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   Home      PULLING AWAY FROM YOUR COMPANION PARROT May 3 2014
 
 
PULLING AWAY FROM YOUR COMPANION PARROT
 
Misconception: Thinking that just because your companion parrot does not express frustration initially when you begin to allow him/her less time outside of the cage and you spend less quality time together, that your parrot is not acknowledging these changes and he/she is not experiencing stress, worry, discomfort and sorrow.
 
Fact: Companion parrots know, understand, and experience stress when their caregiver slights, neglects, minimalizes, marginalizes, excludes, shuns, puts-off, or forgets them. In many cases, the parrot is aware that the love affair is over long before the caregiver admits it. For most parrots, it is only a matter of time before the effects of such treatment become evident.
 
Information about parrot care that is available in many books and on the Internet tells parrot caregivers how to deal with the very basic needs of their companion parrots. Things like changing the drinking water twice daily, feeding fresh food daily, providing a proper diet, offering new toys regularly, ensuring enough sleep, and spending time interacting. These are all very important factors. They all make a lot of sense, and are basically common sense. If the parrot did not receive water and food, he/she would die. No caregiver of any living creature should need to be told to provide animals with clean water and a suitable healthy diet. 
 
Some information touches on the fact that parrots are sensitive, long-lived, flock animals and that they need to be with someone. Much of this information is mentioned in passing, just like how to feed your parrot. No one seems to focus on the hard fact that companionship is an absolute necessity.
 
Providing the minimum of what is needed to keep your companion parrot alive is not properly caring for your companion parrot. Just like there are many more factors involved in raising a physically and mentally healthy child than just making sure that the child gets fed, there are many more factors involved in keeping a happy, healthy parrot. One of those inescapable factors is that a parrot will live for 20 to 80 years in a cage.
 
Throughout this website, I have talked about the importance of making companion parrots feel as normal as possible in a situation that is anything but normal for them. Companion parrots have other needs that are just as important, and just as basic, as being fed, being allowed to sleep enough, and being kept warm and safe. Companion parrots have many other urges, desires, and needs which are dictated by their telos (1). Having the requirements of their telos met—as much as is possible in a captive situation—helps companion parrots to maintain a state of homeostasis.
 
What is a homeostasis state? In layman’s terms, it is a state where you are comfortable with yourself and your surroundings. There are no stressors, no physical pain or discomfort, no psychological pain or worries, no feelings of dread or anxiety, no anxious waiting for someone or something, no noticeable hunger or thirst, just comfort and contentedness with the way things are. Is it possible to feel any of these things or experience stress without anyone being aware of what you are going through? Yes, of course.
 
If the discomfort is minimal, it is easy to hide what you are experiencing from others, even from those who are closest to you and know you well. Can you still hide what you are going through from others if you are experiencing discomfort, stress, or physical pain to a more severe degree? In many instances, the answer is yes. A lot of people can hide it so well that no one would be the wiser. This goes for psychological and emotional pain as well. Concerns, worries, loneliness, stress, depression, and other harmful negative emotions can all be hidden from others.
 
People dealing with these types of discomforts and pain (which is all of us at some point in our lives), can rationalize what is happing to us and in most cases why it’s happening. For companion animals (pets in general), this rationalization does not happen. They do not understand why. When events occur, such as not letting your companion parrots  out of their cage for extended periods of time, the parrot does not know that you are too busy or distracted. They do not know that you feel bad about ignoring them and intend to make it up to them eventually. They only know that they are captive and are not receiving the attention and freedoms that they are accustomed to or desire. As I’ve mentioned in “Pain Parrots Feel”, companion parrots are not domesticated, and living in a cage and being without a mate for their entire lives is against their telos. A companion parrot’s homeostasis is always in flux and challenged. As Franklin D. McMillan has stated in his book, Mental Health and Well-Being in Animals:
 
"[...]Most definitions of stress are framed in terms of homeostasis—specifically, an organism's response to a deviation—actual or threatened—from a state of homeostasis. For instance, stress has been defined as ‘a threat, real or implied, to homeostasis.’ (McEwen 2000, McEwen & Wingfield, 2003) ‘the reaction of an organism to a perturbation in homeostasis,’ (Salmon & Gray, 1985) and ‘the effect of physical, physiologic, or emotional factors (stressors) that induce an alteration in the animal's homeostasis or adaptive states’ (Kitchen et al. 1987).
“Animals have evolved to be adapted to their environments (more precisely, their ancestors' environments [Tooby & Cosmides, 1990]), which is equivalent to saying that the environment in which an animal's ancestors successfully survived and reproduced is the environment in which that animal is best equipped to maintain homeostasis. If an environment—internal as well as external—were unchanging, homeostasis would never be threatened, and the animal organism would have no need to act or react. However, no environment is static; all environments pose virtually constant challenges to homeostasis. Aversive, noxious, and threatening stimuli are a part of life for all animal organisms. Consequently, a state of complete harmony with the environment or perpetual homeostasis is not attainable (or necessarily desirable) for animals, and maintaining homeostasis is a constant endeavor in animal life (Clark et al. 1997a, Charmandari et al. 2003). The entire collection of homeostasis-maintaining processes (termed ‘allostasis’ by some researchers [McEwen 2000] governs life moment-by -moment in every cell of the animal body (Panksepp 1998). Deviations from homeostasis represent a threat to and reduced chances for fitness; hence, animals have evolved effective mechanisms for detecting and correcting such deviations (Panksepp 1998). The CNS assesses the importance of stimuli to homeostasis and, for those stimuli representing a meaningful threat, organizes and initiates the responses necessary to maintain or restore biological equilibrium (Panksepp 1998). In fact, it has been said that the present day mammalian brain is constructed to seek homeostasis (Panksepp 1998)."

When the homeostasis of parrots is challenged or threatened, most of their concerns will not be heard or addressed by their caregivers. Parrots cannot directly communicate with their caregivers and explain their feelings about the way they are being treated. They resort to expressing their distress by indirect means of communication. They try squawking, screaming, biting, plucking, and silence. Various forms of these coping mechanisms are displayed, dependent on the species and personality of the individual parrot. These behaviors (which are symptoms of a larger issue) are often annoying to the caregiver. When they occur, many caregivers minimalize or misinterpret the actual cause of the behaviors. These behaviors stem from the feelings of frustration and suffering that the companion parrot has been experiencing daily for months, years, or even decades.
 
Why does this situation happen in the first place? In many instances, it is because the caregiver has slowly over time and for various reasons, pulled away from interacting with their companion parrot. It happens little by little, without any, or very few, obvious adverse consequences to the parrot. At least that is how it seems to the caregiver. The caregiver does not feel that the companion parrot is being neglected or abused in any physical way. The parrot is still being fed and the cage is cleaned. The parrot seems fine. The parrot does not seem to be complaining about a lack of attention.
 
Over time, it becomes easier to justify the lack of quality time spent with the companion parrot, and so this happens more frequently. Then other things of importance begin to slide, like forgetting to check and change the parrot’s water once in a while, or not making the time to feed them fresh food at least once a day, or replenishing pellets on a regular basis, or cleaning the cage before it becomes unbearable. Starting down the slippery slope towards outright neglect and abuse is easy to reconcile when the parrot is not able to effectively communicate the angst that he/she experiences. Eventually, the companion parrot, a once valued member of the family, is forgotten. Out of sight, out of mind.
 
Out of sight, out of mind tends to become the normal state of the relationship between many caregivers and their companion parrots. Caregivers, who have busy lives and other interests, get used to doing very little for their parrot and spending next to no time with their little friend. Even the initial feelings of guilt fade over time, especially when the parrot seems fine with the situation. The problem is that the caregiver is spending so little time with the parrot that subtle signs of distress can be missed. The caregiver doesn’t acknowledge that something might be wrong until the situation has become so bad that the parrot starts screeching or plucking feathers.
 
Depending on the species and individual personality of the parrot, each will handle the stress and neglect for variable periods of time. Each will cope with the stressors that they experience differently, and their reaction to the stressors will be different. For example, most species of cockatoos will let their caregiver know of their displeasure by being very vocal and very LOUD. Cockatoos are also very prone to plucking as a reaction to various stressors. African greys, on the other hand, will not say too much. They will make the odd sound or whistle, but for the most part, they will sit quietly and endure what is happing to them. Some may resort to coping mechanisms like bar chewing, swaying back and forth, becoming cage-bound, biting their caregiver, not wanting to come out of the cage when they are offered the opportunity, plucking, and several other neurotic tendencies that they may develop. In these instances, most caregivers will not immediately notice these changes in their parrot. When they do finally notice that something is wrong, they look for an immediate cause. They fail to understand that these behaviors are a reaction to a long history of increasing loneliness and neglect.
 
Once these behaviors begin, they all too often are blamed on the parrot. Parrots are rehomed because they bite when they are being fed, they become aggressive when someone tries to pick them up, they scream, they pluck their feathers, or they just do not seem happy. The caregiver does not have the time or desire to deal with the unhappy, frustrated, and neurotic parrot that was created because the caregiver lacked the time and desire to maintain a healthy relationship with the parrot.
 
The parrot has time for you. In fact, your companion parrot has nothing but time. They live in a cage. And spend their days waiting. Parrots lack the freedom to come and go as they please. They lack the freedom to choose their companions and activities. Every day of their very long life, they wait for the only companion they have to spend time with them. They wait for the intimate interactions that they long for. They wait for someone to preen with and have physical contact with, someone to play with, and someone to talk to. They wait to be allowed out of the cage for a change of scenery and some exercise. The desire for the freedom to make choices and to have companionship is a part of who they are. It is part of their telos. When these urges and desires are not fulfilled, the parrot’s homeostasis is out of balance, and problems begin to develop.
 
Becoming a caregiver to companion parrots is a great responsibility, one that many people do not take seriously enough. Personal interaction with the caregiver is of the utmost importance to the wellbeing of the parrot. It is necessary if the parrot is to be healthy psychologically, emotionally, and physically. Unfortunately, as with most responsibilities in life, people will try to accomplish what needs to be done in the least amount of time. Once we begin to thinkthat we can get away with doing less, it becomes easy to reconcile cutting corners more and more. After all, if the companion parrot does not seem to mind much the first, second, or third time that we pull back and spend less time interacting, or offer less time out of the cage, or forget to give the parrot food and water, then the assumption is that the parrot can live perfectly fine with less. Never mind that the parrot is captive and completely dependent and has no choice in the matter.
 
Relationships change. People tend to drift apart. What is described here is really no different. Even good friends, partners, and family members will pull away for various reasons, justified or not. People may feel angry, hurt, confused, abandoned, and depressed when this happens. They may argue and fight, or become sad and despondent. Eventually, most people find new interests and new friends and get on with their life. Well, a companion parrot goes through all of these emotions too. Unfortunately for the parrot, the anger and frustration, the sadness and depression, go unnoticed. There is no option to find new friends and new interests, and to get on with life. The parrot has only the bars of the cage and the caregiver.
 
When a parrot bites, plucks, chews on the cage bars, screams, is cage-bound, exhibits stereotypes such as swaying, circling, or repetitive movements, or any other neurotic behavior, it is for a reason. These behaviors are SYMPTOMS of much larger issues that are not being addressed. Silence is no indication that everything is fine and dandy and can, in fact, be a symptom of depression.
 
Companion parrots struggle with loneliness, boredom, and the lack of opportunity to participate in activities that are natural for them—like flying, foraging, mating, and being with a flock for their entire lives.
 
Don’t treat your companion parrot as a chore. Don’t do only the very minimum that you think you can get away with. You do enough to keep them alive. Do you do enough to keep them happy?
 
Remember: To the World, You are just one person. To a captive parrot, You are the World.
 
 
(1) Teleology is central to Aristotle's biology and his theory of causes.  An animal's telos is the natural instincts that define that animal.  All living creatures have a telos.  It is what makes a fish a fish with a need to swim.  It is the "pigness" of a pig with the need to forage and nest, the "catness" of a cat with the urge to hunt and run, the "birdness" of a bird with a need to make nests, to fly and to socialize in a flock setting (Bernard E. Rollin 2006)



                              
       Wesley J Savoy Parrots Forever Sanctuary & Rescue Foundation, May 3 2014
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