Since I have a handful of pictures, but not enough for an interesting post, I’m going to intersperse them with some educational text.
I post a lot of pictures, pictures of parrots, and of cats, and of dogs. I tell a lot of fun stories. I’m quite sure that I make living with parrots look pretty fun. Clearly, I think it is pretty fun, or else I wouldn’t have as many as I do.
However, living with parrots comes with some serious downsides, and most of these are true from the smallest budgie to the largest macaw.
1. Parrots are messy.
If you look closely at my photographs, you’ll notice that in most cases, I don’t include the floor. There’s a reason for that.
This is what stands and the floor looked like after about 45 minutes of Fun Macaw Time.
This is a pretty excessive amount of mess, because macaws come only in excessive. However, even smaller birds leave mess. Feathers, poop, toy bits, etc. Slightly larger birds are quite capable of eating the world.
Some parrots, such as these pair of greys (and seriously, how cute are they preening in unison?), create powder down, which coats everything around them with slightly sticky baby powder.
It’s as awesome as you think it is.
2. Parrots are destructive.
Earlier today, Keela (a 280 gram Timneh grey) climbed up onto a bookshelf and did some serious damage to a wooden game box.
Imagine what Cin, who is almost twice her weight, can do.
Tea, a 100 gram conure, has popped off more keys on my laptop than I can count.
Theo loves to remodel door frames. Check out Tlalli vs the swing and you can see how easy that is.
3. Our instinctive reactions to parrots are usually wrong.
This is the big one. This is the one that screws parrots and parrot owners worse than almost any other.
In almost every case that I can think of, a human’s typical reaction to what we consider ‘bad behaviour’ in parrots is far more likely to encourage the behaviour to continue than to discourage it.
Or, in behaviourist terms, we reinforce undesired behaviour easily.
Let’s take a good example. Parrots make noise. The amount of noise that a parrot like this can make is unworldly.
One of the first times Tlalli screamed in my ear, I cursed loudly, without meaning to. Yesterday, we had a friend at our house, and Tlalli screamed, and the friend looked over at her and said something.
Tlalli was rehomed in her last home partially because she climbed down off her cage and chased around the elderly mother in the household, who screamed and ran away.
Ten years ago, when I brought home this little darling, I taught him to scream for attention and bite me in the span of a few months.
It was unteaching him how to do those things that started me really studying behaviour.
Here’s the fact that I learned from all of that.
Parrots are heavily reinforced by attention, in some cases, as much or more so than by food.
I have massively increased Tlalli’s flapping on her stand simply by yelling happily, “FLAPPY!” every time she does so.
Imagine how bad that would be if I yelled “No!” every time she screamed.
Imagine how bad it could be if I went over and fussed over her every time she chewed her feathers.
She’d be a lot more bald, likely.
Does this mean that you can’t learn? Absolutely not. It does mean that, unlike dogs who have been genetically altered to better live with humanity, parrots require more knowledge.
They require more knowledge on how to keep them, as well as how to live with them. They require creating habits, the habit of realizing what you’re reinforcing, of investigating how to modify behaviour, whether increasing it or decreasing it. It takes a lot of thought.
4. Parrots are expensive.
They’re expensive to buy, they’re expensive to feed, they’re expensive to keep entertained, they’re expensive to take to the vet, and they’re expensive to fill your house with swings.
(Yes, that last bit was just to show you that we made another new swing for the kitchen/living room area).
5. Parrots are extremely long lived.
This pretty man is the oldest parrot in my house.
He’ll be turning 25 years old this year.
Assuming that he remains in good health, he could potentially live another 25 – 50 years.
Tlalli, who isn’t even 6, could do significantly more than that.
That’s a really long time. For many people, that’s a benefit — it’s amazing to get to live with a pet for most of your life.
For some people, it’s a downside.
Is it worth it?
I think so.
Then again, it could just be that the bossiest pair of creatures on the face of the planet told me to say so.
However, if you have questions about what it’s like to live with parrots, feel free to ask them in the comments, and I’m happy to answer. :)