It is frequently said that a parrot has the emotional capacity of a two year old and the problem solving capabilities of a 5 or 6 year old. I have drawn the comparison between my parrots and children many times. It’s hard not to do when they play with toys, throw tantrums, and look to you for their care and comfort. There are many similarities, but I think there is a place when the line should be drawn.
Like your children, a parrot requires boundaries and limitations. It is the thing that establishes rules and sets the stage for understanding what is or is not acceptable. It helps your parrot to feel comfortable and know, without doubt, where he stands. It’s what allows us to coexist. Of course, like children, he will always challenge your authority. Like your children, good nutrition, hygiene and opportunities to explore and learn are essential. And like children, trust is the key to building a solid foundation.
Unlike your children, it is difficult to communicate to your parrot. While it may be hard to get through to our children, we at least know that they understand the words coming out of our mouths, even when they are ignored. You cannot expect similar levels of logic and reasoning from a parrot. They are wild things, undomesticated, though tamed (sometimes), and your parrot possesses a wild instinct that a human child isn’t born with. You would likely rush your child to the therapist the first time you caught him gnawing on a 2X4. To truly understand your parrot, you must first understand that it isn’t like you.
A parrot’s mind doesn’t work like that of a human. Everything that they do serves them in some way. Their agenda might involve food (survival), rights to the highest perch (survival) or convincing a human to tend to its needs (survival). I think you can see where I’m going with this. A bird doesn’t place any importance on values, morals or ethics. Its only directive is survival. Realizing this will help you better understand the things that he does.
Don’t get me wrong, in trying to assure their own survival, they are often steps ahead of we humans. They know how we are going to respond to their behavior long before we have even figured out that we object to it. They are quite capable of scheming and deception, and are known to have a sense of humor, so there are some fun and games thrown in to the mix just for grins.
It is unreasonable for us to expect that a bird, or any animal, might be able to fill the shoes of a human child. And given that they are the wonderful companions that they are, it isn’t necessary that they do. Care for them, comfort them and offer them your love, but remember that they are birds, wild things, not small, feathered children.
Author Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.