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MDPR Life with Birds

Words from an Imperfect Parrot Parent – by Lisa Bolstad


Anthropomorphize. According to Merriam-Webster, anthropomorphize is to attribute human characteristics to something not human, such as an object, or an animal. When dealing with parrots, we are often warned not to “humanize” them. On the one hand, this is excellent advice as humanizing parrot actions and sounds can often lead to a misinterpretation of what is going on. Assuming that a parrot is screaming because it is angry or unhappy might easily be an incorrect deduction. Many birds vocalize (which can sound like screaming) for the sheer joy of it. My birds call to each other from room to room throughout the day just to check that everyone is still there. My Patagonian Conures are incredibly loud all day because…well, they’re Patagonian Conures. So, I get why anthropomorphizing is often ill-advised. However, as an imperfect parrot parent, I find myself doing it all the time.

Dillinger, one of my Patagonian Conures, came to live with us in the spring of 2010. At that time I bought him a big beautiful cage, a ridiculous amount of toys, a variety of perches and a lovely, triangular rope swing. The swing has always hung from the top of his cage and looks very similar to this:

dillenger swing

Now, Dillinger has had this swing for close to four years. The only time he even uses it is when I put him back into his cage. I put him up through the middle of the triangle and he steps onto it briefly before hopping over onto his rope perch. The swing has remained perfect all this time, its candy-colored threads twisted perfectly around the metal frame, not a strand out of place.

Apparently, one night several weeks ago the swing became an unbearable eyesore because when I got up the next morning it was hanging crookedly by one side, all the rope fibers from the other two sides hanging in enormous chewed up knots. I stood there looking at the thing with my mouth open and coffee dribbling from the cup that hung crookedly in my hand. “What the—“

Dillinger made a disgusted sort of harrumphing noise. Any owner of a Patagonian Conure will be familiar with this sound. “Seriously?” I asked.

Now I’m quite aware that once you give something to a parrot it’s theirs to do with as they please. I’m quite aware that even when you don’t give something to a parrot it is often considered theirs anyway. However, he had never shown interest in this object before. Like I said, it had been in his cage for over three and a half years!

He ruffled his feathers, a sort of indifferent shrugging motion. What do you want from me? It had to go.

I stared at the dangling swing some more. A scenario was playing out in my head—

Dillinger at 2:30 in the morning suddenly sees the swing for the first time…really sees it. Oh $%*&%@ no! That can’t stay! How have I never noticed how awful that thing is? Who even put that in my cage? At this point there is a flurry of green feathers and rainbow threads ending with the sad monstrosity that now sways slowly back and forth from the roof of Dillinger’s house.

This is the sort of anthropomorphizing I do on a regular basis. I can’t help it. I hear their little voices in my head. I try to remind myself that they are parrots, but as I’m convinced they are smarter than most of the people I’ve met (and I work in higher education), it’s hard to remember that I’m training them and not the other way around.

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