Let me tell you a story about a little lovebird.
About 10 years ago, her and her mate were adopted by my mother, myself, and my sister. We make up a small real estate office, and they were given to us by one of our clients who was moving out of state. The lovebird pair became a fixture in our office. We bought them a large cage, toys and whatever else we thought could make them happy. They had several broods, which were adopted out, with any left being brought to the local pet store for a credit in bird food.
After we had them for about 5 years, the male died. He seemed sick and groggy one day, then the next morning someone found him stiff on the bottom of the cage. A sad day, and we were all worried about the female since everyone told us that lovebirds need a mate or they will die.
By then though, we had adopted another bird, a parakeet. In the course of showing an apartment a few months before, a tenant who was moving out said he was going to let his kid’s parakeet out into the wild so that in its last days at least it could have some freedom. Malarkey, I thought, that bird will be terrified. It will die of shock and lack of food in no time, or some ravens will kill it. So luckily, our lone female lovebird had a friend by the time her husband died, already set up in a small cage next to her big cage.
They chirped at each other, inches away but separated by 2 sets of bars, conversing continually and seemingly very happy. It makes me wonder, were they speaking the same language?
I didn’t name them. Birds to me are animals that belong in the wild, along with all other exotics like snakes, lizards, turtles, etc. Unless you can create an ecosystem that is so near to being like their natural one, with all the animal’s social needs met as well, then fine. But otherwise, I can’t support it. There are probably some exceptions such as animals that can bond with humans – like some birds and mammals, but not reptiles. My nieces owned rats for a time and those little creatures seemed truly thrilled with their highfalutin’ lifestyle. So with some exceptions my feelings about exotic pets are on the skeptical side although I recognize this is a complicated issue. I try not to be judgmental, but a snake or lizard just simply cannot be happy in a glass terrarium. And furthering the trade of exotics – whether illegal or not – is just wrong.
So with these feelings in mind, it was with a huge amount of regret that I purchased a replacement parakeet buddy for the lovebird when the adopted one died. I was so concerned that she would live a tortured existence without a friend, dying alone and sad. I actually tried to get one that looked exactly the same as the old parakeet, thinking I could fool her. So silly, I think now. She is way too smart.
Over the years I have observed her observing me. I’ve seen her peer intently at every move I make in or around her cage, changing her bathing water, her drinking water, her food. We are tentative friends. I’m sure I’m not one of the scary ones, like children of clients who make loud noises or poke fingers in her cage. When someone talks loudly in front of her cage or appears suddenly she always retreats to the far corner, behind a big wad of hanging toys. She is shy and reserved and I don’t blame her for being that way at all.
A few days ago my mother was cleaning the cage when the phone rang and she accidentally left the cage door open. When she came back after some time, she exclaimed to the young people sitting there waiting for their parents that the bird could have gotten out of the cage since she had left the door open! She did, the kids said. They explained that she had flown up to perch on the cubicle divider for a little while, and then flew back into her cage!
So I hope that means she likes her roomy cage, and that she feels safe there. And I know she is smart. I believe any animal that has curiosity must have some sort of intelligence. One time my sister was changing her bathing water and the slider got propped open accidentally, and when my sister returned she was peering out through the hole at the world without bars in between. That takes awareness and observation.
So when we call someone a bird brain, I really don’t understand why that is an insult. The people who came up with that phrase had it wrong. Their whole idea of intelligence is based on human-centric thinking that says we are the pinnacle of nature, the only worthy creatures on earth. But aren’t we the ones polluting our world to point where we’re concerned for the future? If smarts are based on foresight and planning for the future, humans are not all that smart.
Critiques on the state of human affairs aside, this post was inspired by a video on pbs.org about Alex the parrot and Irene Pepperberg, his researcher and best friend who taught him to communicate with her. It’s a must watch for people who see that animals have intelligence. This is proof, plain and simple.
When you see how the parrot is able to answer questions that take insight and intelligence, it makes me think that this world and it’s inhabitants need more care and consideration than humans give them presently. That they deserve more respect. At the very least, we should not automatically assume other living things are emotionless unintelligent creatures.
Thanks for reading!