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So, You Want A Parrot, Eh?

So, You Want a Parrot
(at the cost of an arm and a life)
Written by The Old Pro -- Often Wrong -- Never in Doubt

With parrot guardianship comes the inevitable loss of your spare time, your social life, your money, some blood, the hearing in one ear, your mental health, and everything in your home that is not made of heat-treated metal. While not one of these losses is as devastating as, say, the sudden loss of cabin pressure on a trans-Atlantic flight, you will indeed experience the same need to pray and hug the nearest stranger. And even if you are prepared for these losses, as they mount you will feel frustration, self-pity, and the hollowness of incomprehensible remorse and guilt.

Your time

Do you currently have four hours of spare time each day? Is your life so stable that you are confident it will not change in the next 20 years? 80 years? Good. You will need to spend those hours interacting with your parrot (and "interacting" is not a synonym for "being with"). Any less than this amount of time and you are cheating your parrot of the companionship he would enjoy in the wild.

There are very few captive parrots that get the constant stimulation from human flocks that their intelligent minds require, or that they would get in the wild. The result is frustrated parrots that bite, scream, or pick out their own feathers -- and thousands of sadly abandoned parrots in avian rescue facilities.

 

Add to the four hours of daily interaction one hour to clean the cage, clean the floor, clean the food and water dishes, clean the bird toys, cook food, sponge down the walls of said food, and apply a tourniquet to your finger because your parrot didn't approve of precisely how you did these chores for him.

Add a Saturday (not necessarily the Saturday that you had planned) to visit the nearest certified avian veterinarian, which may be in another town and not well advertised. Locating this rare certified vet may require the skills of that rare breed of person who can be dropped in the middle of any city and find a brothel, a black market money changer, and a reasonably honest taxi driver within an hour.

Add a few hundred hours of late night studying to become a scholar of psittacinism. In your studies you will discover that there is a lot to be learned from bird poop. In fact, bird poop will occupy so much of your thought patterns that you will occasionally forget whether you have put on your underwear. You will be embarrassed when someone at work catches you checking yourself.

And every waking hour will be spent being vigilant of the environmental dangers to your parrot. Here is a list of common household items that can harm parrots: http://www.animalliberationfront.com/ Practical/Pets/ PetCare/Parrots/ParrotsDieFrom.htm. Note that some of the categories (e.g. "plants") require that you study yet another list. You will need to know how each item you bring into your house might affect your parrot. You will find that this information does not work itself smoothly into social conversations.

Your social life

No matter what kind of social life you had enjoyed previously, you will now be controlled by a demanding parrot. Unless your life included being a slave who felt guilty for never doing quite enough to please his master, this will represent a significant change.

Before getting a parrot, your horizons may have included sky-diving, wind-surfing, and mountain climbing. Crowds may have gathered to listen to your latest adventure.

After a few months of servitude to a parrot you notice that whenever you start talking people seem to go into a stupor, as if they've been injected with some powerful narcotic. In an attempt regain their interest you insist, 'Not everything is about my parrots." You pause, trying to think of something else. "I have a sea shell collection.'

'Where is it?' someone asks suspiciously.

"Ah, umm." You haven't seen the shell collection since you stored it to make room for your impressive collection of bird toys that your parrot ignored with near-spectacular indifference. 'I keep it on scattered beaches around the world. You've probably already seen it.'

As people are backing away their eyes reveal an odd combination of surprise and boredom, as if you were a jazz drummer who had launched into a cymbal solo.

'Wait," you insist. "I'm still a fun guy. I like to tease my parrots. Every six months I take them out of their cages and give them a parole hearing.'

Still backing away, someone mumbles 'I'd love to hear more about it, but I just remembered something.'

"What?"

"Life is finite.'

In addition to the people who now avoid you as surely as you avoid bill collectors and adults who bite, you no longer invite into your home the people to whom your parrot has taken a dislike. This included your boss from work. Your career is now on the fast track to the "Man of the Year" award -- at the unemployment office.

To stop the implosion of your shrinking universe before the ultimate Big Gnab, you decide to take a short vacation. But you remember that leaving a parrot in a boarding facility can change a parrot's personality for the worse. So you need a bird sitter. But it has to be a sitter familiar with your parrot's special requirements. Instructions written on paper will not work. You borrow a video camera and begin taping your parrot's idiosyncrasies. There are more than you remembered. About five whomptillion, if your math is correct. You run out of tape. You stay home. You pour some bourbon in a tall glass, tilt it, and let a gratifying quantity leap straight for your liver.

After several years of near solitude you welcome a visit from the Jehovah's Witnesses.

You don't have money to offer but you have plenty of "like new" bird toys. If only they wouldn't keep backing away.

Your money

A parrot will typically siphon your bank account of the following:

Parrot: $500
Roomy cage and accessories: $1000
Toys: $25/month
Proper diet: $25/month
Vet care: $500/year
Cleaning products, grooming products: $10/month

While many parrot guardians spend significantly more, and some spend a little less, your budget should include the above costs. Your parrot, of course, will demand that you spend a minimum of your credit card limit on bird toys that he will ignore in favor of grooming your universal remote control by removing its buttons.

Many cages cost several thousand dollars. Experts say that you should buy the largest cage you can afford. It doesn't really matter. Your parrot will think it is too small. Large parrots require a three-bedroom house. Smaller birds, such as cockatiels, will do fine in a two-bedroom condominium.

In order to stave off bankruptcy you activate the credit cards offered by The Scratch Bank and the Three-Stooges Credit Union. While your credit cards are paying off each other you kind of step aside. For a while, all is good.

But eventually your credit becomes so bad that nobody will sell you a small bird biscuit without requiring two picture-IDs and a stool sample. When you walk snappily past the bank the old guard who used to say hello now rests his hand on his gun.

Eventually you are seized by the desperation and panic of a drowning man (or O.J. Simpson being asked to show his bankbook). You take photographs of your poop stained, beak chewed furniture. You go to your home insurance agent and report the obvious disaster. But the agent informs your that your policy didn't include the "hungry locusts" clause.

Your home

Parrots love to customize furniture with their nut-cracking beaks. That wooden chair for which you had trouble finding storage space will eventually be whittled into matchstick size pieces that can be stored neatly in the fireplace.

Parrots will enrich your carpet with half-eaten food (assuming that you still have a carpet and haven't already been forced to live so modestly that the Amish come through on tours to photograph your home). This natural habit of parrots is to encourage the lush growth of new trees. If no trees sprout, your parrot will chew baseboards in order to admit outside moisture to facilitate growth.

The tossed food will bring a regular parade of ants. But you dare not use ant poison. And since fumigation can kill parrots you will need to move into a friend's home every few months. I know what you're thinking: "But I've already lost all my friends!" Yes. This is a conundrum. Unfortunately it is not the reason that you wake up screaming only to realize you haven't fallen asleep.

Your psyche, from disappointment to remorse

Many first-time parrot guardians are disappointed because their parrot does not meet their expectations. Some guardians blame the parrot and keep it in a corner, or they give it away. Some guardians take time to learn the reasons for their parrot's behavior, much too late. Their disappointment is replaced with remorse, and sometimes guilt and depression.

The disappointment stems from unrealistic expectations. First-time parrot guardians often have had a dog and enjoyed being the Center of The Universe of a pet. But after getting a parrot they learn that the belief that humans are the Center of The Universe is a belief only humans and dogs share. Like cats, parrots do not perceive themselves as being subservient to anyone. As with other humans, a person can't make a parrot love them just by feeding it (my uncle being an exception to this rule).

Parrot's are monogamous. Hand-fed (psychologically damaged) parrots will typically select one human to pair with. At puberty (2-3 years old) many parrots will become fiercely jealous of all other beings. Unlike your spouse, who may react to your flirting with others by squealing with laughter and repeated slapping his/her thighs, parrots may attack and bite.

Parrots often have an innate sense of what they are looking for in a partner. Logic is not involved. Your parrot may not choose you even if you provide all its care and attention. It may bond with your cable TV guy. Note: Should this occur you must capture the cable guy. I recommend baiting the trap with a cold draft beer. Fortunately, once in captivity his instincts will be less compromised than those of your parrot. It is far less likely that he wants to fly with the wind or that he wants to help raise babies.

Other unrealistic expectations of first-time parrot guardians:
          Talking. Many parrots do not talk.
          Tricks. Most parrots won't learn cute tricks.

No problem, you say. You have lowered your expectations. You have done your homework and you fully realize that your parrot will view you as a slave and will refuse to speak your language. For you, this is no more difficult of a realization then when you first realized that your moral values were at variance with those of the society around you, or that you would never wake up good looking. No problem, you say. Your sanity doesn't depend on a parrot bonding with you (as long as the small plant in the corner of the room continues to be your friend). So, you won't be disappointed. What's the problem?

Remorse. In order to keep a parrot captive you will need to curtail many of its natural instincts.

Flight. If you don't clip your parrot's flight wings it can fly away, especially if it is startled. Each year many unclipped parrots are lost forever this way. Their guardians experience the heartache of the loss plus the knowledge that their parrot whom depended solely on them probably suffered a cruel death. You will learn that the hardest loss is the death of someone whom you loved more than anyone else loved. Your memory is their strongest connection back to the world they left.

If you do clip your parrot's flight wings it will not enjoy its natural behavior. It may become lethargic. It will lose an important defense mechanism, and when startled it may hurt itself. Parrots have no fear of heights, and without flight wings they can land hard and they can get hurt.

Family. A parrot will attempt to start a family. Males want to build nests for the person to who they are bonded. A female will lay unfertilized eggs. When no family is created their reactions to this frustration may be feather picking, biting, screaming and other signs of nervousness and depression.

Noise. A parrot's natural inclination to meet the sunrise and other subtle movements with loud vocalizations is not often found on anyone's list of perfect pet traits. The first time my father was visiting and my parrot screamed without due warning, my father looked completely and utterly startled (perhaps due to the fact that he had just eaten his tie).

Conclusion

Instead of spending $1,200 and buying a parrot, why might consider spending that money on a plane ticket to someplace like Costa Rica and spending a week or two with wild parrots. In addition to an experience you will never forget, you will be protecting the parrots by showing the local people -- who live where the parrots are -- that those birds are worth a lot to them economically as wild parrots.

Or, if you prefer, rather than buying a parrot you can get the same experience by camping for a week in the nearest city park and cleaning up all the bird poop, placing your head inside a metal can and asking strangers to bang it without warning, while simultaneously burning a $1000 bill.

Perhaps, despite this article, you still want to share your life with a parrot. I rarely criticize another person's idea of a good time, unless it's to set my trousers on fire, but what the fiddle is wrong with you?
    Editors note: fiddle was not the actual word. The author's word was far more earthy and invasive.

If you still want to hold captive a parrot, then please go to one of these no-kill avian rescue facilities. It is estimated that there are currently 200 of these shelters nationwide.

And I have a special favor to ask. Please don't go into one of these rescue facilities and just pick out a parrot. These parrots have already developed personalities with strong likes and dislikes. Most have been damaged emotionally. Please visit the rescue facility and interact with the parrots, more than one time, and allow a parrot to choose you. Don't question why it chooses you. Just accept the parrot's decision. And smile. From this moment on your attitude is the only thing you control.


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