Dear Person Who Wants Sooooo Badly To Buy A Bird,
I get it. I totally get it. They are majestic, beautiful, talking, feeling, sensitive, emotional beings that are exotic and unusual. They are obtainable. You can get vet care for them. They are conversation starters and ice breakers. They are mesmerizing beings. They are a piece of fantasy that you can keep with you in your home and they live for decades!
I’m going to ask you to stop and think right now. Put that need, planning, wanting, preparing to the side for just a few minutes. Put it up on a high shelf and open up your mind to what I want to say. Why? Because i’ve seen many sides of this coin. It does have more than 2. It’s more like an idea box.
Wanting to own a bird is something I want to change your mind about, or at least make you take a step back and consider tweaking your expectations. I have interacted with them on a couple of levels. I was a bird specialist at Petco for a few years. I cared for them, handled them, and in some cases reared them. I groomed, fed, watered, and Lord knows i’ve cleaned my fair share of cages. In wanting to be a responsible seller, I took it upon myself to get educated about where they came from, what their natural habitats are – or were. I wanted the owners to know what to expect. I know now that isn’t 100% possible.
I was a bird owner. I had cockatiels on more than one occasion and while they are not macaws, they are great family pets. They are cleaner than any of the small birds, they are relatively quiet, they are a substantial size for a first time bird owner and not too intimidating or damaging for kids. My first died when, because I had clipped his wings, my pug killed him. Kramer was an owner surrender at Petco, which happened all. the. time. He was an amazing bird! It was hard to compartmentalize his dying. It is quite easy to get attached to a bird, oh yes indeed.
I work twice a week at a parrot sanctuary now and I love it. They are completely addicting to be around – for a few hours a day. It is absolutely possible to experience a life-changing bond – in all ways, good bad and ugly. I have seen the hundreds of cases that have been surrendered for hundreds of reasons. Every single bird has a story. A lot of them are a result of people assuming their lives will never change. They are in a place where a bird seems like a good idea and so assume their lives will never ever be out of their control.
It’s not reality or possible. Lives change, people change, moods and preferences change, jobs change, circumstances change. Change is the only constant in life, afterall.
I work with another volunteer at the sanctuary who wanted to put together a project on video. She asked a few of us, “Why do you do it? Why do you come and volunteer with these animals?” I gave a thoughtful honest response, something like, “Because someone has to. I feel it’s our responsibility to care for an animal others gave up.”
Since then, i’ve thought more on this topic. I watched a program on PBS (thank you, Netflix) called “Parrot Confidential”. I HIGHLY recommend this program if you are considering bird ownership. HIGHLY.
So why do I do it?
Because these are orphans. These are orphaned pets that didn’t ask to be a pet. These animals are adapted to wide open sky, plentiful trees, abundant social experiences, varying diets, infinite options. They are creatures that belong to nature. Humans have removed all of these things from these beings and still expect them to flourish. People have replaced social groups and flocks with a single person. We have removed the sky from them and put them on the end of a trained distance, lead, or just flat out cut off their flight feathers. Most of these options involve removing millions of years of adaptation and instinct and muscle purpose with the snip of the scissors, click of a lead, or worst of all, caged them indefinitely.
We have taken something out of nature, away from their instincts and internal programming and want so badly for them to fit into a small house-bound life. Owners “spoil” birds with toys and treats and baths and play areas all trying to serve a bigger purpose: to give them a rich and vital daily experience to fulfill what has been taken from them. This is not possible. The screaming communication between the flock does not exactly fit into suburbia or apartment life. You cannot mimic the freedom, the environment, the purpose of a bird in the wild with any amount of aviary, perch, or open home.
If you took any other animal away from it’s initial purpose and expected it to flourish, what would happen? If you put a squirrel in your home, locked it in a cage, fed it bagged prepared food, and then expected it to snuggle and chirp on command, would it be happy?
If you took a bobcat out of the forest and put it on a leash, fed it canned food, and attached toys to a cage, would it be happy and thrive?
Birds are pets because we say they are, not because they were bred for it, adapted to it, or prefer it of their own instinctual selection.
If you truly love and respect parrots – macaws, african greys, amazons, cockatoos – you have to then appreciate what their preference and purpose truly is. Not to entertain you with vocalizations. Not to move an object when you say to. It is to be an animal. That’s it.
Please consider adopting a bird that has already been surrendered. Please consider giving a home to an animal that was already a pet and maybe lost it’s owner due to death, financial circumstances, or some unforeseeable life occurrence that can happen to anyone. If you insist on having a bird after all of this, go into it prepared for bites. Stitch-required bites. Repetitive bites to yourself, your spouse or children. It’s the reality. Be prepared for seemingly illogical behavior like plucking, self mutilation, or mental debilitation.
These are all the signs of an animal adapted to one environment and expected to thrive and love the new one just because we say so. Just because you give up your time, money, and love to try to make it work does not at all guarantee the pet will appreciate it. While they might be able to talk, they cannot share their feelings, so they show them. Look up how many sanctuaries are in your state. Investigate the sheer amount of need there is now because of the domestication of these animals. Dogs and cats have been bred for hundreds of years to be companion animals. A natural trait that was built upon. Ask anyone who works at or runs a sanctuary and you will certainly see the truth in bird ownership a little clearer.
Birds inflicting mutilation upon itself can be anything from banging it’s beak to pulling feathers out of it’s own body, to biting it’s own skin. It’s something they are driven to do from boredom, frustration, anxiety, fear, and countless reasons we cant test for. Im no scientist, but im fairly certain no one has seen a flock of naked macaws flying through a jungle. It’s heart breaking to see this behavior, mostly because there is not much we can do about it.
I have ended this post with a link to a project Oliver Regueiro did using some of the birds I see every week. I feel the pictures of these animals say far more than I ever could. When you understand what they’ve lost as a member of the wild, perhaps it will give you insight into the unhappiness the domesticated life has brought them.
If you would like to donate to Zazu’s House Parrot Sanctuary which is where the macaws were photographed, http://zazushouse.org is the link. I must say here this post is solely the opinion of me, not the sanctuary. Zazu’s philosophy is in no way included. The ‘wish list’ is included on the site. This sanctuary, like most, relies 100% on volunteers and donations. Anything that you are moved to help out with is appreciated.
Thank you for your time.