We are all very dedicated bird owners here. We not only care deeply for our own birds, but we care about everyone else’s too. I know that I find it very difficult to watch birds being mistreated and I have walked out of some pet stores in tears. I have lied awake at night thinking about a bird that lives half way around the world that I know might not make it through the night.
I think one of the hardest things we deal with as bird owner is coping with the knowledge that someone else is not doing right by their bird. Sometimes that someone is standing right in front of you and you have to make the decision of whether or not to get involved. I think most of us would find it impossible to walk away silently.
I have been in this situation more times than I can recount, and I have learned through experience that there is a right way and a wrong way to approach this person. It is not the time to be emotional or indelicate. You have to remember that if you blow it and cause the person to walk away from you, you will lose your one and only opportunity to help their bird.
You can’t walk up to a complete stranger and say (or imply): ”Excuse me, but I was eaves-dropping on your private conversation and I feel the need to let you know that you are a moron.” You will, for certain, lose that person’s ear. I do understand the desire to say that sometimes when you over hear that someone encourages their cat to bathe their bird (true story). However, it is counter-productive.
It will help to put yourself in their position before you approach them. You should consider that the people you are observing might actually truly love their birds and believe they are doing the right things with them.
Try to diffuse any anger or frustration you might feel by remembering that you were once without the knowledge that you have now. Someone took the time to teach you and instill in you the desire to continue learning. Be THAT person.
Always try to educate people in a subtle way so as not to appear critical of their actions. I have used this approach successfully:
“I’m so sorry to intrude on your conversation, but I just needed to share something with you: I read recently that cat saliva is very dangerous for birds. I know!! I was just as surprised as you. But apparently it can kill them.” When it’s appropriate I add: “You should go check out Birdtricks.com. They have great information on that site!” (You can substitute your favorite bird site, but I am hoping it is this one.)
I have also used this approach:
“I apologize for listening in on your conversation, but I can’t leave here with a clear conscience unless I take the time to let you know how dangerous it can be to (fill in the blank). I hope you don’t think I’m rude, it’s just that I really love birds and I can tell you do too.”
You have to feel your way through the conversation and choose an approach which will best serve the bird in the end. If you anger the person, or insult them with your tone, the bird loses. Educate without being condescending. Make sure that person goes home a wiser bird owner, and inspire them to explore the world of parrots on their own.
Since they will probably not fully appreciate your efforts until years later in retrospect, allow me to positively reinforce you now: Good job! Thank you for caring!
Author Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.