Parrots differ dramatically from other animals we consider to be pets. While a parrot might seem tame, it is not domesticated. A parrot’s natural instincts are intact despite learned behavior. Any parrot encountered in a domestic setting is identical to its counterpart in the wild. True domestication requires a change of environmental conditions on a breed of animal over many, many generations. Successful domestication often takes centuries.
Humans had domesticated dogs and cats long before the time of Christ. However, keeping parrots as pets has been of mainstream interest for only 150 years at most. Before 1900, the only people found keeping a parrot would have been a wealthy wild game hunter or an exotic merchant of some sort.
The way humans keep parrots as pets, is contrary to the natural evolution of the species. Parrots in the wild are prey animals and are terribly ill-equipped to handle stress alone. A flock is the very definition of safety and identity for many varieties of birds. To subject such an animal to life as a single pet strips it bare of all of its coping mechanisms. We as humans don’t buy a flock of parrots to take home – we usually own one at a time.
The flock also represents a bird’s entire sense of identity. You could name a bird George. But the bird does not identify itself as George; it is a part of a greater whole, a flock. It doesn’t see itself as an individual, but rather defines itself by its affiliations to a larger group or flock. So when we buy a single parrot, take it home, put it in the isolation of a small cage, and stare at it with our two predator eyes, the parrot can experience unmanageable anxiety. The outcome is often a “pet” that bites, screams, is aggressive, or destroys its own plumage. Some parrots can become so emotionally unbalanced as to lethally self-mutilate.
A very common behavioral problem of parrots in a domestic setting is feather plucking. This disorder is not found AT ALL when parrots are in their natural setting, free to fly and with their flock. Just like humans turn to obsessive-compulsive coping mechanisms for unmanageable stress, so does the parrot. Feather plucking is undeniable evidence that how we make them live falls far short of what they need to live a healthy and well adapted life.
Perhaps we ask, “If parrots are so ill-equipped to be in a domestic setting, why do we keep them as pets?” A small minority of parrots are lucky enough to manage a healthy relationship with humans. In those situations, there were usually sufficient recognizable influences in the environment that the parrot can manage to interact socially. To a parrot, a family resembles a flock. If there is a confident and benevolent leader figure present, the parrot will be naturally inclined to ally itself with that individual. As is with dogs, parrots are compelled to observe hierarchy. If there is no discernible chain of command or an easily recognizable “alpha,” the parrot will certainly act out.
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