Sid Price addresses some very important points about training older birds in his latest blog post, History Revisited, Again. Like Sid and his “new” dog Emma, I found training an adult very, very rewarding, both in terms of seeing Carly’s progress and enthusiasm, and because of how much I was able to learn in the process. Thanks also to Sid for recommending Carly’s training story here in this blog.
However, as you can read in these pages, I have a baby Grey coming in August. Why would I choose to get a baby as my next bird? And why go to one of the best breeders in the country, instead of starting with an unfortunate unfledged, baby-clipped bird like Carly was? Here are my reasons, and as Sid points out, it has everything to do with having the right situation, the right match between new bird and new home, so that the situation is set up for success. It is something I gave a lot of thought to when considering the next addition to my flock.
When I got Carly she was my first parrot, and a “love at first sight” situation. I’d had my pigeon for about 8 months at that time, but no other birds. Nothing could have dissuaded me from taking Carly, even if I’d found out in time that it is detrimental to clip babies before fledging or that it is best to purchase from breeders who allow babies to stay with their parents for some time before hand-feeding. I could not have left her to an unknown fate with some random customer at the bird store. Fortunately, my personal and home situation were perfect for taking on this kind of responsibility. I have a job where I can bring my birds to work with me. I lived alone, so I could spend any amount of time working or interacting with them. I had become a total bird nut after rescuing my pigeon as a baby, so I was willing to spend a lot of time reading and learning about parrots and training, which I started to do long before she was weaned and ready to come home.
So why not do this again? I am very opposed to the way most stores raise their babies, starting with days-old chicks and clipping before they even have a chance to learn how to use their wings. I don’t want to support these practices. (If I spent time in stores and handling their baby greys, I couldn’t promise I wouldn’t fall for one again though! Which is why I stay away.)
Then why not take on an older rehomed bird? That was actually my plan, when I was ready to get a companion for Carly. My current situation in terms of housing and time is not set up well for that however. We now live with Hugh and his 3 Red-fronted Macaws, all flighted, in a small apartment. It’s crucial that everyone be able to get along peacefully. We have been dealing with behavioral issues with the female Annie for the past year, some due to her multiple-rehoming and some due to her pairing up with the male Otis which has brought out some agression. It is still not clear if this will work in the long term, or even if it is in Annie’s best interest. (She actually seems most relaxed and playful when she is away from Otis. ) But it has made it very clear that the history of the birds and the behavior that brings with them is especially critical in such tight quarters.
Carly’s “companion timetable” isn’t quite in sync with mine however. She has started showing “coming of age” behavior quite young — developing strong (borderline unhealthy) interests in strangers we meet, engaging in nesting behaviors, making a “brood patch” on her belly, etc. I am not looking for a mate for her, but I do think it would be beneficial for her to have a same-species companion. According to Wendy Craig, her pet Greys tend to only socialize with other greys, not with her macaws. (The various species of macaws develop a variety of friendships amongst themselves.) At our house now, Carly will sometimes play-fight with Otis or Annie (sometimes real-fight with Annie) but she does not relax with them or with the other more mellow male, Gizmo. But whenever she has seen another African Grey away from home, she immediately approaches and wants a head scratch from it. So I think it is time for her to have a bird around who could be a potential companion.
So do I go for a rehome, with highly unpredictable results for all the birds involved as well as the people, and which might end up being unworkable, or do I choose a situation that has a better chance of success for all concerned? I’ve chosen the latter. I have also chosen to purchase from a highly respected breeder who I believe is influential in spreading the word about responsible breeding and raising of parrots, and who also actively supports conservation efforts for wild parrots. I have no doubt that Wendy is a “force for good” in the lives of parrots in general. In addition, I continue to try to do my part to “pay” for the priviledge of living with these fantastic animals by supporting parrot rescue, educational and conservation organizations (see sidebar) either through donations or by helping publicize their efforts.
And, I’m still a sucker for the hard-luck cases. Little Rocco, the wayward grey cockatiel who found us, has become an important member of the household. It was not clear if that situation would work at first, because of the size difference and a bit of jealousy from Carly, plus two cats not used to small birds, but after being forced to work with it while we looked for his owner things have settled into a good place and he will not have to go elsewhere. It’s not something I would have volunteered for, for some of the same reasons as above, but sometimes things just happen.
Thanks to Sid for clarifying the importance of taking into account the history of an animal, and how that is not incompatible with successful adoption and training of an older bird. But one does have to consider whether you would really be doing the bird a favor, or if you are doing it to fulfill a need of your own to rescue. Taking in a rescue or rehomed parrot is a very large responsibility, and worth serious thought about the long-term best interests of the bird. Having had all of my past and current pets, with the exception of Carly, come to me through unorthodox or unplanned channels, I also know it can be tremendously rewarding as well.