Not all pet shops are bad, nor are they ‘evil.’ But I feel that even in the best of conditions, a pet shop is not the right place for a parrot.
There is a marked difference between each of our birds.
I don’t mean their personalities – neurotic but lovable cockatiel Mishka who sings the first six notes of Jingle Bells on repeat; cheerful (hungry) Pip who will eat anything; ferocious parrotlet Ptak with his love of chewing fingers but surprisingly gentle moments; cuddly, sweet Mavi with his defensive side and affinity for car alarms; poor umbrella cockatoo Bobo, who has a dark history.
I don’t even mean the things they do and don’t like, preferences, because although that ties into it, that’s not it, either.
It’s hard to put it into words. I suppose I mean their adaptability, their confidence, their ability to find happiness in a given situation.
And it stems from their backgrounds.
What I’m talking about mostly applies to parrots, too. Pip, although clever in her canary way, simply does not compare to a parrot when it comes to matters of intelligence.
Trust me when I say that a bird’s background makes all the difference in how it reacts to things. And yes, that sounds so obvious when I write it. But it must not be – because people still buy and sell birds.
Our cockatiel, Mishka, is a pet shop parrot, our first and only. Never again. I’m not against pet shops, but I have slowly formed the opinion that they should not be allowed to sell birds or parrots – for a multitude of reasons.
First, pet shop birds are more likely to carry diseases. This is because – even if they don’t come from a factory situation – they come from breeders. Why did the breeders give these particular birds up? Because they’re weak, probably sick, and not good breeding stock. Our sweet Charlie was one of these birds. He and Pip came to us in pretty rough condition – and although he received vet treatment at the beginning, we lost him.
Trust me, you don’t want to go through that with your bird.
Pet shop owners are also typically less inclined to educate potential buyers about the truths of ownership, as their main goal is to make money and keep their shop going. That makes sense. People have to make a living, too. But it’s not to a parrot’s benefit. We’re talking about extremely intelligent, sensitive animals with specific and demanding care requirements. Failure to meet these results in behavioural problems that manifest from the bird’s suffering. Such pets are either relinquished to rescues, re-sold, or left in terrible conditions.
Finally, and most importantly, parrots who come from pet shops of the ‘bad’ variety have hosts of individual issues. They are often not hand-tamed, and have little to no experience with humans. Their first impressions are very negative as they are less than gently handled in the time between transfers from aviary, shop, and a new home. Birds never forget. Our cockatiel never has.
There are all kinds of stressful stimuli in a pet shop that can harm a bird’s health and mental stability. Loud noises, constant light, poor nutrition, strange faces looming suddenly in front of them, probably (but not always) less than ideal caging situations, and sometimes poor cleanliness. Add to the fact that upon purchase, the bird is abruptly separated from its cage-mates – the only familiar things to it – and packed off to a new home, new cage, new diet, new humans poking their fingers in wanting a tame pet.
All this sets them up for problems later in life.
Look at Mishka. She is neurotic. Training and time have given her confidence in increments, but I can see the difference between her and our hand-raised parrotlet and senegal parrot in her every behaviour.
She prefers to do her own thing. Her independence is wonderful – more than I can tell you. But I would call her a bit unstable. She still, to this day, does not like fingers. And by that, I mean she all but has a nuclear meltdown upon seeing them (most days). We don’t push this. It’s not an argument that needs to be won anytime soon, as she can step up relatively happily onto wrists. It’s also slowly improving.
But it’s a symptom of the bigger picture.
Certain things can set her off and don’t always know what it will be. She will zoom around the ceiling shrieking and screaming for no apparent reason. It’s not an angry thing, or fearful. It’s more of a simple burn-off of energy… but she needs time afterwards to cool down, or she’ll bite. So many things make her afraid. People, mostly. Training her has helped her overcome her fear of things, like toys. It took us six months just to persuade her that we weren’t murderers, and even now, she’s got a bit of what you might call a wild streak. Those first six months were, in a way, frightening, seeing as we didn’t know if we would ever tame her, or if she would simply live her entire life in such paralysing fear of us.
Our cockatiel is even more of a wild creature than our others – and that does say a lot, as birds are very much creatures of their instincts. She constantly reminds us of the trust we had to build, bit by laborious bit. With her, it’s too easy to undo.
Don’t let it be said that pet shop birds don’t have certain advantages, however.
For instance, Mishka has never in her life displayed sexual behaviour towards any human. The same can’t be said for hand-raised Senegal parrot Maverick, who defends me from my boyfriend because I am his perceived mate. Even Ptak the parrotlet has occasionally done the infamous ‘wiggle-neck dance.’
But I also wouldn’t say that this negates all the bad things that come of Mishka’s pet shop background. That’s where my soon-to-be-posted (very delayed) issue of the week comes in: hand-raised vs. parent-raised parrots.
Another topic for another day.
There’s more to consider when thinking about pet shops and whether they should be allowed to sell birds:
‘ An astounding 75% of parrots living in captivity in the United States are living in less than suitable living conditions and it has been estimated that the average parrot will have 5-10 homes in the first 7 years of its life.’
Read on here, from the Feathered Friend Rescue. Alarming numbers, no? How many of these are unwitting people who stumble upon a beautiful bird in a shop display, and are persuaded into buying by staff out to push a sale – and who therefore don’t give the full picture of bird ownership?
It makes you think.
I think it’s unreasonable to expect pet shops to shut down animal sales entirely. I’m not keen on them selling most living creatures, really, but something needs to be done for companion parrots’ sakes. I do feel that it would be fair to put stricter requirements on shops who choose to sell birds, for instance: vet checks on all incoming animals, choosing legitimate, small-time breeders, and providing better temporary living conditions with enrichment.
Some pet shops do this, and for that I commend them. But I’m talking about the ones that don’t.
Most importantly – and I say this a lot – these less-than-stellar pet shops need to start educating the people on the truths of parrot ownership, and dissuade the casual person who just thinks the birds’ feathers are pretty.
All birds wage an uphill battle to be happy in a human home. But pet shop birds especially.
In order to stop these places from selling them, we not only need to make our voices heard, but we also have to stop buying from them. Even if you see an abused, sickly parrot in terrible conditions, do not bring it home. Don’t ‘rescue’ those birds – because your money only perpetuates the business. Next week, you’ll come in and there will be an identical bird in identical conditions. Again, and again.
And yes, I know how hard it is to walk past. It’s absolutely devastating to see. I gave in once myself – and no, I don’t really regret it deep down, because I have Mishka, and she is a wonderful part of my life… if a challenging one.
But I’ve learned that the most efficient way to make an impact is to say no, leave, and make my voice heard somewhere else. Maybe I’ll start a chain of events one day that will make a difference. In the meantime, support pet shops and breeders who treat their birds well, and educate others, so that they will not make the same mistakes.
So, tell me what you think: pet shops selling parrots, yes or no?