The Problem With Pet-Shop Birds.

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.

Island Parrot Sanctuary 043

Congo African Grey playing on the aviary roof of his home at the Island Parrot Sanctuary.

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.

IMG_3814

Everything about this photo – from how relaxed she is, to her played-with toys in the background, even her diet – took months to achieve.

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.

Island Parrot Sanctuary 095

How many birds end up fortunate, safe in forever homes – and how many more DON’T?

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?

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What are your experiences?

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21 thoughts on “The Problem With Pet-Shop Birds.

  1. Reblogged this on Basically Beyond Basic and commented:
    My first bird, Cyber, was bought from a pet shop and her behavior held true to the claims made within this post. I cared for her day after day and we were best friends back when she was around, but having come from a local PetSmart, it was no surprise that she never seemed 100% comfortable around humans (including me). My next bird will definitely be bought from a local breeder instead.

  2. My parakeets are from regular chain pet stores, and my quaker is from a specialty bird pet store.

    The parakeets are not very comfortable around humans, but I never really took the proper time to tame them. The quaker is tame, but still not fully comfortable like the other parrots out there. Maybe it has to do with the way she was raised in the store?

    What struck me the most in the two specialty “birds only” pet shops I visited in Queens, New York, was how many birds are crowded into small cages or glass habitats. The quaker parrots were so many in the habitat that they were crawling over one another. It is really hard to believe that birds raised in such conditions can be healthy and develop normally. Similarily, big macaws are kept in tiny cages, and the cages are stacked onto one another. It is heartbreaking to see that. When you fully consider the true nature of a wild bird, that should be allowed plenty of space and freedom, seeing it in such horrendous conditions is really painful.

    And then I wonder, do all these birds get bought into someone’s home? There were so many of them there, probably at least 40 baby quakers in each store, and just hundreds of other birds, big and small, young, and older… And I can’t help wondering what happens to the ones that never find a true home.

  3. I have four rescue birds, and have no experience with pet store birds. Rescues are usually depressed and/or neurotic and all come with baggage. But it feels good to give them room to heal.

    • I can imagine it’s wonderful to watch them heal. It’s hard to think of the unwanted birds out there… I’m never buying again, personally (our most recent addition to the flock, Mavi, is a re-home). Thanks for writing. 🙂

  4. In my experience it is good not to generalize. I belong to several online parrot groups, and we find members of the same species can have similiar or dissimilar traits. For example, I have a couple of parrots I bounght in a pet shop my friend Alice ran. She sold me hand trained parrots, and they are swell. For example, my Sennie Baby was socialized by one of Alice’s employees. Some friends I have in my online groups write that their Sennie’s exhibit every behavior from civil to loving to nasty. Sometimes, that ‘bad’ behavior has to do with the owner or a previous owner if the bird has been rehomed. You must work with your parrot to help him overcome bad experiences, I think.

    On the other hand, my Hahn’s Macaw is the sweetest parrot you could ever know and she was raised by a breeder. Other Hahn’s owners report their parrots are pluckers (Arabella’s brother is a plucker), or not as socialized.

    Ditto my Redbelly Poi, who is sweet to me, bites my husband, and as I write is tormenting the dogs by flying over them in swoops.

    • Hi, thanks for writing! I agree that you can’t generalise… Unfortunately, though, in order to ensure that every parrot gets the treatment it needs, we’ve got to do it a bit. The pet shops I’ve been in – here, and in the states – have been small-ish, with poor conditions that border on truly bad. I know that some shops will be really excellent and treat their animals beautifully, but the ones I’ve encountered haven’t.

      I also think you’re on about working with your bird to overcome the ‘bad.’ I just wonder how many pet shops can say they honestly teach their new owners this? I’ve had a fair number of people contact me with similar experiences to Mishka’s… I just hope I get people thinking.

      Your birds sound adorable, especially your macaw! Cheers!

  5. Pingback: Guide to buying your first bird. | Students and Birds

  6. I have a pair of Cockatiels, Cola (male) and Chika (female). Cola was my first bird, and I got him from a bird centre local to my area (Surrey UK). I was walking around with my ex as we were thinking about getting a pair of Cockatiels, and I saw him and pretty much fell in love with him, he is a very beautiful bird. Poirot would have been a better name for him, he really looks after his plumage.

    My ex got a bird from a breeder and had no problems with him as he was hand raised etc. Cola on the other hand was a terror, and the more I read of your experiences with Mishka the more I saw Cola. Sadly my ex and I broke up (obviously) and we seperated but remained friends, taking our respective birds (this wasn’t such a hard thing on Cola, he really wasn’t keen on the other bird). Chika came from the same breeder mentioned and she is a delight, really clever and affectionate.

    Cola is, like Mishka, not happy with fingers. He doesn’t go bonkers but he does make it known he isn’t happy. Originally he used to bite REALLY hard, we managed to train this out of him and he won’t bite anyone at all now. He used to step up reasonably well but lately has been quite reluntant, preferring to put himself away, which is ok. I am in the throes of clicker training him as he is still relatively young (coming up to a year) to try and get him to be a bit more receptive of people. He seems to be taking it in. I do see a lot of your points in Cola’s behaviour and it was interesting to read someone else’s experiences with a shop bird.

    • Cola! What a great name! I’m glad he’s come along – and it’s great that you never gave up. I know that with Mishka, I was so worried that she never would like (or even tolerate) us. She does to this day go in waves of being super friendly in her own way, and then really standoffish, kind of like you described. Cola is lucky that you’re invested in clicker training. They all seem to REALLY love working for their treats. I just don’t think that the average person buying parrots from a pet shop is going to be able/willing to commit to the in-depth training that such animals need, if you know what I mean. Not when so many envision ‘cage ornaments’ because of that false image. It makes me deeply sad to think of birds being passed off because they bite or are timid.

      Thanks so much for writing!

  7. It saddens me when people lump “pet shops” in to one big ugly category !! In my 20+ years in “the business” it breaks my heart when such horrid accusations are made about people like me who are dedicated parrot/animal ambassadors – who works 365 days a year- who’s hands are raw from cleaning and disinfecting- and who will gladly direct a customer to purchase a goldfish it that is a better choice for said persons abilities and/or life style… Who are you to decide how I make a living? Who are you to ASSUME I put money-profit before what’s right for the bird…
    I invite you to the Golden Cockatoo anytime to show you that success can come from doing the right thing for the birds –

    • Hi there, I’m glad you commented – as I do know that there are some fantastic shops with truly dedicated owners. These, of course, I have no issues with. I commend you and owners like you who do right by these wonderful creatures. YOU are the people who start the change that the avian world needs.

      I write in sweeping generalisations because the sub-par pet shops hurt parrots’ lives.

      I guess what I feel is simply that a pet shop is not a great environment for avians. As I say, I feel that if every single shop could be enforced in its choice of breeders/stock, this would be fine. In my experience in avian rescue (I also have plans to open my own sanctuary), these animals are not intended as pets. A controversial position to be sure, but I ask myself if the suffering of these creatures when people get it wrong justifies breeding for people who do it right?

      I admit that I am against breeding parrots. These creatures should not be captive. They EXIST, however, so I do my best to educate, promote adoption, and help owners learn to understand the needs of their birds. Avians are sensitive, intelligent, amazing creatures, and while some thrive under the hustle and bustle of shop life, many don’t – and it impacts them later in life.

      I have been privileged to work at the Island Parrot Sanctuary, where I first realised why parrots shouldn’t be pets. To see theirs traumas is life-changing – even more so when you get to witness their new lives, and the pure peace they have found in their home. And I’m aware that I won’t change everyone’s minds, but I like to make folks stop and think. It was the IPS who caused me to do this. If I can do that for someone else, I feel I’ve done something for the birds.

      You have my utmost respect for doing right by these creatures. Thanks for stopping by!

  8. Being a huge bird lover I’m very familiar with this whole scenario unfortunately. I’ve “rescued” 3 birds from a pet store. I knew it was only making the problem worse but I felt so bad for these birds. I no longer go to that pet store. I originally went there to buy bird food for my two parakeets whom I got years ago when I was oblivious to how horrible pet stores are. I love my birds so much and it makes me sick thinking about all the birds in pet stores and people’s homes that are neglected and/or abused! 😦

  9. Went into a pet shop today that specialised in cages birds from finches to macaw parrots, as an owner of two cockatiels I was horrified at the conditions of some of these birds especially the two cockatiels in a tiny bare cage with nothing but some water and shit seed latching to the front bars as if desperate to be saved. Their crests were scruffy and they both looked sickly looking and as they stared at me all I could see is sadness in their eyes showing me they were numb from the mistreatment and lack of enrichment it’s totally animal cruelty for such intelligent sociable and loving animals. Their price was £55 EACH also a rip off but tempted to go back and rescue them even though they may never be tamed from such a traumatic ordeal.

  10. I have to agree with you on most pet stores now, but there used to be this wonderful one by me. Eight years ago I bought a parakeet from them. The birds were in open top cages and just kind of hung around the top of it waiting for people to come by as they seemed to really enjoy the attention. They were all tame and loving, and mine is still alive and happy. She’ll hang out on my desk, shoulder, or window sill and look out. I wish they were still around. I bought her a companion a couple years later from another store where the birds were kept 20 to a cage, and that one has never tamed down. Hates people, will bite hard if cornered or picked up, and is just an unhappy bird. The difference between them is staggering, but they get along well with each other, so that’s what matters to me. I’ll never get a bird from that store again though.

  11. My poor cockatiel Dusty passed away this morning due to sickness, he was only 4 yrs. old. I bought him from a pet store, he came in a small cardboard box with a raw slice of potato. When the store clerk took him out of the box the poor thing was scared out of wits. I firmly believe that my Dusty and his brothers and sisters came from a birdmill. In the 4 yrs. I had him he would never let me touch him why? because the so called breeders NEVER hand tamed him! How do I know this because my first cockatiel Chachi I bought in 1995 was bought from a reputable breeder,she was a sweetheart and was very tame I used to scatch her head and always loved attention and she lived 16 years and Dusty only 4 years. I believe my poor cockatiel was sick to begin with when I bought him or some kind of genetic sickness from his parents.. I feel bad for my Dusty he was well taken care of by me. I fed him good and spoiled Dusty, but everytime I tried to play with him he always hissed at me because of his previous upbringing. So I agree please do not buy these birds from a pet store because in the long or short term they may break your heart, and you don’t know the history of the bird that you are buying.
    Rest in Peace Dusty I miss you

  12. Every time I go into pets supplies plus it makes me sick. I can’t stand to see the pitiful birds in cages. There is bigger parrot that sits alone in a cage, just sitting there waiting I am crying as I write this.
    I make it a point to tell them how I feel every time I go in.
    guess I should not give them my business. Birds have wings to fly.
    I think the sale of birds should be illegal. It is just plain cruel.

  13. Pingback: What is it like living in a cage? – Dinosaur Toes

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