Looking at Parrots as People.

Some people ask: ‘Is it harmful to refer to a pet parrot as a fid?’ It falls under the same argument of whether we should treat our birds like kids.

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Fid, or feathered monster?

Yes, there are those who have argued that this term of endearment encourages owners to anthropomorphise their birds – which means we assign human qualities to a non-human creature or object. It’s personification. Anthropomorphising is something to avoid in itself (more on that presently), but does calling your bird a ‘fid,’ or yourself a ‘parront’ really cause issues?

Here is my own take on this whole debate: I personally feel that ‘fid’ is an inoffensive term. It is, however, something I don’t really care for myself. That doesn’t mean I hate it, or want it to go away or anything, and I certainly don’t mind folks comparing their birds to kids – or to themselves as parents. The experience is supposed to be remarkably similar. And as an aside, I haven’t had any little ones myself, but I have it on good authority that parrots are eerily – and permanently – like toddlers.

And I feel thinking that way is harmless enough. It’s a method to get people to relate to a parrot’s sheer neediness and emotional ability. There are lots of times when current owners can use this kind of comparison as an educational tool: For instance, concerning diet, parrots are much like humans in that they get bored easily. You don’t like to eat the same stuff day after day after day – and nor does any bird. It just gets boring. How will most people ‘get’ that best? By relating to their own experiences.

The question ‘How would you feel, if…’ can be a useful tool.

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How might you feel, if confined to a cage all day with nothing to do? (This bird is wonderfully provided for at Edinburgh zoo.)

The danger comes in where owners move beyond merely making a comparison, and instead start to treat their parrots like little people. That can seem easy to do!

But parrots are not little people. They are animals – highly intelligent, amazing, and emotive, but animals none the less. Would it seem odd if you picture sitting a raccoon down at your kitchen table, handing it a spoon, and training it how to eat (whether it actually could is not the object here!)? That’s the same way we should feel about our birds. Parrots function on instinct. When someone looks at it as a child, they impose certain restrictions and expectations on it. A bird must chew – let it chew. A bird must fly – let it fly!

Let our parrots be parrots, as much as we can.

The best way to help captive creatures like this live well-adapted lives is to remember that they are animals. Wild ones. They thrive best in environments where owners acknowledge and provide for this. They need foraging opportunities, time to bathe and time exercise by flying and climbing, plenty of enrichment and good diets, even special perches to mimic nature. We teach our pet parrots how to be by themselves, to do independent things, and do our best to train them to adapt to different situations.

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Build them aviaries, if you can.

Treating your bird like a tiny human – although you might find it cute and charming – places them in a role they can never fulfil: An unrealistic situation. Birds who don’t know they’re birds are more likely to devolve into behavioural issues, like plucking. And they need to know how to survive without you doting on them constantly, in case one day you can’t provide that.

It can also prevent some owners from seeing the true roots of problems, since it’s altogether too easy to imagine them as toddlers with wings. Excessive hormones are common in parrots, yet when you look at a bird as a literal child, can you remember that it is an adult who wants to mate (probably with you) and lay eggs? Or that sometimes your mature cockatoo/macaw/budgie/bird is going to want to munch your fingers off because his territorial instincts are out of control today? Could you remember that the reason he is attacking your family members is because you are his mate, in his eyes, and every day you betray him by touching those other ‘birds’?

This scarlet macaw has stopped eating to assess me, and whether I am a threat. Notice the slight ruffling of feathers at the neck.

This scarlet macaw has stopped eating to assess me, and whether I am a threat. Notice the slight ruffling of feathers at the neck.

Parrots know how to be parrots. It’s what they do best. They don’t know how to be humans, and it’s unfair on them to expect them to be able to. To think of parrots that way can honestly help some people understand that they’re not cage ornaments, but it can lead to some serious expectations that can hurt a relationship with a bird. Don’t set them up to fail.

I myself don’t believe in parrots as pets, but I say it again – captive parrots exist, and they need us. Look at the Island Parrot Sanctuary for proof. Adoption is the way forward if we want to help these amazing creatures. Thankfully, there are endless owners out there willing to surrender themselves completely to avian ownership.

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11 thoughts on “Looking at Parrots as People.

  1. I don’t know what you mean as I can see anthropomorphizing displayed onto dogs and cats but you didn’t give examples about a bird? They are highly intelligent and so complex that I really do not see these birds to be considered as pets or “your normal” pets I shall say. I think they are more along the lines of a companion. As for their intelligence I really cannot see how they would keep their wild behavior as they are kept captive and tamed while in our homes. There is a big difference in comparison to birds outside vs “pets.” Now our birds that we keep I really don’t see how you can treat them as your children…with your kids they can get into trouble for breaking something, with that said, how are you to discipline your bird? You can’t! They naturally bite, chew, destroy objects/items in your home…they don’t know. Now they might understand that it might be something you don’t like but it may or may not matter to them. Now as for how our birds treat us, lets say they nip or bite or try to preen you but a little too hard. We can teach them to be gentle and not bite but their natural behavior is to bite. My bird gently bites me all the time but when trying to preen me or make me perfect she will try to pick out a mole LOL but she knows what don’t bite, ouch, or be gentle means. Now if you were to bother her then expect to get bitten. There is just so much to talk about on this subject but those are things that I can think of at the moment since I really don’t know what you mean by anthropomorphizing in birds because I have seen it in dogs and cats but haven’t in a bird YET haha. I do treat my bird like an individual meaning, she is only locked in her cage if I absolutely have to go somewhere but 3 hrs at the most, other than that she has free roam of my home but of course, she stays with me. She loves everyone in the family even my 1 yr old. She eats with us, showers with me, sleeps with me. So I wouldn’t consider this anthropomorphism per se but more along the lines as a companion and individual. I do not expect my bird to behave in human-like manners or even understand me. We respect eachother and I know alot will disagree with me but dominance is in anything and everything. Birds do display dominant behavior and when we first purchased our bird she did display this and tried to pick on certain people to see who she could boss around but she understands “don’t bite” and soon learned quick that she couldn’t boss anyone around so after this settled then she became the sweetest bird!!! It almost reminded me of that of a dog. I have come across 1 dog that displayed dominance over me and he soon learned that it was a no go hahaha All animals including birds have their own personality so each one will have to be treated differently just like people. Some kids learn one way and some learn the other.

    • Hi, K! Well, I can think of an example of parrot anthropomorphism that stuck with me, which was of a bird who ate at the table, slept in the bed, and generally acted like a human child. Its owners cuddled it, fed it baby food, and generally treated it like a real baby. I think it can be easy to slip into thinking of them as human. But when we do that, we forget that they are creatures who really function on instinct.

      Having volunteered at the Island Parrot Sanctuary (TIPS) in Scotland, and having been privileged to see the birds in their aviaries acting as closely as they can to wild creatures, I feel that there IS only a very small difference between wild and captive birds. Our pets are tamed yes, allowing them to function in our homes, but they need to be treated like wild animals, because their every behaviour has its roots in what they would do in the wild. Hormones are the best example. Those bi-yearly attacks are based in this very primitive behaviour: the instinct to mate.

      Observing the parrots at TIPS, some of whom are wild caught, most from terrible situations, they all have the same behaviours. I am doing up a post about a macaw pair, who exemplified this best, actually – the male could not drive us away from his mate, so he turned on his mate, biting and attacking her until she retreated far away from us humans. This is a bird who was hand-raised and ‘tame.’ It’s fascinating to see, really.

      Along that line of thought, to ‘punish’ a bird, for example, we owners can study the wild parrots and see that in those flocks, a parrot will almost never bite. Instead, a flock member will ‘punish’ another (who is doing something it doesn’t like) by calmly turning its back and ignoring. If the second bird persists, the first bird leaves. This is the most efficient way to cope with our captive parrots’ less-than-desirable behaviour, including biting. TIPS taught me this, and it saved my life with our umbrella cockatoo and Senegal, particularly.

      Calm and ignore. Simple. And it *really* works.

      And I’m glad to hear about your relationship with your bird; it sounds like a wonderful relationship – and you definitely don’t anthropomorphise. There is a fine line for all of us between assigning human qualities and treating our birds as that special individual, though, I think. Sometimes I have to remind myself, ‘My bird has done this because they are a wild animal, tame or not.’ I wish everyone could visit TIPS, as they can show owners this so much better than my words can!

      I was thinking about doing an article on dominance theory, debating the two sides. I agree that they have moments of ‘dominance,’ but it’s very different to a dog. It’s more of a ‘how I can get out on top’ survival-of-the-fittest kind of thing. Studying the flocks at TIPS (which very closely mimic nature), they have a system worked out in the aviaries, but it isn’t dominance-based. It’s based on mutual cooperation and how everyone can get alone peacefully. There are small birds who are very aggressive towards the larger birds – typically there is only one small bird in each aviary, and all the others look out for them, ahah! – but this aggression is based on their instinctive territorial nature.

      Those bitty birds are the most territorial, perhaps because they are more vulnerable! I would love to study it more. So far, I have found that a bird will bully someone if they feel they can manipulate them – but it’s not about being ‘top dog,’ it’s about getting something out of it. Make sense?

      You should start a blog here on WordPress about your own experiences! Every owner has something valuable to share, I think.

  2. What a thoughtful and interesting entry. I know people who have anthropomorhized their horse. Not the thing to do with most animals, but one weighing 1200 pounds?!

    • HA! Yeah, that’s one big baby! I can’t imagine doing that, though, seriously. As much as I love my animals, I think of them as the creatures they are.

  3. Very interesting point! I never really thought of this before, and it made me think now… So yes, if treating your parrot as your kid makes you love your bird more, sure, go ahead, do give them that parental love. It will make both of you happy.

    But if it leads to unrealistic expectations… well, yes, that’s when trouble starts. How many times do we see desperate bird owners complain and ask for advice on the Internet – “My bird screeches real loud (or bites, or chews on things…). What can I do to stop this behavior?” Well, guess what? You can’t. And you shouldn’t. A bird is a bird, and loud screeching is what they do. It is not a child that will grow out of flying, chewing, screeching, and pooping every 15 minutes.

    So I agree with you, Sarah. Let birds be birds as much as we can. They need an appropriate habitat and opportunities to forage, shred, chew, screech, and fly.

    So, I would say, your parrontal love should be full of acceptance. And you need to be able to let go of your expectations… Just like with kids ;).

  4. I’m pretty sure my lovebird thinks I’m a bird; a big one, but still a bird. I think of her as a family member but still treat her as a bird. I suppose to her I’m a flock member… all a matter of perspective.. and I try to understand things from her perspective too.

    • I know my birds think I’m a bird, haha. I really like to encourage people to imagine things from their pets’ perspectives. This post was a topic I’d seen floating around, and it’s a pretty hot debate! I think it all just comes down to a fine balance between these things.

  5. I tend to think of my conure as overlord, myself. 😉

    Seriously, though, He can be as birdy as his nature dictates, and that’s fine with me.

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