Monday, March 19, 2012

The difficulty of parrots revisited

I had a thoughtful comment on this post that I wanted to share with everyone. I also wanted to share somewhat of a rebuttal. The comment:

"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."

Scott makes excellent points about our responsibility to pets that we want to adopt. Education and seeking out knowledge are key to taking care of pets. His point is absolutely important. It is also one that I think all of my long-time followers would say I harp on frequently. Taking care of your pets, whether through vaccinating, spaying/neutering, or behavior therapy as needed is something I harp on here repeatedly.

But, first off Scott, you are wrong in your first statement about cats/dogs/horses being "good pets for everyone." I certainly don't think everyone should own pets. I was merely making the point that these species have lived in domesticity for thousands of years.

I also disagree in the overall assumption that birds are suitable pets and more akin to dogs and cats then tigers. It is plain fact that parrots sold in this country have only been domestically bred since about the late 70s, early 80s. Thus, they are barely removed from their wild counterparts. Some breeding birds used EVEN NOW are wild birds. Cats, dogs, and horses have been domesticated for thousands of years. Birds are still - for all intents and purposes - wild animals. They are much more akin to tigers than cats.

Further, Scott states that even zoos have difficulty meeting the needs of tigers. The same is true of birds. We haven't even really figured out how to properly feed the hundreds of different species of birds. A commercial pelleted diet sounds like a good idea in theory - but when applied to the variety of birds that eat it, eh - not so much. Macaws need higher fat diets (eat many nuts in the wild), greys are ground foragers for seeds and berries, etc. Each species has its own individual needs, and each type of parrot is a totally different species. Dogs are all one species. Chihuahuas can breed with German shepherds. Macaws cannot breed with cockatoos. This incredible variation makes knowing enough about even one species a challenge.

Scott, you state that birds can be very easily taken care of by people with knowledge. That is precisely why I wrote this post. I am very knowledgeable about birds. I read many, many books prior to adopting. I worked around birds. In vet school, I spent 3 years doing avian research, as well as spending my extra rotations in vet school in the exotics ward. I am better prepared than most bird owners out there to handle the demands of a large parrot. And yet still, I am struggling mightily with my parrot at home. I think you missed the point of the post overall, or maybe you just disagree.

I have met people with parrots that did EVERYTHING they were supposed to do, and the parrot still developed feather plucking behavior or incessant screaming. I have seen owners at their wits' end because no matter how much time, attention, and behavioral modification they tried, their bird was still melting down. Even the best bird owners sometimes can't help a neurotic bird. Why? They are wild animals, and we cannot always meet their needs, because half the time, we don't even know what those needs are. Does the same happen with dogs and cats? Yes. There are some animals that cannot be helped. I would wager that it happens much, much less frequently than with birds, though.

I stand by my prior statement that birds are not suitable pets.

And I absolutely agree with your last statement that many people struggle with this with cats and dogs. I've seen my fair share of people wanting to euthanize a cat that is now peeing all over the house after the addition of a new baby. Or the dog that is old and grumpy and snaps at kids. I'm well aware of that problem. Those problems are not - however - the result of innate wild behaviors and unsuitability of that species, but rather individual personality traits of that dog or cat.

Parrots are still wild animals, and wild animals do not belong in homes.


Anonymous said...

As a long time parrot owner, I just want to chime in and agree with you. There is nothing even remotely normal about a parrot in a house! Our gray is fully flighted and our house looks like an indoor aviary with perches and boings everywhere, but we still deal with all the same wild behaviors and must constantly monitor him. Interruption is just a fact of life around here.

Every day is a negotiation for both human and avian housemates! Don't get me started on parrot hormones. I love him dearly, but he is an entirely different companion from my dog or cat.

I also think I came to understand my parrot better after working with raptors and corvids. Seeing wild birds not as pets or companions, and not existing in a domestic environment was incredibly eye-opening.

Anyway, thanks for your post!


Holly said...

So many good points in this post!!!!

"It is plain fact that parrots sold in this country have only been domestically bred since about the late 70s, early 80s. Thus, they are barely removed from their wild counterparts."

and we have .selectively. bred those cats and dogs. The parrots...not so much.

Like you said, do not confuse better with easy...even domestic pets are sometimes not easy, but a parrot takes that to a whole 'nother level.

In addition, we have had a lot more proper research done on our domestic pets in many areas. Food, behavior, social structure, which have helped to provide information to the public when they DO run into issues with their pets. There has been research done on parrots (thinking about Irene Pepperberg and Alex) but it's much more difficult to duplicate the settings that the birds come from in a domestic situation so we know far less about feeding habits, why they eat what they do, etc.

And honestly...I love my dogs, cats and horses. I do. But behaviorally...they aren't nearly as sensitive as a parrot. They tolerate a far wider range of neglect than a parrot does.

Beloved Parrot said...

Thank you for this post -- let's hope it reaches at least a few of the people who need to read it!