Parrots need your voice
If you’re a fan of The Twilight Zone, you might recognize this title. It was an episode that first aired in 1960, and stars Roddy McDowell as Sam Conrad, one of two astronauts who crash-land on Mars. His compatriot, Mark Marcusson is optimistic about what they will find on Mars, as he believes all people throughout the Universe are just the same as the people on Earth. Conrad is much more pessimistic, and becomes more so after Marcusson dies from injuries sustained from their crash-landing. When Conrad goes outside the ship, he’s greeted by a group of Martians who look just like the people of Earth. They welcome him graciously, and he feels at ease. They offer him all the comforts of Earth in his new home, fully furnished right down to a bottle of fine Scotch; however, when Conrad looks for windows or tries to leave the house, he can’t. A wall then raises to expose cage bars, and a crowd of people staring at him from the other side. He then realizes that Marcusson was right, and as he grips the bars of his new cage he screams out, “Marcusson! You were right! People ARE alike! People are alike everywhere!”
This theme about being caged against a person’s will is one that appears over and over in different genres, but particularly in science fiction. It is the theme of the very first Star Trek episode titled (what else) “The Cage,” the movie Planet Of The Apes, the novel Slaughterhouse Five, as well as several other Twilight Zone episodes. It’s an idea that frightens us, and people have composed lofty writings with regard to the human spirit needing to be free and autonomous. Yet, at the same time, imprisonment is something we humans inflict on others, human and nonhuman alike.
Let’s transfer this theme to our parrots. I know what some of you are thinking because I’ve heard it many times. “My parrot is happy. My parrot is rarely in her cage. My parrot is dearly loved.” There’s a lot I have to say about those kinds of statements, but companion parrots are not the subject of this post. I’m thinking about the parents of our beloved companion parrots.
Much of what we know about the parrots who make babies for parrot breeders, also known as “aviculturists” comes from those aviculturists. We are assured over and over again that they are treated well, but if you have any kind of understanding about being caged, then you know there is no way these parrots can be happy. Sam Conrad in that episode of The Twilight Zone was lucky compared to what parent parrots are forced to endure. While Sam got a nicely furnished house, fine Scotch and all the comforts of “home,” this is not the case of breeder parrots. Most breeder parrots are in some kind of cage (home) that may or may not have enough room to even fly a short distance. They have few perches, usually there are no toys, and there is no enrichment whatsoever. They have a nest box. Period. They do what evolution predisposes them to do, which is create the next generation of their species.
Occasionally, aviculturists will allow a pair to raise one of their own chicks, usually to increase the breeding stock (it’s thought that parent-raised individuals make better breeder birds); however, most clutches are raided by human predators–that is aviculturists–who steal their eggs or young chicks. There is no explaining to these parents that their babies are going into homes to be loved (hopefully) by a human family. When aviculturists come to raid the nest box, parent birds are highly agitated and stressed, and they fight all they can to prevent their babies from what they perceive as a real threat to the lives of their offspring. All of this– from the barren cages, to the stealing of babies– happens to these birds year after year after year. They never get to leave their houses, and they never get to drink that fine bottle of Scotch in a nicely furnished home. The only thing they look forward to is raising their young, and they don’t even get to do that.
I don’t know about you, but I can’t imagine this kind of a life for me or my parrots. It’s all too horrible to think about, which is why science fiction writers use this theme again and again. So think about this. Regardless of how happy and loved your parrot is, is it fair that their parents should live such dismal lives?