Thinking of Getting a Parrot? Think Carefully!
"I first got an African grey parrot because I thought having one would be cool," recalls Nina Hobbis, now a Humane Educator and bird club member. "They are pretty and, let's face it, they make great conversation pieces... but my attitude has changed dramatically since I got Penny four years ago. These birds change your life!"
Getting a parrot as a pet is a major commitment. They bond for life and have very special care requirements. But aside from their care, there are other things to consider before getting a parrot or other exotic bird.
Every year several million exotic birds are trapped and shipped to Western countries as part of the lucrative international bird trade. According to several independent investigations, approximately half of all birds caught die before being exported and most parrots imported into the United States and Canada are from wild populations.
The methods of capturing these birds cause injuries, shock and death to millions of birds each year. Often the birds are caught by a leg snare using a previously caught bird as a decoy. Once caught in the snare the bird is left dangling until the trapper comes to collect it some hours later. In another technique, previously captured birds are used as decoys to lure whole flocks of parrots. Trappers then use nets to enclose the flock. Many of the panicked birds are injured as trappers grab the birds and stuff them into crates. Yet another technique involves felling trees where parrots are nesting in an attempt to retrieve young birds. As parrots return to the same nests year after year, this practice threatens parrot populations by destroying their nesting areas.
If a parrot does manage to survive capture, odds are the bird will not survive the journey to Western countries. The birds are often jammed into crates - at times hundreds per crate. It is not unusual for an entire shipment of birds to arrive at its destination dead. Birds suffocate, die as a result of extreme temperature fluctuations in cargo holds, starve, or peck and chew each other causing injury and death. Exporters frequently bind valuable birds with straps, tape or newspapers to prevent them from injuring themselves or other birds. So lucrative is the trade in these animals that a fifty percent mortality rate is still profitable. Still want to get a parrot? Another aspect in the trade in wild birds is the illegal trade of threatened or endangered birds. The illicit trade in parrots includes both smuggling and laundering, which involves the falsification of shipping documents. Parrots are often smuggled out of countries such as Australia, where trade is banned, and are traded through a neighbouring country where trade is allowed. The pressure on parrot habitat is increasing steadily from the pet trade and from farming and forestry.
Of the world's 325 wild parrot species (parrots, parakeets, macaws, cockatoos, and lovebirds) all are listed on appendices of the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). This means their trade is monitored because populations are decreasing, threatened or endangered from becoming extinct. Only three domestically bred species (budgies, cockatiels, and ring-necked parakeets) are not on the CITES lists and are not threatened in their wild habitat. It is largely the pet trade that accounts for parrot numbers decreasing. Still thinking of getting a parrot?
Wild-caught birds suffer tremendous stresses once in captivity. Birds are social creatures. In the wild, parrots mate for life and live in large flocks. A great part of their time is spent preening their partner or foraging for food. Once kept in a human environment these highly intelligent animals require a great deal of special care.
If you get a young parrot it will bond to its primary care-giver creating a permanent relationship. Remember, parrots live a long time - African Grey parrots can live up to 49 years while scarlet macaws can live even longer. If you were to give up your bird once it has bonded to you the trauma the bird will suffer could lead to the development neurotic tendencies of feather-picking and self-mutilation. If your new parrot is a wild caught adult it will even more difficulty suddenly adjusting to a human environment - many don't. Often these birds become destructive to furniture and become aggressive to their keepers, while others become destructive to themselves. Without plenty of stimulation parrots can suffer intense boredom and develop similar forms of depression as humans do. The resulting neurotic behaviour causes parrots to pick out all of their feathers from the neck down and constantly pick at their body parts causing bleeding and possible infection. Still want a parrot?
Parrots as pets
Do parrots make good pets? Not really. Even if raised in captivity by local breeders the birds, though more tame, still retain their wild characteristics. They can be very unpredictable with powerful beaks that can cause a nasty cut. Captive bred parrots still bond to their care-giver for life and still require a challenging and stimulating environment.
They also require a particular diet to meet their nutritional needs. You don't just feed a parrot seeds. According to veterinarian Bruce Levine, "Poor nutrition probably accounts for 80% of the medical problems seen in pet birds."
Besides daily fresh water and seeds, every day parrots require grain foods such as bread, cooked rice or pasta; fresh vegetables; fresh fruits; and protein rich foods such as cooked eggs, peanuts, cheese, or tofu products.
"When I got my bird I didn't know anything about African greys, so I got some books and joined a bird club," relates Hobbis about her experience with her bird, Penny. "Now I know enough about them to tell people that, yes, you can get a great deal of satisfaction with having a bird, but you must be prepared to care for the bird for the rest of your life!" Every morning as she gets up and starts preparing the bird's food, before preparing her own breakfast, Nina ponders, "Every single day for the rest of my life!" At least with children, when they grow up, they leave the nest. Still thinking of getting a parrot?
There are other issues such as the health risks involved in living with an exotic pet and the impact an escaped bird could have on other populations of domestic wildlife and the connection of the pet trade to international drug dealers you need to consider, but space does not permit.
Finally, remember this: Parrots are not domesticated animals like dogs, cats, guinea pigs and rabbits. They are wild animals that are, at best, tame. You would never think to go out and catch a Steller's jay or a robin and keep the bird as a pet in your home, yet somehow we don't feel that way about a parrot. Why not?
Seek advice beforehand
If you still think you want a parrot for a pet, contact a bird club and find out more information on the care and environment your bird will require and the personality traits of different parrots - they vary widely.