What do I know about parrots?

(not much, but growing)

So far, after one two-hour workshop, one two-hour visit with Oliver (and some other parrots in the background), half-way through a book on parrots, I know some things about parrots.
  1. Parrots are very smart.
    PL green parrot
  2. Many (not all) of them speak English words – some of them a lot of words.  Nicole, Oliver’s caretaker, says that he has a “massive vocabulary”.
  3. They can be noisy.  When I was new to Oliver the other day, his vocalization was mostly “screaming” (apparently a technical term) – maybe 6-8 times in two hours, not so bad really but enough to maybe be a problem with my neighbors.  Nicole says when it’s just the two of them hanging out, he doesn’t scream – he just talks a lot.  (I didn’t hear any talking.)
  4. Some parrots learn grammar: the parrot who asked me “Whatcha doin’?”  Then turned to the other people present and asked “What’s he doin’?”
  5. Some of this speaking seems meaningful – not just “parroting” some words.  When Nicole was having a hard day, Oliver asked “Are you OK?”
  6. As this indicates, they can be genuinely interpersonally sensitive.  Nicole says that Oliver is “very tuned in to people.”
  7. There’s an amazing New York Times article titled “What does a parrot know about PTSD?”, which follows PTSD parrots (have had some hard life experiences) and PTSD veterans – who seem to heal each other.
  8. According to parrot researcher Jennifer Cunha, parrots can be taught to read.
  9. Parrots are endangered in the wild. wild parrots 1
  10. There are lots of reasons to believe that living in captivity (“companions with humans”) can be an overall good deal for at least some parrots: their life expectancy is much better, they have a regular food supply, they do not live in fear of predators, they don’t have to fight the elements.  It’s definitely a big tradeoff from not being able to live out their instinctive destinies.  So much depends on the human companion and the quality of life – of life enrichment – they provide.
  11. Some parrots are shy around new people entering their environment – some more social.  Nicole says that Oliver is social.  He ended up on my shoulder for most of the second half of our 2-hour visit.
  12. Parrots are capable of aggression, especially if you encroach on their territory.  Stick out that over-eager finger to get a parrot in his cage to climb up on it and it may get bit. (Barbara Heidenreich, The Parrot Problem-Solver: Finding Solutions to Aggressive Behavior)
  13. You can learn the non-verbal signals of a building attack and head off most aggression – mostly by backing off and giving the bird some space. (Heidenreich)
  14. The process of building trust between a parrot and their human companion is subtle and ongoing and crucial – and sometimes is unintentionally violated, then takes a while to build back.  (Heidenreich)
  15. If a parrot has an early negative response to a person, it may take a while to undo. (Heidenreich)
  16. Parrots are amazing!
  17. It may take a lot of subtle work to figure out what’s going on in a parrot’s brain, but it’s really worth it.  And it may be getting easier – see Cunha’s work in getting a parrot to indicate yes or no.  (“Do you want to visit with company in the living room or stay in the bedroom?”)yes or no 2