Why parrots are like children

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As many of my friends from the Weather Underground community already know, my wife and I are avid parrot lovers. Actually we have a love for all animals big or small, but we discovered years ago, after having dogs, cats, rabbits, parakeets, and horses that there was something we were missing out on life. I had always admired many of the large brightly colored birds we had seen in some pet stores that specialized in parrots. But every time that I saw the price tag, my heart would drop and I just knew that I would never be able to justify the expense of owning one of these magnificent birds. My favorite at that time was a large parrot of the Macaw family from South America. This particular species of bird was known as a Scarlet Macaw. They had very long tails measuring up to 24 inches and the length of the bird from head to tail tip could reach almost 48 inches. These were some big birds, the biggest that I had ever seen close up. They were brightly colored with reds, blues, yellows, greens, and even black and white. A true living Christmas tree of color. I have since seen few birds as big and brightly colored as these. I would just have loved to own one of these magnificent birds.

One day I was telling my mother about these beautiful birds and how expensive they were. She proceeded to tell me that she had been to a new pet store where they were selling Macaws for $300. I immediately proceeded to tell her that she didn’t know what she was talking about and that I have been to many pet stores and knew very well that these birds cost from $1000 and up. Some of them went for as much as $5000. But she insisted that she had found this new pet store that was selling them for $300. Since my mother was so insistent, I just had to go and check this out. So my wife and I drove to this new pet store. It was called Petland and was in the Knollwood Shopping Mall. There were only two ways to get to the store. They didn’t have a store front door to the outside of the mall. You had to enter at one of two entrances at either end of the mall. One of them through the now defunct Montgomery Wards.

When we found our way into this new Petland store, we saw a wide assortment of birds, fish, and dogs. We found someone who was an employee and asked them if they had these $300 parrots that my mother had told me about. They took us over to look at a cage that had some birds in a cage. They appeared to be very small parrots. You can a parrot by the shape of their beaks. Here is a picture of a parrot beak.

Characteristic parrot beak

Characteristic parrot beak

All parrots large or small have basically this same shape and structure of beak. There are some people that debate weather a Parakeet is a true parrot or not, but if you look at the beak, you will see this same beak shape and structure. The parrots we saw at Petland that were selling for $300 were much smaller than the Macaw pictured above. I was to learn that these bird were in fact Macaws though. They are the smallest of all Macaws and are called Hahns Macaws. They have a slightly larger cousin called a Noble Macaw that is a little different in appearance, although at the time, the staff at Petland thought that a Hahns Macaw and a Noble Macaw were the same bird. The following are pictures of a Hahns Macaw.

Hahns Macaw

Hahns Macaw

Hahns Macaw Pair

Hahns Macaw Pair

Hahns Macaws are the smallest of the Macaw family of parrots. From head to claw they measure about 4 inches high and from head to the tip of the tail they measure about 7 inches. As you can see, they are a little bigger than the common Parakeet, actually about twice as big. They are predominately green with yellow under the wings and tail. The front shoulder on mature birds is a red stripe. They are very intelligent as we were to learn, almost too smart for their own good. We fell in love with them write away and got one. We had to get a cage also as we only had Parakeet sized cages which are too small for the Hahns Macaw. We we told that we needed a cage big enough so that the parrot can stretch it’s wings fully with out hitting the sides of the cage and it is recommended that the cage be big enough for them to flap their wings and even fly from one perch to another. We ended up spending another $200 for the cage and stand. We named our new bird Sparky as he seemed to have a sparkle to his eyes. I say he, but we didn’t really know at that time if our new bird was male or female. That can only be done when they become older. We were told that our new bird was about 6 to 9 months old. We also were given a guarantee on the bird along with a free veterinarian check up. If the vet found anything wrong with the bird, we could bring it back. Well Sparky proved to be a very healthy bird and he constantly surprised us with his intelligence. He was very friendly and after a few days in his new home and a little bit of training, he would go to anyone. He gave kisses and would sit on your hand or shoulder. He often when around on the shoulders of my wife or I and proved to be very curious. He was anxious to learn what ever he could. It soon became obvious that he had learned how to open his cage door by himself and we had to start putting padlocks on his cage doors to keep him in when we were sleeping or away from home. He learned to speak in human words very quickly and even learned what words were associate with certain actions. My son taught Sparky to say and play peekaboo. He would also play bang with sparky. Soon Sparky learned to say bang and our son would drop to the floor and play dead. Sparky would go to the edge of his cage, look down at our son, and say “Peekaboo”. Eventually Sparky learned to raise his leg to hide his face each time he said “Peekaboo”. One day we were surprised to hear Sparky say “Hello” after the telephone rang. Sparky had learned from watching us and listening that every time the telephone rang, we would go pick up the phone and say hello. We learned from a magazine that we started to subscribe to called “Bird Talk” that larger Macaws even learn to pick up the telephone and say “Hello”.

Sparky wanted to share in our meals when we sat down to eat. We soon learned that parrots like to eat and can eat most human foods. You just have to be careful to never allow them to touch anything that is hotter than 120 degrees F. Basically if the food is too hot for your child’s mouth, than it’s too hot for the birds mouth also. Parrots can not have milk of any kind because all parrots are lactose intolerant. This may be true for all birds, but I don’t know for sure. Parrots can eat cheese and yogurt however. They can also eat nuts, but shouldn’t have any salt. I don’t know how much salt is too much, but it’s considered a no no for parrots. They can also eat meat, chicken, and fish which are good sources of protein. It’s recommend that you supplement their diets with lots of fresh vegetables just like is recommended for children. Some birds will not eat vegetables so this can be a problem, just like children. At the time we got Sparky, who we considered our first parrot, we provided the best quality seeds mixes available with some supplements to make sure Sparky got all the nutrition that he needed. We just were not sure that he would get all that he needed from human food. We have since learned that many parrot owners only feed fresh human foods. That apparently is fine so long as you make sure that all of the birds nutritional needs are met.

As you can see from this story, parrots are a lot like children and have the same requirements. They are very smart and it’s been estimated that a parrot can have the intelligence level of a 2 to 5 year old child. This was recently demonstrated by the Alex Project. I will tell you more about that in one of my later stories. I hoped that you have enjoyed this story and I swear that it’s all true. We found that we love parrots so much that Sparky soon had a brother and later several brothers and sisters. At one time we had 6 birds in all which is a major responsibility, but if you love parrots as much as my wife and I do, you find that taking care of them is never a chore. It’s a real pleasure and a lot of fun. They never failed to entertain us with their antics and intelligence and returned our love 100 fold.

After having my son read this story, and he was there so he is very familiar with all of this, he reminded me of something else that we experienced that shows the similarities between parrots and children. If you have had children of your own or been around children a lot, you how they love to play and scream a great deal. Children always seem to have tons of energy. Like my wife used to say, if we could bottle up all that energy, we could make a million dollars selling it to people. Well after getting Sparky, we used to go back to Petland in Knollwood Mall to get supplies and to just see the other birds that they got in. One day when we entered the mall from the Montgomery Wards side, we heard this load screaming as soon as we were inside. It wasn’t continuous, but intermittent like you would here from children at play.  As we got closer to Petland, the screaming noise got louder. Soon we walked into the doors to Petland and were greeted by two large blue birds in a glass fenced off area. These were the largest birds that I had ever seen in person. They were not in cages, but in a large enclosed space with a glass barrier around them. They had large dog dishes for their food and a large metal garbage can with the open end pointed towards the door. These two blue birds, as part of their play, would go inside the metal garbage can and scream at the top of their lungs. Some times one and some times the both of them. Let me tell you that garbage can seem to act as a load speaker and made them so loud that you could here the birds all over the mall.

Blue Hyacinty Macaws

Blue Hyacinth Macaws

When I asked the staff what kind of birds they were, I was told that they were the largest members of the Macaw family of parrots. They were called Blue Hyacinth Macaws. They had a dark blue plumage with a yellow ring around each eye. They had big black beaks that when opened could swallow my wrist or even my arm. They are a very large playful parrot and I don’t mind telling you, they were a little intimidating with those very large beaks. They had a wing span, distance measured from the tip of one wing to the other when fully extended, that was as long if not longer than my arm span. These birds were absolutely gorgeous and quite expensive to purchase. If you remember I said that parrots back then could reach to $5,000? Well that’s what just one of these magnificent birds was selling for. And since these were mated, that is one male and one female, they wanted $10,000 for the pair of them. I would have loved to own them, but that was more money or responsibility than I could justify. But there they were like two little kids having a ball playing and yelling. I’m glad that my son reminded me about them.

I have lots more parrot stories to share with you so be sure to come back often.

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