We’ve all met a cat at some point in our lives, perhaps even lived with one. We all know about their reclusive, yet sometimes-cute personalities and quirky habits that keep people filled with entertaining stories to tell their friends and coworkers until they’re ready to have the “crazy cat person” committed for life.
Chances are, may of us have grown up with a dog waiting by the door to greet us when we return home from school or work. Many people have probably also seen the shreds of what used to be their favorite pillow strew across the living room floor, or put their foot in the cold slobber puddle that used to be a slipper.
How many people wake up in the morning to be serenaded by a melody of chirps, whistles and “good mornings” being shouted at them from across the house from a non-human companion?
Welcome to the mornings of a “Parrot Guardian”!
Why that term?
I shy away from the term many people may be familiar with, “Parrot Person”. “Parrot People” are a special breed of people I mentioned in my “About” section and will very likely be the object of more blog entries.
I also don’t believe any person has a right to own any living creature, so that rules out “owner”.
So, for the time being and the sake of this post, I’m just going to stick with “Parrot Guardian”. If it makes you feel better, you can feel free to mentally switch “Parrot Guardian” to “Patron Saint of Parrot Care”, but that doesn’t quite flow from the mouth as well…
WTF is “parrot experience”??
People give me odd looks when I say I’ve worked with parrots. They all know and love their cats and/or dogs, but birds seem to be a mystery to many of them. I’ve applied for jobs at animal shelters where they see the years of parrot experience in my history and I could swear I hear the sounds of gears overheating when they try to translate what “parrot experience” really is.
Living with a parrot (or several) seems to defy everything we expect when we live with a pet. That’s one of the main reasons I will never say that I have parrots as “pets”.
Dogs are happy to see us come home because thousands of years of breeding have created simple-minded creatures that absolutely NEED us to live with.
Cats will live peacefully with humans for the same reasons, domestication. Even on remote islands, cats can live without people, but they live there because people placed them there. Their entire existence is tied to humans.
Parrots might as well be defined as “aliens” when it comes to trying to categorize them as pets!
Make no mistake, that bird you see in a cage is still a very wild animal! Their brains are still fully functional, their instincts are still telling them how to behave and their psychology and physiology operates as though they are still in the wild.
This is going to be the first of many times I say this but… parrots do not make good pets!!
So why does a “Parrot Guardian” live with them?
For the sake of this question, I’m going to ignore the politics, and criticisms for a moment (Save those for a different blog entry!).
To answer that question, you have to look at what makes a “Parrot Guardian”.
These aren’t animals that provide any form of instant gratification like the other two common pets do. Working with a bird takes a lot of patience, a high pain tolerance and ear drums made of steel (or an ample supply of ear plugs).
A “Parrot Guardian” isn’t going to be someone who looks for short-term gains and pleasure. It takes a lifetime of commitment and dedication to care for one.
These are people who leave their bird’s care in their Will and groom future generations of their family to care for them.
These are people who don’t make any long term plans that don’t involve caring for the bird in some way.
These are people who keep their houses “bird safe” by tossing out all potential hazards, like Teflon cookware and most commercial cleaners.
These are people who will buy produce from the grocery store because “their birds love this!” and usually make a healthier meal for their birds than they do themselves!
Dogs and cats? Pfft! They’re easy!
Seriously, spend a week trying to care for a bird and an incontinent, blind, senior dog is going to seem like a piece of cake!
Bird caregivers live in a state of constant alert, much like a parent of a small child. Our ears and reflexes are always turned on, even if it looks and sounds like were completely absorbed in something else!
The other night, I was watching a movie with headphones on. Suddenly I ripped the headphones off, jumped through the door and put my arm out for Red, our resident Amazon, to land on.
Last night, on the verge of sleep, I threw the covers off me, leaped out of bed and took off down the hall to check on the birds. Sure enough, there was Coco, the African Grey, looking up at me from the cage floor, confused by the cloud of dust and newspaper that surrounded him and giving his bell the “evil eye”.
Birds are also like that stubborn old family member we’ve all had who refuses to admit when they’re sick. You know, the guy who will wake up with a 5,000 degree fever, take a shower, put his work clothes on and only admit to “feeling a bit under the weather” just before he passes out at the front door.
Birds do not show outward signs of illness. Blame it on insitnct.
Birds survive and thrive by being in flocks. If that flock leaves them for any reason, that bird’s in serious danger of becoming dinner for a hungry predator. So when a bird gets sick, they’re going to keep up their outward appearance to blend in with the flock. Chances are, if a bird looks sick to the untrained eye, they’re already near death.
This means “Parrot Guardians” know every single ounce of every detail of every personality trait of every bird they live with. Little things like “Kiku (the Caique living with us) isn’t dunking his pellets in his water bowl today, he must not be feeling well” can very well save that bird’s life.
I must spend more time in a day checking, re-checking and triple checking the birds in my house than I do anything else, making sure they still look, act and sound the same from one day… hour… minute, to the next.
Please, for the love of God, give me that incontinent, blind, deaf, senior dog who needs to take pills 3 times a day!!
I can’t honestly describe this; that bond of unconditional trust that a bird can share with you goes beyond words.
I’ve put birds in situations where they should have every reason in the world to bite me, but they won’t: Birds that have a history of being aggressive and “mean” that will happily follow me around like a puppy and preen my eyebrows while I lie on the sofa. Birds that will look at me, look at the carrier I’m bringing them to and step right inside of it instead of screaming, biting and clawing their way out like they did for the half dozen people who tried it before me.
There’s that level of trust where the bird knows you won’t do anything to them to place them in harm’s way, and likewise, you know that bird won’t lash out at you for interacting with them in some less-than-pleasurable periods.
To have an animal that has every instinctual reason to not want to have anything to do with humans, form a deep-rooted friendship and bond with you, is its own reward. These aren’t a dog or cat. We haven’t given them traits and forced thousands of years of genetic mutations upon them that cause them to want to be our “friends”.
A “Parrot Guardian” respects that raw nature of the birds they meet. They’re not looking for a feel-good buddy to be around after a long day at work. Knowing that an animal like this can share that same level of respect for you… it’s just a greater reward than you will ever receive from another companion.