enjoy so I was very glad I didn't hop right into the big birds.

Nicki said...

Same with rabbits. You can't just leave one in a small cage and expect it to be happy and well adjusted. People just don't get this. They see them as a big hamster or something.

katydogcrazy said...

Titus in not in the permanently-rehomed category, but this certainly points out the value that rehoming can have when the pet is benefited as much as (or more than) the human. I am so happy to read of your interim solution!

Of course now I am wondering if coming back to the quiet homelife will suit him after having this extended flock of people. You'll sort it out I am sure.


The Zen Parrot said...

Sadly, the difficulty of parrots is not with parrots!

Mary said...

Couldn't agree with your last statement more! I pretty much always discourage people from getting parrots and am not making a joke when I say they are more high-maintenance than my dogs. I love my conure but my cockatiel is just such a handful. I am her one and only. It's really hard to make her happy. We are lucky in that they do have their own little room in our house so I can put her to bed when she gets tired. I'm glad you found a fantastic compromise for Titus. I'm sure he loves getting to be around people all day!

Scott said...

I agree that birds require work. And I definitely agree that people need to be properly educated before adopting one.

However, this post and its comments seem to make a HUGE assumption that dogs, cats, and horses, because they are "more domesticated" than birds, automatically make them better pets for everyone. And that's definitely incorrect.

I work at two different vet hospitals. One sees dogs and cats; the other sees birds. And I see the same range of personalities, behavioral problems, health issues, and bad owner related problems at BOTH hospitals. What I also see is this: whether its birds, dogs, or cats, if the animal is properly taken care of throughout its life by knowledgable owners, the animals work completely fine as pets.

That's also why I think its short-sighted to compare birds to tigers. Birds can very easily be properly taken care of by individuals and families if they know what they're doing. Tigers not so much. Their needs are even difficult for zoos to meet.

If you're going to keep an animal as a pet, you need to know what you're getting into - regardless of the species. Lets also not forget that dogs, cats, and horses weren't always domesticated. And I'm sure that, when people did start keeping them, not everyone thought they were 'meant to be pets.' And yet, here we are.

Kudos to finding a great interim solution to your own bird issue. But please, I'm sure you also know that there are people in your same position, having trouble with a new addition to the family and a pet that isn't handling it well....but that pet happens to be a dog. It happens all the time, and not just with birds.