Parrots need your voice
Sometimes I just sit and watch my parrots do their parrot things. I try to watch them without them knowing, and observe them in their private lives. The one I find most interesting is Fred, my wild-caught grey parrot, Psittacus erithacus. We’ve lived together since the summer of 1994, and he is solely responsible for the direction my life has taken since. We knew each other for the two years prior, but after my friends couldn’t take care of him anymore (after they took him from a friend of theirs) they gave him to me. Up until that time, Fred and I mostly stared at each other. At my friends’ house, I would offer him grapes, berries and other treats, but now I was able to observe him in his private life.
Almost immediately I was able to learn about parrots, because I bought my dog food from a store in Studio City, CA (just “over the hill” from L.A.) which specialized in parrots. This was a different time in parrot culture in the US. Only two years prior did we end the cruel practice of importing parrots captured from their wild, ancestral homes . Very few people were discussing proper diet, and pellets were vilified by many “old-school” breeders and fanciers. Most relied on a diet that consisted of 50-100% seeds. It was pre-genetic sexing, and many veterinarians who treated parrots were pretty much “winging it.”
So now, I’m sharing my life with this new kind of being. Nadine, my Australian cattle dog and I lived together in a small, single-roomed guest house in Studio City, I was working on my Bachelor’s degree in musicology at UCLA , and Fred embarks on his new journey in his fourth home (the first being the rain forests of Equatorial Africa). Immediately he begins adapting to the particulars of his new home. He mimicked the whistle I used for calling Nadine back into the house from the yard. A simple, yet popular whistle among parrots: base note, then down a third. I would call, “Nadeeee-eeen! Wheeee-whoooo!” Nadine would come running into the house, she would get praised for coming back, and there would be happy feelings all around.
The next thing Fred learns in his new house is the name of his caretaker. Three times in one day he heard people calling out my name, and me answering to that call.
As an oblivious human, I didn’t see what was really going on inside of Fred’s head. He was realizing a way of communicating his desires by mimicking these two sounds. Alone, perhaps just mimicry. Together, “Shari…. wheeee-whoooo,” a meaningful sentence. No one in his environment ever put those two sounds together, yet he formulated how to clearly tell me he wanted my attention. Just like when I called to Nadine, and she came to me, he called to me using my name and not Nadine’s name. In fact, he never, ever said her name, but would tell her to “go away (no, he did not like her).
Now it was my turn to start thinking about my new roommate. It was a turning point for me. I realized what kind of cognizance it took to create that sentence. Not only had Fred learned from me, but now he was teaching me. We had a new flock language.
So, where am I going with this? Well, I forgot, but there is a message here, and that is parrots are smart. All parrots from budgies to macaws possess incredible brains, yet we humans, as a whole, either don’t respect it or don’t want to accept it. These are animals who, in the wild live a life of intelligent self-determination, choosing their own partners, food, nest holes, recreation, and make all the decisions in their lives for themselves. I feel very lucky Fred chose me to be his friend.
Photo credit: ParrotPhotography.com