Originally published in Pet Gazette, January/February 2015
People who aren’t “bird people” just don’t get it. To outsiders, birds are just animals that scream, fling food, poop, and generally create a bad headache and mess. I’m sure we bird owners have all experienced that blank look you get after proudly announcing you just brought home your latest little bundle of feathered joy. That kind of “What on earth did you do?” look, followed by the question, “Why”?
Now, inevitably, you’ve introduced your friends to your new roommate, right? Maybe you had them over for dinner at your place. You proudly introduced parrot to human, and vice versa. You pointed out the cleanliness of the brand new cage and how smart your bird is for waving on command, and ignored the fact that your once immaculate carpet now crunches underfoot from strewn bird food. Then, IT happened.
Oh, you know what I’m talking about. Your friend crouched in front of the cage andstartedmutteringthosecringeinducing words. “Polly want a cracker?” “Can you say Pretty Birdie? Polly want a cracker?”
Of course, your new bird is too intelligent to have stooped low enough to reply to such questioning, and continued to sit on the perch … mute and unmoving. Your friend turned to you, shrugged, and asked that question every bird owner knows comes next … “Does it talk?” You probably sighed, shrugged, and fruitlessly tried to explain that, “Yes, the pretty bird (whose name is not Polly) does indeed talk, but has a funky voice that can be hard to understand. No, the bird will not talk on demand. If you want to see a bird talk on command, go to Youtube.”
If my birds could verbalize like humans, I’m sure they would ask, “Why does everyone call me Polly?” I’ve been half tempted to teach them to say “No cracker, thanks” just to see the reaction. I don’t know where that question started, but as a bird owner it sure grates on my nerves. It ranks with trying to explain the “parrot thing” to people. The conversation normally goes something like:
“You have birds?”
“Yes, I have (insert number of birds here).” “WOW. Cool! What ‘s your favorite?”
“That a type of parrot?”
“Yes” (By now the person is looking somewhat pleased with themselves that they identified a real life parrot.)
“Green and blue.”
“Oh- so it’s a PIRATE parrot!”
*Sigh* “No, not exactly. Those are macaws and they have long tails….” (Watch as the person slowly loses interest in the conversation)
“So it’s not a pirate parrot? What about those margarita parrots, are those macaws too?”
“Yes, those are macaws too.”
“Oh. I really like those birds.”
Of course you know how the conversation then segues into “pirate parrots” mode: “What pirate owned what parrot? Why isn’t an Amazon the same thing as a macaw? Doesn’t whatsthatbrand (you know, the one that uses a macaw in their advertising) make a good vodka?”
Perhaps nothing irks me more as a bird owner then my intelligent animal being dummied down to a simple dog- like species that will do tricks for a cracker. (Of course, my caiques just might jump through hoops for a cracker, but that’s not the point). Perhaps it’s the tone of voice used when people start melting into that “Polly want a cracker?” ooze of utter stupidity. Like they have such low expectations for the animal, because it’s just a bird. Let’s reiterate the point: it’s a bird. Parrots are one of the most intelligent creatures we keep as pets today.
Their capacity for understanding and learning is right up there with dolphins and other highly intelligent and respected animals. If Polly could talk back, Polly would tell you that a) his name is not Polly and b) he doesn’t want a cracker, he wants a foot massage and a glass of your best sparkling water.
Or not. But hey, Polly isn’t the one doing the talking, is he?