Parrots make terrible pets, warns new PBS documentary
TV • “Parrot Confidential” makes you pity the birds and their owners.
Published: November 12, 2013 09:53AM
Updated: February 14, 2014 11:37PM
image
Courtesy photo Marie Charon, who runs a small parrot rescue out of her home in suburban MI, holds Fagan, an African gray with special needs.

If you’ve ever wanted to adopt a pet parrot, the PBS series “Nature” has one word of advice for you:

Don’t.

In “Parrot Confidential,” the award-winning series lays out the facts. For a whole lot of reasons, it’s a terrible idea.

Large parrots can live 80-90 years. They require an enormous commitment of time, effort and money. They’re loud. They’re dangerous.

“People will come in,” Jamie McLeod of the Santa Barbara Bird Sanctuary says in the program, “and they’ll say, ‘I want a bird that talks. That’s quiet. And that doesn’t bite.’ And that species has not yet been discovered.”

The part about large parrots being dangerous is no exaggeration.

“Everybody loves the Amazons because they sing and they talk, but nothing can bite you harder than an Amazon parrot,” McLeod says. “One day you’re cuddling it and the next minute you’re missing part of your face.”

“Parrot Confidential” is not an attack on parrot owners. On the contrary, the hour introduces viewers to the best possible owners who are doing everything they can to care for their parrots — but many still find themselves overwhelmed.

“They have not been domesticated, as dogs and cats have for thousands of years,” said Emmy-winning filmmaker Allison Argo, the woman behind this documentary. “These are wild animals and they have wild needs.”

They tend to bond with one person and one person only. Which makes it troublesome for other people in the family, particularly if the bird’s favorite has to go out of town. That’s what happened to Russ and Liz Hartman, two well-intentioned parrot owners who came to realize they couldn’t handle Basil, their yellow-naped Amazon.

“They’re not pets,” Russ Hartman said. “You can call them a pet. You can put them in a pet shop. You can dress it up all you want. They’re not pets.”

“I would never do it again. No,” Liz Hartman said. “For my own mental health and the mental health of the parrot. No.”

Taking on a parrot means committing to care for it for its entire life. And odds are it will outlive you, so you’ll need to make some arrangement for it after you’re gone.

“What we ask people to do is put a thousand dollars a year for the life expectancy of the bird into some sort of endowment for the care of their bird for the rest of its life,” said Marc Johnson, founder of Foster Parrots Ltd. “So for another 30 years, we ask $30,000.”

Smaller birds live up to 30 years. They aren’t easy to care for, but they are easier than the big parrots.

“I think the larger the bird gets, the more difficult the care issues are,” Johnson said. “When somebody comes in to adopt a parrot, we say, ‘Get the smallest one you can live with, because you can open the cage. You can let them fly around. You could actually dedicate a room in your house for them.’ And flight is a vital part of their life.”

That’s one of the reasons that he doesn’t think large parrots should be pets at all.

“Just on the philosophical level, I have a big problem with taking a flighted animal, altering their physical state to make it convenient for us, and turning them into a terrestrially bound animal,” he said.

Argo made a point of including footage of parrots in the wild “so that you never forget that this is where these birds came from.”

She said she’s hoping “Parrot Confidential” will “open up eyes so that people can make informed decisions” if they’re considering adopting a parrot. Buying, selling and breeding of the birds is completely unregulated, and estimates are that at least 2 million are being bred each year in the United States — down from 5 million a few years ago.

“If you feel like you can step up to the plate, consider adopting rather than going to Petco and putting down $40 and just perpetuating this cycle,” Argo said.

spierce@sltrib.com

‘Nature’

“Parrot Confidential” debuts Wednesday, Nov. 13, at 7 p.m. on PBS-Ch. 7.