Prospective parrot adopters might want to think again
The verdict is in: cigarette smoke is the No. 1 allergen threatening the health of household parrots. Everybody knows that nicotine is famous for its stress-relieving powers, but if you're a parrot owner, maybe it's time to consider kicking the habit.
Owners irresponsible enough to smoke around their birds are liable to be guilty of other wrongdoing-just ask the Parrot Education & Adoption Center, whose mission is to educate people on parrot care. The more aware the owners, PEAC believes, the fewer the number of birds with behavioral problems. Problems like screaming, biting and mercurial temper tantrums commonly translate to parrots in need of new homes.
How commonly? Often enough that the organization's volunteers have their hands full. On Oct. 26, PEAC hosted a seminar aimed at teaching current and prospective owners about the birds' physical and psychological needs, and the lecturer, Bonnie Kenk, was staunch in her assertion that pet parrots should only be confronted with three decisions: 1) Do I want to be bothered right now? 2) What toy should I play with? 3) Which piece of food to pick up and eat?
If this sounds like distilled child-rearing wisdom, maybe that's because successful parrot-rearing follows much the same protocol. And as most experts agree, a parrot has the intelligence of a child between the ages of 2 and 5-coupled with the emotional maturity of a 2-year-old. What's more, a hefty percentage of these attractive, highly manipulative creatures will outlive their masters. Imagine rearing a child through the “terrible-twos” for the better part of your lifetime.
Parrot-rearing isn't all fun and games and cute party tricks to impress dinner-party guests. An unruly bird can surpass the most churlish of tots in nuisance value. But unlike most parents of ill-behaved children, parents of ill-behaved birds are quick to point the finger at psychological disturbances beyond cure. “A hasty and, in 99.9 percent of cases, inaccurate diagnosis,” noted the outspoken speaker at PEAC's Saturday lecture. “We need to change our way of looking at them. What we always need to remember is that they're prey animals; they've only been bred in captivity for 25 years.”
For a household pet only 25 years on the scene, domesticated parrots have inspired quite a healthy body of behavioral study. What emerges is of little surprise: the majority of behavior-related problems stem from owners' inadequate knowledge of the way parrots live in the wild. Most species, for example, are endemic to equatorial regions where there is a consistent 12 hours of day, 12 hours of night. PEAC recommends that owners set up separate sleep cages in rooms where their birds will not be disturbed after a certain hour. Like cranky little children, parrots need 10 to 12 good hours of sleep every night. Consistency, one might say, is the overarching recipe for success: a consistent diet, consistent exercise, consistent discipline and a consistent bathing schedule.
One elderly woman in the audience was quick to voice her vexation with issues of hygiene. Biweekly excursions to the kitchen faucet, it seems, bewildered her cockatiel. Was she doing something wrong?
As Kenk was quick to point out, alternative methods exist; parrots are individuals with distinct preferences, and owners must learn to pick them out. “Try taking a shower with him sometime,” she suggested, “You're there, he's there-you're getting wet, he's getting wet. Go out and buy the perch they sell at Rose's Pet Emporium, which hangs over the shower head and has suction cups. It's PVC and flips up when you don't want to take a shower with your bird.”
She reconsidered. “Why would you not want to take a shower with your bird?”
Whether administered hot showers or cold trips under the faucet, there will always be parrots that vehemently despise baths. The important thing is that an owner not let his or her fear of “ruining the relationship” interfere with what needs to be done. In the wild, parrots get a daily shower whether they like it or not. The gospel of tough love is a fundamental tenet of successful parrot-rearing, stress on tough. Firmness is key, but over-dramatic responses to bad behavior is a definite no-no. Parrots adore drama, and those birds that learn how to provoke it will do so with reckless abandon.
“It can be difficult to react appropriately,” Kenk said, “Particularly when it comes to biting. You create a biting problem when you let your parrot know it has power in its beak. If you get bit, whose fault is it? On that note, never put a parrot on your shoulder-you have no control over what he does up there. When someone comes in who he perceives as a threat, you're gonna lose part of your face.”
This image drew audible murmurs of agreement from the audience members. “Or your ear!” commented one.
“How about your eye?” chimed in another.
Parrot-keeping, like parenthood, has more than its share of horror stories, and the Parrot Education and Adoption Center has a cogent piece of advice for all would-be adopters: “A parrot is not going to be your surrogate child.”