Avian behavior still is very much in its infancy, with beliefs ranging from we must dominate our parrots to they must be flighted to be happy. While both extremes have their pitfalls, this article deals with the erroneous belief that we humans should control and dominate our birds.
Now you say, "I don't dominate my Grey Parrot. I just set limits and guide my parrot's behavior in a nurturing way." Guess what? To your parrot that is still dominance, which is unnatural to the avian mind. There are far better approaches to a happy existence between you and your parrot friend.
Wild birds, including parrots, never do anything they don't want to do. In other words, no other animal can 'make' a parrot change its behavior. Why not? Probably because the wild parrot simply flies away from that which attempts to change its natural behavior.
While not a pleasant fact, it is true that we humans are all too often raised with what is known as a "Master's Mentality." Scientists might label it 'speciesism,' which according to one dictionary is defined as:
Speciesism: a belief that different species of animals are significantly different from one another in their capacities to feel pleasure and pain and live an autonomous existence, usually involving the idea that one's own species has the right to rule and use others.
From this belief evolves the master's mentality. An example, taken from the book The Dreaded Comparison by Marjorie Spiegel (Mirror Books, 1996) depicts a dog's life under the master's rule.
".... We might look at the relationship between a dog and his master, just one example of what is sometimes a modern slave/slave-owner relationship. The dog is considered by his owner to be a 'good dog' if he walks to heel, displays no great interest when nearing other dogs, doesn't run except when allowed, doesn't bark except when required, and has no emotional needs except when desired by the master."
Under this thinking a 'good parrot' is one that stays politely on his cage at all times; never calls loudly to his human flock except when the human wants to hear him talk; doesn't bite when all other communication fails; and has only the emotional needs required by the master.
When a parrot, left alone out of flock activities, calls loudly to his human flock, asking to become part of the action, we often call that parrot a "screamer" and call for a parrot behavior professional to "modify" the bird's behavior. If a parrot bites because we are intruding on its territory in manner unnatural to the avian species, we blame it on a very human concept of "terrible two's" and call the behavior professional to change the parrot's thinking to our human social patterns.
If we apply the definition of speciesism to this thinking, we find that by our requirements for our parrot friends, they must conform to our species' standards. To do this, they must cease behaving like birds. Is this how we want to live with our parrots?
let's look at the difference between the parrot's mind and how we perceive something we commonly refer to as the 'terrible two's.' Our perception of the parrot that suddenly starts biting at age six months to a year of age is that the parrot is entering a stage where he tries us out to see how far he can extend his authority. We blame the biting on the parrot, who is perceived to be challenging his master's authority, much the same as we blame a two year-old child's bad behavior on a phase of his life called the terrible two's. We learn this from reading outdated books and articles written by those few people who still believe that parrots can be made to behave to our human standards.
This is an example of the master mentality at its worst, because six month old to a year old parrots are socially not anything like two year old humans. Two-year-old humans are still close to infants. They are just learning and perfecting human social needs and abilities. They are only starting to walk. They are just exploring how to use a toilet.
Parrots, on the other hand, at age six months to a year, are juveniles in a flock. They fly well and are starting to perfect adult parrot personalities. The cute African Grey baby of four months that allowed you to cuddle him is now a bird starting to behave more like an adult Grey Parrot. And adult Greys do not cuddle like baby birds. Where a baby bird looks for as much parental interaction as possible, adult parrots interact with their mates only and at certain times of the day. They are not interested in hands-on petting and cuddling whenever it suits us humans.
We view the young parrot as we would a two-year-old child, ignoring any body language the parrot uses to tell us to stay out of his space until he asks for a head scratch. When pushing our hands away with his beak doesn't work, he goes tp plan B---- a strike or bite. The person reacts to the bite by leaving the parrot alone, which is exactly what the parrot wanted. The next time it happens the parrot goes immediately to a bite, because that is what worked before. A master mentality blames the bite on the bird, because the parrot didn't conform to human standards. Remember a master never blames himself.
Another misconception of parrot social structure is the master mentality concept that we humans must be flock leaders of our birds. The rationale is that parrots always have a leader in every flock that makes decisions for the flock. In a domestic environment the human must become the flock leader----- for the parrot's well-being.
If parrots were people there might exist a flock leader. We humans, as natural predators, are closer to pack animals, and pack animals have leaders. There is no leader to keep the flock in line, as would a predator's pack leader. Predators need to dominate one another to enforce hunting and carcass feeding rules. Prey animals need flocks or large groups to confuse predators.
Imagine a South American multi-species flock (more than one species in a flock) of macaws, amazons and conures choosing a flock leader. Does a macaw have authority over several amazon species? Where does that leave the smaller conures? Are they always followers because they are not big enough and aggressive enough to be flock leaders? Of course not. There is no leader in such a flock.
The same applies to African Grey Parrots. How can there be a flock leader when the flock size may include thousands of Grey Parrots? How does a flock leader assert authority over hundreds or thousands of parrots? The use of the term flock leader is no more than an excuse to dominate without understanding the bird's thinking and behavior.
REMOVING THE MASTER MENTALITY
As soon as we realize that we cannot change our parrot friends' behavior to suit our human requirements, we lose the master mentality. Understanding and allowing parrots to be parrots, while choosing behavior alternatives that are compatible with both human and parrot personalities is the road to happiness, for both parrot and human.
Instead of disciplining a young parrot who has learned to bite to keep errant humans out of his space, read the subtle body language that communicates his parrot nature..... then respect it. If we must have something to cuddle, get a puppy. Dogs have been bred for thousands of years to serve man and are far more willing to behave as we wish.
Instead of considering ourselves flock leaders and thereby masters, think of yourself as your parrot's bonded human or mate. Mates have a much more equal relationship, founded on trust and friendship, rather than discipline and control. With this thinking, you will find your relationship with your parrot reaching a new and much higher level..... a level based on friendship, loyalty and understanding.
The above article was published in the Winter 2001 issue of The Grey Play Round Table® Magazine.
Jane Hallander is an avian behavior consultant and animal communicator.
All rights reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced in any form or by any means, without permission of the author.