A FEW SECRETS OF A PARROT SITTER
by Sally Blanchard
Will Rogers once said: "Live in such a way that you would not be ashamed to sell your parrot to the town gossip." Over the last forty years or so I have watched a lot of parrots in my home and you can tell a lot about people from bird-sitting their parrots. For several years I lived in a small house in Alameda, California. I was doing a lot of bird sitting and during the holidays my living room was really crowded. It was always interesting to see how the various parrots related to being in a room with so many other birds. Some were totally blasé about it, while others seemed a bit wary. I tried to make sure that I handled every tame parrot at least once a day. If a parrot wasn’t tame, I would work with it in my bedroom. One of my goals was to teach every conure-sized bird to do a somersault before they went home. One thing that I learned with some parrots was that I could do just about anything with them, but I was no longer of any significance to them once their people walked in the door. One interesting factor, it was a great way to get many of the parrots to eat new foods. It was a world of "Parrot see, parrot do" (Not "Monkey see, Monkey do") When the parrots saw other parrots eating the fresh food and "glop" I fed them all, they all ate it within a day or so.
Years ago I bird sat a couple’s blue and gold macaw and their yellow-nape Amazon. The blue and gold was huge and I was convinced it was a male until the bird laid eggs. I had a cage that I usually used for macaws so the first time I watched the macaw, I confidently put her in it. I had to go to the store for fresh bird veggies and when I came back, the bird was perching on the back of my couch and the cage looked like it had been hit by a train. The second day she was with me, she let loose with the most violent sneeze that I had ever heard. I thought that the macaw might be having an allergic reaction to a cockatoo I was watching but that bird was in another room. The sneezes continued and I began to worry because they shook her whole body. I couldn’t get in touch with her owners because they were on a cruise. I always had people sign a form that stated that they would be responsible for paying veterinarian costs if I decided the bird had a problem. So as a precaution, I took her to my vet but he found nothing wrong with her. So for the next two weeks, the macaw continued to sneeze. Sometimes she sneezed so hard that I thought she was going to fall off of her perch. When the couple returned, I was just starting to mention my concern, when the man pulled a handkerchief out of his pocket and let loose with the only other sneeze I had ever heard that rivaled the intensity of the macaw’s. The wife quickly explained that her husband had sinus problems. I wish I knew that before they left on their trip.
The yellow-naped was the woman’s sweet baby. When the couple left, she mentioned to me that she didn’t want her baby learning any bad words. I hadn’t thought about it at the time but a day or so later, I was going to watch an African grey that lived with a bachelor and the bird had a fairly ‘colorful’ vocabulary. I had a wonderful phone machine that actually allowed me to hear what was going on in my house. I went to a friend’s house for Christmas dinner and decided to call home to see what was going on with all of the birds. Right away I heard the grey carrying on like a sailor. From the other side of the room, I heard girlish giggling from the yellow-nape. I was really worried that the nape would pick up some of his exclamations and I would be in big trouble. Since I watched the bird a couple more times, I had to presume that the talking nape hadn’t picked up any of the grey’s bawdy conversation.
I watched another blue and gold while his owners went to Europe for several weeks. It took a couple of days for him to be comfortable in his new surroundings, but once he was, I let him hang out on the top of his cage which was next to my recliner. One evening, he started to pace back and forth and bob his head up and down. Then he started saying dramatic nonsense in a deep gruff man’s voice. When talking parrots hear several similar conversations, they get the voice but not the words so they just make up sounds that seem to fit the situation. I had first noticed this when my double-yellow head Paco was young and would “talk on the phone.” She usually got the “Hello” just fine and the rest of the conversation was nonsense peppered with a few expressions like “Ok” and “uh-huh.” I couldn’t help but laugh at the macaw because the bird was so expressive with his loud authoritarian exclamations and put on quite a show storming the top of the cage and throwing his head around. Then it was silent for about 20 seconds, but then he responded for a few minutes with a whiny woman’s voice. The sequence was repeated several times each evening. This went on just about every night that he stayed with me. Despite the argumentative nature of his conversations, the macaw didn’t lack affection as he also said, “I love you” and other terms of endearment in both voices.
I watched an African grey who is quite a talker. The thing I knew for sure about his home life is that his favored person calls her husband’s name on a regular basis. One time when I was watching him, I tripped and fell. I landed in a heap right in front of his cage. As I was checking to see if any part of me was injured, the bird asked, “Are you OK?” When I told him I thought that nothing was broken, he exclaimed, “Scary stuff.”
For several years, I regularly bird sat a talkative Alexandrine parakeet who obviously had an owner who adored him. In the evening, he would sweet-talk himself for almost an hour before bedtime. His vocabulary consisted of words like handsome, beautiful, gorgeous, pretty, and other sweet nothings. I now bird sit a cage territorial quaker parakeet and I have to move really fast to change his food and water dishes. He always cautions me with the statement, “Don’t bite mother” in a very patient loving voice.
I only watch a few friend's parrots now but I have had a lot of fun getting to know so many different parrots even if it is for such a short time. Having them visit has taught me a lot more about parrots and their behavior over the years.