“Young birds are easy” as Liz Wilson used to say, to make a point. It’s true. They are eager and generally compliant. When sexual maturity rolls around, behavior and relationships may start to change. Remember your teenage years?
For parrots, natural behavior changes can mean that a favorite person or bird must be fiercely protected; Amazons are notorious for this. Cockatoos, especially males, can be highly unpredictable or will clamp onto you and try to bite when you put them down. Macaws will raise their wings in defense of whomever they are trying to protect (maybe teaching the “eagle” trick is not such a good idea?). Other behaviors could include charging the perceived interloper, screaming for more attention and interaction, nesting, egg laying and yes, masturbation.
Oftentimes, people are not willing to adjust their own behavior and expectations in order to live with a sexually mature parrot. Sometimes the advice is to get the bird a mate, or find it a new home, or punish it (yikes). Other times, the parrot is relegated permanently to its cage or to a back room, both less than optimal outcomes for the bird that is simply following its nature. Don’t get me wrong, there are positive ways of coping with these behaviors successfully; however, the number of sexually mature birds is usually greater than the number of people willing to learn how to live harmoniously with them.
As a rehoming organization that never has enough homes for the birds needing our help, Phoenix Landing does not advocate simply providing a mate for a sexually mature bird. If all captive parrots started making more babies, we’d have an even greater homeless problem.
However, birds living in captivity certainly deserve to follow their natures to the greatest extent possible, and one very important part of a parrot’s nature is the desire to have other bird friends. Some wild parrots live in large flocks, others live in small family groups; but all wild parrots live with other parrots to some extent. These social groups help to keep them safe from predation, and maximize their ability to find food, nests and other important resources. For this reason, Phoenix Landing does advocate that birds not live alone in households (in most cases).
Here then lies the problem – many people want a parrot because of their expectations of what the parrot provides in that relationship; and when a young, “easy” bird grows up, they start to express their needs in the relationship also. But we are not their mates or parents, so we have to learn to have an appropriate relationship with them, primarily as their friends. They probably deserve some bird friends too.
Having more than one bird can be a space, time and finance challenge, but it can also be easier for everyone. Birds learn from each other, often teaching their friends how to eat better food, shower or play with toys. They entertain each other, taking some of the burden off of the humans. They don’t need to live in the same cage to enjoy all the benefits of having birdie friends. Since even the smallest parrots should live a long time, it’s important that we find ways to sustain a long-term relationship for everyone. Stay tuned next month for some stories of Phoenix Landing bird friendships, including some of our adoptable birds!