By Kathy Guillermo
If you stayed at certain hotels this summer, particularly in Hawaii and
Florida, you may have seen large parrots or other exotic birds, caged or on a
perch, “decorating” the lobby. The colorful feathers of these birds captivate
us with their graceful beauty. Next time you see one, you may wish to do as I
do: Tell the manager you are saddened by imprisoned animals.
These lovely, intelligent birds were never meant to sit, flightless, inside
for our entertainment.
It’s a terrible fate for such clever, faithful animals. In the wild, these
beautiful flock-oriented birds preen each other, fly together, play and share
egg incubation duties. They are never alone, and if separated even for a
moment, they call wildly to their flockmates. Many species of birds mate for
life and share parenting tasks. Most birds will not even take a second mate
if their first is lost.
Yet in our world they are usually put in a cage all alone, sometimes for
decades. Denied companionship and the power to fly they can become neurotic
and self-destructive, pulling out their own feathers or repeatedly bobbing
The singer James Taylor rescued a cockatoo from a hotel where he’d been kept
for years in a linen closet. He had pulled out his lovely cream-colored
feathers and was so disturbed that he couldn’t seem to stop weaving back and
forth. Mr. Taylor brought him to People for the Ethical Treatment of
Animals, where, for the first time in years, he could stretch his wings, rest
in the sunshine and enjoy the company of other birds. Eventually his
feathers grew back and he relaxed and stopped his bizarre movements, but he
remained a shadow of what he should have been.
Birds do understand what they’re missing and they mourn their lost friends
Alex, a grey parrot who is the subject of a language study by Dr. Irene
Pepperburg shows just how bright these birds are. Alex has learned to use
many words and phrases in their proper context. One day the professor took
him to a veterinary hospital for an operation. As she turned to leave, he
called out, “Come here. I love you. I’m sorry. I want to go back.”
He thought that he had done something wrong and was being abandoned.
After meeting Alex, Madhusree Mukerjee wrote in “Scientific American”: “For
a long time, scientists believed that birds, with their small brains, were
capable of no more than mindless mimicry or simple association. But
Pepperberg has shown that Alex, at least, can use language creatively–and
also reason with a complexity comparable to that demonstrated in nonhuman
primates or cetaceans.”
In truth, there is no such animal as a “cage bird.” All “pet” birds are
either captured or captive-bred.
Many parrots and other birds come from enormous bird factories, where
breeders warehouse hundreds of thousands of parrots for the sole purpose of
producing offspring to sell. As a “breeder,” a bird is a commodity, placed
with a “mate” to reproduce and seldom, if ever, removed from the nest box.
They do not have to be kept in healthy, hygienic conditions or fed
high-quality food to produce eggs. Frequently they exist in squalor, never
able to stretch their wings to their full length or even preen properly.
Usually, they aren’t even allowed to incubate their own eggs. Instead, the
eggs are removed and placed in electric incubators. Egg removal is a signal
for the female to produce another egg, and another, and another.
Tens of thousands of parrots and other birds are captured from their native
homes and exported to other countries every year. They are terrified as the
huge nets close about them and they frantically try to escape. Because the
exportation of captured parrots is illegal, they are smuggled out in cramped
containers-sometimes stuffed into socks and placed in shoes, small boxes or
even toilet paper rolls. It’s no surprise that half of these frightened,
hungry, thirsty birds die before ever reaching a new shore.
A colleague of mine at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals grew up in
Mexico and remembers the “bird man” who netted hundreds of wild parrots. To
keep them from flying away, he would pull a pair of rusty scissors from his
pocket and cut off half of each wing.
No bird was born to be in a cage. But they won’t ever be left to lead their
own lives until everyone passes by the pet stores and bird dealers.
Kathy Guillermo writes for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals
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