Sunday, June 21, 2009

Great Piece on Parrots...


...on CBS Sunday Morning, titled Bye Bye Birdie. It charts the rise of parrots as popular pets, and the sad consequences for the parrots. You guys know I have birdies — Ripley, my 14-year-old grey parrot I've had since he was an egg; Cleo, our blue and gold macaw and the baby, Bishop, a green-wing macaw, now 9...the picture is a green-wing...check out that beak! They are a staggering amount of work...for the past 14 years, every morning I'm not on the road I begin by chopping fresh fruits and vegetables, different ones every day, while my Sweetie makes the "dry mix," cereals, uncooked pasta, dried fruits and vegetable, noodles, grains, treats like Goldfish crackers, rice crackers, dried hot peppers, sesame sticks, etc. Most of the food ends up on the floor, the walls, occasionally on the ceiling and sometimes on my Sweetie and I — happy parrots are messy parrots. 

We own no "heirloom" furniture, because parrots are animated wood chippers, and as smart as they are they don't differentiate between "good wood to chew" and "no-no wood to chew." Or maybe they know perfectly well what they're not supposed to chew and they do it because, well, they're parrots, not little feathered children. Parrots are, even by our own primate-centric standards, sentient...they are self-aware; they think; they are capable of cognitive leaps; they reason. But they don't reason like us. The verb "to parrot" entered the language because scientists originally thought some parrots' prodigious verbal ability was limited to mimicry. Dr. Irene Pepperberg's landmark work with grey parrots, including the late and deeply lamented Alex..you can read about it in The Alex Studies: Cognitive and Communicative Abilities of Grey Parrots.

They play games of their own devising...I have heard Ripley scold a new toy: "Step up! No bite! Bad bird!" — his uber-invective. In 14 years he has only called me a "bad bird" once, following my first lengthy out-of-town trip after a long stay-at-home period. 

I write this because, like the CBS news piece, I don't think parrots should be popular pets...they require more than most people can give...not a dis'...simple truth. They are social animals and don't do well alone. "Don't do well" defined as "they will go crazy in solitary confinement." They are noisy beyond any concept of noisy...although visitors have noted that our parrots aren't particularly noisy. That is because we have never demanded their silence (the advantage of living in a rural area). Cleo is the Official Self-Appointed Guard Bird...if she sees anything out of the ordinary (and her eyesight is exceptional), she will let us, and probably nearby planets, know. She has succeeded in scaring off dogs, deer, foxes, hawks and occasionally my Sweetie and I. 

I wouldn't trade our guys for the world, although I occasionally wonder how they would taste sauteed in a light gravy.

Think before you buy!


7 comments:

Indrid Cold said...

As CS Lewis would say, parrots, chimpanzees, and probably dogs, are hnau (sentient).

folloder said...

I was once owned by two birds: a wonderful African Grey and a Moluccan cockatoo. Saying that they are noisy is the ultimate understatement. And yes, they are tremendous work. Sadly, the dander was not at all agreeable with wifey and a choice was made. My two are in wonderful places now, but I still miss them.

BTW, everyone knows that birdies are yummies with a bit of butter, lemon juice, basil and capers...

Jkwas said...

We have a cockatiel which is a parrot of sorts. I never knew they could be so personable. They are like little children, and like little children they are attention whores. They love being petted and handled. If they can they are on your shoulder in a hearbeat and will stay there until you hand them off to someone else in the house. Lots of fun, lots of attention, lots of mess. But in return you get a lot of affection.

Middle Man said...

Good thing they don't read your blog after that closing comment...

Chris said...

I've kept a red-loried amazon for 23 years now. She was a wild capture bird, and was never what you'd call 'sweet', at least not to anyone else. She simply doesn't tolerate anyone but myself to handle her. When I'm out of town, my wife can feed and water her, but that's about it.

4 years ago, we took on the responsibility to care for a 3 year old Moluccan. He'd been through 4 homes already in his short life, all gave up due to his ridiculously loud vocalizations, and his ability to destroy anything he gets his beak on. It took some time, a lot of patience, and some ear plugs, but he has become a member of the family. He still occasionally emits a noise that could break glass from 100 yards, but we just wouldn't know what to do without him.

No, large birds are _not_ something that just anyone should purchase. The amount of time involved is similar to keeping a 2 year old child, who will never grow up, and has a longer life expectancy than you do. If you're unwilling to take on that kind of responsibility, get a dove, or a finch...

Kristopher said...

People need to be aware that you don't buy a parrot ... you get married to the damned thing.

Mike M. said...

I inherited a conure from my parents - and yup, it's noisy. But if you are willing to put up with them, the birds have more personality than any dog or cat I've seen.