Did you know that parrots are the third most popular pet in the United States? Or that parrots have the ability to recognize and differentiate between shapes and colors and can even count? It seems incredible, doesn’t it? Parrots are truly amazing creatures, but in spite of being so popular, a lack of information within the general public has led to serious consequences and effects on the state of Avian welfare. Here are 5 things that you might not know about parrots, just to get you started:
Parrots often outlive their owners. Many of the most popular species of parrots, such as Macaws, Cockatoos, African Greys, and Amazons can live to be 50 to 100 years old – or more! As of 2012, Guinness World Records reported the oldest living parrot, a Macaw named Poncho, was 87 years old, but there is much anecdotal evidence about Amazons and Macaws living to be over 100.
Parrots require a very complex diet. Many people think of birds as seed eaters and for many years after companion parrots became popular in the U.S. their diets consisted primarily of seeds. Today we know that seeds should only play a minor role, especially for larger species. The ideal parrot diet includes a base of a formulated pellet diet; fresh fruits and vegetables; pasta, cooked grains, and legumes; quality protein; a quality seed mix in moderation; and healthy parrot snacks, such as homemade “birdie bread” or the very occasional peanut. In many ways, the ideal parrot diet mirrors a healthy human diet and is just as important.
Parrots are smarter than you might think. Calling someone a “bird brain” has traditionally meant they were stupid, but bird brains are far, far from stupid. In fact, based on what science has learned about the parrot brain, I would be honored to be called a bird brain! Alex, an African Grey, and Dr. Irene Pepperberg have made enormous strides in our understanding of parrot intelligence and the complex functionality of their brains. Thanks to Alex and his buddies and Dr. Pepperberg’s groundbreaking work, we now know that parrots use language, develop complex social relationships, are able to problem-solve and adapt efficiently to different circumstances. Parrots exhibit intelligence similar to that of children as old as 5 years.
Parrot rescues and shelters are busting at the seams. Most people are familiar with dog and cat rescues and shelters in their area – many even donate to these organizations. Unfortunately, parrot rescues are not as well-known and as a result they are understaffed and underfunded. In addition, the general public just is not aware of the atrocities that companion parrots are facing. Parrot advocates witness mistreatment, abandonment, neglect, and abuse on a daily basis and when considering how intelligent and emotional these animals are, the pain inflicted upon them is that much more devastating. Public awareness in an enormous challenge that must be overcome.
Parrots are wild animals. Unlike cats and dogs and in spite of being the third most popular pet in the U.S., parrots are not domesticated. They have adapted to living in captivity and in close proximity to humans, but they are generally only a few generations removed from their counterparts living in the wild. What this means for us is that we must be aware that parrots still rely on instincts to guide their behavior and perhaps more importantly, we must recognize what we can do to afford them the ability to utilize their instincts, such as providing toys that simulate foraging for food in the wild and providing them with natural wood perches that they can chew and destroy.
This list of 5 things you might not know about parrots is just the tip of the iceberg. Parrots are complex, unique, and magnificent creatures and while in our care, they deserve the best that we can offer them. Parrots have been companions to human beings for thousands of years and our fascination with them only seems to grow. It is our responsibility to ensure that they are protected, happy, and healthy and education is the key to accomplishing these goals.