After I read the parrot book I was intrigued by parrots as pets. What is it like to live with a parrot?
I asked Anna Singer, WQED-FM's mid-day announcer. She and her husband Don have two parrots: Zulu, a 19-year-old African Grey (pictured at left) and Sammy a nearly 9-year-old Moluccan Cockatoo (pictured at right). The birds originally belonged to Anna's parents and came to her when her parents died.
"The first thing you need to know about parrots," said Anna, "is that they’re a lifetime commitment." Parrots are intelligent and flock oriented. They need and expect a lot of interaction and attention and they live a long time - up to 70 years.
Parrots want to be where the action is, not in a quiet room. Their flocks eat together, groom, communicate, play and warn each other of danger. When you live with a parrot, you're their flock so be prepared to do the same.
In Anna's household, the hub of activity is the kitchen so that's where the cages and perches are. The danger in this arrangement is that parrots have highly sensitive respiratory systems. Substances we can breathe in tiny amounts, such as oven cleaner, will kill a parrot instantly so Anna is very careful about the products she uses.
Parrots are loud. When Anna comes home, Zulu and Sammy shout hello even before they see her. They warn her of hawks so far away she can't see them. They love to whistle with Don and make up tunes. They're especially noisy at dusk as they prepare for the night. This is all part of being in the flock.
And they have distinct personalities. African Greys tend to bond to only one person so Anna and Don worked closely with Zulu so she would bond to both of them. Sammy, on the other hand, loves everyone. If you don't pay attention to him when you're near his cage, Sammy will turn on the charm and make sure you don't ignore him.
African Greys are especially good imitators and learn many words. Because Zulu lived with Anna's parents, she learned how to imitate their conversations and their normal verbal responses to certain actions, such as accidentally dropping something. Anna said it was eerie to hear her parents' voices in conversation from the other room even though she knew it was Zulu talking. Sadly Zulu was ill recently and lost many of her words. I hope she recovers them as she heals.
Parrots are very empathetic. If you're happy, they'll get happy. If you're sad they come close to be with you. Sammy shows his empathy when Anna is on the phone. If he's sitting on her shoulder during a phone conversation and Anna hears something funny, even before she laughs Sammy knows what's coming and he laughs first.
Parrots are a responsibility that comes with a lot of joy. Anna wouldn't trade her birds for anything!
(photos of Zulu and Sammy by Anna Singer)