Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Normal parrots

I've noticed lately that people are finding my blog by using the word "normal." For example, "normal macaw behavior" or "is it normal that my grey doesn't like to bathe." When I was first living with parrots, I know I had many of the same questions. I wanted to make sure I was doing the best I could for them, and comparing their behavior to the behavior of other individuals of the same species seemed like a good way to do it. If they were doing something odd or abnormal, it must be due to a deficiency in the care I was providing.

The more I lived with them, and my experiences with my caiques in particular, drove home the truth that parrots are individuals. While there are generalizations that can be made, what's normal for one bird may not be normal for the next.

I do think it's important to realize what's normal for the individual bird so that when deviations happen, appropriate action can be taken to remedy the situation. For example, I know a woman whose normally loquacious grey suddenly stopped talking. Two days later, the grey had died. The change in behavior was the first sign something was wrong; who knows if her life could have been saved with quicker action.

If I wrote out personality descriptions and detailed behavior observations of my caiques without identifying what types of birds I was talking about, I doubt anyone would think I was describing the same species. They are very different, yet they are both healthy and very happy. What difference does it make if what they're doing is "normal"? What does that even mean, especially with wild animals evolved to live in nature who are spending their days in my living room?

Here I go anthropomorphizing again, but it's a way that helps me to see certain concepts more clearly. Take me for example. Some of my interests: classical music, running, knitting. Are those normal human interests? I wouldn't say they're abnormal, but I'd say there are more humans out there that don't share them with me than those who do.

That's why it bothers me when people make all-or-nothing statements with regards to these individuals. With a few exceptions, of course. I do believe that people should never physically abuse parrots, for example. But I've seen/heard some of the following statements: parrots' wings should always be clipped, parrots' wings should never be clipped, never give a box to a nesty parrot, never feed any seed, etc. I'm very wary of most always/never declarations because it's not taking into account the individual parrot, her environment, and her personality.

As long as parrots are healthy, I say focus on making them as happy as they can be. This means getting to know each parrot as the individual he is and finding ways to enhance that relationship. Forget what's "normal," which may only lead to disappointment when your grey doesn't talk, your caique doesn't hop, or your cockatoo doesn't like to cuddle.


Richard and Harley said...


When I saw your title in my rss feed, I instantly thought "What the hell is a normal parrot?". Good to see you think the same.

Meg said...

This is a really good post. I can't really say I know what a normal parrot is, either. I do tell people some generalizations (please don't get a quaker expecting them b=perfect family pets, since though that is possible, most aren't) I think a lot are quite misleading.

Of course, I am lucky in breaking generalizations. Claudia, my mature female ekkie that has a mate and laid a clutch this winter, has never been hormonal, and is perfectly healthy and not overweight (something which shocks my vet no end). All my birds are in pairs, and though with most I had to work a long time to get them to accept other birds, they are now much happier and still love all the attention they can get.

Oh, and as a side note, although I can't run because of my health, I love knitting and classical music!

Mary said...

Richard -- Maybe I should have put the normal in the title in quotes, which may have clarified things, or perhaps made them more confusing when you saw the title?

Meg -- I definitely make generalizations as well and think they can be helpful, but I try to remember to couch everything in "usually" or "from what I've seen," as I'm sure you do.

I would love to get my guys into pairs, especially the caiques and wish my budgie would accept a friend. Maybe someday. We've got decades left together...