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Dear Parrots magazine,

Discipline is not alien to parrots

I have a few concerns regarding the article by Betty Jean Craige in the February 2013 edition of Parrots magazine, "Why it's not natural for Cosmo to be subservient."  The article, while supposedly encouraging natural parrot behaviour, shows a distinct disregard for parrot safety and in places suggests irresponsibility.

Aside from the obvious contradiction in using a wing-clipped bird as an example of a parrot which has been awarded freedom in its home, there are a number of statements within the article which, if not highlighting dangers to the parrot in question, certainly could be construed by others as an acceptable husbandry technique and thus present a danger to a much bigger population of birds.

By having free reign to wander the house and chew anything the bird wants (in this text, the items mentioned included telephone cables, wine bottle labels, books, pots and pans, lipsticks and picture frames) this bird is at risk of a number of physical, electrical and pharmaceutical/chemical hazards. If it is deemed acceptable for one's parrot to chew through phone cables, how are they to differentiate between these and live electric cables?

Chewing books or other printed material would bring the bird into contact with various inks and other chemicals (potential causes of heavy metal poisoning or other toxicoses), if not actual physical harm from pulling heavy books or glass wine bottles onto themselves, especially when the bird has been robbed of its natural ability to fly and thereby evade danger. Picture frames being thrown to the floor could easily lead to the bird coming into contact with broken glass - either standing on it, mouthing it, or ingesting it.

The idea that discipline is alien to parrots is simply not true. They are flock birds, and as such are meant for life within a hierarchy. When observing a group of parrots, it is only too easy to see discipline at work within the group. The African Grey click, for example, is a warning vocalisation and you can see what happens within a group if this is ignored. This idea of a ‘pecking order’ is something I have witnessed in captive cockatoos, Amazons, African Greys and macaw groups. Societies require structure, and structure requires discipline.

So many behavioural problems stem from this misconception that parrots are people who should be allowed to do what they want, when they want, with no concept of boundaries or consequences. Over-bonded birds, with no concept of what being a parrot is about, fill the aviaries of rescue centres throughout the world.

I personally feel it is incredibly disrespectful to the parrot, not to treat it like a parrot. To give it no guidance as to what is safe, and what is not, or what behaviour is acceptable, and what is not, means you are depriving it of the important, potentially life-saving information which its parents would have normally provided, through discipline. To confuse it by portraying yourself as a mate, sibling and parent and then give it none of the support of any of these roles, is bordering on irresponsible.

While it is wonderful to open your home to your feathered friend, it is your responsibility as this bird’s guardian to ensure the environment, it is naively entering, is safe. There are enough owner-induced health issues from nutritional insufficiencies such as calcium, vitamin D3, Vitamin A, or abundances such as fat, and environmental toxicities including zinc, lead, nicotine and over-heated Teflon.

Behavioural inconsistencies are another issue (over-bonding, reinforced aggression or other anti-social behaviours) without making them run the gauntlet of a house full of potential dangers, whilst at the same time not having the tools to evade them (flight and forewarning). To use a pair of cliches: While it’s not ideal to wrap them in cotton wool, it’s just as wrong to give them the rope to hang themselves on (sometimes literally!).

These are intelligent and emotional creatures that have developed a huge capacity for learning. Why not let them use it to learn about the safe and dangerous things in their environment? That is a far more natural way for them to use their brains than talking our language is.

A parrot can quite easily be afforded a large amount of freedom without the need to put it in so many potentially dangerous situations. All it takes is some planning and common sense. Who is more free, the caged bird which is allowed flight time throughout a suitably parrot-proofed house, when it is safe to do so, or the clipped bird which walks itself into danger on a daily basis?

Samuel John Kerr BVMS MRCVS, NE Scotland, by email.




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