In less than a week, I have been told about several parrots who need, or are going to need, new homes.
It started last Saturday, when my wife and I took all our cages and perches outside for a deep cleaning. We had some incredible weather that day, so we decided to get started on our Spring cleaning a bit early.
We were outside all day. Now I’ll admit that the job would have been a lot less work if we still owned a pressure washer, but our last one died and we haven’t gotten around to replacing it. It was a nice day, so once we had the girls’ travel/sleeping cages spotless, we popped the birds in them and placed them on the lawn while we scrubbed everything else.
That afternoon, two people came by and asked if I would be willing to take a total of three birds. I was offered a 25-year-old male African Grey, a 14-year-old Amazon, and a positively ancient 22-year-old Cockatiel.
I was rather surprised to get so many offers in one day.
The reasons the birds needed new homes weren’t surprising. The Grey had been inherited, and he was a biter. The Amazon and Cocktiel needed homes because the owner was moving and didn’t have the space or the time for the birds. I’m sympathetic to all the birds and humans in these situations, because I know just how difficult they can be. Life changes, and things don’t always work out the way we plan.
I’ve been thinking about these birds quite a lot this week. I’m a strong believer in the idea of adopting secondhand birds when possible, but I’m not sure I want to add to my flock right now. We are still grieving Coco’s loss, and it seems like making a big change, too soon.
We want another Grey someday, and we’ve even talked about buying a baby. The youngest bird we’ve owned was Static, who was 4.5 when she joined our family. We always thought that it would be nice to start out with a young bird who we could more easily acclimate to new experiences and new people, and who wouldn’t come with a load of baggage we’d have to work on.
I’d like to create my own flavor of birdie baggage, instead of inheriting it from someone else.
I have a small house, so I really have room for only one more bird. I suppose, if I got rid of the piano I almost never play, I could shove things over for two more, but that would be pushing it. Besides, three travel cages will fit in the back seat of my truck with room left over for my kid. Four won’t fit.
I’ve been thinking of these birds and mulling over whether or not I want to take on a rescue, or pursue a later dream of adopting a baby and working with it to become a therapy bird.
And then, on Tuesday, my vet told me about yet another bird. This one was also an African Grey, who was losing her home through no fault of her own. Her owner was dying, and she’d need a new place, soon.
It made me so sad. In one week, I’d had heard of four birds searching for a new place to live. I have room for one.
It made me think of this video that originally aired on CBS Sunday Morning back in June of 2009:
Now my initial reaction to this video was one of anger. Yes, birds are a lot of work, but I really disliked the piece’s slant that made it sound like all the work is endless and unrewarding, and that parrots are unceasingly demanding, unforgiving animals.
The line that made me the angriest was when Mira Tweti said, “A parrot will bite the hand that feeds it, as long as it lives.”
I cry bullpucky!
Bites do not have to be a routine part of living with a companion parrot. Neither does constant screaming, feather picking, or never-ending demands for attention.
Now I’ll be the first one to admit that all my birds have bitten me at one time or another, and most of the time it was my fault. Even Luna, who should be my worst biter, being totally blind, a Severe Macaw (who have a reputation for being nippy), and easily startled, doesn’t regularly chomp on me. I did get bitten last weekend, for reasons I don’t completely understand, but the last bite before that probably years ago.
Birds don’t have to be screaming, biting, demanding spoiled brats.
Yup, I said it. Spoiled brats.
Now my birds will suck up as much attention as I can give them. They are like children who love it when Daddy is home. The want to play, they want to cuddle, and they want to learn. They will gladly take up every minute I give to them. Some days, they get everything I have. Other days, I have to work, and they have to busy themselves playing with their toys and doing birdie things while I go about my business earning a living.
As a family, we do go on vacation. Sometimes we take the birds with us in our RV. Sometimes, we leave them home with a pet sitter coming in twice a day to feed, water, clean up, and give them some attention. Do they like it when we leave? No. Do they go crazy and scream for hours while we are gone? No. Yes, they absolutely do miss us and they are happy when we return, but being gone for a few days, or even a week, once or twice a year, doesn’t destroy our birds’ psyches.
Likewise, we are not slaves to the birdie diet around here. We feed our birds pellets, fresh fruits and vegetables, and some of whatever we are eating, as long as it’s not harmful to them. We don’t slave over every meal preparing special bird-only chow three times a day. We try to make healthy choices for ourselves, and share. This makes everybody happy, because we have less work to do, and the birds don’t get bored by a never-ending diet of seeds and pellets.
You wouldn’t want to eat kibble every day, would you? Your bird probably doesn’t want to, either.
Yes, birds are messy, but there’s a lot that can be done to contain it. First off, I’ve made an effort to potty train all of my birds. Potty training, at least at our house means two things: don’t crap on me and don’t crap on the furniture. My birds have learned what the phrase “go poop” means, and periodically when they are out, I pick them up and either return them to their tree or hold them over some paper or a garbage can, and say the magic word. If the bird needs to go, she’ll go. If not, I keep an eye on her body language, and give her an opportunity later. Failing that, I will end up with a big streak of dookie running down my back.
I’ve also discovered that if we clean cages and perches daily, the mess isn’t so bad. If I happen to pass by and notice there’s a fresh poop somewhere, I wipe it up right away, rather than waiting for it to dry and turn into concrete.
As for the birds’ food dishes, we change those for each meal. I wouldn’t want to eat my lunch off of my dirty breakfast plate, so I don’t expect my birds to do the same. Everything is washed in our dishwasher along with our regular dishes on the sanitize cycle.
So as much as I respect Mira Tweti and the other people featured in the video, I’m not sure that they are telling an entirely fair version of the story. Birds are a lot of work, but I don’t think it’s as bad as they make it seem. I think a better truth is that birds do require more attention than your average dog or cat, but they don’t necessarily need you 24/7.
I think there are two things to keep in mind:
- if you adopt a parrot, you are adopting a companion, not a pet; and
- your companion can live a very, very long time.
If you want to adopt a companion parrot, you need to go into it with your eyes wide open. Don’t just go to a pet store, see the cute birdies, and plop down a handful of cash. Spend some time with your bird, if you can, before you take him home. Spend some time with other bird owners. Talk to them, learn from them. If you live within reasonable distance, take a class in parrot husbandry and training. Know what you are getting before you bring your cute little feather butt home.
Parrots aren’t for everyone. If you know what you are getting into before you start, you’ll be happier for your decision and so will your bird. More importantly, if you are prepared for the long haul, then you’ll be much less likely to need to re-home your bird in the future.