The Domestication Of Parrots

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Dogs have been living among humans for a very long time – this fact is documented throughout much of our recorded history. During this time, we have bred favorable traits into them and slowly excised the unsociable ones to make them more suited to life as a pet.

We have engineered breeds that are suited to perform certain tasks such as herding (collie), hunting (spaniel) or search and rescue (German shepherd.) that give dogs a place of their own in human society. Throughout the process, dogs have been modified to our benefit.

Imagine how different things will be for bird owners when birds become domesticated, which is inevitable. Since we are doing such a spectacular job of slowly destroying the habitats of the wild bird species around the world, it is safe to assume that sometime, in the not-so-distant future, many species of birds will only exist in captivity.

I cringe when I look to the future and see a time when birds have been modified in a way that makes them predictable and compliant. My very favorite thing about birds is their independence and their randomness of thought – something to be found in any intelligent species.

Steve Irwin photo from

I remember being told by a friend of the late Steve Irwin, Australia’s beloved Crocodile Hunter, that he was afraid of parrots. When I first heard this, I had to giggle. Here is a guy who would fearlessly take on a deadly predator that outweighed him by a huge amount, yet he was afraid of something under 2 ½ pounds.

We owners know not to underestimate the business end of a parrot – those beaks can cause some serious hurt. But still, there really isn’t any comparison to the harm a crocodile can inflict.

When you think about it for a minute, it becomes clear…it wasn’t the beak that scared him, it was the brain. A crocodile does things in ways that have always served them well. When observing a crocodile, Steve Irwin could forecast its moves – “now it’s going to use the death roll”. He always knew what was coming next and that was how he stayed safe around them.

But while a crocodile is likely to behave in established ways, a parrot might use a different strategy each time it needs to solve the same problem. Parrots are unpredictable and that can be scary when behaviors might result in a bite.

However, that unpredictability is the same quality responsible for some of the things we claim to love the most about our birds, such as their ability to make us laugh and catch us off-guard with an unexpected act. Or the snickering you might hear when you trip over something. Or the perfectly timed “I love you” just as you discover the hole in your curtains.

And yes, it can also make life with a parrot difficult. Unpredictability reflects intelligence and when something can think, it can create and plot. If there is something a parrot wants, it will find a way to get it, whether that happens through manipulating you, or tunneling through a wall. Sometimes their intelligence is used against us.

I am willing to bet that unpredictability would be the first quality humans would choose to eradicate to increase a parrot’s value as a pet, but lost in that process would be a great deal of their intelligence…and charm. I am at a loss to see any possible gain through the domestication of a parrot. I don’t want to ever live with a dumbed-down version of the creature I have come to love, but I know the day is coming.

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



So you’re saying domestication would cause parrots to lose some of their intelligence? What about dogs? Many breeds of (domesticated) dog are extremely intelligent. Not only that, they are willing to please, loyal and loving. They just rarely bite randomly and are more suited to life with humans. They still have personalities extremely different from each other. I have never heard a dog owner say their dog was boring. I think parrot domestication would benefit parrots as long as there are still plenty of “wild” parrots. A more suitable companion for the average human would mean less parrots being neglected and/or ending up in shelters due to behavioural problems commonly occuring in many of today’s species of companion birds. In short, I don’t think domestication of companion parrots would “dumb them down” or remove any of their personality so much as make them less likely to bite a hole through your fingernail because it was a different colour.


Parrots are wild animals that are very very commonly kept as pets. This means that there is a high rate of rehoming, improper care , and ultimately unhappy animals. I think domestication of parrots would be really valuable for the everyday normal person to own. The owner will be happy , and the bird will be happy. Whats not to love? For the more ‘hardcore’ parrot owners, they can get a wilder one instead and leave the domestic ones to the less experienced. The wild parrots are more likely to get good homes this way, and so will the domesticated birds Wanting all pet birds to be a certain way because of your own preferences is a pretty narrow minded and selfish view. . Not ALL parrots are going to become domesticated. Come on. Duh.


This is really depressing. I love the clever resourcefulness of my cockatoo. She knows when she’s doing something she shouldn’t, because when I turn my attention to her, she growls a defiant, “knock it off” at me. What a piece of work! Life wouldn’t be nearly as interesting with a dumbed-down bird.


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