by Heike Ewing Ott
Quaker Parrots are one of those species that has been greatly misunderstood over the years. Have you ever wondered what you can do as a Quaker owner to help educate the public about our birds? Here are one person’s thoughts and ideas. What do you think?
By request, I’m reposting here a portion of a post I wrote on BirdTech, because part of it has to do with Quakers, and what is proposed might help us to get some of those QP ban laws changed, too.
We can get congressmen and lobbyists to introduce new legislation, but who has to vote on it? The general public. You can bet that USFWS, AR groups, and some conservation groups are going to be fighting whatever we do, and they are going to do it very publicly, to influence the voters. Ah, the voters – the ignorant and unwashed horde, as my co-worker fondly calls them. What do they believe? What they see on TV. What they read in the paper. And (maybe) what they have personal experience with.
What DOES the public see on TV? A few PBS specials on Alex are most likely viewed as being about as relevant to what the average pet parrot does as Lassie’s exploits are to the activities of the average pet dog. But Jack Hanna says that about half of all scarlet macaws in the pet trade are smuggled, and the conservation groups (who seem SO nice when their little boats are sitting between the whalers and the whales) are showing them the terrible cruelty of how parrots are trapped from the wild, and how many of them die during transport. What are they going to believe?
Here’s an example: (quote from recent news article)
In a separate case, several people in Sedgwick and Cherokee counties are being investigated for possession of monk parakeets, an exotic bird native to southern South America…<snip> … Because of their prolific breeding and voracious eating habits, they are considered dangerous to native wildlife and are extremely hard on fruit, nut, and grain crops.
This little gem contains quite a bit of misleading information and innuendo, and is typical of newspaper reporting. The reader may get a picture of a predatory green parrot-hawk thing that attacks local wildlife and destroys food crops. In fact, lone pet Quakers that escape rarely cause a problem – it was wholesale releases of large numbers of Quakers fresh from the wild that created most of the present situation.
Public education about what Quakers are REALLY like and about reasonable measures for preventing their escape without totally banning them is the only way (IMO) to correct this. Pointing out that parrots must be trained by their parents to survive in the wild and that captive-bred, hand-fed babies are not likely to colonize as some imports have would be helpful, too.
We also, IMO, have a long way to go to give John Q Public any kind of accurate view of pet parrots. Every day I still hear things like:
“Why would you want a parrot? They’re messy, noisy, fly around and poop on everything, can’t be touched or petted, and can’t -learn- anything. Sure, some of them can talk, but they’re just mimics. Might as well have some fish in a tank.”
It only takes ten minutes with a tame hand-fed baby for many people to change their minds. Not all decide to buy one, but most at least change their overall impression of them, IMPE. TV programs and newspaper articles about our pets and what they can do, what they are like, might go a long way towards convincing JohnQ to come around and vote in favor of us and our pet birds.
Breeding facilities also need an image makeover. Puppy Mills do exist, but most people know by now that they are in the minority. It’s been my experience that most people have a dim, inaccurate view of parrot breeding operations, however, and a few specials on well-managed, clean, spacious aviaries full of healthy, happy birds might well quickly correct those negative views.
Registry numbers on just how many breeders there ARE in the US, as opposed to the small numbers of those who don’t house or care for their birds correctly, would also help. Having a few breeders and experts explain that unhealthy, unhappy parrots who don’t have adequate lighting, food, space, etc. are unlikely to breed and would cause the aviary to fail quickly might also make even JohnQ stop and think. It’s only common sense that if your livelihood depends on birds that can and will produce numbers of healthy offspring, you will take good care of them, but we have to make people THINK about it to realize it.
Volunteering to take babies or pets to schools, nursing homes, public programs, and showing up at fairs and public events, doing spots on public TV, writing news articles, etc., is one way to start, and I have done some of these things. Not only do some pet birds quickly get bigger cages, better food, and improved care when their young owners listen to what I have to say, but most of the kids come away with a different point of view about pet birds – and these kids are future voters. When I took my birds to a local “country fair,” probably several hundred people walked away from my booth thinking differently about pet birds, especially parrots, than they did when they walked up.