The Truth of Companion Parrots Dee K. Hicks Companion Parrot Advocacy 2 Flock Calls When we speak of “raising the bar,” most people understand that this means elevating standards. The bar represents the current standard, and raising it – like raising a hurdle – presents us with a challenge to improve performance. For many years, these birds were viewed as talking ornaments. A novelty to “own,” people kept birds as conversation pieces. They were often relegated to tiny, round cages that were designed to enhance our décor rather than the parrot’s quality of life, and kept in a corner of a room. Often they were only uncovered at the whim of the human. Though people are becoming more conscious of how we care for the animal companions in our lives, we still see cases like a sun conure we took in from a woman who had rescued him from someone who kept him in a tiny covered cage, in a closet, so he wouldn’t make noise. The only description for this is “cruel” – we don’t even do this to the convicts who are caught doing the very worst of crimes. Yet we allows this to happen to animals who haven’t done anything to deserve it other than being born (or captured) in to the “pet trade.” It’s time for all that to stop. As human beings, we have trampled the world around us in our haste to mold and make it fit our own uses. My ancestors believed that we should respect the earth, for life comes from the earth. We should respect every other living thing because we are all interconnected – the earth, the animals, the plants and us. The earth is not “ours” to own and destroy but we are part of the earth, for as the fate of the earth goes, so goes the fate of mankind. If we respect the earth and the creatures who share it with us, we will find that wonderful things happen. And if we respect our parrot companions, that wonderful thing might be the most amazing relationship you’ll ever experience with someone you’re not married to! It’s a proven fact that parrots are intelligent little beings. Dr. Irene Pepperberg spent years studying an African Grey parrot named Alex, who could count, add, differentiate colors, describe and identify different types of matter – and this wasn’t just rote recitation. Alex understood complex thoughts. He made up his own phrases. For example – he knew what “cork” was. And he knew that almonds were nuts. So for almonds still in their shells, he coined the term “cork nut”. Parrots have been observed using tools to accomplish simple tasks like scratching areas they can’t reach. Just about anyone who owns a cockatoo can attest to their skills as escape artists able to defeat complex latches in order to free themselves. And many who live with parrots relate wonderful stories of their companion’s love, loyalty and devotion. They think, they engage, and they feel, just as we do. When we think of all they sacrifice to join us in our homes, we should keep in mind that we are forcing them to become more like us. Maybe it’s time for us to become a little more like them, or at the very least – for us to learn to look at things from their perspective. Parrots have unique needs that other pets like cats and dogs do not have. They need to fly. Few other creatures can truly fly. Even humans cannot without the aid of some other equipment. Birds, however, are designed, created and skillfully engineered for flight. Everything about a bird, from their skeleton, to the muscles to their amazing feather system is created with a high priority on efficiency. This is one reason they are so fragile – they don’t have all the compensatory systems we humans have because they are made to be able to do one thing very well: fly. How can we justify taking that away from them? I understand that many people feel it’s a question of safety but there are plenty of ways to minimize risk. A bird that is handicapped by having clipped wings may not suffer the same risks of a flighted bird; however there are other risks that are exclusive to lacking the ability to fly. The inability to escape predators is a huge risk of a clipped bird. The inability to safely return if startled into a panic flight is another huge risk, and we’ve found this to happen more often than people would like to believe. I know someone whose bird was crippled for life after breaking his back when falling from a very tall tree that it managed to fly up into when spooked. The bird had clipped wings. We advocated unclipped wings, forging a strong relationship, and training your bird to recall to you along with reinforcing that training regularly. We just took in a darling little Quaker that accidentally flew outdoors twice. The bird was not clipped. Though he flew off, he returned to the person he loved when she presented his favorite toy, a little bell. Parrots, because they are highly intelligent and social creatures, need quality interaction. Not just time out of the cage, but time actively engaged with the person with whom they have a relationship. This not only rewards the parrot, however. Building a solid relationship makes it more meaningful and enjoyable for all parties involved. If you don’t have time to spend a lot of one on one time, we strongly suggest keeping more than one bird. They really do enjoy each other’s company and there are things that another bird can give them that we as humans just cannot because no matter how much we like to think of them as little feathered children, we are human and they are birds. Right now, as someone who shares their life with many birds, I would like to challenge anyone who has a companion bird. Help us raise the bar so high it will fly! That’s what we mean when we say #GiveTheBarWings! Whether it’s something as simple and inexpensive as carving out extra time, or springing for an outdooraviary or bigger cage, or even remodeling things to give them their own room, we can make big improvements in the lives of our feathered family members. If you’ve already given your own bar its wings, then please join us in reaching others. There are still many birds out there in tiny cages, in basements, in closets. There are birds who don’t know what fresh food tastes like. There are birds that have never been outside of a cage in their lives. For them, lets #GiveTheBarWings. Join us as advocates for giving excellent care to ALL winged companions in 2016 – The Year of the Companion Parrot.