Raising Unwanted Parrots

magazine article photo For some parrot owners the situation with neglected and unwanted parrots has become a passionate crusade to advertise the problem and lambaste the responsible villains. For most of the pet bird business neglected and unwanted parrots is a topic that for the most part, is ignored.

I propose that the unwanted parrot issue is the result of human nature and lack of proper perspective. The human nature portion of the equation involves us having a limited attention span and lots of opportunities for new experiences. The lack of proper perspective is because owning parrots as pets is a fairly new concept for humans and the industry has not matured enough for all the necessary facts and solutions to become apparent.

Instead of restating the "glass is half empty" problem, I am presenting a preliminary list of facts and solutions to "the glass is half full" issue.

This list of Facts and Solutions are in no particular order.

Fact: Many new parrot owners are quick to scream at the top of their lungs that they are committed for life to take care of their parrot and there is no possible excuse for anyone else not to commit on their same level.

Anyone that has been involved in this business for more than a few years knows for sure that very few owners will keep their pet for life. According to the American Psychiatric Association, interest in a hobby lasts an average of a little more than three years. Owning your first parrot is a lot like a hobby. We have something new, novel and interesting to work with, but eventually something more interesting comes along and the pet may not receive the same level of attention. birds in flock

Even those who do maintain a lifelong relationship will probably be outlived by their friend. Regardless of how informed the new owner is, there will probably be a life change of some sort that will require their beloved pet to find a new home. This situation is not unique to parrots, but happens with all pets.

Solution: Stop criticizing humans for losing interest in their pet. Bring to the attention of every new bird owner that it is against human nature and 21st century lifestyles to maintain interest, and/or means, to keep their pet forever. Make each owner aware of the signs in knowing when they are starting to lose interest so that a new home can be found for the bird right away, before it is neglected.

Fact: Most owners readily agree that parrots are smarter than dogs, but very few parrots are trained to obey the most basic commands that all dogs understand and obey. Most parrots are so untrained, that they need to be caged when the owner is not there.

parrot When owners do spend a few minutes training their bird, it is usually episodic training rather than life experience training. Life experience training is how humans and dogs are trained to behave as life progresses. Episodic training is done when an individual is not trained during the appropriate development phase and it becomes necessary to dedicate a session for basic behavior modification training.

Solution: Avoid following the advice of any parrot professional that does not understand and promote life experience training as a primary means of educating parrots.

Fact: Many pet parrots are hatched in incubators instead of in the nest with the parents. We know that when the baby internally pips about three days before hatching, he starts to move around and vocalize. When the baby vocalizes and moves, the parents start to pay attention to the egg and talk back to the baby. Since neuro development is exponential during this development stage, the earlier it starts, the better. When the parents respond vocally to the vocal baby, he starts learning. If he starts three days earlier than an incubator hatched baby, he will end up with a much higher IQ. Neuro development in a parrot is approximately ten times more rapid than a human, so three days is the equivalent of 30 days for us.

The baby in the nest for a few weeks is also getting the exact mental and physical feedback from the parents that millions of years of evolution has found important to optimal development.

A baby hatched in an incubator receives none of this important attention. In addition, they are in a sterile environment, complete with a frustrating silence or even worse, the constant hum of the incubator and then the brooder. These babies turn into the adults that, in human terms, are commonly referred to as the person "that never got touched as a baby".

Solution: Stop incubator hatching parrots. Stop putting babies in brooders. A brooder room where the babies are brought after spending a minimum of two to three weeks with the parents is much better. A brooder room where several babies of different species can be kept in open containers is a very nurturing environment.

Fact: Psittacine aviculture is the only business in the world where the lowest quality materials are used to try and make a high quality product.

parrot The most aggressive parrots are the birds that get the greatest opportunity to reproduce. In almost all situations the parents of your pet parrot are two birds that did not have what it takes to thrive in a home with people. In virtually every case, the breeder will try to convince you that their breeding stock was mistreated and have good reason to be aggressive, paranoid and a feather mutilator. What they do not understand is that there are some parrots out there that regardless of the abuse are still glad to see you.

Since this industry breeds mostly aggressive parrots the babies we now own are actually a little more aggressive than their wild cousins. These birds would do well in the wild since the most paranoid bird is the one that is most likely to survive and reproduce in the highly competitive wild environment.

The old rule of thumb is 10% nature - 90% nurture. Recent developments in gene mapping have led scientist to understand that personality is at least 50% and more likely 60% directly inherited from parents.

Solution: Breed only friendly birds that do well in the home environment. Do not allow breeders and salespeople to justify the aggressive, paranoid behavior of the parents of your companion.

We need to find the birds that are too laid back to survive in the wild and then pass on their genes to the next generation of pets. This selection process is difficult and time consuming, but is already done in cats, dogs and all farm animals. The only time aggressive dogs are bred together is when the breeder wants more aggressive dogs.

Fact: Rescue groups, who are usually the most vocal about humans failing to fulfill their responsibility to their pets, rarely promote breeders and are often strictly opposed to breeding parrots.

There will always be a market for baby parrots as pets. It would be better if the individuals with the greatest passion to help unwanted parrots supported responsible breeding programs.

Solution: Work to shift the parrot industry from within, rather than being an extremist on the outside. The Gabriel Foundation is doing a wonderful job supporting the areas they see as positive for aviculture without being overly critical or extremist in other areas. With this position, they are always welcome in all phases of the industry and maintain the opportunity to change things in a positive manner.

Support solution based programs with long term visions that are solving issue, rather than just pointing out problems and solving the symptoms.

Fact: We can gain perspective of the neglected unwanted pet phenomenon by comparing birds to other common pets like dogs and cats.

There are ~ 100,000,000 dogs and cats in the US.
~ 7,000,000 enter shelters each year. (7.0%)
~ 4 million are euthanized. (4.0%)
There are about 5,000 dog/cat animal shelters in the US.

There are ~ 20,000,000 pet birds in the US.
There are fewer than 25,000 pet birds in shelters. (0.125% of all pet parrots)
Only a few pet birds are euthanized because of behavior issues.
There are less than 200 bird shelters in the US.

photoBasically, any cat or dog that does not fit in right away, or has an owner with little patience, lives a very short life.

The discrepancy gets even bigger when we consider that more than half of all dogs and cats that make it into shelters are euthanized. Basically, the dogs and cats in the shelters are being killed and replaced every year so the numbers are not cumulative. On the other hand, the same parrots living in shelters are being counted every year because they are still in the population.

Solution: Certainly the dog and cat situation is not one to be admired, but it does illustrate how bad things can get. We might even decide that parrots have it pretty good.

Understanding the history we have with other pets can help to guide us in making long term decisions about parrots. Because pet birds are fairly new phenomena and there is no consensus on how we should proceed, we still have the opportunity to avoid some of the problems plaguing other pets.

Fact: We have still not found a safe and efficient way to neuter and spay parrots. Seasonal instinctive breeding behavior is often the reason a parrot displays undesirable personality traits. Most other pets and livestock are neutered or spayed when it is necessary to limit the breeding impulse.

There are several methods that may work. These include chemical sterilization, hormone inhibitors and surgical techniques.

This should be one of the highest priorities for aviculture. It affects almost every parrot and their ability to stay in their home.

Solution: Prioritize needs.

Start funding projects to develop safe, cost effective neuter and spay techniques.

photo Stop funding projects that do not help most parrots. Just because someone is passionate about a project is no reason to give them money. Most of the parrot related projects funded in the past 20 years produced little results that will help the average parrot. There is not one medical study where the researchers were asked to justify the project by supplying numerical data as they would have in all other fields. The test and vaccines that have been produced have very limited use because the diseases they were designed for occurred in very small numbers and were disappearing on their own.

There is no correct way to proceed and solve this issue and we should not expect to change things immediately. Instead, I believe awareness of these facts and possible solutions I have listed can cause a slow shift that will eventually lead us to better methods and policies that will ensure a quality life for the parrots we admire.