You know what’s weird?
I’m a bird person. No really — think back to everyone you know. How many of those people own happy, healthy pet birds? How many of those people let their birds out of their cages? And of those, how many talk about their bird(s) as if they were people?
I can count the number on one hand. It’s kind of rare. Birds are, after all, considered exotic pets. Specifically parrots — because 9 out of 10 times you walk into a pet store, the wall of birds will pretty much be parrots, with the occasional finch or canary.
My goal is to introduce you guys to the birds that own me — because gods know, that’s how it goes. This is the story of a flock which includes a human, not a story of a house which includes birds. This human doesn’t blink when she uses up all the she saved during winter break to purchase a new cage. While most people would cringe at the mere mention of bird poop, this human only sighs in mild annoyance if a parrot lands on her head and leaves some of that behind. This human would prefer not to be out past 9:30-10:00p because that is birdie bedtime. This human buys organic produce and saves almost all of it for the birds. This human’s favorite sound is of bird feet walking on wooden surfaces. These birds have this human, as they say, wrapped around their zygodactyl toes.
The thing is, this human has realized there’s something about Parrots that pretty much nobody in her life had ever realized — they’re way too smart. Almost to a fault. So part of this blog is me trying to work out how to explain to other people this version of non-human intelligence, while sharing with you guys the hilarity that is being a parrot owner.
So let’s first go over a few quirks you probably didn’t know:
1. Birds are absolutely NOT decoration.
I have four budgies (most Americans simply call them Parakeets) and none of them are very socialized with humans. They stick to each other like glue. In the wild, Budgies do this, too. They have strength in numbers — and ask the Australian farmers — NUMBERS. Huge flocks that turn the sky black as they fly over it. But for some folks, if they get two birds at the same time and then they want nothing to do with being with the owner, these folks will just leave the birds in their often too-small cages. They turn into decoration.
Here’s the thing — most of the parrot problems occur from boredom and the fact that these birds are indeed still wild. Besides that, they are incredibly smart — they need to solve puzzles, forage, explore — they can’t be cage bound. They can’t be decorations — because most of the time, they will scream their beaks off and be unmanageable if left in their cages all of the time with zero human interaction.
2. Birds are not domesticated.
Yup, you heard right! However cute and tame some birds are, they’re still wild. Even if they were bred here in captivity, most birds are not more than a few generations from their wild counterparts, which makes them quite wild. I read a wonderful quote once — a bird owner knows parrot beaks and parrot bites — it’s not a matter of IF we will get bitten, it’s when. The reason is because sometimes they can’t otherwise communicate that something WE (the humans) are doing is bothering them. That’s all. Of course, they may find things annoying that don’t make that much sense (for instance, my cockatiel Baby bites when he doesn’t want to go back in the cage, regardless of how well behaved he was a minute ago.) This can be redirected with training, but mostly WE need to figure out what WE are doing to incite this behavior. Even the most well trained birds are going to bite at one point or the next.
3. Birds get bored really easily.
As I began this post by saying, birds are incredibly intelligent — especially parrots. They need constant sources of enrichment in order to occupy themselves while you are unavailable. (Well, one key is to make yourself available as often as possible so they can get out and fly/explore.) They need opportunities to use their minds, so we need to provide them with toys that are also puzzles. They need ways to forage for their food, like they do in the wild — which is also a puzzle for them, and apparently the most fun thing ever. If we teach them new whistles, songs, or words, you’ll begin to see they understand how our language works, and will attempt to communicate with us. (Not all birds will be talkers, and of those that do, some will only mimic.) As long as you can provide those things, you’ll generally have a better-behaved bird. But see #2 because there’s no such thing as a bird that is 100% well behaved 100% of the time.
4. Birds are EXPENSIVE.
When you are a Parront (that is a parent of a parrot), you begin to feel differently about money. You have different priorities and a different grocery list. You can drop $500 you worked your butt off to save up in less than an hour, because you realize if you buy bird food in bulk with their new cage, it’ll be cheaper in the long run and you won’t have to reorder right away or find a way to the pet store in the middle of a snowstorm. You’re okay if a $20 bird toy becomes woodchips in the span of a day — and you’ll keep buying that particular toy because you now know it’s a favorite. You’ll be okay eating canned green beans while the fids (feathered kids) have their fresh organic raw broccoli for supper. You’ll figure out really fast that Avian Veterinarians are few and far between. When you finally find one, instead of complaining about their absolutely huge office fees, you’ll breathe a sigh of relief. However expensive all this is, even if you’re a poor college kid, the birds have to come first. They’re your responsibility now, and now that you are aware of the suffering of captive birds worldwide, you’ll do your best to make their forever home comfortable, no matter the cost.
5. Birds have minds of their own.
Don’t get me wrong, bird training is possible. Actually, part of this blog will chronicle the journey I’m having trying to train my ‘tiel Baby. It’s hilarious, let me tell you. But I’ve learned, most importantly of all, that these critters have a mind all their own. What is theirs is theirs. What is yours is theirs. Currently, I’ve got two ‘tiels perched on my monitor preening and letting their feather fluff and dust go absolutely everywhere. Sometimes they’ll get into my memos and tear them to shreds for the heck of it. It’s fun. Sometimes, as I move my mouse on screen, the birds will follow it and peck at it, getting right in the way of whatever I’m trying to read or write. You have to be okay with these things if you’re going to do well with birds. Sometimes birds will make pretty sounds, and sometimes they will shriek and screech and yell for whatever reason. They will wake up with the sun and sing you the song of their people. You’ll still be asleep, and you’ll have to be okay with that. They will make crashing noises as they slam their toys against their cage or upend their metal food dishes. You will be in the middle of writing a paper due in an hour. You’ll have to be okay with this. They will make a mess and kick all of the healthiest seeds and pellets out of their bowls, out of their cages on to the floor. You will have to sweep up their mess every single day, at least once, even if you have had 12 hours of class and haven’t eaten dinner yet. You will have to be okay with this.
Point blank, as small as some parrots are, they are HUGE responsibility. They’re funny and bring so much joy, but holy crap guys — sometimes they are the absolute worst and make life insanely difficult.
So yeah. I’m a bird person. I accept all of this nonsense. And I guess that’s weird.