Cage Birds: There is No Such Animal

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

their heads.

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

and freedom.

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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