'Parrots are very vocal animals. In the wild, the way they keep in contact with each other is by yelling back and forth," says Bonnie Kenk, founder and executive director of the Parrot Education and Adoption Center. "Parrots scream for attention. When you are out of their eyesight they will scream a 'contact call' to see where you are, because if you left them in the wild, if their flock leaves them, they will die. So if you run into the room and scream back at them for screaming, they got what they wanted." On Saturday, November 26, and Sunday, November 27, the Parrot Education and Adoption Center will be holding seminars for parrot lovers. Some of the topics to be covered are "Excessive Screaming," "Feather Abusive Behavior," and "Parrot Personalities."
"There are a lot of analogies you can use with children and parrots. Most parrots have the intelligence level of a two-year-old human child," says Kenk. Many parrots, if properly cared for, can be expected to outlive their owners. According to Kenk, the oldest documented living bird was an Amazon parrot that lived to be 106.
"We have a lot of people who have left their birds to us in their wills, simply because there isn't anybody that they know of or that they trust to take care of their birds when they are gone. So far, these people are still alive. The number-one reason parrots are given up for adoption is when a human baby enters the picture. The second reason is, equally, marriage or divorce."
Kenk owns six parrots, two of which are the same species. "There are 330 different species of parrots." Moe and Lucky are African greys, Ariel is a cockatoo, Sluggo is a brown-headed parrot, Honey is an Amazon parrot, and Mischa is a Jardine's parrot. "We have a macaw at our house that is in our education program that waves and says 'hi' at the same time. My husband taught him to do that," says Kenk.
Kenk is sometimes caught off guard by what comes out of the parrots' beaks. "My husband's name is Bill. One day he came into the room and Moe said, 'Hi, Billy.' A couple of days later he said it again. He has never heard [the name Billy] before, ever." The same bird came up with a nickname for itself. "I tell Moe he's silly. Now, every once in a while, he says, 'You're a sill-moe,' for 'silly Moe.'
"Every species of parrot has the ability to mimic human speech, but not all of them do. Most of them will if they're taught early on in their lives. Alex, a famous [African grey], was worked with in a lab about eight hours a day, five days a week." According to the Alex Foundation, the bird can "label seven colors, is learning the alphabet, and can count up to six objects."
"A lot of people think if they purchase an African grey they'll end up with Alex," says Kenk. "If they have a lot of time they might, but chances of that happening are slim. My parrots ask for things in their own way, but I don't think they always ask for what they want. My male grey asks for papaya a lot, but he doesn't always eat the papaya when I give it to him. I think he just likes to say the word."
A common problem among parrots is "feather destruction," also known as "feather abuse" and "feather plucking." "A lot of parrots in captivity tend to pull their feathers out or destroy them," says Kenk. "One of the things that I see all the time is that that parrot is not on a good diet. They should be eating fresh vegetables and a little bit of fruit and greens like kale and Swiss chard." Parrots may pick at their feathers if they don't know how to play with toys. "If they were brought up playing with toys from the time they were little babies then they learn on their own, but if they don't know how to play with toys and they're adults, then owners need to teach them." -- Barbarella
Educational Seminars for Parrot Lovers
Hosted by the Parrot Education and Adoption Center
Saturday, November 26, and Sunday, November 27
1 p.m. and 3 p.m.
Marina Village Conference Center, room D-6
1936 Quivira Way
Cost: $5/day for PEAC members, $15/day for nonmembers
Info: 619-287-8200 or www.peac.org/seminars.shtml