Sunday, July 3, 2011

Rules for Parrots

Sometimes it seems there are a lot of rules when it comes to parrots.

Never have a parrot on your shoulder.
Your parrot should always be clipped.
Your parrot must obey the step up command.
You must show your parrot you are the boss.
Never let your parrot higher than your heart.
Never let your parrot out when other pets are around.
Your parrot must sleep in a sleep cage.
Your parrot must get 12 hours of sleep at night.

That is just a short list of things we have been told about parrots. And I am here to say I do not ascribe to a single one of those rules. I am sure those rules were designed with the intent to help people with their parrots. However I often find when I challenge commonly held beliefs about animals it opens the door to a whole new way of thinking. And in many cases it enhances my life with my parrots and other animals in ways I never could have imagined.

Here is an example of “rule breaking” in my house and why it is absolutely permitted. I allow my pets to learn to interact with each other. I recently added a new member to the family. A bunny! Her name is Loretta and she is a Holland Lop Eared rabbit. Initially she was intended to be a temporary visitor, but it soon became clear she and I made a connection. My spare bedroom became her new home. She is litter box trained so it was no trouble to give her free range of the room. My two cockatiels also fly free in this room. They are skilled fliers and I quite rightly assumed if they ever felt uncomfortable near the rabbit they would just fly away.

However what I have discovered is that the rabbit is enriching for the cockatiels and vice versa. The rabbit will hop over to a pile of Timothy hay and immediately a cockatiel will fly down to join the bunny. I change out the litter in the litter box and everyone comes over to investigate. If I sit on the floor with the bunny, I immediately have a cockatiel fly down and land on my knee. Many times I walk into the room to find the cockatiels foraging on the ground while bunny is flopped on her side observing and relaxing.

It reminds me of when I worked in a behavior lab in college. There was a bunny and a crow that had free range of the lab. The two would often be found interacting together or with the same enrichment item. It also reminded of zoos that would put a snake in with a tortoise. There seemed to be evidence that the presence of another animal helped reduce stress.

I can relate. Some of my most relaxing moments are when my dog is resting by my side, while a parrot preens my eyebrows, or sitting with a bunny in my lap and a cockatiel on my head.

People sometimes are gravely concerned about having animals together such as dogs and parrots. Certainly some dogs may be a danger to another animal and are best kept separate. (Even rabbits are capable of some pretty scary stuff) However it is important to note that dogs can definitely be trained to behave around other pets. I have plenty of daily evidence in my home that parrots and dogs can coexist without incident. Rebecca O ‘Connor wrote a great piece about how dogs are very much able to differentiate their behavior around different birds.

And in this one from her falconry blog you can see pictures of her dog and falcon together. Falconry is a perfect example of how a dog and a bird can be trained to work as a team. Furthermore the dog has to know the difference between the bird that is hunting and the one being hunted.

I think we often underestimate just what learning machines animals are. Rather than placing rules and restrictions on everything I think it is wise to assess the risk/benefit for each individual situation. Then decide what works best for your household.

Despite being told for years not to allow parrots on our shoulders, I have found roughly 90% of every audience I lecture to does not follow this rule. My guess is that for those folks the benefits far outweighs the risk. And it certainly does in my household. Time to see if my Blue Fronted Amazon parrot is in the mood to sit on my shoulder and preen my eyebrows! This is one rule I look forward to breaking every evening.

Barbara Heidenreich
Copyright 2011 Good Bird Inc

1 comment:

PL said...

As usual Barbara excellent article. Many times ones that says rules are speaking of guidelines. You wrote this article in perfect fashion as usual.