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).




2 responses

20 10 2009

Hey there JDC – this is a beautiful post, really thoughtful.

And agreed about the parrot trade.

However sounds like RB didn’t have such a bad life, esp considering his friendship with your other bird. Maybe he would have lived a shorter and happier one in the wild but would also have contended with some fears (predation) he didn’t in your home, along with the joys you couldn’t provide.

I don’t know if flightless birds miss flight. But I kind of doubt it.

And happiness where they are, and in the moment, is an art more animals seem to have mastered than humans.


21 10 2009

Thank you, Mr. Caracara, for your thoughts–I think you are right about animals finding happiness in the place they are (as Whitman pointed out, they are not dissatisfied).

And, clearly, much of what I am sorting through with parrots as pets comes from my frustration at my own inability to give the birds the life I think they should have.

thanks again

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