It’s five o’clock somewhere! A parrot, in a weaved sun hat, sips a cocktail while watching the sun set into beach lined saltwater waves behind him. Under a Tiki roof sometimes. Sometimes not. You can find this plaque all over Florida, and particularly in the Keys. I blame Jimmy Buffett. The relationship between parrots and humans has always been romantic. If you want one, and don’t have one your brain references all the parrot icons you’ve collected. If you live with parrots, successfully, you know the romance is somewhere in between mopping floors, scrubbing cages, sharing your lunch, negotiating, explaining yourself, and ordering more parrot food. You may also find yourself yelling, “Stop eating the house!”
Florida has more than Margaretville parrot merch, though. We’ve also got an impressive under the covers team numbering in the thousands supporting parrots in their life and lifecycle. Rescues, sanctuaries, advocates, avian veterinarians, and behaviorists. Parrot rescues outnumber parrot breeders and brokers two to one. And yet there are more homeless, unwanted, and regretted parrots than the rescues and sanctuaries can handle. Waiting lists exist. Florida Parrot Rescue has taken an unusual and successful tack leaning into the number of parrots in need. They have no central location, but trained volunteer fosters throughout the state caring for, and assisting in finding homes for their charges in feathers.
Parrot Outreach Society in Punta Gorda, sets the bar on the West Coast. Actively participating in education, mutual rescue initiatives, local outreach, and rehabbing - rehoming parrots in need.
Rescue and Sanctuaries around Florida include, Central Florida Parrot Sanctuary, Seminole County Parrot Rescue, Florida Exotic Bird Sanctuary, Ziggy’s Haven Bird Sanctuary, Inc., Sarasota Parrot Conservatory (who provides an outreach therapy program to veterans and seniors), and the Palm Beach Parrot & Bird Rescue/Sanctuary of South Florida.
As Mark Twain wrote in his book Following the Equator, “She was not quite what you would call refined. She was not quite what you would call unrefined. She was the kind of person that keeps a parrot.” Successfully living with a romantic exotic companion animal like a parrot is unique. Very unique.
Parrots aren’t complicated. They’re just a lot of work. Myths and misleading beliefs make the work harder. The thing about myths and romance is the truth sits in the middle. And each of us and our parrots fit somewhere in that middle. The better our relationships with our parrots, the easier it is to find our true middles, and thrive there without stress or struggle.
Parrot truths behind the parrot myths and romance:
· Don’t let your parrot sit on your head or shoulder. They are trying to dominate you. This one is dying out, thankfully. But it persists in the large bird arenas and groups. You’re not dominated. You’re now a tree. Stand still, your parrot is trying to get a good view of things from up there and think about those things. Quit wiggling.
· Don’t let a parrot flock call freely. They’ll build bad habits of screaming. Flock calling is communication. Parrots communicate constantly with a flock. Sounds from lulling mutters all the way to paint peeling 140 decibel opinions. It’s what parrots do. There are no bad habits, there is only you not answering the call. Try not answering a 5-year-old child after they’ve breathlessly expressed their intrigue. You can try hiding in the bathroom. It’s not going to work. Seeking a relationship of communication can not be a bad habit. Your bird wants a conversation. All good friendships need good conversation. Answer the call.
· Show your bird you are “alpha”. You can’t train a parrot if it doesn’t respect you. This one never works for one reason. There are no alpha birds in a flock. The entire idea doesn’t make their radar. What you’re doing is showing your parrot you are untrustworthy and threatening. Your motivations aren’t about the whole, just about yourself. There is no training a companion parrot. There is only creating a trust that feeds the need for both of you to work together, building the rules in your lifestyle. A parrot isn’t looking for a boss. They’re looking for a partner.
· Conservative wing clips are a great way to train a parrot. They can’t fly away. Wing clips aren’t a guarantee they won’t try to fly. Conservative wing clips are a great way to control a bird until their wings feathers molt to a new set. It’s also a great way to negatively affect personality and overall lifetime health. Done poorly, they stand the chance of injury in falling. In the chance they get out into the world, they have no chances to escape attacks. Feral cats, hawks, owls, and yes, blue jays if they’ve a mind and the angst, will all find a poorly flighted parrot a target.
· Clicker training parrot tricks require depriving food to be used as training treats later. This is old, but yet still exists inside some of the instruction books with clickers found online. Deprive your parrot of foods when they’re hungry. That’ll let them know you are untrustworthy. Feed your parrot normally always. Use one high value item as a training treat, only. Energy to learn requires food energy. Let’s agree here, never ever deprive your bird of meals for any reason outside of a veterinarians’ instruction. And when transitioning your parrot to new foods, never think, “Oh, he’ll eat it when he gets hungry enough.” That’s cruel. And counterintuitive for a parrot. Parrots will starve themselves before eating food that is unknown. Transitioning by introducing the new item as a new normal option takes time. It’s not a food swap. It’s a food option along with their familiar fair.
· When your bird bites you, it’s personal. They don’t like you. Don’t take a bite personal. Your parrot didn’t. It’s not you, it’s what you are doing, wearing, saying, carrying, smelling like, or your tone. That’s about it. A beak is a tool for communication. A parrot’s last resort. You missed the signals that came before. Before worrying about whether your bird can talk, worry about being able to understand their body language.
· Unweaned parrots are what you want to bond and train to be cuddly. Unweaned parrots are best left to their parents to wean. This myth was and is a sales pitch. All parrots are capable of a trusting relationship with a human, no matter their age. No matter when you met them. No matter where you met them. It isn’t the parrot’s responsibility to prove it’s intents. It is the human’s.
· Time outs in a cage are the best way to show your parrot they are being bad. Consequences are better than redirection. Communication is better than rejection. Put a parrot in their cage and walk away after a negative event. You’ve created no trust, no conversation, no optional choices. They will decide that being put in their cage is worth the cost of whatever they can’t have. You gave them no choice.
Parrots aren’t complicated. Parrots are work. They are loud, demanding, intelligent, confident, humorous, expensive, savvy, calculating flying Beings, and they are more than capable of out-thinking any of us. If you’re considering adding a parrot personality to your life, visit a rescue or sanctuary to experience the realities, as well as the romance, of companion parrots. And if you see yourself as a fit for such a companion idea, adopt, if you can. There are some marvelous hidden treasures all over Florida waiting to meet you and judge you. Parrots aren't looking to be a pet. They are looking for a companionship.