Parrots as an Emotional Mirror

By Constance Lee Menefee

If you want a fun-house emotional mirror, get some parrots. These intelligent creatures will reflect back your deepest insecurities.

If you happen to have that bittersweet bond of perpetual parent and unrequited lover with your parrot, be prepared to be educated and disciplined for the rest of your life. You, not the bird, will make many mistakes. The bird, not you, will always be correct. In any event, you will be the one with bandages for your fingers and your heart in every pocket.

I have ten affectionate parrots, but only two of the males have bonded strongly with me. One is Ranger, a half-pound sultry, musky-lilac scented, blue-feathered charmer with pink feet. He is a Bronze-winged Pionus. My home is his second abode and when I got him, he was two years old with socialization problems.

He takes serious exception to the fun I have with my other male, Sundog, who I got right after he was weaned. Sundog is a Black-headed Caique, which means he is six ounces of passion and verve clothed in brilliant green, orange and yellow. He is enthusiastic about people and food. Every emotion not shown by his eloquent head and neck feathers is visible in his red and brown eyes.

On one particular morning, I experienced the clash of cultures between my two taskmasters. Sundog is unfailingly delightful in the morning. He almost dives, head first, out of his cage into my hand in the morning. He chirrs, whistles, and makes loud kissing noises. He is ready to go. Ranger, on the other hand, wakes up slowly, almost sulkily. He carefully climbs out of his cage and fluffs up. He says, “Hello,” in a gruff, soft voice. I talk to him, but do not touch, in the morning.

Today I washed a sinkful of dirty dishes with Sundog on my head. Then I fed the parrots their morning vegetables. Apparently, Ranger grew more and more annoyed as he listened to Sundog and me whistling over the dishes.

When I brought the vegetables in and tried to attach Ranger’s dish to the outside of his cage, he grimly stalked over and bit me sharply on the index finger. It hurt and I dropped the dish. By this time, he was in rare form with his blue head feathers, and the smattering of cream and rose throat feathers, fluffed up. He stamped back and forth and glared at me as I yelled, “No! Bad bird. Don’t bite!” I wanted to ring his skinny neck.

Feeling outraged, with blood starting to drip, I picked up his dish and said, “You will get NOTHING! NOTHING!” And I actually attached the empty dish to the cage as if that would register my displeasure and somehow balance the insult, as I saw it. Oh yes, my grand petty revenge over a natural display of displeasure and jealousy from this creature that trusts me and, however we can understand it, loves me.

I stormed out, feeling betrayed and dreadfully hurt. As I washed my finger, still upset, I caught a third-eye compassionate observer glimpse of Ranger and myself. What in the world did I need from this small creature? Unconditional love? Approval? A reproving (almost justified) bite from him and I was like a sensitive teenager with a crush gone bad. What emotional distortions is that fun-house mirror reflecting?

I finally came back to Ranger and asked him if he wanted to go outside. He understands that question. It is his favorite activity. But he was having none of it and glided around his cage top, up his ropes, and over his perch with tail fanned, head feathers fluffed, and eyes glued to me as if to say, “You must be kidding. You messed around with that other bird and I won’t go outside with you because I know it is your favorite activity.”

Later today, we will forgive each other and go outside to see the squirrels, neighborhood birds, and say hello to any people we meet. I will continue to ponder the many ways in which my parrots are making me accountable for my feelings and connecting me to a deeper wisdom of acceptance and compassion.