Years ago, when I started working for Birdtricks.com, I made my mind up that I would focus on certain areas where the need for information was the most evident. Through reading comments on blog posts, Facebook and through emails it became clear what was getting through and what wasn’t.
A main topic to tackle was the parrot diet – how it affects every single aspect of a parrot’s life, current and future, and a subject that was eluding the majority of parrot owners.
I wanted to help people feel compassion for their parrots rather than anger when they display problem behaviors. There are reasons for the biting and the screaming caused by problems that are generally not of their own making.
I wanted people to understand that parrots were not like dogs or cats, but also not like children despite the many similar behaviors. The most emotionally healthy birds are those who get to be birds and aren’t expected to be anything else.
This post will deal with keeping our responsibilities in perspective – something very easily overlooked but critically important.
Ask yourself this question: Why do you have a parrot?
There are probably multiple reasons. They are beautiful. They are intelligent and funny. They are interesting to us as owners and to other people in our lives. Not to mention that it’s kind of cool to have a parrot. If you had to package all of the reasons into a single idea, it would be that we hope the experience will enhance our lives and theirs.
The good parrot owner trolls the internet seeking out information about their unusual pet. In the process, we learn that the diet we thought was appropriate for our bird is actually ALL WRONG! We learn that birds lose their minds SEASONALLY. We find out that it is NORMAL for our birds to destroy our house and its contents. WHAT?!
Perhaps the information that is the hardest to swallow is the discovery that there are MULTIPLE things in the average home that can kill a bird. Teflon, cleaners, air fresheners…the list goes on and on.
Added to that is the implication that if we fail to be the PERFECT parrot owner, we will cause them to bite and scream or pluck out their beautiful feathers.
The barrage of information has the expected result. Terror.
This is the very thing that makes it so difficult and confounding to be a parrot owner. We get a parrot to enhance our lives, but then we sabotage that with constant worry. This is not how it is supposed to be and I have become more and more convinced over the years that THIS is the reason for at least some of our parrot’s problem behaviors.
On this blog, we frequently discuss our birds’ ability to hone in on our emotions, it is part of a bird’s survival strategy in the wild. They respond to the tension of those around them because it might signify danger.
What do you think will happen to the parrot whose human is always fretting, staring and flinching? Over time, I would think that living under their owner’s stressful watch would make this bird most likely to develop problem behaviors.
Interestingly, I learn of problem behaviors developing in parrots that are living in what appears to be perfect homes with people who would reasonably be considered among the most informed and conscientious of parrot owners. Perhaps “perfect” is NOT what we should be striving for.
When I first got Linus, my umbrella cockatoo, it was immediately clear that he absolutely HATED being stared at. He would stop dead in his tracks and give me the stink eye if my gaze in his direction lasted too long. It was hard to get to know a new bird when I wasn’t allowed to look at him. I have always kept that quirk in the back of my mind- he still hates it. Perhaps we shouldn’t be so overtly watchful. We are predators and they are prey after all.
I also feel strongly that WE are probably the biggest deterrent to our parrot’s recovery from feather destructive problems. Watching our birds do this to themselves is very stressful. There is guilt associated with it and there is frustration when we fail to put an end to it. However, what do you think our birds feel when we stare at them with sad or disapproving eyes? Being subjected to our emotions will only compound and heighten their stress.
We need to be more careful how we behave around our birds. We have to keep our stress levels low, keep worrying to a minimum and not hover over their every activity in fear for their well-being.
Learning and utilizing the very important safety, health and behavioral information out there is your responsibility as a parrot owner. The good bird owner pays close attention. The smart bird owner absorbs the information but keeps it in perspective and doesn’t let it ruin their journey with their bird. It is possible to be vigilant without being suffocating.
Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.