Parrots Forever
Since people choose to have a parrot—an undomesticated quasi-wild creature— as a pet, the onus is on people to adjust to the relationship. Parrots are just as nature intended them to be, and they were not intended to be kept locked up in a cage for their entire life. They are sentient, intelligent, and emotional beings with distinct, individual personalities. They are meant to live in an organized society for their entire life and to find their place within the hierarchy of that society. They interact and communicate constantly with other members of their society. They are prey animals and find safety and security within their society. They are vulnerable and anxious when alone.
Even the kindest, gentlest, most understanding human is still a predator. We are quick to become impatient, angry, and aggressive. We are busy, and our lives are constantly changing. Because our lives are so hectic, we welcome quiet and alone time. We become bored, distracted, and disillusioned easily. We make mistakes and move on. We want what we want when we want it, and often we don’t even know what that really is. Our decision to bring a parrot into our life is too often based on very shallow reasons and made with no long-term planning, a realistic assessment of our lifestyle, or an understanding of the extensive and involved commitment we are making. Living with a parrot will change your life, but probably not in the ways you expect.
Parrots appeal to people on many levels. They are beautiful, exotic and mysterious to look at. They are amusing when playing. They learn to talk, and many enjoy learning tricks. They are vulnerable and needy. People generally see a fun pet that they can teach to talk and do tricks. They see an expensive, unusual, exotic pet that reflects status.
As status symbols or ego boosters, parrots are too demanding of time and space, too messy, too loud, and too aggressive to be appealing for very long. They are expensive, but they are not a commodity. They are like small children for 20 to 80 years.
Parrots are very much individuals. Not every parrot that can learn to talk will talk, or at least not on command. They may talk to everyone but their owner or may only talk when no one is present. Not every parrot is interested in learning tricks, although all should have basic training in stepping up and down, etc. Some have extremely dominant personalities and will always challenge authority. Some are very passive or timid. Some are very choosy about their friends or may only like one person and be aggressive with anyone else. Others are more universally outgoing.
Training, handling and socializing the parrot is necessary, but end results will depend on the individual personalities of both the parrot and the person doing the training. The parrot you buy may not be the parrot you expect or even want. For the relationship to work, the parrot owner has to adjust expectations to respect the nature and personality of the parrot. Like in human relationships, it takes a lot of patience and compromise to overcome personality clashes. Sometimes a truce is the best outcome. This is not enjoyable for parrot or human.
Parrot caregivers must appreciate at the outset that they are working with a basically wild, very intelligent creature. Parrots can most certainly be trained, but success and failure are both firmly on the head of the trainer. Trainers must have patience, compassion, insight, and focus. They must always treat the parrot with calm and respect, and understand that parrots measure time. It may take a year or more just for the parrot to decide to like the trainer well enough to interact with calm and interest. Parrots respond to positive reinforcement, but it can be a challenge for some people to be consistently positive and timely with rewards.
Previous experience training other animals such as dogs and horses using positive reinforcement methods before attempting to train a parrot can be very beneficial. It is also often a challenge with some parrots to find a reward that the parrot values highly enough. People can be quick to punish, but parrots do not react well to negative reinforcement. Parrots do not hit each other or throw things. If they yell at each other, everyone joins in. Parrots can find this kind of drama very exciting, and they may start to perform the behavior just to start a riot, just like a child acting out to get attention. The trainer may reinforce the very behavior that is to be stopped. Even timeouts can backfire, as the parrot soon realizes that timeouts end a training session. Every trainer of an intelligent animal must beware that the tables are not turned, transforming the trainer into the trainee. 
Again, the onus is on the trainer. The parrot is blameless and only following its nature. Training must always be fun and interesting for the parrot. Endless repetitions or insisting on things that the parrot has no interest in are boring and futile, and will only cause the parrot to resent and resist training attempts, and the trainer to be frustrated. Behaviours rarely manifest fully formed in the first training session. Most take many small steps and much time to refine, and are easier to attain when the parrot volunteers a rudimentary form of the behavior.
It is very important for the parrot caregiver to understand that dedicated training sessions should be kept short and only counted as a small fraction of the time spent interacting with the parrot through the day. Sessions should be abandoned if the parrot is not receptive, and perhaps tried again latter. Parrots still need time devoted to petting, preening, and being talked to (not training to talk). Parrot owners must also be aware that all of their interactions with the parrot, whether or not intentional, will influence the behavior of the parrot.
Like any relationship, with time and familiarity, behavior patterns develop. This is true of the parrot‘s behavior and also the person’s behaviour. Often a parrot’s desirable and undesirable behaviours can be traced more to these every day, unintentional interactions and patterns than to actual training. Again, the onus is on the person, first as the instigator of the relationship, and second as the leader of the flock, to modify their behaviour to change established patterns.
In a sense, being a successful parrot caregiver means being a better parrot. The strongest, most dominant parrot determines the flock dynamics, keeps the flock cohesive and safe, and finds the best food, the best shelter, and the best amusements. This is not strength, as a predator understands strength and dominance; the position of power is not determined by brute strength and violence. A predator is a member of a group for reasons of more efficient hunting, not for protection. A predator may survive alone.
Leaders of prey animals like parrots earn and keep the position out of strength of character, of fairness to all, and the ability to make consistent good decisions for the group. Prey animals stay in groups because it gives them protection and a better chance of surviving predation. Prey animals do not survive long if they stray from the group. As the leader of the flock, a parrot owner must earn the trust necessary for that position by proving that they can protect the parrot and make better decisions than the parrot can. Some parrots can take a long time to convince, and they withdraw trust very quickly.
  • by M.L.Savoy, BSc, MLT, Parrots Forever, 2012

© Parrots Forever