Parental Deprivation by Jacqueline Bedsaul Johnson

Full disclosure…. I share my home with 6 parrots. But each and every one of those birds is re-homed. At least one is an actual rescue. And as much as I love them, and I do, I would give them up tomorrow if it meant there would be no more birds in captivity. But I’m not stupid or naive…and I know that’s not going to happen. Mankind has been capturing and keeping parrots since time began. But that doesn’t make it right.

If you went to visit your neighbors, and they had a robin or an owl in a cage, you would be horrified.  Why then do we not feel the same for these highly intelligent species?  A wise man once said that the worst thing that ever happened to parrots was that they evolved with such striking coloration and the ability to mimic human speech.  Both of these characteristics make them desirable to us.  And rather than watch and appreciate them in the wild, we had to seize them and put them in cages in our homes. 

I believe the birds that are bred in captivity need our love and care. But if we are honest with ourselves, we will admit that the thing that makes birds so incredibly special is the thing we immediately take away from them when we breed them in captivity…the ability to soar. Yes, some of us allow our birds to be flighted…but most parrots will never know the joy of gliding on an updraft.

The US has really started to wake up to most animal welfare issues. Puppy mills are slowly dying out. We know that you should fix your dog/cat. We have started to hold owners responsible rather than blaming a specific breed of dog. Trap/Neuter/Return for community cats is becoming more accepted. But when it comes to parrots, we are behind much of the free world. Germany requires specific size cages. Some countries forbid the clipping of wings. And the Netherlands just passed a bill making it illegal to hand raise a baby bird. 

Greg Glendell of the UK has been studying parrots in captivity for decades. He was the first one to coin the term “parental deprivation”. What that means is that we are actively abusing birds by taking them from their parents and hand raising them. Every dog owner knows that the longer a puppy stays with their mom the more emotionally healthy they are. And the more intelligent a species, the more it relies on learned behavior. You know your language and social skills because you were reared by your own kind. 

When we hand raise a parrot, we are depriving that bird of all the social, emotional and physical benefits of being raised by committed parents. Parrots will often keep a clutch with them through the next clutch. Know why? So they can teach the youngsters how to parent. When you pull a chick from the nest…you aren’t just affecting that bird, but all his future generations.

Breeders will tell you it’s not safe to leave the chicks with the parents. And in many cases it’s not. Because that bird was never parented…he doesn’t have the first clue how to parent himself. It’s OUR fault that is happening. 

If you love parrots you should want what is best for them, and without a doubt that is allowing them to know they are parrots. If you ever visit the Parrot Garden, remind me to introduce you to a couple of parent raised Amazons. Because they were allowed to stay with both parents Violet and Claus are extremely confident birds.  We do not see any of the problem behaviors we see with human reared birds.  No screaming, biting, feather destructive behavior, or over-bonding .  The difference in their behavior, curiosity, and demeanor as compared to their hand-raised companions is beyond striking. It drives home the fact that human raised birds are being harmed at the most basic emotional level.  

Everyone knows that I love parrots. And I believe the ones that were bred in captivity need our love and care. But if we are moral and honest we will admit that the thing that makes birds so incredibly special is the thing we immediately take away from them when we breed them in captivity…the ability to soar.

Jacqueline Bedsaul Johnson

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