Even with a caretaker's best intentions and efforts, life in captivity is still a shadow of the life that parrots evolved to live in their natural habitats. In the wild, parrots live in flocks and fly miles per day foraging for good food. By contrast, the average captive parrot spends much of their life confined to a cage. Many cannot fly because their wings have been clipped to keep them "under control" and to prevent them from hurting themselves in human homes. Few are kept in groups with their own species.
Captive parrots are still wild animals by nature. Their natural curiosity, sensitivity, intellect, playfulness, and ability to form bonds with humans can tempt people to keep them in their homes. Unfortunately, the traits that make parrots so intriguing are the same ones that make them extremely difficult to live with as companion animals.
"Keep in mind that you'll need to learn to accommodate the bird; don't expect the bird to learn to accommodate itself to you," says Denise Kelly, a New York resident and co-founder of the national Avian Welfare Coalition.
She Loves Me, She Loves Me Not. Unlike dogs and cats, parrots clearly choose whom they wish to form strong bonds with. You may love your parrot, but it may not necessarily offer you unconditional love in return. They sometimes view others - even family members - as intruders and can display jealously towards them. When they mature sexually, they often resort to aggression to keep intruders away from their mate (or chosen human) or to protect their territory.
If you're looking for a "care-free" pet, a parrot isn't for you. In the wild, parrots live and travel in flocks and maintain constant contact with their flockmates, using loud calls as a means of communication. This may not endear you to your neighbors, especially if you have thin walls. To avoid separation anxiety parrots require hours of daily social interaction with their human companions as well as with other birds of their own species; in fact, Kelly suggests keeping two birds together (if at all.) There is no such thing as a quiet, independent parrot. On the other hand, those looking to buy a parrot hoping to teach it to talk may be dissappointed. Many parrots simply do not learn (or choose) to speak or perform tricks.
Although she has lived with a parrot for more than 30 years, Kelly strongly feels that parrots usually do not make ideal apartment pets. They use their powerful beaks to eat, chew, preen, and feel and hold objects. Parrots don't know the difference between a sanctioned bird toy and their homes' woodwork or furniture so they can do great damage if left unsupervised. Parrots are also messy creatures. In your home, your carpet becomes a forest floor.
Because of their respiratory anatomy and physiology birds have evolved to support flight demands. They have extreme sensitivities to products that are harmless to cats and dogs. Among them are cleaning products, personal care products, candles, incense, air fresheners, building materials, paints, glues, plants, foods, and especially toxic fumes emitted by non-stick coated household appliances and tools such as cookware, self-cleaning ovens, irons, and heaters.
A growing number of bird rescue, adoption, and sanctuary organizations are facing the challenge of caring for the parrots discarded by those who were unprepared for the commitment required to share a home with a long-lived, undomesticated animal. Only people who thoroughly understand that parrots are wild animals and who can commit to meeting their demanding needs should consider providing a home for one.
* adapted from "Parrots: Wild At Heart", an article by Denise Kelly, Joan Rae and Krista Menzel of the Avian Welfare Coalition