20 10 2009

Ashes denote the Fire that was–

Redbird’s ashes wait.  I will pick them up when I take Wiggie in for the vet to recheck.  We will open the box and touch the ashes–, put them in the ground of the little cemetery we created for the critters when they die.  The children have placed logs and stones and notes and other objects to protect and feed what they feel are the spirits of the dead pets.

They like to sit in that space and play games with the dead.

Revere the Grayest Pile

Anyway.  I will not bore you with a discussion of mourning.

For the Departed Creature’ sake

that hovered there awhile–


What I will bore you with is this: Parrots Should Not Be Pets.  I have, of course, stated this in an earlier post.  But I feel compelled to write about it again, because of the youtube videos and the bird store I’ve exposed myself to in the last week.

My antagonism towards the idea of parrots as pets arises first, of course, out of the abuses that these animals suffer through commodification, including illegal trapping and transport, poor breeding practices and unfortunate pet store situations. The long life-spans of these animals (30-100 years) and the difficult aspects of their care means that many many people who purchase them mistreat, neglect, and abandon them (which is why we now have 3 previously discarded cockatiels).

These problems with the parrot pet trade are all a given.

What has been bothering me lately, probably because I am only now able to reflect upon my inability to really connect with Redbird (or at least make a narrative for myself that would suggest we connected, in the way I do for other creatures living with us), are the folks with good intentions–the people that love their parrots enough to put their videos on youtube.

With the nonhuman animals with which we live, we create empathetic stories about their internal lives.  We base these narratives on the creature’s visible/auditory behavior and our own experiences of the world.  These mesh and become what we see/hear/feel when we experience these creatures.

This narrative is inevitably flawed, however, because it emerges out of our consciousness.   It makes assumptions about the way the other/the animal lives in the world (exists, perceives, etc.)  It is not, in truth, a blueprint for the animal’s actual experience.

What you will notice in the youtube videos is the typical infantilizing of the pet birds.   The infantilization of pets is not a new observation on my part–folks have discussed this for centuries.  It is a logical extension of the human-dependent nonhuman animal relationship.   However, to me there is something profoundly different about this behavior when it is directed towards domesticated animals (who are already, in some ways, infantilized in form and behavior–selected for those behaviors that will make them more amenable to us) and when directed towards animals such as parrots.  Parrots are by no means true domesticated animals  They are not, for example, like animals who actively choose to live with us (the many stray cats that have shown up at our various residences across the country, for example)

The parrots:  we can not fulfill them.

So these videos disturb me–it is clever for a parrot to mimic–a clever parlor trick.  But where did this mimicry come from and what does it mean?  Few seem to ever consider this.    This behavior comes from the parrot’s own ability to process, interpret and generate auditory signals as well as the incredible importance of these signals in the complex social life of these creatures.  The parlor trick is nothing–try the parrot in the wild navigating the rainforest across various social ranges with through regions of varying vocal dialects.

And envision the amount of physical space a parrot traverses–from the smallest budgerigars flying across Australia to the largest Macaw traveling across South American.  Their flight is something clipped, curtailed, destroyed, removed when they become our pets.  A dental technician told me once about her pet bird, whom she loves truly and honestly.  The bird was bred in captivity and has never flown. “He does not know that he could fly so he does not miss it,” she said to me.   Even if she hadn’t been poking my mouth with sharp objects, I wouldn’t have told her how said that is.

Ironically (or not so…), I stopped at her bird store–(looking for gifts for my infantilized birds)–with the kids.  We encountered rows of parrots, stacked upon each other in small cages.  This is a “good” bird store–they do not buy illegally trapped birds, they babysit birds when people go on trips…blah blah. The large birds are housed alone–a macaw caught my eye and reached his bill through the cage–he wanted to touch me with it gently.


He will live 80 to 100 years if he is not overly neglected.  He will be passed from person to person and cage to cage.  Someone will make him talk.  Someone will love him.  Someone will die or move.


There was a rainforest.


Quotes are from Emily Dickinson (as usual).


My Wild Parrots–An Obituary

16 10 2009


I borrowed a tear from the water
And wept it again and again

Redbird or Reddie, our cherry crowned conure, our Aratinga erythrogenys died last week.

And the heart is all in shadow
And the heart has almost stopped

He was not a young bird.

I cannot see that you are not me

He died of kidney or heart disease. I was in bed, sick, when he died. I heard him yell for supper, as he did every evening, and fell back asleep.

Willie found him dead some time later. And Wiggie, his housemate–I would say his partner–there on the perch they shared on the top of their cage must have known. When we took Reddie away, he did not yell.

I have written about these birds before, here. Go there if you want to know more about them. This is just a little remembrance.


Redbird lived with us since I was eighteen (for more than 21 years). In no such intimate relationship with any other creature have I felt so distant and helpless. Redbird did not like me. He did not like my husband nor did he like my parents. He did not like people. He liked/loved Wiggie. We introduced him to Wiggie as I was leaving for college and could not take Wiggie into the dorms. He and Wiggie bonded, but Wiggie always retained a fondness for me and other humans.

Redbird did not like this and because their relationship was more important than our relationship to either of them, I never did what I might have to tame Redbird–separate them. Keep them isolated from each other and force Redbird to accept me or my husband or some human, as a surrogate mate.

If you want your bird to bond with you you should not allow him/her to have a close avian friend.

So, Redbird lived and died disliking and, to some extent fearing, everyone except Wiggie. This sense of him as a cipher haunts me as does my inability to grieve over him in the way I would with another creature to whom I had bonded. My grief is about the sense I have that his life was so diminished by his being turned from a wild creature into a pet–and my complicity in this, ignorant as I was in 1988, diminishment.

This is how I soothe myself. He may have been a cipher to me but he was not alone. He and Wiggie loved each other and they had each other, from outdoor aviaries in warm California to a heated aviary in Washington, to, when they became too old to be outside, a cage inside our house.

It was on the perch on top of this cage that he and Wiggie played out their last days together, like two old men rocking on a porch watching the world go by and periodically making comments.

Is this sentimentality on my part? Anthropomorphism? Of course, but I have nothing else except this with which to comfort myself. It is pathetic, I suppose.

the fool steps out of his image

But I have to tell myself something because I have to create something for Wiggie now. What he has is an absence–though his is less horrible than Reddie’s would have been, had Wiggie gone first. Wiggie can spend time with us and seem to enjoy it and the only way it works is if I create stories and assumptions–trying to read him but filling the spaces I cannot interpret with something of Homo rather than Aratinga.

lights a candle in bright sunlight.

What Reddie brought–what I stole–was this deep sense of other that I could not penetrate. The other of a wildness robbed–deep time and space in one little bird. Wiggie has this too. So do they all

desire to see the invisible


before 1988 to 2009


quotes (except for “if you want your bird) are from Inger Christensen