Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Parrots as Pets...wait, PETS?!

So I've been obsessed with these magnificently winged and eccentrically colored birds, they have been put into a phylogenetic group known as parrots! It is this obsession that has gripped me since I was eight years old because that is the year a budgie named Polly came into my life. Any time I saw a parrot on a billboard advertisement was cause for celebration. Seeing a parrot on an educational television program gave me even greater joy, it would cause my ears to prick up because I wanted to hold on to every word the show's host had to say about these fantastical creatures. It was as if my life depended on me knowing those words. And when I got close to a real, live parrot? I worshipped it. My eyes would be wide with excitement, goosebumps would raise my hairs up, and I was filled with a desperate longing to be privileged enough to hold such a magical creature.

Given my history of absolute infatuation with the psittacine species, imagine my surprise when I heard -out of the mouth of my own mother- that parrots should be deemed unsuitable as pets, period! My initial reaction was o_O? To place a emoticon on it.

This got me to thinking, there seems to be two loud voices supporting two opposing radical views in the pet trade of parrots. One over-encourages parrots as pets while the other completely discourages them. PETA discourages parrots as pets at all costs and it is very prominent on the internet they err on the "Parrots are hard to care for, emotionally, financially, and they involve a lot of your time. They need to fly otherwise they are depressed! They cannot be kept in cages because it was not meant to be! They are too hard to care for so they need to be sent back to their homeland to be set free."
-nonPETA, usually the people who own parrots- say "Parrots are hard to care for, emotionally, financially, and they involve a lot of your time. But they are SO hard to care for I doubt you could EVER have a single parrot as a pet. They are so mean, they bite, kids cannot play with them, and they only bond to one person, why just look at my bird as proof! Imagine living with this for 60 years?!" And I would reply with a "Yikes!" When was the last time they actually tried to read the bird's body language?

You can clearly see that these two views are complimentary, they fully embrace the idea that parrots should be completely discouraged as pets. They have their reasons, but I find that these people focus way too strongly on one side of the argument; the pitfalls. "Time, money, and more time!" And what about the highlights of caring for such an animal? Are they touting any of the highlights? Let's go to the next extreme case: the pet shop and the large breeder.

I find that both the shop and larger scale breeder tend to stand in on the same views: "Parrots are a cool exotic pet you can show off. They'll love you for 60 years and they love to play, especially the macaws. Macaws are like the dog in the bird world and love to play rough and tumble games, get this $1,000 macaw!" Of course these are only the most extreme of cases, many shops and breeders are more level-headed. But this should be something to be aware of.

So what is my point? I've just shown that some people over-encourage parrots as pets without giving downsides, and some people under-encourage them as pets without including all the upsides. So why is this important, why does this issue of people not getting the full view worry me so? It is important to have a balanced view of aviculture
because without it aviculture will fail. If there is too much focus on how "cool" your new pet is going to be, with fewer people taking aviculture seriously, then the quality of aviculture will fail. More birds, but more birds will also suffer a low quality life, and from the stories I have heard when parrots where being imported by the thousands this is exactly what happened.
If there were too many parrots as pets...
When parrots where being imported there was no information about how these animals survived
in the wild, what they ate, how they flocked, or when they are active. We were just in the baby stages of American aviculture. But if importation started up again and any person who wanted a cheap parrot could get one, would you doubt a repeat situation? We know that a pellet-based diet is so much better than an oily, seed-based one, yet the standards in every shop is to feed a basic seed mix. And they encourage their customers to feed their birds the same as well? Are we really out of the dark ages yet? And I still see the common misapplied mistakes and misunderstandings of basic behavior science in every corner of the bird world. Bad advice, and bad techniques are thrown around willy-nilly, not unlike in the days of importation.
And if parrots should never be pets...
Need I say that if PETA gets its way then there will be no parrots, as pets, breeders, in zoos or otherwise? All those crazed animal rights
extremists have been shouting is "Set the birds free!" without a thought of how parrots need to learn how to survive. There is no well thought out conservation efforts on their part, all they know is that is it "not natural" for a bird to be clipped and put in a cage so, through the difficult effort of a false dichotomy *sarcasm*, assume the birds are depressed and are living a horrible life. Extremists play on human emotions, not human thinking ability. This would be why they over-use images of beaten, starving, manged, and dead animals on their websites. They use sex to sell ideas too. They will do anything to attract attention to their shameless cause that is brimming with under flatulence of the brain. And if there are no animals to pique interest from kids then conservation efforts would not pull in new recruits from the pet industry.
If the majority have a balanced view on parrots...
thrives on participation and growing interest from the public, from local bird fairs and club meetings to far reaching events like Houston Parrot Festival and the International Parrot Convention in Loro Parque, Tenerife. To keep it thriving we need people with calm, balanced views, people who are not hard headed and are willing to check information sources if an already established idea in aviculture needs to be revised. People can still breed parrots, and people will always need to rescue parrots, so long as there is such a thing as aviculture. Young people still need to be brought into this ever decreasing interest and if they are, there will be more support for habitat conservation as well. With an educated "balanced" view there will be parrots to play with, toys to buy, and species to save.
The middle ground is this: parrots are perfectly good pets if people are ready and well planned for them (Anyone got a Will?). Which is what I need to tell my mom...

My view? "Parrots are fun, messy, will be your forever companion if you are committed to understanding them, smart, cost a frickn
' lot of $$, they help you meet cool people that like parrots too, are super fun to learn about, are fun to train, and a definitely worthwhile to have as pets. Responsibly caring for and learning about a wild animal encourages peoples' interest in what is outside their little suburban bubble, it encourages them to conserve and care for the world outside themselves; a selfless act. And in the case of this college student; it got her onto a career in preserving what evolution has molded into the psittacine species."
It is parrots in captivity that led me to love them, it is that love that keeps me spoiling the one I have, and it is this one bird that keeps me wanting to pursue a degree in Biology so I can further help the world to understand, love, and preserve these practically mythologically
beautiful creatures.

Copyright 2013 Caitlin Bird
The Sequential Psittacine Blog
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