Friday, February 5, 2010

A Parrot Can Change Your Life

Are the animals in your life your family? I know mine are. Of course I do have a human family and wonderful friends. But my animals are my constants. I can count on their joy when I return home (and many times when I just walk into the room.) If I feel like singing I know one of my parrots will absolutely join the chorus. If I decide to whistle, I am guaranteed two more parrots will participate. If I am scurrying about the house my flighted parrots will follow. If I am curled up in bed to watch some TV, my long time blue fronted Amazon parrot companion of twenty three years will insist on preening my eyelashes and eyebrows, an indescribably relaxing feeling. And of course I can always count on my dog to snuggle up next to me when I am feeling under the weather. I can’t imagine life without their company.

There is plenty of information that cautions people about the responsibilities of having a parrot in the home and the potential behavior problems. And I certainly agree. Acquiring a parrot, or any animal, is something one does after researching the pros and cons and evaluating one’s own situation. I am all for responsible pet ownership. So yes, do your homework, find a responsible breeder, adopt from a reputable parrot rescue, learn about common parrot behavior problems, practice positive reinforcement, determine the financial responsibility, and keep educating yourself so that your parrot will have the best life you can offer. But after that is done and you have decided to take the plunge, be sure to take time to do this….enjoy your parrot!

A parrot can change your life. I know a parrot changed mine. That eye brow preening parrot has taught me so much. I joke that my relationship with that bird is the longest of my life. But it is true.

Tarah, my blue fronted Amazon parrot came to me as an adult and I know nothing about her history prior to her joining me. She was sold for $100 to a friend who worked in a pet store. When my friend could no longer care for her she came to me….with a biting and screaming problem. Even so I was enchanted when my new parrot roommate said “hello” when I was eating a piece of bread. Little did I know this small green parrot would lead me to a career in animal training.

Tarah taught me that a kind and gentle approach to animal training and handling teaches an animal to trust you. Like many parrots, Tarah will bite if forced to do something against her will. Tarah taught to me to give up on force a long, long time ago.

Tarah came to college with me, where I studied zoology. After graduation I went to work at a zoo. In part because of my few years as a parrot owner I secured a job at the bird show. After getting my feet wet with bird training I was hungry for more. I devoured books on training and soon found myself applying my new found knowledge on some of my parrot’s behavior problems, like that screaming for attention issue! I watched our relationship blossom as I began to understand more about how to influence parrot behavior with positive reinforcement……and Tarah learned to whistle instead of scream for attention.

Even though I worked all day with animals, I looked forward to coming home and spending time with my parrot. And I thought it a good sign that my parrot seemed happy to see me too. I can’t remember the first time I was close enough that Tarah decided to preen my eyebrows, but we both obviously liked it. My parrot learned not to poop on me so she could have more time working on my eyebrows. Every time she pooped on me, I would put her back on her cage. She quickly learned to “hold it” so she could stay with me longer.

It was in these close moments I also learned to relish the smell of an Amazon parrot. To me Amazon parrot smell is like mom’s apple pie. It means love.

My parrot taught me some important lessons on how to connect with an animal. But she also inspired me to learn more. I already enjoyed seeing animals in the wild, but soon I really wanted to see parrots in the wild. I have since had several opportunities to see parrots in their natural habitats and highly recommend it for anyone with an interest in parrots. It makes me proud that many people who share their home with a parrot are often concerned with parrot conservation. These are the folks so touched by parrots they will donate money, time and goods to make sure wild parrots can thrive. That is not something that can be said about too many other types of pet owners. Parrot lovers are a special kind indeed.

At this point in my life I have met and worked with thousands of parrots. I often wonder if any of it would have happened had it not been for that one eye brow preening parrot in my life. I was once asked what my “happy place” is. Guess what my answer was. Tarah still preens my eyebrows nightly and I still look forward to it. I hope you too have a “happy place” that involves a parrot.
Barbara Heidenreich
Copyright 2010