Parrots Forever

Parrots and humans have been living together for centuries, but parrots are not domesticated creatures. They may be tamed, but even captive-bred and raised parrots are only a few generations from the wild, and they retain their wild instincts. Parrots are very appealing with their bright, beautifully coloured feathers, their ability to speak and mimic sounds, their playful natures, and soulful eyes. People make the decision to bring a parrot into their home for many reasons, but few take into consideration the true nature of these beguiling beings. And that is where the trouble can start, even in the most loving, understanding, and accommodating homes.
More than most pets, living with a parrot requires a long, hard, honest look at our lifestyle and the likelihood of the long-term sustainability of that lifestyle. From a purely practical viewpoint, parrots need to be kept in a cage when not supervised, and that cage must be large enough and strong enough for the species of parrot. With a large parrot, their cage will take up a lot of room. Parrots require constant companionship and will not be happy shut away alone in a room, so the cage needs to be in an area where they are part of the action.
Parrots should not be left alone for more than a few hours at a time. Parrots are extremely messy. They drop and fling food everywhere, poop frequently, and fill their surroundings with feathers and dust. To prevent disease, their cage and toys must be cleaned and sanitized regularly, and their food and water must be checked and replenished at least daily. Things like air fresheners, candles, and Teflon pans and appliances can be very toxic to parrots.
Parrots can be finicky eaters and often waste more food than they eat, but they still require a variety of fresh fruits, nuts, and vegetables, as well as suitable pellets and fortified seed to keep their diet balanced and interesting. Parrots require a variety of safe, suitable toys and a variety of size-appropriate perches in their cage. These toys and perches can be very expensive and may be destroyed very quickly. Parrots love to chew on things, and they do not care if they are chewing on a toy or your furniture, baseboards, cupboards, electrical wires, carpets, or clothing.
Parrots can be very loud, not only when they are angry, but also when they are happy. This makes most of them unsuitable for an apartment, because they can annoy the neighbours. Once they have learned to talk or mimic sounds, they may practice these new skills nonstop. The sounds they find amusing are not always the ones that we want to hear repeated endlessly. 
Parrots are companion birds, but that works both ways. Parrots require companionship and interaction from us. They need to be acknowledged and talked with. They need to be picked up, petted, scratched, and preened. Most parrots will appreciate having another parrot around, but if they have been hand-raised and around people for all of their life, it is people that they identify with and want to interact with. Parrots have a sense of time and can tell if we are distracted and in a hurry. They want not just our time, but our undivided time.
However parrots choose their friends, whether it is another parrot or a human. The human they choose may not be their owner and may not even be someone who likes birds. This can be very hard on the parrot owner. The parrot may love their owner or may tolerate or even hate their owner. Either way, the parrot may show aggression towards its human, whether because of jealousy or dislike. It is very difficult for owners to love and care for a demanding creature that does not seem to appreciate the effort, and once the parrot is sexually mature, the problems can escalate.
Mature parrots experience cyclical hormonal surges and cannot be neutered like a dog or cat. They can become extremely loud, territorial, and aggressive, and exhibit odd behaviors at this time. Parrots that are very attached to their owners will mourn if that relationship is severed, and they may not do well in a new home or may take a very long time to adapt. This often results in them being from home to home or being neglected.
Time is at a premium for most people. We lead busy, erratic lives; we work; we have families and commitments; we travel and have activities outside of the house. Our situations and interests change at an alarming rate. A parrot living in a cage has nothing but time, and time is what it wants most from us. Parrots can live 20 to 80 years, or even longer. With our relatively short lifespan and changeable life, can we really commit to not just caring for a parrot for all of its life, but to doing everything necessary for that life to be happy and dignified? We tamed that life, and we are responsible for that life forever. When we fail in that responsibility, we condemn a being with the intelligence of a 4- to 5-year-old child and the emotional maturity of a 2-year-old to a life of loneliness, boredom, fear, frustration, and worse.
This can result in aggression, behaviour problems, emotional and mental breakdowns, and self-mutilation. A cycle of new homes, behavior problems, rejection, and neglect begins and continues until the parrot dies or is lucky enough to find an understanding home. The cycle happens far too often—finding an understanding home far too seldom. Parrots are only the third most popular pet in the USA, behind dogs and cats, but there are more sanctuaries for unwanted parrots than for either dogs or cats. Sanctuaries are strained for space and money to care for these parrots. They are overflowing with parrots that cannot live anywhere else. There are also many parrots in sanctuaries, who crave human contact.
Many species of parrots are endangered or threatened in the wild. There is no doubt that the pet trade contributed to this situation, but there are other contributing factors. Many of the parrots' natural habitats are threatened or destroyed, and parrots are killed for food by local populations. Reduced numbers of individuals weaken the gene pool and lead to decreases in procreation. Although importation of wild-caught birds has been banned in many countries, wild birds are still caught illegally for breeding programs. The worst part is that for every wild-caught bird that survives its capture, many more die. Even if these birds are found before they are distributed, they often cannot be returned to the wild.
There are many questions that a potential parrot owner must ask and honestly answer before acquiring a parrot. Do you have the room for a cage, the resources for toys, vet bills, and food, the time to spend cleaning, feeding, and interacting with the parrot? And how likely is it that these things will not change for the next several decades? How many years of your life do you have left? And will you want or be able to spend all of them caring for a parrot? Do you plan to travel or take regular vacations? Who takes care of the parrot, as they cannot be left alone for even one day?
Where will you acquire your parrot? Will you buy from a store or a breeder and potentially add another parrot into the mill? Will you adopt from a rescue and potentially inherit a parrot with baggage? Do you want a baby bird, and how likely is it that the parrot will outlive you? What will happen to the parrot if you die or are no longer able to care for it? Do you have the time, patience, and knowledge to tame and train a semi-wild creature? Can you live with your mistakes?
People can have very happy, fulfilling relationships with parrots, but there are many pitfalls to consider and a very long future to plan for. Parrots are forever.
  • by M.L.Savoy, BSc, MLT, Parrots Forever, 2012

© Parrots Forever