I have kept parrots since the 80s. Back then, unless you were lucky enough to have a chance meeting with another bird lover, you were on your own. The only information available was at the library or in generic, manual style books on sale at pet stores, many of which were written by breeders. Any questions raised about captive parrot behavior would cause snickering – “They are birds, so they will fly and stuff.” Thank you for your words of wisdom.
Sometime in the late 90s, I was made aware that there was an “avian community” out there in the cyber world. Still, it took me another several years to go out there looking for it. I found one forum, a particular favorite, where I forged long friendships. It was an amazing experience to find that there were so many others out there just like me.
One of the first things I noticed was that these people were not playing. They regarded parrot ownership as a privilege, not a right, and if someone came on board who had a “too relaxed” outlook about their parrot’s care, they were straightened out – sometimes harshly.
I appreciated their stance on parrot care, but I thought the methods were wrong. It is that “too relaxed” person that most needs their help and driving them away with condescension accomplishes nothing. Their bird will pay the biggest price.
Eventually this forum brought in a very bird-wise man as a moderator. However, the benefits of his vast experience were lost beneath his sarcasm and belittling comments to people who were new to bird ownership and were still finding their way. To him they were idiots and he all but told them so. During that time, the site lost some of their most dedicated followers, myself included. This is not an uncommon scenario in the avian community. Pretty much everywhere I have been has at least one person who needs a nap.
I entered the avian community to share my love of birds. I wanted to be able to share stories and photos, ideas and strategies, with people who shared my passion. After so many years on my own, I was starved to do so. I felt like I’d hit the jackpot.
Over the years, I have noticed that the avian community seems to be divided into three factions that can adequately describe parrot owners – at one time or another, I have been a member of all of them.
There is the new bird owner (group 1) who is on an amazing journey of learning and absorbs information like a sponge. Every new fact discovered is like a treasure and there is a feeling of being propelled in a new direction in life. (Let’s face it, after some of the things we learn about our birds, there is no turning back.)
Then there is the next level, a natural step in the evolution of a bird owner (group 2). The need to learn still burns at the core of them, but the need to share is also powerful. When they realize that the rest of the world does not participate in our enthusiasm about birds they are compelled to connect with others that are like minded. They find the biggest community exists online: in forums, on Facebook.
Finally, the long term bird owner has travelled the path of the former and has finally landed in a place where they combine what they have learned with what they have experienced personally (group 3). It is a place where there is confidence enough to modify what they have learned to suit their home and their bird. They also understand that there is a place where over-cautiousness can become smothering and affect their bird’s quality of life.
Unfortunately, as natural as the development of these 3 groups is, they don’t always intermingle well and sometimes heated debates can get out of hand.
Group 2 has active participation in the avian community and are reminded every day through posted stories and photos how badly things can go when people don’t do the right things. Their insistence that everyone do what needs to be done is well-founded, and their passion can serve as a reminder for everyone to be careful.
Group 3, with their long term relationship with their bird, know how they interact with their personal and individual environment. Events that are perfectly normal and safe in their house might appear risky to others looking in who aren’t familiar with the bird or the environment. Group 3 understands that birds that live in bubbles are not going to be happy.
These two mind-sets clash frequently when people from group 2 see laxness and people from group 3 see inflexibility. Sometimes people from group 1 post photos that show their birds in unsafe surroundings and while it is the duty of others with more experience to point out safety issues, it is just as much a duty to do it in an unintimidating way.
Something came up the other day that prompted this posting. I shared a short video posted by a member of our group on Facebook of her greater sulphur crested cockatoo standing on the toilet seat “going potty” which met with a great deal of criticism.
Some of the attacks were unwarranted:
Some commented that it was unsafe for her bird to be there and especially so when she flushed the toilet with her bird still on the seat. But the water level in a toilet would not overtake a sulphur crested cockatoo and you couldn’t flush a bird that large away even if it was your intention. She was obviously right there to supervise and step in as needed.
Another complaint was that toilets are unsanitary. But I wonder how many of the people who criticized the poster for exposing her bird to germs bathe their birds in their kitchen sink, an area that is many, many times more unsanitary than a toilet. The toilet in question looked quite clean to me, I would assume for the same reasons that sinks are cleaned before birds are allowed to bathe in them.
And finally the most confounding attack was from people insisting that birds are supposed to relieve themselves “wherever they want”. To this most judgmental criticism, I must remind people that birds are also supposed to live in trees. Ours don’t. While bird poop is a part of life with a bird, it is also off putting to many people – like friends and relatives who may not want to come by if they find your house unsanitary. If you are able to corral your bird’s poop, I say power to you!
Fortunately, most people were able to appreciate the most important thing about the video: happy bird, happy owner. It was that which prompted me to share it in the first place.
To avoid drama in the avian community, it will help for people to recognize what group they occupy and try to be fair with the others. The above is a perfect example of groups 2 and 3 at war.
To group 2: your passion and commitment are invaluable to giving people the knowledge they are seeking and you are out there fighting the good fight every day. Please try to deliver your messages in a non-confrontational way so as not to scare off new bird owners or alienate the experienced ones.
To group 3: your contribution is a constant reminder that life with birds is supposed to be fun and shows us the place where many strive to eventually be with their birds. Please be careful to never let complacency sneak into your routine with your birds. When posting about your experiences, please remember to give the details needed to avoid anyone jumping to conclusions.
To group 1 – you just keep doing what you’re doing – living and loving birds! Ask questions, heed warnings, and enjoy every moment with your birds.
My perspective is this: I love birds. I love people who love birds. How simple is that?
Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.