I can’t help it. I cringe every time I see a large parrot with a small child. From a toddler to a teenager, children carry a significant amount of energy. You can feel that a child is present no matter where they are. Parrots, as prey animals, are easily alarmed. It is their nature and red flags go up any time something is amiss. We are far more tolerant of our parrots natures than they are of our children’s, and I have seen things go wrong, regardless of how well behaved your child or your parrot is.
I went to visit an out of state friend years ago, and she requested that I bring Abu, my first umbrella cockatoo. Abu was one of those rare cockatoos that was quiet, sweet tempered and would sit on a perch for hours in the company of her favorite people. She was potty trained, and without a doubt, the easiest bird I have ever had. I had no reservations about bringing her along. She was barely in the door before she had won the hearts of everyone, including my friend’s 3 year old grandson.
I kept Abu in the bedroom where I was staying when he wasn’t out mingling and making new friends. Early into my visit, my friend and I were in the kitchen talking while her grandson busied himself with a coloring book in the living room. The next thing I know, there was a horrible shriek and the little boy came running to Grandma for comfort. His hand was bloody. He had gone into visit with Abu without our knowledge and had apparently stuck his hand inside the travel crate. Inspecting the wounds, it appears that Abu managed to get three fingers into her beak for one nasty bite. One finger was nearly crushed. I felt horrible and couldn’t apologize enough. We all knew that this wasn’t the child’s fault because he was just being an inquisitive as children are, and it wasn’t Abu’s fault for objecting to the small hand invading her cage space, but ours for lack of supervision.
Last summer, I watched a young girl be bitten in the eye by her beloved cockatiel after he was frightened by a slamming door. Fortunately, her lid took most of the injury, but the relationship between the two was never the same. Even a small bird can do substantial damage to a small body.
Despite the risks, children being raised around birds are offered some unique experiences. There’s a lot to be learned about care-giving, compassion and our responsibility to nature. When you are raised to be patient with and tolerant of things different from yourself, you can be at home wherever you are. And it doesn’t hurt to have an awareness of body language, whether it be avian or human. I have a friend who rehabs troubled parrots whose very young children (2 and 4) have learned not to make eye contact with a screaming bird so as not to reward the undesired behavior.
When I was about 10, we found a baby screech owl with a wing injury. After waiting until we were sure there were no parents caring for the bird, we took him home and nursed him back to health. We knew nothing about the care of a wild bird and found advice about its diet from a family friend who was knowledgeable about wildlife. Willy was the sweetest bird and he became a member of the family. It was a wonderful experience that I am grateful to have had.
When we learn at an early age to respect and appreciate nature, it is something that we carry throughout our lives and pass along to our children. They, in turn, pass it along to theirs. What a wonderful world this would be if all of humanity were on the same page.
Author Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.