The name on everyone’s lips isn’t “Roxie” (from the movie Chicago, in case you’re wondering) it’s “Parrot Confidential”. Social media and the internet has been a buzz about this movie for months, and finally the time came and went. Most things I saw online prior to the airing were the “what if’s”. ”What if it paints parrot owners in a negative light” is probably the most popular that I saw. Until it came time to watch, we all had to wade in the pool of anticipation.
I want to say that I am impressed for the amount of chatter that this film has caused. It has raised opinions, some good, some bad, some here and some there… but it got people talking about the future and the history of birds. In some circles the chatter has become a battlefield of opinions, which at times is not a bad thing, nor is a difference of opinion. How you relate to those opinions and the delivery is probably the most important thing to consider.
In this day and age, our society is in the middle of a civil and moral war. A decade ago there was more of a gray area of thinking, as time has gone by opinions have shifted and so has the gray area. It has become smaller and people have started taking sides, hopping into camps and cliques. The liberal have gotten more liberal and the conservative, well have gotten more conservative. Therefore this trickles down into other areas of thinking and avenues. Some bird people are attacking breeders, and advocating adoption only. Some have decided that we as humans are an evil species and we have ruined the lives of birds forever. Others have looked into the mirror and seen a glimpse of themselves that they really aren’t that comfortable with seeing.
Have we humans ruined the natural world of birds, well actually yes, in a way. As a human race, we are the only creatures that change an environment to suite our needs and not the other way around. There is no adapting to our environment, so yes we have taken something from the wild that probably should not have been in the first place. So now what?
The documentary shows that some people are clearly better and more suited for being parrot owners. The story of Lavanya and Dolly resonates this point. Dolly gets to go to a boarding sanctuary for a few days a week, so Lavanya can have some personal time. This is a great idea in my opinion, not only is it good for the human, but it keeps the parrot socialized and enriched with different experiences. Clearly Lavanya did her research and has the resources to make this happen. Also a point about this story, Lavanya takes Dolly as she is. She isn’t on a website buying a trick dvd that is guaranteed to make her parrot stop screaming. Lavanya realizes that parrot vocalizations are natural and takes her bird’s natural behaviors for what they are…natural.
“So what do I do if I cannot afford to take my bird to a boarding facility”, well I think the idea of enrichment can come from Fagan. Poor grey was malnourished and soaked in nicotine for years by a “dime store cigar smoker” and had self mutilated to the point he had an open wound on his chest. Thankfully Marie Crowley has the know how and experience to help this little guy have a better quality of life. With the help of her vet, they successfully detoxed Fagan off of nicotine, after several seizures his health has improved minimally. Marie knows that parrots need enrichment and stimulation to help alleviate anxiety and stress, which leads to self-mutilation, plucking and barbering of feathers. A thing as simple as identifying colors can make all the difference to a parrot or something as simple as a left over chopstick from your Chinese food last night with a clicker can be the best training tool in the world. It’s how you look at the little things and how something small to you can mean the world to your bird.
I remember twenty-five years ago, when I got into birds, we really didn’t know anything. Not about enrichment, toys, training, food, diet, nutrition… nothing. I still think back to my first birds and I feel a sense of guilt. Like I said, we didn’t know any better. However things have thankfully changed.
Rescues are now a necessity and once upon a time they were not. The Lindens own Santa Barbara Bird Farms and for those of you die-hard Bird Talk readers, will remember the ads in the back of the magazine with their logo. They hand fed all of their babies, screened all of their applicants and had a waiting list of around a year. I know this because I was on their waiting list as I so wanted desperately to buy a baby African Grey parrot. That was until I fell for an abused Mexican Red Amazon parrot named Judd. That’s a whole different story, and you can read more about it here. Santa Barbara Bird Farms owned the parrot breeding market on the west coast, and the word was, if you wanted a healthy and happy bird, you went through them. That changed when they realized that the market of supply and demand had shifted. Supply was much higher than demand and unwanted parrots were everywhere. So they closed their breeding doors and began taking in birds that they had sold and created a sanctuary. They have chosen to make a “quality” of life for the existing birds and room for more. To be honest, I think this is incredibly responsible and very warm-hearted. There are thousands of breeders that got into the game, made their money and got out, with no thought of what they had done to the infrastructure of parrot breeding. Unfortunately that is a reality that we all have to face. There are good breeders out there, who care and want to make a difference and there are breeders who run “mill” type operations. The same is true for cats, dogs, horses, ferrets and the list goes on and on. Good and bad exists in every culture, including the culture of parrot breeders and their owners.
I am a fan, cheerleader and supporter of any rescue/sanctuary operation. It is something that I know that I would not be able to do. In the past couple of years, we have fostered a few birds and it is hard to let them go. It’s also a ton of work, cleaning, training and just making sure they have enough time with you to feel that they are safe and not alone. I applaud anyone that can and does this. You are rock stars in my eyes.
I have always said that I believe that any sanctuary should have an adoption program, for those birds that are handleable and would make someone a great pet. In the movie, Foster Parrots LTD took in Lou, the abandoned Cockatoo in to their sanctuary. The question is posed, “How must it feel for a bird like Lou, entering a sanctuary for the first time?” It was perfectly described to me by a couple that run a local rescue. ”Look at all the prison movies, the newbies walk in, and the inmates start to cat call and size you up the minute you walk in the door, it has to be terrifying” and I had to see the logic in it. You figure natural behavior is to figure out if you are going to fit in with their flock, and possibly be any sort of threat. It also does have to be a bit scary for the “newbie” walking in the door, you never who or what is waiting for you. Hearing all of the vocalizations, possibly even warning or alert calls, it has to take a toll. Talk about “Orange is the New Black”.
Through out this documentary the thought is constantly thrown out, “parrots make terrible pets”. Yes they are, for some people. Hey, I know people who shouldn’t be left alone with a cactus or a goldfish. Simply put, people should take the time to research, spend time with various ages of birds, and be prepared to make the lifetime commitment. My birdless friends say, “Birds are so much harder than say cats or dogs”, hell yes they are! They haven’t had hundreds of years of domestication and they are also the worlds most intelligent “prey” animals. Prey animals have to be handled in a whole different manner. This is just my opinion, but I have written a few articles regarding horses and parrots, and their similarities (I said similarities people, before you go on a tirade, look up the word). You have to be mindful of the energy you bring to the table of working with both, and constantly watching their body language. If you work with positive reinforcement, eventually if you are lucky a trust bond can be formed and they will almost do anything, but you still have to remember that they are still non-domesticated wild animals. Unpredictable and full of natural behaviors that to the average person, would be considered to be undesirable.
Through social media and other arenas, the gauntlet has been thrown in some circles and arguments have ensued. People disagreeing with the film as a whole and others saying that parrot owners are selfishly defending keeping parrots as pets. Others are defending their rights to have parrots, because they feel that they are enriching their lives, creating opportunities for people to learn about the various species of parrots through educational programming, that otherwise would not have the chance to see a parrot in the wild. People advocating rescues, while attacking breeders, while breeders are defending their right to breed and saying they are trying to keep some species from going extinct. As I said before, the gray area is getting smaller and smaller. People are choosing one side or the other, Coke or Pepsi, yin or yang, instead of trying to sit down and see the opposition as a possible learning opportunity.
In Parrot Confidential, I was so elated to see The Ara Project! Breeding Macaws and releasing them into the wild with a 85% percent success rate! Hatching babies, preparing them for what is in the wild and then slowly releasing them one at a time, when the conditions are right, so that they can flourish… that is action at it’s best. That in itself shows a glimmer of hope for wild parrots.
For the record, I noticed some things during this documentary. They showed a lot of empty cages, with no toys, not a lot of perches and usually the cages were too small for the species. Any documentary is going to use “smoke and mirrors” to get their point across and to get the viewer to feel the desired emotion to correlate with the current narration. They even used actors to recreate various scenarios and situations to get the viewer engaged. Writers do the same thing, we write things to create an image, our view, to get you to see something from our angle. It comes down to you making the determination of what you get out of the presentation.
What are my thoughts about the film? If you own a bird or even if you do not own a bird, by all means, you should watch this documentary. It may show you a side of parrots that you were not aware of and it may invoke thoughts that you never thought you would create for yourself. As a viewer you may be inspired to begin advocation of parrot adoption, or you may want to start sponsoring or volunteering at a local rescue or sanctuary. This may actually inspire you to want to adopt a bird that so desperately needs a forever home! I hope this film will evoke emotions and hopefully will make a positive impact on the world of aviculture and parrot owners.
I watched this and my thoughts shifted on owning parrots just like when watched and wrote about the film Blackfish regarding SeaWorld Orca and other Orca’s in captivity. I saw a glimpse behind the curtain and I wasn’t sure I wanted to. I felt a certain guilt about owning my birds, but unfortunately they are already in my home and sometimes you have to play the cards that you have. People can say bird owners are selfish, but guess what they are already here and it’s our job to make their lives as happy and pleasant as possible. Do I think that we as humans have ruined the natural world of birds? Yep, sure do. I think we as humans are incredibly selfish and are always looking for the next best thing, or the next fad. Birds happened to amuse our ancestors thousand of years ago and eventually amused us again becoming another fad when they reappeared on television’s Baretta in the 1970′s.
What would I do? (Again, just my opinion folks) I think that birds should be licensed, just like dogs and cats are, so we can get a more accurate number and read of how many birds are in homes across the country. This would also help the spread of disease, by keeping track of vet care. If you are going to be a breeder; breeders should only be allowed to breed a certain number of birds depending on permits and the amounts of particular species bred that year depending on the state. Is this going to happen? Probably not, there is already overcrowding of dogs cats and other animal species and essentially it comes down to helping and doing your part, so you can sleep at night.
This is our mess and unfortunately, no one is going to clean it up for us. Of course unless you consider the opinions of various government regulated agencies that think euthanasia is the easiest way to deal with the situation or outlawing them all together and taking them out of your home to deal with over population. We can sit around and point fingers, take sides and him-haw about the issues. Do birds belong in captivity? Really does any wild animal, probably not… but as Cher says “if I could turn back time”. We cannot turn back the clock, we cannot undo bringing bird into our homes as pets, we cannot undo the ozone layer, in fact we cannot undo the damage that we have done to their habitats or this planet we live on either. It’s time to start looking at the things that we can do. Working together as a community instead of closing our minds and start saving the avian world that we have instead of “wishing” it would be better. Activism, advocation and action are the ways that circumstances regarding parrots in captivity will change.
As a very outspoken and vocal kid (nothing like today), my aunt Wendy used to say “god gave you two ears and one mouth, so that you can listen twice as much as you speak” and that is what we need to do. Listen. Open yourself up to solutions, and support your local bird community rescues and sanctuaries. Advocate rescues and adopting birds that may not be babies but are going to make great additions to families. Talk to breeders and find out why they are in the business, instead of assuming. Encourage kids and their curiosity of parrots, hopefully by doing this you will pass the spark. Because those people who are just complaining and bitching about the situation and doing nothing about it, unfortunately will be dead and gone and there will still be thousands and thousands of birds out there that are unwanted and homeless. We have to get the next generation involved!
It’s important after watching this film to know, parrots aren’t the glamorous pets that the media and movies portray. They are a labor of love but can be the biggest blessing that can come into your life, if you’re prepared, have done the research and truly know what you are getting yourself into after opening Pandora’s box. Find the right information from reputable trainers and behaviorists, learn about diet and nutrition and all of the in’s and out’s of the bird you want. If after doing all of this, and doing a life inventory to see if you are stable enough to own a parrot, then by all means do it. Parrots are one of the most amazing creatures on the planet!
It will change your life… and in this writer’s opinion “for good”.
Copyright 2013 – Parrot Earth – A Bird’s Eye View of Parrot Confidential