My flock started off rather by accident. Despite knowing what a bad idea it was, I ended up going into a pet shop near my university one day before a lesson. I saw two adorable wee canaries and had to have them. My boyfriend, Oliver, reluctantly agreed. How much trouble could two fluffy songbirds bring?
Quite a lot, as it turns out – though indirectly! It was through my belated in-depth research on canaries that I discovered parrots.
I knew right away that I wanted one. I researched endlessly, and wasn’t dissuaded. I’m an animal lover, always have been, and these creatures had a very real plight. Having been involved in rescue work since my childhood, I knew what this would entail. I just didn’t know how it would begin, or the true depth of it.
There’s a lot I didn’t know then, in retrospect. I don’t think anyone can guess what a parrot will bring to their home until it actually happens.
Certainly no amount of research could have prepared me for Mishka, our cockatiel, whom we found in a horrible pet shop situation. (Again, retrospect tells me ‘no way!’ but that’s not how my story went.) This tiny bird had been labelled by the Internet as ‘easy to own’ and ‘confident.’ Our cockatiel was neither. She bit, she screamed, she despised our very existence. For the first six months to a year of her life with us, she trembled upon so much as spotting us from across the room. She even refused to sleep.
We wondered how we’d do it, in the beginning. If a bird that’s generally thought of as sweet and gentle is this wild, how could anyone handle, say, an African Grey, known for being neurotic?
In the end, it took a lot of treats and patience. It also took copious amounts of research, a drastic diet change, and a bucket-load of mistakes on the humans’ behalf. I’ll write more about Mishka and our journey together in upcoming posts, but in the end, we did it. Her life is good now. She isn’t completely healed – I think her pet shop background permanently scarred her. But she interacts with us, eats well, and plays with toys, all things we once imagined were impossible.
My other birds arrived because – well, Multiple Bird Syndrome! What’s one more?
I know my limit. Between two of us, five parrots feels like a comfortable number. We have Ptak the parrotlet (pronounced T-ahk), my sweet baby bird who is definitely not a baby anymore. He is a big bird trapped in a little bird’s body, as the saying goes. Thirty grams of unrestrained fierceness and adorableness!
There’s also Maverick, a very large, handsome Senegal parrot, whom we adopted from a friend. He is a typical Sennie, territorial and possessive, although Oliver and I worked to the point where anyone can handle him. Mavi is extremely intelligent. He also takes himself very seriously!
Finally, Bobo, our clever, angry, beautiful umbrella cockatoo who recently went to live at the Island Parrot Sanctuary (IPS) in Scotland. I learnt a lot from our umbrella cockatoo, and never minded the fact that he was a bundle of neuroses and pent-up fury.
We adopted Bobo from the same friend who gave us Mavi, as she does rescue work. He had been recovered from a green house and passed through a couple homes. The sanctuary where he now resides has guessed that at some point he was used as a breeder bird, explaining his out-of-control hormones. He’s around 20 years old.
Due to visa issues, I was recently forced to move from Scotland back to America. The rest of my flock is currently on their way after me, but, heart-breakingly, Bobo had to stay. I’m living with my parrot-inexperienced parents for now. They might cope with a rampaging Senegal or parrotlet, but I would never put them through Bobo’s tantrums. A shockingly quiet cockatoo he may be, but he is a dangerous creature.
As I said, our cockatoo taught us an incredible amount – and I plan to write more about the lessons he left with me. In fact, I owe him (and the friend who gave him to us) a lot, because it introduced me to the sanctuary in Scotland. There are a lot of stories there.
So I’m Sarah, graduate of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, a photographer, violist, and violinist who has plans of opening my own avian sanctuary here on the east coast of America. I was inspired by the perfect tranquility I found at the Island Parrot Sanctuary, and want more birds to be able to experience that. The parrots there live as close as they possibly can to wild animals… It’s truly something to behold.
What will you hear about from me? I am fascinated by nutrition and avian behaviour, and I love parrot training. I view the latter as an enrichment process – much like foraging. I plan to write about my triumphs, mistakes, and revelations throughout my parrot-owning journey. While my own flock enter quarantine, I’m also going to be working with friends’ birds, and hopefully showing them how to improve their relationships together.
I look forward to getting more involved here!
Sarah Stull is a graduate of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, a photographer, violist, and violinist who has plans of opening her own avian sanctuary on the east coast of America.