Twenty five years ago I did not know what I was getting myself into adopting a parrot. I was a mother of three children living in a rural area of Maine. Our home was a busy one with three youngsters in school, and it was the place all of my children’s friends came to when not in school. Having pets seemed like the right thing to add to the mix. We had dogs and cats and a large two acres bordered by field, forests and the Presumpscot River so their was always something to do and room for everyone to run and play.
In that time I had a friend who would work long hours and one day he asked me if I would stop into his house while he was gone and check on a bird he had adopted. I had no experience whatsoever with birds at this point nor gave it much thought except thinking it funny it needed checking on. Don’t birds live in a cage with food and water all day?, what could happen? Amused, I agreed. What I didn’t know was my first few visits with this intelligent creature would influence me for the rest of my adult life. Fast forward to the present it is October 2015. I have a 28 year old companion African Grey Parrot called “Harpo” whom I adopted when he was three years old from another owner. I never considered In my twenties I would have the same bird into my retirement years.
A Grey Parrot in the home is akin to living life with a perpetual toddler the rest of your adult life in my experience thus far. There are schedules, meals, messes, temper tantrums and ah yes the “talking back” to you if the bird is so inclined. All Grey Parrots have the ability to speak but some choose to do it very little or not at all. Harpo in his first five years after my adopting him from a former owner, spoke once. A complete sentence came from under his covered cage one evening after I had darkened the room putting him to bed.
I hadn’t fallen in love with their ability to speak like many parrot enthusiasts. It is their charming personality and intelligence. Along with the intelligence they have a sense of humor and play. By nature they are cautious and fearful being a prey animal. Grey Parrots as a rule do not like sudden change in their environment where they reside in the home. To move something suddenly in my house such as furniture, or wear a brightly patterned outfit, even offering an unrecognized food to his dish would cause him to growl and yell. This behavior is normal. An African Grey Parrot is a wild animal even though it may have been raised by humans. It’s this wildness in Harpo I admire, and some days it drives me batty.
Today was one of those days, a “Terrible Two’s Year Revisited.” Late autumn seems to exaggerate his hormone activity worse than a moody woman in menopause. Like hot flashes, his temper comes and goes unpredictably while his breeding cycle that also occurs in spring, blossoms this time of year. You know how when a mother is on the telephone and her children will often “act out” for attention in a non productive way? Same thing with my parrot. Anyone who knows me knows that calls must be on speakerphone during the day to keep my hands free so as not to alert the bird I’m on the phone which entices his naughtiness. As a rule, Harpo is not locked inside his cage when adults are home and will happily play and keep himself busy with toys or sit and watch television. Yes, he loves cartoons and children’s shows. He is a flock animal and like your child, wants to be where the family activity is located, especially watching a show.
My Grey Parrot HATES any telephone and has destroyed a few left within reach. Should the phone ring, it invites the “wrath of Harpo” if I haven’t been lucky enough to grab up the receiver, blurt to the caller “hold on a minute,” and run to shut him in his cage before the conversation begins. Should I make the mistake of not doing this I will spend the time on the phone having objects tossed at me, being chased in and out of rooms on foot by my “red tailed jungle chicken” nipping at my feet, all the while as he tries to yell OVER my voice trying to talk to the caller.
It’s a quiet late afternoon as I am plugging away working on my computer and suddenly the phone begins ringing insistently. Harpo is contently in the kitchen resting on top of his cage watching a movie on an old iPad I keep on a shelf to listen to when cooking or doing housework. The call lasted all of ten minutes tops!
Psittacus Erithacus Spoilus Rottenus.