Words from an Imperfect Parrot Parent: The “Musts” of Living with a Parrot by Lisa Bolstad
“What goes into owning a parrot?” I get that question a lot from people who have never had birds in their lives. Well, it’s different from living with a dog or a cat. After all, you don’t own a parrot any more than you own a small child. There are certain musts that go with having a parrot in your life.
First of all, you must understand that parrots are said to be as intelligent as primates, dolphins and elephants, even small children. In reality they are smarter than most adult humans and more manipulative than any teenager. They shouldn’t just sit in cages. They need to be out a great deal of the time and they need interesting things to do. When they are supposed to be in their cages, such as when you’re at work, they often times won’t be. Why? Because they are super geniuses who can easily figure out the mechanics of the cage some simpleton human created. You will assume your parrot is safely locked away for the day and you will return home to find the side of the cage on the floor and your parrot loose in your house.
Which brings me to my next point. You must not get attached to material things. Got nice furniture? Your parrot is a feathered wood chipper…and he’s been out of his cage all day while you were at work. You now have stools instead of dining room chairs and your coffee table has a leg missing. The books that were on the coffee table have big gouges in the covers and only half the spines remain. The nail heads around the upholstered arms of your Ethan Allen sofa are all pulled out and scattered about the house. You step on one on your way into the kitchen where everything that belongs on your counters has been tossed to the floor. You will be able to see each place your feathered baby has visited in your home by the trail of poop and the occasional chunk missing from the wood molding around doorframes and flooring. The toilet paper rolls look like a mountain lion has been in your bathroom and all the socks have been pulled out of your dresser drawer and carried about the home. Most of them have holes punched in them. At least your most treasured possessions are up high, right? Wrong. Your parrot can fly and he has been on top of every cabinet, bookcase and mantel in the house. After you have filed a claim with your insurance, which is now dropping your coverage, you put your parrot back in his cage and use chains and padlocks to keep him inside.
Time to haul out the vacuum. You must enjoy vacuuming if you keep parrots. You must enjoy it a lot. You will spend a good portion of your life sucking up seeds, nut shells, bits of toys, hunks of cardboard and enough feathers to cover another six birds. Don’t ask me how one parrot can molt six times the feathers on his body, but he can. Someday science will discover the answer to this mystery. For now, just get used to the fact that you will need to purchase a new vacuum yearly. You will work for an hour cleaning up after your parrot (several hours if you have two or more) and when you are finished your floors will look magnificent. Then you will leave the room for a short time and upon reentering you will find they look exactly as they did before you vacuumed. In twenty minutes your parrot has turned your carpet into a rainforest floor. You can take a parrot out of the rainforest, but he will do his best to recreate it in your living room.
Then there’s the noise. You must be able to tolerate all the noise, noise, noise, noise. Parrots may be closely related to songbirds, but the vocalizations they make are not warbling tunes from Heaven. No, they sound more like steel screeching against steel at a million and one decibels, or the shriek an old woman makes as she’s dying painfully. Unless they are talking. Then they will be saying awful things that will mortify you and any guest you have. You may not remember yelling, “You’re a butt with eyes!” Your kids may deny saying it. But your parrot heard it once and now he’s telling everyone they’re a butt with eyes: the plumber, your great aunt, your priest. No matter how hard you try to teach this horrible phrase out of him, he will continue to shout it with zeal. The cute impersonation of a kitty-cat he can do? He will only do it when it’s just you and him. When you have visitors he will either sit and stare, or he will call your visitor a “dirty pirate wench” because he heard someone say that on the TV.
You must like to get up early. As soon as the sun is up your little darling will begin screaming. He’s awake. You should be awake. No he isn’t going to stop. You might as well rise and make his breakfast. You must like spending money because he needs fresh greens, veggies, beans, legumes, grains, berries, omega oils and sprouts in his diet. It’s like having a toddler, only this “child” is never going to grow out of this stage. While you’re fixing his nutritious breakfast, you hear a loud crash coming from the dining room. You race in to find him inside your china cabinet. This is his new nesting cavity. Don’t ask how he got in, just haul out the vacuum and suck up the shards of grandma’s bone china. As you’re cleaning you will notice that the bottom corner of the door on the hutch has been chewed off. Now it matches your dining room stools. You will madly inspect your parrot’s cage to figure out how he escaped yet again. The chains and padlocks are fastened tight. The door is closed and locked. However, there is a small window-like door on the side. It is much too small for your parrot to squeeze through. As you ponder this seemingly impossible feat, you step on a broken walnut shell. This is the worst pain you will ever experience. It is worse than stepping on an Ethan Allen nail head, a plastic army man, or a Lego. Only childbirth comes close. You drop the vacuum to stem the geyser of blood spewing from your heel and your parrot starts screaming again. He will make this hellish noise any time you want to sleep in, are stressed out, or when you are trying to talk on the phone. (He will also shout, “You’re a BUTT with eyes!” when you’re on the phone. The lady on the other end will think you said it and will promptly take offense to your rude behavior.)
When you finally get the food ready and in the cage, you will try to step up your parrot so that he can enjoy his breakfast. You have taken too long and he shows his displeasure by chomping down on your thumb. It doesn’t hurt as much as stepping on the walnut shell, but the pain is bad enough that you shout a curse word. Your parrot will later repeat this obscenity when your boss is visiting and telling him he’s a pretty bird. You put him in his cage to eat and hastily padlock the window he has magically squeezed through.
You would never tolerate a bite from a dog or a cat, but you must from a parrot. He is only a few generations out of the wild. He doesn’t care about having good manners. He is a wild animal and he’s waited far too long for his morning meal. He’s also hormonal and he’s molting so he’s itchy. All of this is your fault. As you limp into the bathroom to bandage your thumb you begin to berate yourself. You’ve seen all the parrot professionals online and they say they never get bitten. What are you doing wrong? You use positive reinforcement, you provide a loving home with lots of enrichment. So, why are you running cold water over a thumb that has swollen to the size of a bratwurst?
Which brings me to yet more “musts.” You must never take your parrot’s behavior personally and you must never be too hard on yourself. Your parrot is a supreme being as he well knows. He has his own reasons for doing things, reasons that may forever be an enigma to you and the rest of mankind. He acts like a human sometimes, but he is not. Yes, he is smarter than most people you know, he uses language eerily in context and he is a mechanical wizard. However, he is a parrot and you are not. Get used to the fact that you will never be clever enough to entirely understand him. Love him, respect him, learn all you can about him and accept him for what he is: a super-genius wood chipper with wings and a sassy attitude.
And by the way, he just picked those padlocks and he’s in the kitchen sink, throwing the forks from last night’s dinner at the dog…