Parrots Forever
Sanctuary & Rescue Foundation

Myth: Parrots make great pets and are easy to care for. Anyone who wants one should get one.
Fact: For MOST people, parrots do not make good pets. Parrots make good parrots.
It’s a myth that parrots are as easy to care for as any other pet, and that anyone who wants one will be able to properly care for one. Most people think that properly caring for a parrot is as easy as finding a place to put the cage and remembering to give them pet food and water. Breeders and pet stores perpetuate this myth. They want nothing more than to take the money you are willing to pay for a supposedly fun and low-maintenance pet.
Parrots cannot be considered domesticated like dogs and cats. They have not been bred for generations to coexist with people and to adapt to a human lifestyle. The only two species that fall into the category of domesticated parrots are the budgerigar (Melopsittacus undulatus) and the cockatiel (Nymphicus hollandicus). Even so, budgies and cockatiels can still present a challenge for most would-be companion parrot caregivers.
Regardless of the species, most new parrot caregivers find the messiness and the time required to properly care for their parrot much more than they anticipated. Unfortunately for the parrot, many people will try to fit caring for a companion parrot into their already busy schedules based on the assumption that a parrot will be a low-maintenance and undemanding pet. The idea of coming home to a living creature that is fun and can talk, but does not need much care, is appealing. The idea is nice, but the reality of the responsibility is not. MOST people who get a companion parrot as a pet think the parrot is there for them.
Yes, a companion parrot caregiver is what you become when you decide to welcome a parrot into your home. A companion parrot is like no other animal that people have labeled and popularized as easy-to-handle domesticated pets. Like most things that are commoditized and sold to the uneducated public, there is usually a catch. Salespeople convince buyers that the care of a companion parrot is simple and easy. This misinformation puts unsuspecting caregivers in situations they never anticipated. They find themselves in the stressful and time-consuming job of being a forever caregiver for a companion parrot.
When a companion parrot enters the home of a new caregiver, that parrot enters a confined society. All the social interactions the parrot has will be forever confined to the home and its occupants. The home is a society unto itself. The parrot’s emotional, psychological, and physical wellbeing, the parrot’s confidence and self-esteem, and the manner in which the parrot relates with others will be shaped by interactions with caregivers. Reciprocal relationships are what the companion parrot needs most. This is almost never talked about when breeders and pet stores sell these parrots to the unsuspecting public.
The quality of social relationships is the most important variable in the welfare of a companion parrot for maintaining psychological, emotional, and physical wellbeing. The amount of nurturing, reassurance, and attention the companion parrot receives has a direct influence on the parrot’s happiness and wellbeing. A companion parrot is a flock animal that depends on reciprocity, cooperation, and empathy with peers. Their sense of security depends on experiencing good relations with their caregiver. A companion parrot needs emotional and cognitive development as part of their relationship with their main caregiver and with all the members of the family.
Maintaining an age-appropriate, reciprocal relationship with the main caregiver is an important and crucial aspect of caring for a companion parrot. If the parrot is young when they are first brought into the home, they may relate to the caregiver as a surrogate parent. As the parrot gets older, or if they are older when they first come into the home, the social relationships must also be more mature. Older parrots may view their main caregiver as an equal, a rival, or a potential mate. In any case, the companion parrot’s needs are great and complex.
Companion parrots basically have the same needs as a 3- to 5-year-old human child. They are essentially defenseless, intelligent, and needy creatures that are reliant on their caregiver for their security, sustenance, and emotional reassurances. Companion parrots are not only very needy and emotionally taxing, they are also quite reactive to negative events in their social environment, such as being put off or ignored by the caregivers, or being minimalized or marginalized within the family unit. A parrot’s personality is shaped by interactions with their caregivers, and every moment a parrot spends in the home environment will influence how they will develop and understand the world they live in.
Parrots have a cognitive ability that has been compared to the mind of a 4- to 5-year-old child. Although a parrot is most certainly not the same as a human child, a parrot’s reasoning abilities, intelligence, and emotional needs result in some similar experiences and reactions with the caregiver.
The renowned child psychologist Donald Winnicott once stated that in childhood two things can go wrong that affect development adversely. Things happen that shouldn’t happen, and things don’t happen that should happen. This refers to the daily stresses and distractions that prevent parents from offering their children the attuned, emotionally present interactions that are necessary for optimal brain and personality development in a child. Even when not formally traumatized, children are negatively affected by these experiences. This is also true for companion parrots.
One thing that shouldn’t happen but does is abandonment experience. A parrot experiences abandonment on a daily basis when the caregiver is unable, or unwilling, to spend the necessary amount of time interacting with their companion parrot. The thing that should happen but doesn’t is the parrot receiving adequate non-stressed, attuned, and non-distracted attention from the caregiver every single day. These companion parrots are not abused, neglected, or traumatized. The caregiver is physically present but emotionally absent. Nurturing interaction is just not available to the parrot because of the effects of stresses and distractions on the caregiver. Psychologist Allen Shore calls this proximal abandonment.
When we understand that a companion parrot has a limited adaptive flexibility for adjusting their basic needs, and that they are driven by their nature to have these needs met, we can begin to understand how difficult it is to ensure that these needs are met in an isolated, confined, captive environment. When a parrot is introduced into a human household, they are entering a unique, established society in which they are required to live and interact with a foreign species—humans. A social imperative emerges.
Just as the parrot’s body requires proper nutrition to flourish, the parrot’s brain requires, and demands, the positive reinforcement of environmental stimuli and protection from negative forms of stimuli. These requirements are present throughout the parrot’s long lifetime. If things that should happen do not, or if things that shouldn’t happen do, the door opens for a cascade of neurotic, stereotypic, and detrimental behavioral issues that can also create physical abnormalities to the parrot. When these issues surface, in most cases, they will have a direct link to the parrot’s social environment and the parrot’s interactions with the environment and their caregivers.
People live very busy lives. We work, shop, raise families, play, and entertain ourselves incessantly by going out with friends, to the bar, the movies, the game, a concert, a play, a special event, watching TV, and on and on and on … We want more. We want more things in our already active daily lives that we really should not take on. We like to control, coerce, and constrain wants and desires to fit into our lifestyle. We may not consider the consequences of our actions beyond what it means to our lifestyle and schedule. We may not consider how our decisions and actions affect others in our lives. We certainly rarely give much, if any, thought to how a parrot will be affected when we make the decision to bring one into our home. We do not ask ourselves why we want to keep a parrot in a cage, alone, for the next 30-80 years.
There is nothing wrong with wanting more, if we are willing to accept the responsibility that goes along with our actions. Can we honestly commit to providing a healthy, nurturing, emotionally satisfying environment for a parrot for the next 30 to 80 years? Can we put aside our stresses and distractions to be physically and emotionally present for the parrot every single day?
Are the conditions in your home able to support the health of a companion parrot? Or is the society within the home contrary to the necessary requirements for maintaining the personal, social, emotional, and psychological well-being of your companion parrot? Can adverse conditions realistically be changed for the better of the parrot? Can these improved conditions be maintained forever?
The reality is that most people do not have the time, the desire, or the inclination to care for a parrot as they would a dependent child. This is the commitment that needs to be made when accepting the responsibility of caring for a parrot for the rest of your life. In some ways, caring for a parrot requires more work, dedication, and commitment than caring for a child. When babies are brought home, it is expected that they will eventually grow up and move out of the home to live independently. Where does your 20-, 25-, 30-, 40- or 50-year-old companion parrot go when you are no longer able or willing to care for them?
Parrots don’t make good pets, and most people don’t make good companion parrot caregivers. When the caregiver is unable or unwilling to be present for their companion parrot, the absence of caring has very powerful negative effects on the parrot. The caregiver’s adverse experiences also have a profound negative impact. Whether the caregiver is in a foul mood due to having a bad day, rushed due to time constraints, or just tired, the parrot is still waiting for attention and interaction. A companion parrot knows when the caregiver is indifferent to them or dismissive, and this affects the parrot’s behavior. Parrots learn to view their caregivers as distant, uncaring, inattentive, unresponsive, and erratic. A caregiver who does not offer the time and attention a parrot needs creates an unhappy and difficult-to-handle parrot.
Unfortunately, most people learn this the hard way and are unable, or often unwilling, to change their ways and give their companion parrot the time and attention that is needed. When this happens (and it happens a lot), the parrot is re-sold or given away to whoever is willing to take them. Or the caregiver ignores the situation and keeps their companion parrot languishing for years, and even decades, alone in a cage in the home. Sometimes this happens in ignorance, with the caregiver not realizing the detrimental emotional, psychological, and physical effects this treatment has on their parrot. Most people do not intentionally torment their prized possession. But it still happens.
In many cases, purchasing a parrot is an impulse buy. Parrots are appealing and available, and salespeople oversimplify the amount of care needed. It seems like a good idea, and buyers do not take the time to research their potential pet, or give themselves a cooling off period to consider the implications of their purchase. Once the parrot is in the home and the reality of the situation becomes apparent, all the negative aspects of sharing life with a parrot can easily outweigh any positives that may have existed at the time of purchase.
Please, before even considering a companion parrot as a pet, ask yourself if you are able and willing to commit to doing everything necessary to properly care for that parrot, and does that parrot really want to live with you? Forever?
Remember: To the world, you are one person. But to a companion parrot, you are the world!


     by Wesley J Savoy Parrots Forever Sanctuary & Rescue Foundation, July 20 2014
© Parrots Forever Sanctuary and Rescue Foundation