Beautiful but wild

blueheadedparrot1From Beth Lindenau, Animal Trainer at the National Aquarium

Parrots are animals with amazing adaptations for life in the wild.  Those same adaptations don’t often translate well to the living room.  They have a long life span and can be very loud, damaging to property, and have complex social and environmental needs.  It is easy to see why the average person may not be equipped to have a parrot as a pet. 

As a group, parrots are unique and fascinating.  Their beauty, rarity, and ability to form our words captivate us.  They are increasingly endangered in the wild with many hovering on the brink of extinction due to the dual threat of habitat loss and capture for the international trade in wildlife.  Many companion parrots that have found their way into private homes are being surrendered to rescue organizations when the reality of living with a wild animal sets in.  

In an environment that is foreign to them, such as our living room, they will still attempt to maintain vocal contact with their mate or their flock, which in this case are the people in the home.  Often people are unprepared to accept this level of noise that can quickly get out of hand.  Parrots are hard work.  Still we love them.  So what do we do?

I came by my love of parrots while working here.  When the opportunity to work with them arose, I have to admit I was a little scared.  I was determined to meet my challenge by learning as much as I could from as many sources as I could about how to care for them, train them, and provide a high quality standard of life utilizing the principles of enrichment.  That is what I recommend to everyone, whether or not it is an intern starting out in the field or a person considering sharing their home with one.  If you can learn through practice at a zoo or aquarium or a local sanctuary you will begin to understand the commitment.  Constant learning, as new information is always becoming available, is a mandate.  It is exciting, and with the proper education and knowledge, you might be able to provide a home to a displaced parrot.

As we are seeing in recent news, they come one by one, or in the hundreds when breeding operations go under.  Whether they were born in the wild in another country or born in a home and raised by people, they are the same.  A parrot is a wild, beautiful, complex, and an increasingly endangered animal.  Their status in our world touches all of us regardless of nationality or occupation and a little learning goes a long way.


7 Responses to “Beautiful but wild”

  1. 1 jasontromm February 12, 2009 at 4:54 pm

    So I have to ask, are you in favor of people keeping parrots as pets in their home? Seems like that’s one way to keep an endangered species alive. (At least one that won’t eat it’s human companions.)

    • 2 National Aquarium February 19, 2009 at 4:54 pm

      Good question. We recognize that there are many unwanted parrots needing homes and not enough permanent sanctuaries to house them and therefore want to encourage people to consider fostering and adopting as a first option. I further recommend an extended support network including a certified avian veterinarian, behavior consultant, and perhaps the joining of a local bird club for the sharing of current information.

      While the status of a species listed as either threatened or endangered is also of imminent concern, the efforts to save them must involve in situ, or in country of origin programs. These initiatives must have a multifaceted approach to protection including habitat preservation, anti-poaching efforts, and heightened awareness and educational components. Additionally, both the genetic diversity and behavioral competency for life in the wild are of equal importance.

      For additional information on life with a wild animal, try visiting: and, for more information about some of the field projects with parrots in their native countries please visit

      • 3 Mark Croatti April 27, 2009 at 1:46 pm

        Wow, I’m thrilled to see you’re the Animal Trainer! Beautiful but Wild….an ironic title. That Chinese food place in Howard that sold shark fin soup…..went out of business. Thought you’d like to know! Hope you’re well. Great blogs, Beth. Keep ’em coming.

  2. 4 Shannon February 16, 2009 at 4:52 pm

    I completely agree! While parrots are beautiful, and intelligent animals that are often marketed as pets, they are wild animals. They require huge amounts of time, money, enrichment, patience, etc. that even the best caretakers cannot always provide. We certainly can try our best to provide for birds in captivity, but the truth is they are and always will be wild animals, and no captive setting will accurately replicate their wild habitats. I commend the NAIB for acknowledging this issue and for this blog.

  3. 5 Matt February 20, 2009 at 2:21 pm

    It is heartwrenching to know what is happening to parrots in their native Countries of origin. I can understand anyone’s concern to preserve, protect and sustain a species for future survival. I don’t think, however, that parrots as pets in people’s homes is true preservation of the species. I do wonder if the massive amount of energy and money (millions…. billion?) invested in the bird trade were instead invested in their preservation in their native Countries of origin, that we might be making an incredible difference to allow them to thrive in the wild for generations to come. Proper breeding programs in their native Countries for the purpose of releasing them wild and even eco-tourism business could be two ways to help ensure their future. Good write up, thank you for this blog. Keep parrots wild.

  4. 6 Rita March 1, 2009 at 5:00 pm

    I think that a big part of the parrot overpopulation problem is lack of proper education of the caregivers. A parrot caregiver needs to know so much in so many fields – health, husbandry, nutrition, environment enrichment, and in particular behavior. Too many parrots loose their homes because of behavior problems that have been created by the caregiver to begin with, often unknowingly, for lack of better knowledge. As mentioned in Beth’s response to the first question, a support network for behavior is essential in the case of parrots, animals who are not always easy to read and understand.

    The Animal Education Foundation is a non-profit organization in Washington, DC dedicated to teaching caregivers the principles of behavior science and training, in the attempt to help parrots and other animals to keep their homes. We only recommend and use strategies of behavior modification where animals are partners, not subjects, such as positive reinforcement techniques.

    While the number of parrots in captivity has reached alarming proportions, we have a clear responsibility to ensure optimal welfare for those parrots already here. These can not be reintroduced in the wild, and have the potential to live a long, long time. Educating ourselves and others on the best ways to keep them healthy, both physically and behaviorally, is the key.

  5. 7 parrotadoptsouthernontario March 15, 2009 at 9:37 am

    Thanks for the article. I run a parrot rescue in Canada. Since they are with us, we need to provide for their care. It is highly unlikely that this will change as they are becoming more and more popular as pets.

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