I have witnessed parrots in captivity. I have heard their loud calls. I have seen in horror parrots who pecked their feathers out.
I have also met wonderful parrot owners and rescuers who have dedicated their lives to making the lives of their feathered friends better.
But until I saw Allison Argo’s film “Parrot Confidential” on PBS Nature, I did not question the status of parrots as pets.
“With huge brains and hollow bones, they navigate the canopy. Every cell is engineered for flight…Their wings can carry them 80 miles a day. This is a creature that lives without borders. Yet, millions live among us,” Argo narrates as two colorful macaws cruise above a Costa Rican rainforest.
Parrots are in high demand as pets due to their intelligence, ability to mimic human voices and form strong bonds with their owners. It is estimated that 10 to 40 million parrots live in captivity in the US. There are 350 different species of parrots, including macaws, Amazons, African grays, lovebirds, and cockatoos among others. Nearly all of these are endangered because of decades of poaching to feed the growing demand for exotic birds as pets. The black market trade of exotic birds is a multi-billion dollar industry today.
When the US banned the importation of wild birds in 1992, parrot breeders popped up all across the country, ensuring that those who wanted these exotic birds could walk into a pet store and get a one easily. Today, one could get a bird for as little as $40.
Sadly, these companion birds don’t always get to live happily ever after. Some are often confined to small cages. Some are abandoned once they start to exhibit aggressive behavior at maturity. And some are subjected to abuse. Many suffer heart disease induced by stress, lack of exercise and poor diets. Often, they are sent from owner to owner in their long life span of 80 plus years.
Most individuals who bring parrots home don’t realize that these are wild birds. They are unlike cats and dogs who have been domesticated for thousands of years. People expect these birds to sing and speak, and yet when they bite (which sometimes they do, especially Amazons), they are surprised. Whether they are in a cage or soaring above the canopy, parrots are wild.
They are also social creatures. In the wild, they find mates when they reach maturity and are rarely seen alone, always having their mate within hearing distance. They thrive in groups, taking care of their young and flying together. When humans enter the picture, the birds form bonds with them, which sometimes is detrimental to their mental and physical well-being. Birds who are stressed out in cages or left alone exhibit behavior such as painfully plucking of their own feathers out, akin to cutting among humans.
Allison Argo, an Emmy award-winning filmmaker and founder of Argo Films, has dedicated her life to helping animals and being their voice. Argo decided to tell the story of parrots because she learned that the fate of unwanted parrots is becoming more precarious every day, with birds in the wild in danger and sanctuaries working at full capacity to care for all the unwanted “pet” parrots.
“In telling this story, I felt it was important to connect the dots between the wild and our “companion” birds. For many who have only seen parrots perched in cages, picturing them in the wild can be an alien image. Having the privilege to observe parrots in the wild – watching them interact with one another, care for their young, and fly freely – is nothing short of extraordinary,” said Argo.
In the film, you will hear from parrot owners and former breeders turned rescuers, and learn about sanctuaries that are working hard to provide for a growing number of unwanted and neglected birds. You will bear witness to inspiring survival stories of some birds in captivity, including Lou an Umbrella Cockatoo abandoned in a foreclosed house for days without food, Fagan an African Gray, subjected to secondhand smoke for most of his life, and Geoffrey, a macaw born at The ARA Project in Costa Rica that breeds rescued parrots and releases their offspring to repopulate this struggling species.
Their stories will stay with you long after the last bird call. They will remind you that just as we are responsible for the demise of these beautiful and inspiring birds, we can help turn things around for them.
“I hope that this film will reach those who are contemplating the purchase of a parrot. I hope the film will allow them to make an educated decision about whether they truly can provide for a parrot. If the answer is “yes,” then I hope they will consider adopting one of the thousands of parrots in need of a home. No matter what, I hope that we will all support efforts to protect these magnificent creatures in the wild so that they can continue to fly free,” said Argo.
I certainly hope so.
To watch “Parrot Confidential”, visit PBS Nature by clicking here.