Parrot inheritance - am I being selfish?
May 15, 2018 11:28 AM   Subscribe

I very well may be inheriting a 20yr old male African Grey parrot and I am beside myself with excitement because I have always wanted one. But is my excitement clouding my judgement, is this what's best for the bird?

I understand AGs are like children, get attached, are a huge commitment, etc. I have no idea how this one has been socialized but do know it hasn't been let out of his cage in 2 years. Relative/owner is in hospice care and was just going to put the bird down until I kind of made a stink.

I cared for an AG in college in our linguistics lab and have wanted one ever since but couldn't handle the expense and was a bit of a nomad at the time. I've been settled now for 6 years, have 2 cats and a tortoise, travel 5-8 weeks a year for work and arrange care for all my creatures when I am gone. I also have live-in-partner who is great with animals for the most part and only travels with me ~2 weeks of the year. I am apartment dwelling but have space for a large indoor cage as well as a patio for an aviary if landlord is ok with it (she's pretty chill, I think she would be, upstairs neighbors have screened in their entire porch for their cats, for example).

A friend who works in the vet field mentioned it would be better to put the animal down instead of putting it through the transition which I think is absolutely unconscionable to not at least give the bird a chance to adapt. Am I being selfish?
posted by danapiper to Pets & Animals (26 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
According to Google they live up to 80 years. A few months or even a year of transition seems like a drop in the bucket relative to cutting its life 60 years short.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 11:31 AM on May 15, 2018 [28 favorites]

My mom, tried to rehome a parrot a while ago. It did not go well. The bird had been neglected, was not well socialized, and generally made things miserable. She tried really hard for about two years and ended up rehoming it to her vet. Not sure how it's doing now.

This American Life Episode, might be a good listen for you.
posted by trbrts at 11:34 AM on May 15, 2018 [5 favorites]

You should definitely take the bird! He will likely be happy to be able to get out of his cage again! It does seem silly and wrong to put down a healthy animal so it doesn't have to weather a transition to a loving home.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 11:35 AM on May 15, 2018 [4 favorites]

If it were an elderly bird I’d agree with your friend but this one isn’t even close. Adopt it and give it all your love!
posted by lydhre at 11:36 AM on May 15, 2018 [1 favorite]

The bird will likely grieve a lot even if everything else were perfect and you had tremendous amounts of effort and time to devote.

You have multiple pets already and do not have time or effort to devote, the transition into a multiple pet household is untenable.

Is there some kind of foster or rescue or rehab available for this bird? I ask because 2 years in a cage will require extra experience and expertise. I have a rescue cat in a multi pet situation who needs to be in a single pet household. It is the hands down most awful stress, I can't successfully rehome her for reasons. She's kinda just OK, but it took a looooot of work. It's heartbreaking and I wish I had found her a single pet situation with someone who is retired or works from home way back when she was a kitten. But I didn't. She suffered, we suffered.

I love birds, truly, but I know I'm not up to the task. I urge you to find an ideal situation for this creature, your home is not this. I'm sorry. I appreciate what you are doing and I hope the right solution can be found.
posted by jbenben at 11:38 AM on May 15, 2018 [4 favorites]

If this were an abused dog, no one would suggest putting it down without giving it a chance. Please give this poor bird a loving home.
posted by FencingGal at 11:39 AM on May 15, 2018 [8 favorites]

Sorry but you absolutely have to read Nattie's comment about her African Grey.
posted by Melismata at 11:40 AM on May 15, 2018 [26 favorites]

Also, seek advice from experienced folks with this breed, because you're getting sub-optimal emotional advice from folks not familiar with African Greys.
posted by jbenben at 11:42 AM on May 15, 2018 [14 favorites]

African Greys are powder birds. This is a serious dust allergy concern, for you and your other pets.

African Greys are very, very intelligent and require multiple and varied sources of enrichment (toys, things to chew/destroy). You should consider if you are prepared to have an ongoing ever-changing rotation of activities for this bird.

African Greys are notoriously prone to feather plucking and destruction, due to boredom, anxiety, jealousy. They will even start destroying their skin, leaving open wounds. Once they start plucking, it requires a tremendous amount of time and energy to reverse the habit, if it is at all possible.

Do you have a local exotic avian vet? How much to they charge to trim feathers and nails?

Do you have space where the bird can be out of its house isolated from the cats? I don't care how chill your cats are, you do not know how they will react to a bird or when their prey drive might kick in.

Does the bird currently have an appropriately sized cage, and is it on an actually healthy (not all seed) diet?

Birds generally need a strict day/night schedule, they're up with the sun and want to sleep at dusk. Does this work with your schedule?

If this bird hasn't been socialized, that is a huge, huge, time commitment to even try to get it to a place where it would trust you. Clicker training works well, but you and your partner have to be consistent.

Are you willing to get bitten? A lot?

Are you happy with the amount of poo in your life? How about when it doubles, as healthy birds poop about every 10-15 minutes.

Bird Tax. (Bo, ~25yo African Grey in my home)
posted by ApathyGirl at 11:47 AM on May 15, 2018 [24 favorites]

Here is a long post by a guy who unexpectedly adopted an abandoned African Grey. And a follow-up thread with several more posts by the author. Definitely read these! He writes a lot about what he learned throughout the process and about how having a parrot changed his lifestyle, and is honest about both the drawbacks and the benefits.
posted by showbiz_liz at 11:47 AM on May 15, 2018 [8 favorites]

I'm happy to answer any specific questions or concerns you might have, and point you to good resources on the web if you'd like.
posted by ApathyGirl at 11:50 AM on May 15, 2018 [3 favorites]

I would never assume that owning 2 cats and a tortoise means that you won't have proper time and attention for a parrot. Maybe you won't, but it won't be because of that.

If anything, years of pet experience and direct experience with AGs makes you a likely better qualified person to adopt one.

It's true, it's a ton of work and a huge commitment, but I see no reason why you shouldn't do it if you want to commit a bunch of time and several decades to cool new friend (who will likely be pretty psychologically messed up for a while, in the best scenario).

If you do adopt the bird, I agree you should be ready and willing for an especially difficult few years getting it to adjust and adapt, building trust, etc.

Also, consider the bird could outlive you too, and have a good contingency plan for what happens to it if you cannot for any reason remain its owner and committed friend.
posted by SaltySalticid at 12:11 PM on May 15, 2018 [6 favorites]

Have you met the bird? it would be a really good idea to visit and see how it responds to you. Give him some treats, and some attention, and see if you have a rapport. Also, talk to your relative and find out about the bird's likes and dislikes, how they used to interact, what it likes to eat. Birds have lots of personality, and you'll get a real leg up on befriending it if you already know some of the things that will make it happy.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 12:17 PM on May 15, 2018 [5 favorites]

Also, do make sure you research about how cats and birds interact - cat saliva has a lot of bacteria that can be very deadly to birds, and even a small scratch can turn into a life-threatening infection, so be prepared to keep them well separated. I do hope that you'll be able to give the bird a good home, and make it happy. Birds are awesome and intelligent, and a neglected bird is just such a sad thing.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 12:20 PM on May 15, 2018 [2 favorites]

Should you decide that this bird isn't for you (now, or after trying), I want to point you to one of the many sanctuaries in the NE, like The RI Parrot Rescue, The New England Exotic Bird Sanctuary, and many others as a contingency.

I have legacy arrangements with a local sanctuary for when I am the last one standing in my family - it's a weight off my shoulders and I know she'll be happy.
posted by ApathyGirl at 12:22 PM on May 15, 2018 [15 favorites]

Whoa. Don't kill this bird! He has a lot of happy years ahead of him, hopefully with you. Cats and birds can safely and happily coexist. There's no reason you shouldn't be able to help him get over his grief and continue to be a loving and healthy home for him if you are prepared for the extra work involved in owning a parrot, and there is a lot of it - it is like having a permanent clever child with a pair of pliers attached to their face to help them to get into everything.

I owned a bird and I miss her more than words can express. They are unique experiences and well-worth the effort, but you do have to be willing to put in the effort. This is not a pet which can stand any neglect. Diet, enclosure, socialization and cleanliness need to be something you're okay with devoting time and attention to; it won't take your entire day, but it isn't like a cat, either.

The above website has good information, and the owner of the webpage now runs this cattery (ironically, I guess) - I would recommend them as a jumping-off point to direct you to more bird info if needed.
posted by Nyx at 12:42 PM on May 15, 2018 [3 favorites]

Thank you all for the comments, both for and against, and all the super helpful info - I really appreciate all of it!

I forgot to mention that I work from home and have a very laid back schedule so would be able to dedicate much time to him throughout they day. I prefer animals to humans so don't leave the house much unless I run out of food or have to go to the gym.

My cats are not very chill (new 4 mo old rescue (Pickle) is a spaz and the 4 yr old female (Squish) hates him because he's not the 17yr old that passed away this past January so chaos currently ensues multiple times a day but it's getting better. They were caught snuggling the other night) so I definitely have a plan to either keep him in my office or only let him out of his cage in my office away from the furballs and slowly - if at all - introduce the cats when/if they figure their shit out. I had originally planned to keep his cage in the dining room since it's central to the rest of the house so he can have regular interaction but would it maybe better to keep him in a bedroom to start?

Thanks for the info on the saliva, I had no idea. Pickle is still bity (we're working on that, he's so stubborn), so will definitely keep them apart.

I do have contingency plan for if it doesn't work, same vet friend has another vet friend who has rescue birds in same situations and is also an avian/exotics vet. I don't have a contingency yet for if the bird outlives me and I do not ever plan on having children without fur/feathers but have many children in my life that I hope will grow up to be animal lovers, due in major part to my terrible influence. The Legacy arrangement is an awesome idea, I wouldn't have thought of that, thanks ApathyGirl.

I will be meeting the bird next Tuesday and will bring treats for sure.
posted by danapiper at 12:49 PM on May 15, 2018 [11 favorites]

Parrots can transition to a new owner fine, they take time to adjust & grieve, it will definitely take time to socialise & bond with you, think months if not years, but it will be fine. Be prepared to have it's needs come first above all your other pets. A dog will forgive you for not greeting it first a parrot might not as an example.

Look into clicker training it. Not only because learning tricks will keep it's mind active, it will help you & the bird to build a language to help you communicate with each other. Also being able to do some simple target training will help you train the bird to come in & out of the cage.

Also every thing ApathyGirl said. You are thinking of adopting the emotional & mental equivalent of a 2 year old that will never grow up. They are a lot of work. Are you a patient person? Can you handle someone destroying your things? Can you stay calm while someone screams at you louder than you can imagine because you are not feeding them on time, not getting up the usual time every day, you have changed routine, patted the dog first. Can you stay calm as the thing you did yesterday that they liked now makes them aggressive because hormones have kicked in & they now want to mate with you because you patted them in an intimate way (say under the wing) & they now think you are their mate. Or they hate you because they think your partner is their mate & they'll do this hormonal mood swing twice a year for the next 60 years.

Not saying you won't be a great owner, but man large parrots are a tonne of work & a lifetime of trying to puzzle out behavioral cues. As long as you can keep that part of you detached enough to not take it personally they can be a great pet. Some people love that sort of commitment & some people find it exhausting.

If their is a parrot rescue in your area, they are most likely a great resource to help you help the bird transition to it's new home, it might be worth contacting them for information as they'd be experts in rehoming parrots.
posted by wwax at 12:49 PM on May 15, 2018 [4 favorites]

There's an additional comment by Nattie detailing some special tips and warnings about AGs that I had never thought of. It's in the same thread as linked above.
posted by Knowyournuts at 12:50 PM on May 15, 2018 [3 favorites]

I grew up with an AG, and my brother and I constantly joke about who will get the bird in the inheritance because it was a huge PITA when we were growing up. It had the ability to imitate my mother screaming my name in that way that meant that I was in trouble, it annoyed the dog (would call the dog over to it's cage in my dad's voice, the dog who was super dumb, but super lovable, would walk over to the cage and get a peck on the nose from the bird), would "answer" the phone anytime it rang, and imitated the obnoxious beep of the microwave at random intervals throughout the day.

My favorite is when our neighbor, a retired army general, knocked on our door to tell us that in all his years of being the army, no one ever called him a jackass (something that my brother and I taught the bird, and that the bird would repeat to this gentleman when he was out for a walk past our house), and how he thought that was the funniest thing ever.

They are however, amazing companions and incredibly brilliant. If you have the capacity to really care for it and keep it away from your cats, go for it!
posted by something_witty at 1:16 PM on May 15, 2018 [14 favorites]

That is some A+ help in that second comment from Nattie.

Here's a quick video that an online friend posted, showing their grey going from "please scritch me!" to "we're done here, sucker".
You can see the shift in body language, the eye-pinning, and how the shape of the eye goes from round/open to almond/slit.
posted by ApathyGirl at 1:21 PM on May 15, 2018 [4 favorites]

I have a cockatoo not a grey but he was my 18th birthday present, he got to play out loads for a year, then I went away to college .... and then the economy imploded and housing prices went through the roof, it took my 15 years to save enough money to get a house big enough to have him live with me. He spent most of those 15 years stuck in his cage and I only got to see him at easter and christmas.
He has now lived with me and my partner for 3 years and he loves us - my partner especially, he rarely steps up but he is super cuddly. He can be agressive and territorial so I get bitten from time to time - mostly he likes to swoop which can be easily defeated by ducking heh. He's not without behavioral problems but the idea that anyone would think a bird had to be put down instead of rehomed breaks my heart.
Working from home is great, he'll love being out of his cage all the time but for me, the cats are a non-starter. Even if it wasn't a bird with special needs, moving him into a home with predators is not OK, no matter how chill you think your cats are. I know some people make it work but for me its not worth the risk and trauma to the bird. Its going to be a hard enough transition without that stress
posted by missmagenta at 2:22 PM on May 15, 2018 [5 favorites]

One of my best friend growing up's mom had a yellow naped Amazon as well as Guinea pigs and maybe a dog or cat. She was a housewife, so she could pick us up after school, and Cedric would be in the car, perched atop the front seat. He lived mostly out of his cage, and they also had a branch hung from the eaves, next to the front door, where he would hang out most afternoons, chilling out and yelling at the mailman. I miss that bird, I wonder where he's at these days.

Even being a bit of a bird person, I have another friend who, before we met, had a parrot for a few years before having to rehome it for personal reasons. I was never judgemental, they are advanced pets!
posted by rhizome at 3:13 PM on May 15, 2018 [2 favorites]

Working from home is great, he'll love being out of his cage all the time but for me, the cats are a non-starter. Even if it wasn't a bird with special needs, moving him into a home with predators is not OK, no matter how chill you think your cats are. I know some people make it work but for me its not worth the risk and trauma to the bird. Its going to be a hard enough transition without that stress

posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 5:11 PM on May 15, 2018 [2 favorites]

As someone who has spent $$$ on a second hand budgie with undetected liver disease...get a vet exam first or soon after adoption.
posted by Calzephyr at 6:36 PM on May 15, 2018 [1 favorite]

Speaking as a parrot owner who rescued a bird that had been kept in its cage for years, I recommend that you do take in this animal rather than put it down. If taking in the animal is not realistic for you, then give it to a rescue. They will be able to find it a good home.

To make your transition easier, I highly recommend that you watch the series One Day Miracles from Bird Tricks. The premise is that professional bird trainers visit 12 different families that are struggling with their pet birds. The trainers work with the owners and the bird for a day, and the birds make huge progress.

They basically do clicker training to help build bonds between the owners and their birds, but they also explain lots of bird psychology as they do it. They also talk about basic bird care issues. The episodes are interesting to watch, and they are all a little different. Some of the episodes include African Grays. For me it was helpful to see people doing the training on video, rather than just reading about it. They talk about all the logistics using real birds, such as how to hold the clicker, how to hold a stick, how to position your hands, and how to read the bird's body language. It helped me immensely.
posted by mortaddams at 4:08 AM on May 16, 2018 [4 favorites]

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