Not Everyone Is Cut Out For Bird Ownership

female eclectus

I try to cover this topic at least twice a year because it’s so important. I never have to look hard to find an event to inspire one of these posts.

I needed some supplies the other day and went to the local bird store where they have a few parrots for sale, among them a female eclectus and a cherry headed conure. Both of the birds had been in the store for several months awaiting purchase. They were, by this time, well adjusted to strangers gathering by their cages for a closer look, and sometimes little fingers would poke through the bars. They always handled the intrusions without a fuss.
This day, there were two women admiring the birds. One was a young woman, probably in her early 20’s looking at the conure. She was set back about three feet from the cage, kneeling. The other woman was older, perhaps in her 40’s, and had a toddler in a stroller with her. She had her hands resting on the cage bars as she spoke boisterously to the eclectus.

photo of cherry headed conure by sfcitizen.com/blog

I stood back and observed the two women interacting with the parrots, and watched each parrot’s response. I remember feeling very impressed with the young woman. She had positioned herself so that she and the bird had level eye contact and she stayed at a non-threatening and respectful distance.

It seemed that she was intuitively aware the the dynamic between herself, a much larger predatory animal, and the bird, a small, caged prey animal. She spoke quietly, but engagingly, to the bird, who was clearly taken with her. It moved to the side of the cage closest to her and turned its head to the side to get a better look. The bird’s body language said comfort.

camelot macaw

The older woman, the one with the apparent child rearing experience, was far less impressive. She was forceful and discourteous. She made no attempt to connect with the bird and it sat tensely at the point furthest from her in its cage.

She talked with the man accompanying her about how important it is for a child to have the responsibility of a pet and that this one would be a perfect choice. I hoped that the child she referred to wasn’t the toddler. When the man protested about owning a bird, she reminded him that “birds live in cages. What could be easier than that?” He didn’t disagree.
I was suddenly nervous for the future of this bird and felt inclined to say something, so I joked that birds no more “live” in cages than people do in bedrooms. I mentioned their need for out of cage time and human interaction and exaggerated the behavioral issues that result from inadequate care as best I could.
She smiled at me politely and then excitedly turned to the man and anounced that the red on the ecletus was a perfect match for the drapes – now they HAD to get it. I think that’s when the gloves came off for me. Imagine the deciding factor being compatibility with the home decor! At that time, I MIGHT have made up a horrible story about someone’s extensive plastic surgery nightmare following the bite of an angry parrot. I’m not admitting to anything, but if I DID fabricate that story, I’m not at all ashamed.

female eclectus

I am pleased to announce that they left empty handed! That lady, who I don’t fault for her ignorance about parrots, is not someone who should own one, at least not at this point in her life. Her energy level and body language were stressful to the bird, and she never even noticed. She was clueless about the needs of a parrot. She was ready to make an impulse purchase that might have had horrible consequences for this very sweet bird.

By contrast, the younger, much wiser, woman looking at the conure would have made an ideal home for a parrot. She was, by nature, exactly what a bird needs in a human: she was thoughtful, and deliberate and had clearly taken the time to check out parrot ownership. I had a chance to talk with her for a moment. Her reason for not getting the conure was the best one there is: she wasnt ready for the commitment.

Blue and gold macaw

We are parrot owners. And we are GOOD ones, I will venture to say, since I am taking the time to write this and you are caring enough to read it. We love our birds, and, in fact, everyone else’s too. It’s who we are.

But, we have a responsibility. While we are singing the praises of our beloved companions, we must be certain to avoid “selling” parrot ownership to the wrong people. Parrots do not make good pets for all people. Whenever we are faced with the opportunity, we must let prospective new owners know the real truths: while parrots are beautiful, intelligent and fun – they are also loud, messy and destructive. Their basic care is costly and very time consuming.
If you are able to get across only a single idea, let it be that, aside from providing the aspects of care that are necessary to maintain life, failure to provide the care necessary to promote good mental health can result in emotional issues ranging from biting and screaming to feather destruction and self mutilation. Hopefully that will give some people pause.

Mitred conure

Try to remember that every time you let someone walk away with the notion that a bird makes the perfect pet, that person might just go out and get one. If you don’t inspire caution, some pet store parrot could begin a life of constant rehoming as one owner after another fails.

With the right education, even the lady who wanted a bird to match her drapes might be taught to be a good owner, but first we have to guide her. Let’s make that our mission in 2012. Let’s help birds by helping people understand their needs – or understand that they are unable to provide them.

Author Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987. 

15 comments

Tracey

Its a shame the comments are moderated, bottom line in my opinion is….great article but as a whole not beneficial to animals , if people arent responsible to the needs of a parrot then why would that make them responsible to any pet? it comes down to the same argument of why do we eat chicken but not parrots?

Tracey
aimee oliver

that is so right you got to be ready to have a bird and willing to let it out and play and interact i have seven diiferent kind of birds and i love them like my kids.

aimee oliver
Beverly

I totally agree. When people come into my store (BiZee Bird Store Beaverton OR) I don’t hold anything back. I also would not sell a noisy bird without them knowing like some shops do. One customer told me that the last shop she went in and told them she was looking for a quite and they sold her a Quaker. What a mistake for her. I think she still has the bird though. I totally believe it is all about connect. If I miss a sale I don’t care. One time I had a difficult Quaker baby and I knew one of my customers had been wanting one and so I told him all the problems about the bird and then opened up the cage door and the bird jumped on him and started giving him kisses. Like I said all about the connection.

Beverly
Suzanne Donzero

I am constantly amazed and angered by the number of poor critters that are eagerly purchased (or worse, given as gifts), given killer amounts of over-handling for a few days and then ***POOF**** nobody pays them any more ,as their new owners are hot to play with their “new toy”…off to the pound they go…or, unfortunately, the trash can.

Suzanne Donzero
Marylou

Hi Patty, great article! I currently have a Jenday conure and a friend of mine had gotten a blue front which is my favorite bird and he was not used to the anger they go through when mating season comes around. So he gave him to me. I am holding my own with Charlie but he is testing me on his rage times. He is not loud but this morning even lunged at me due to mating season rage. My friend is going to ask the doctor about getting Charlie medicine for his rage but I am not use to something like that. Usually you wait it out. I read that the meds can hurt their liver. So don’t know about that. I breed chihuahuas and have turned people off on them when their interest was because it was the fad at the time. I question people to the max to make sure they are not getting the pet as a novelty. Charlie has calmed down a bit now this morning , I gave him a spray bath to get his mind on something other than his rage. It seems to have worked. But it is true, not everyone is even for pets at all. They have to learn first. thanks for the article.

Marylou
Patty

Geer and Greetje, Please feel free to translate and repost any article here on the site. We appreciate you passing our message along… Patty

Patty
Geer en Greetje

This is a good written story with a important message for many people. Thanks for the sharing. Is it okay with you if we translate your story in our language and post it on a dutch network online. Overthere it reaches also many people in The Netherlands. Of course with your name in the translated story. We appriciate if you will let us know if thats allowed. Its to help people for free to make the best choises and also for the wellness of birds.Thank you. Greetings from the owners of Manus de papegaai

Geer en Greetje
Josie

Thankyou very much for all your great info you put out there! I am a caretaker for an elderly fellow, who has a macaw, which has been rehomed at least twice. First owner had the poor bird in a basement room, isolated, and unsocialized. Major plucking and self-mutilating began, and about four years later, it is still going on now; though it is much-loved in present home, with lots of loving attention. Any suggestion on how to break the old habits? Bird vet hasn’t been able to help heal the large sore on chest. Also, my elderly friend is quite worried about what to do with ‘Peaches’, once he is unable to care for her. Any recommendations? Thank you Bird Tricks. It’s all good.

Josie
Susan

Eight years ago my husband rescued an adorable little budgie. Neither of us knew anything about birds. She bonded with me and I loved her so much. She died two years later and I was heartbroken. The vet said that he thought she had fatty liver disease because she had been fed bird seed, although I bought her the best I could find. I did use teflon at the time. I also burned candles and used air freshener. Any of these things could have killed my precious little bird. I’ll never know. After that heart wrenching experience, I decided to learn all I could about companion birds. I spent the next six months reading books and everything on the internet that I could find. Only after that did get another bird. I realized how much I didn’t know. If some kind soul had informed me of any of the life threatening things I had been doing, I would have stopped because she meant the world to me. I now try to inform others via my blog and whenever I meet people in our local bird store. I also now belong to a bird club and rescue. I’ve learned so much over the past six years, but am always eager to learn more. My beloved fids are extremely important to me, and I need to give them the very best care that I can.

Susan
holly

I have to admit, I was one of those uniformed people who purchased a male (yes, I’ve had him sexed) Jen Conure. Purchased at 6 months and has been with me for 2 years. I love him to death, but he is a lot of work (and I also have rescue cats). . I would love to find him a home with someone loving, but also knowledgeable about birds. I may not be the best ‘bird-parent’, but I refuse to keep him locked up. whenever I am home he is out and we go to sleep together (everynight since I got him )for a couple of hours before I put him back in his cage… He snuggles on my hip and stays there til it’s time to move. Thanks for the article. Reminds us how just buying something because it’s beautiful is, well, dumb!

holly
Daniel Coleman

Absolutely true!! Kudos to you the author. You have spoken the truth this day, and you are to be commended for it. I could not agree more. I used to raise baby birds (macaws and cockatiels mostly) for the pet trade. Many were sold to pet stores and the remaining ones were sold to whomever had enough money at the bird shows. Bear in mind that I was the breeder, the hand-feeder, the caretaker, the marketeer, the salesman, and, in the end, the villain. It did not take long for me to realize that what I was doing was wrong—very wrong. I raised those babies; they were my babies. I cared for them and their futures. It just didn’t feel good at all selling to them pet stores because I had no way to ever know if they were purchased by folks who would give them the same love and attention that I had given them. At the bird fairs, I found myself trying to sell them to anyone who showed interest. I didn’t know those folks from Adam. Never met them before, and there I was trying to sell them my babies—and I often did. After doing this for a few years it began to haunt me—terribly!! I could not stand what I was doing. I loved being a breeder. I loved having and caring for my flock. My birds were my life. But I hated selling my babies and never hearing about them ever again!! It was wrong what I was doing. I could not stand the prospect of my babies going to bad homes. And I am sure that many of them did suffer that horrible fate. I had to stop what I was doing. But how?? It took some time, but finally I found some other breeders whom I trusted and I sold all of my brooding pairs, about 40 of them. I hoped that somehow that would make a difference. I’m not so sure that it did, however. Now I am faced with wondering whether anything different is going on at all. Is the new owner having the same issues that I had—I believe that he surely must be. How can one ever remove the burden of guilt from his shoulders. Maybe they cannot. But at least I’m not the one doing it anymore. I don’t know that there is anything I can do, other than realize the error of my ways, correct that error, and refrain from ever participating in the bird trade again. God bless all of you out there who are breeders and who meet your prospective buyers one on one. God bless you for finding excellent homes for your babies. And God bless you for helping to keep exotic birds available to the true deserving bird lovers in America, for without you we’d all suffer dearly. I now have a pet bird. One pet bird. A severe macaw. I’ve had him for 20 years. I love him to death. He’s my buddy, my friend, my companion, and my entertainer. I spend untold hours with him and provide him with the best possible food and care, attention and animal husbandry that I can. It makes me very proud to have one bird that I can love and care for properly. Often when folks visit my house, they seem to fall in love with Zackie. They see how well behaved, how healthy and happy he is, and they see how beautiful his plumage is. All too often I hear the same dreadful words , “Oh my God, what a pretty bird. I have always wanted one. Where can I get a bird like that?”. I usually ask if they’ve ever had a bird before and the usual answer is no but they’ve always wanted one. And that is when I find myself doing the opposite of what I used to do. I try to dissuade them and try to explain that “Not Everyone Is Cut Out For Bird Ownership!”

Daniel Coleman
Suzanne Kosta

Thank you for posting your insight and the obvious! I have the pleasure of the company of my Goffin Cockatoo when I do my shopping as well as many out of town trips. As a consequence he is highly visible. The purpose is two fold. He comes with issues, feather plucking, due to the fact that he was painted black to smuggle across the boarder, and was attacked by a dog and almost died. The exposure allows me to acclimate him to a variety of situations, as well as enhancing his training. I have been approached many times, some have birds, some wish to purchase, others just admirers. The very first piece of information is BIRD TRICKS.com. Everyone needs to understand that there are excellent programs available to everyone now (unlike 20 yrs ago!)! It is their duty and obligation to avail themselves of all the information, for they do themselves as well as their desired companion a disservice should they fall short in this area!!! I speak for all animals in regards to this basic necessity. Horses, as I show them. Dogs, my breed of choice are Danes. I have the pleasure to educate many and direct them in a direction that will enable them to see the ownership from the other side, the animals. I make them aware of the fact that alot of time, effort, mistakes and love are visible in what they see before them, with my well mannered menagery!!! Thank you for this opportunity, I appreciate it greatly!!! To the health and wellbeing of all life! May God Bless you and your friends! :)

Suzanne Kosta
Patsy Jessup

Yikes!This is unbelievable. Sounds like aperfectly ghastly woman! Shudder to thuink what would have become of this beautiful bird if it wasn’t Patty….

Patsy Jessup
Douglas Graham

Amen. People should be forced to treat animals like they would their children. No, wait, better than they treat their children! Great article. Too bad so many people who’ll buy a bird this year will read or heed it. Then in a couple of years someone like me will take in the fragile, broken creature and try to give it a life it deserves.

Douglas Graham
Fiona

The older woman shouldn’t be allowed to own ANY animal with that attitude! I am pet to a male eclectus and when people visit my house they are introduced to him. If they ask if about his care I always give it to them straight!! They are under no illusions. Don’t get me wrong he is gorgeous and very easy to look after I feel but I have also raised 4 children to adulthood! Haha!!

Fiona

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