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Why I’m not getting a parrot

Nine months ago, I set out to travel the world. The goal wasn’t to find myself, as the cliche goes, although I have done a good deal of that, incidentally. Believe it or not, the main motivating factor for my journey was a parrot. Not just any parrot, but the future parrot I would get when I returned to New York City. Growing up with birds most of the first 19 years of my life, then spending the next eight years without that source of happiness and loneliness prevention, I decided that I would travel so that I could get all the wanderlust out of my system, come home, and be stable and content with staying in one place. Only then could I be the kind of person who was fit to care for a parrot—perhaps I’d even raise one from an egg like I did with my last parrot so it would be more inclined to learn an expansive vocabulary.

But now, after much deliberation, I don’t think I should have a parrot. I think that we, the parrots of the world and me, should all be free to travel for the rest of our lives. We should never involve ourselves with anyone trying to cage us or control us, only with those who simply extend a hand to hold us from time to time.

As someone who cried through almost the entire duration of Pixar’s Rio, the decision to not adopt a parrot is not something I arrived at easily. Part of this change of heart came from tracking wild parrots around the world, as I have been doing in my spare time.

In Barcelona I found flocks of wild quaker parrots. I first found them in the trees near the marina while walking to get ice cream with the guy I was seeing. I heard their sunset feeding frenzy and followed the calls. He had the same reaction most people do when they find out about my parrot affinity: a mix of incredulity, amusement, and was probably a little weirded out or maybe charmed. As they were the same species as my beloved pet Kiwi, I could recognize their calls from a mile away. I followed them everywhere I could and let them guide our walk through the Gaudi park, hoping for the chance to observe their green-and-grey feathers and clownish ways in the wild.


Not satisfied, I started to find reasons to run errands around sundown and would hurry over to the marina parrot zone. There I met the local bird lady who fed them loaves of bread and water. I told her in broken Spanish that yo amo los pajaros verdes, and she smiled and gave me some of her bread to feed them. Every day around sundown, she would go to these trees and toss the bread specifically to the parrots, shooing away the gluttonous and bullying pigeons in an act of eugenics I fully condoned.

IMAG0894In Paris, I followed a lead given to me by the famous giant squid hunter Steve O’Shea (who also happens to be a hobbyist birder), “around the Lac Daumesnil over near the Buddhist temple,” which I deduced to be the Kagyu-Dzong. It was the day of my flight out of Paris to Berlin and I’d been walking for an hour around the lake when I finally found the temple. I searched the sky for the Parisian parrots, but I didn’t hear or see anything. I asked a woman coming out of the temple if she’d seen them, and she looked at me like I was crazy and said she didn’t think there were parrots in this region. Then, just as I was about to give up, my eyes welling up with tears of disappointment at myself for not being the parrot tracker I thought I was, I caught a brilliant flash of green out of the corner of my eye! I imprinted its call and followed its trail, cutting through the trees until, behold: A dozen Indian Ringnecks, bright green with beautiful blue neck rings, sitting in a fruit tree gorging themselves. I’d brought them some stale baguette to feed them that they had absolutely no interest in, so I threw my offering on the ground and just watched them. A friendly young guy walked up behind me and began to flirt in broken English, but I had no interest in anything that would take my attention away from the parrots. When I’d reveled in observing their majestic ways for long enough, I hit the guy’s joint, thanked him, and triumphantly went along to catch my flight.

IMAG2036Almost every city I’ve visited, I’ve located the wild parrots. To my surprise, the first morning I woke up opened the door to the second story balcony of my current residence in Dubai, I was greeted by a tree full of parrots, laughing and squawking away.

While in the Netherlands, I happened to catch a tweet from fellow parrot enthusiast Rich Minnerich about a documentary called Parrot Confidential. I watched, and the decision I was already leaning toward from seeing these creatures so happy and free in the wild was solidified. Parrots are unwanted as pets. Owners purchased them for selfish reasons and couldn’t take care of them, so these poor, incredibly emotionally sensitive creatures wind up in terrible situations and wind up afflicted by psychological ailments just as humans are. Raised in environments so different from their natural habitats and without any members of their flocks, they live lives of confusion and frustration. As one person in the documentary says, “they don’t even know they’re birds.”

So, I will not participate in perpetuating the cycle of parrot humanizing, for to humanize them is to destroy them in this sense. What I will do is devote my time in the future to appreciating them in the wild, rehabilitating troubled parrots, and helping out with projects to protect their natural habitats and restore their wild populations. And I will learn to find my happiness in human form, or maybe get a cat or some stupider animal that is bread to be domestic.

8 replies on “Why I’m not getting a parrot”

I love this, and cannot tell you how happy it makes me to read these words. I agree that parrots shouldn’t be confined to a cage – but remember, there are so many millions of captive-bred birds looking for a home. They can’t be released, as they are utterly dependent on us; what happens if no one takes them in? They suffer.

Too many are living in subpar conditions even now. As someone involved in avian rescue, I can tell you that these birds do need people – and all we can do to make a difference is adopt the needy, while staying away from breeders and pet shops. It is no bad thing to adopt a parrot in need and give it the best life you can!

I’m glad to hear more and more people re-thinking parrots as pets. I don’t think they should be…and would stop breeding here and now if I could…but I do my personal best to pick up the pieces left behind by those who breed and those who choose to buy.

Great article!

Great article but I am a bit concerned about your last line: or maybe get a cat or some stupider (???) animal that is bread to be domestic. All animals have their own way of being smart and most animals kept as pets have problems. Maybe a dog is more adaptable, just because of it’s nature but every animal we keep as a pet is for selfish reasons, and we deprive them of their natural needs. Don’t get me wrong, I think a lot of owners try their best, and do love their animals but most of the time they don’t know about the natural needs or behaviour of their pet. And that leads to a lot of behavioral problems, real or that the owners just doesn’t understand it’s natural behaviour but experiences it as a problem, and a lot of physical problems through the way of keeping them. Just a thought…..

I enjoyed reading about all the places you’ve seen parrots while traveling. They are everywhere once you pay attention. I’ve seen them in Brooklyn, New Orleans, Palm Beach, and San Francisco. I totally agree that they make terrible pets (I can verify that personally since I live with two crazy amazons). But as “Avian Student” commented, there are so many birds looking for homes, don’t rule out adopting once you’re settled in one place. You sound like one of the few willing to properly care for these poor guys!

I spent part of my life as a vet seeing parrot cases, and rapidly came to the same conclusion as you… I love interacting with them, but there’s no way a captive parrot can have anything like the life they’re adapted for.

as you know, arikia, i live with parrots, and have for nearly my entire life. parrots are the reason i changed my course of study to evolutionary biology/ornithology instead of evolutionary virology/medicine — although i was planning to research the evolution of virulence in avian influenza, so i always was “birdie”- and evolution-oriented.

i do agree that many people are poorly suited to be good parrot companions, but not all of us “parrot people” fit this description. further, i think that companion parrots fill an important role: avian ambassadors. companion parrots are a special bridge between humans and birds in a world where most people view birds either as living egg factories or as hot wings to be consumed alongside beer whilst watching sports on TV — if they ever think about birds at all. living with a parrot gives people the opportunity to learn how to view and respect them as intellectually independent and sentient beings, and it makes it more likely that people will pause to think — even if only for a few minutes — about what they are doing to this world as they mindlessly pursue their destructive over-consumption of food, water, fossil fuels, land and resources.

at least some people do work hard to live lightly on the planet, making trade-offs in how they live to suit their needs, personal ethics and lifestyle. some of us refuse to hunt animals, some of us never want to marry or to have children, some of us eat only locally-grown foods or are vegetarians or vegans, some of us travel only on foot or bicycle, some of us have never owned a television, some of us refuse to keep any pets at all ….

there is no one “right way” to live. life choices that work for one person may not work for another, and we must remind ourselves of this. the decisions that people make for how to live changes with their life experiences, educational achievements, financial status and even their access to technologies. ultimately, this decision belongs to them and to them alone.

Hey Grrl! Thanks for the thoughtful blog comment. I think you’re right that some people (like you and Bob) make great parrot ambassadors. I think I would too in the future for some feathered friends who don’t have a proper home. I guess my feelings here are more in reference to having a change of heart about getting a baby parrot from a breeder, as it perpetuates the industry that I now view as damaging. I wish there was a way for parrots to exist with humans AND experience the freedom of their natural habitats. Maybe on some Australian rooftops… :)

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