As it's National Kids and Pets Day on April 26th, Dot Schwarz takes a look at how children and get along when they live together in the same house.
National Kids and Pets Day was started in 2005. It was started by Colleen Paige, who recognised the importance of pets in the home.
Parrots and kids can and do mix successfully. As you might guess, I’m in favour of the combination. But as there are always two sides to every debate, let’s look at one type of drawback. These are situations that can be avoided if planned for beforehand.
The jealous bird
A young couple relate this unhappy experience. Robbie had kept his Hahn’s Macaw since his late teens. ‘The Macaw was bonded to me too much,’ said Robbie. When he married, the Hahn’s never accepted Robbie’s wife in spite of all her efforts.
When their baby daughter was born, the Macaw flew at her a couple of times while she was holding the baby. Robbie says ‘had it not been for my illness we’d have tried to resolve the problem.’
However, with Robbie in hospital on and off for 12 months, the Hahns had to be rehomed. Robbie smiled ruefully as he told me the outcome, ‘the bird is now living with a female Hahns and at liberty most of day. Really better off then when he was with me. But I still miss him.’
Robbie’s experience is the opposite of what happened to Jessica Moore. She has no birdy background but when at 18 she and Ryan Wyatt became partners, she knew about Ryan’s immense interest in Parrots. Ryan had had Parrots as a child and took charge of Zazu a young grey. Zazu is 8 months older than Kiara their daughter.
Says Jessica, ‘Parrots have never become an issue. Ryan has dealt with them.’ They never leave Kiara alone in a room with the Parrots but by the age of 8 months, she’d already stroked the Grey.
When Zazu was joined by Zira, the Amazon, and Kiara also handled this bird. Ryan has recently taken charge of a blue and gold baby Macaw that he’s hand rearing. This baby Macaw and Kiara are already friends and can fall asleep together on the sofa.
Photo Credit: Ryan Wyatt
Jessica’s experiences lead her to say that she’d never advise a pregnant woman to give up the Parrots, ‘who,’ she says, ‘are perfectly intelligent enough to be aware that they have to be gentle with a human child.’
Jessica points out that their Parrots are flighted so if Kiara moves toward them and they don’t want to interact with her, they fly away. Kiara, a great little talker for a two-year old, says of the yellow fronted Amazon, ’Zira is my best friend.’
Debbie Delmer always dreamed of having a Macaw. Eventually as a young woman she acquired Alfie a blue and gold. Debbie, a nurse, isn’t a professional bird trainer nevertheless has habituated Alfie to live in a family with her daughter Amy. They’re a unit. Alfie was clipped as a baby but is now free flying and can be been seen playing in the street with the local children.
These examples show particularly sensitive handling of the relationship between Parrot and child.
A vet’s opinion
Neil Forbes, one of the UK’s leading avian vets, was happy to talk about the health hazards of Parrot ownership in relation to children. ‘In 25 years of practice, I’ve never come across a case of a child becoming ill from handling Parrots.’ Dr Forbes counsels that every responsible owner has a new bird tested for psittacosis.
This illness - a type of pneumonia - can be serious but is rarely fatal and is more of a hazard to pregnant woman and the elderly than to children.
Forbes says that provided the bird is given a clean bill of health from a reputable avian vet and is kept away from strange birds there should never be any problem. He advises proper research into what species to buy and to provide enough enrichment and stimulation for any bird. His own two daughters grew up in a Parrot household.
Parrots have beaks and they bite. However, well- trained, socialized Parrots prefer to fly off the perch or fly away from someone rather than bite - another strong argument against clipping.
My grandchildren know not to poke fingers through cage bars. A visiting great niece wouldn’t listen to Great Aunt Dot and got her finger nipped. I persuaded her mum that an anti-rabies shot wasn’t needed. She said huffily, ‘all that Parrot poo and what about psittacosis?’
The first essential for a happy two-way relationship is a child who realizes from example rather than nagging that Parrots don't like loud noises or jerky movements.
If the Parrot has been properly socialised as a baby - ideally spending some time with its parents so that it knows that first of all it is a bird - such a bird will be curious and friendly to humans. It soon becomes clear which individual kid enjoys these exotic and unpredictable creatures and which kid prefers football or TV.
Here’s an anecdote of a mistake I made with Parrots and kids. Perdy, lesser sulphur Cockatoo, beautifully socialised by her breeder Les Rance would step up on command and respond to a request for a recall.
I let some kids (two lively boys) play with her in the aviary unsupervised. In just one afternoon, they demanded the step up and the recall too many times. Perdy didn’t bite; she simply refused to recall any longer for kids.
Nowadays, if any child wants to stroke her, they have to wait until she’s perched on her beloved’s knee (Wal my husband) then she’ll allow herself to be petted.
A lot of Parrots’ natural behaviour, especially Greys, is difficult for kids to understand.
Unlike a puppy, a Parrot won’t generally rush over you and shower you with affection. Unlike a kitten, it won’t necessarily play readily. Parrots often accept and solicit petting but on their terms, not yours.
Therefore a child who’s capable of relating to birds needs gentleness, calm and stillness and the ability to see each situation from the Parrot’s point of view.
Naomi, my granddaughter, demonstrates such empathy; she’s sat for 30 minutes spoon-feeding a four-week-old Parakeet without getting impatient.
Is there a best species to interact with kids?
That’s a ‘how long is a piece of string?’ question. Many factors need consideration; your financial situation, how much space and time you have available and the age and capabilities of the children involved.
There is more information on choosing the right Parrot for you here.
Budgies and Cockatiels have every quality of their larger cousins and can be kept well in quite small environments.
And if your training is a bit wobbly, their bites are not strong. It’s also easier to keep them in a pair or a small flock. If your Parrot is to be left alone for many hours daily, you should try and provide an aviary and avian companionship.
Amongst the smaller, quieter species are Meyers, Jardines, Senegals and Pionus Parrots - so many species to research apart from Greys and Cockatoos. Greys in knowledgeable hands make splendid pets in a child-centred or an adult family.
Sadly, if they have poor handling, they become afraid, nip or even bite and are relegated to a lonely, frustrating, cage-bound life. The same is even truer of the Cockatoos.
In one family I know, the teenagers don't go near the Cockatoos. Macaws aren’t suitable as pets unless there is a lot of knowledge of their needs and enough space for their magnificent flight.
All children don’t necessarily love Parrots. They should never be coerced into caring for them. For those children that wish it, the relationship will be a mutual boon giving the child valuable lessons in care and love.
We also cherish what we know and have cared for. The conservationists of the future will be those children who grew up aware of animals, birds and the natural world.
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