A Brief History of Parrots

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I read about a parrot that testified in court against the wife of his owner. The wife shot her husband and the parrot heard “don’t shoot, don’t shoot” which it repeated in court. The jury convicted her. Could be a good reason to have or not have a parrot at home.

Parrots were domesticated by the ancient Romans and kept as pets as far back as 5000 years ago in Brazil. Parrots first appeared in Europe in 327 B.C. when Alexander the Great conquered India and took Ring-neck (Rose-ringed) Parrots and their cousin the Alexandrine Parrot, back to Greece.

After the fall of the Roman Empire, parrots were rare in Europe but interest in them rose again after Christopher Columbus brought some back after his voyages to the Americas. The first record of a parrot being kept as a pet in the British Isles was in 1504 when Henry VIII owned an African Grey Parrot.

The Age of Exploration spanned the early 15th century to the early 17th century, during which European ships traveled around the world in search of new trading routes. A number of animals were brought back for menageries, for study, for museums, as pets, and as curiosities for collections called “cabinets” (a private room in a house to which the lord of the manor would retreat to relax and entertain himself with the study of curiosities – the first man cave?) Parrots were high on the list.

Parrots from India, Africa, and South America were common imports. Not only colorful and easily tamed, they transported relatively easily on the long, uncomfortable sea voyages back to Europe. Few people knew anything about the needs of parrots and undoubtedly many birds died in transit. But they certainly did much better than more delicate bird species. The records of birds kept in menageries (the precursor to zoos), private collections, and bird artwork of the 16th to 18th centuries list, in addition to parrots, pheasants, ostriches, rheas, tinamous, and other long-lived and easy to keep birds.

Pets became a trend in the 18th century in the court of Versailles and Madame du Barry, mistress of Louis the XV, the King of France, had a great passion for parrots. She even had a naval officer knighted by the king for presenting her a gift of a green parrot. She and the king ignited a demand for exotic pets, especially parrots and monkeys, easily trained and transported.

Budgerigars (parakeets) started the hobby of parrot keeping in the U.S in the mid 1800’s. Today roughly 8 million parrots are kept as pets. Approximately 50,000 parrots are legally imported each year but perhaps twice that number are smuggled in illegally. Worse is the fact that 60% of parrots trapped for the bird trade die before reaching their final destination. Around 30% of the world’s parrot species are under threat of extinction and 56% in decline – the largest number of threatened species of all bird families. Should we be keeping birds in cages? Read more.

Most pet parrots are only a few generations removed from the wild, and few owners allow the birds to fulfill even their most basic instincts: flying, flocking, and finding mates. These highly social creatures are usually caged and alone with little stimulation. For an animal as emotionally complex as a chimpanzee or dolphin, it’s an unimaginably bleak existence. Parrot advocate Mira Tweti estimates that some 75 percent of household birds “live a life of abuse or neglect.”

The historyof parrots is interesting but their future is bleak.

12 thoughts on “A Brief History of Parrots”

  1. This misinformation really bothers me because there are people going around calling parrots domesticated animals when they are not. A few having been traded and kept as pets does not apply to the term ‘domestication’. I beg you to edit this article so that no one does a simple google search and claims that parrots are ‘domestic’.

    1. There is no misinformation in this article. I never claimed that all parrots are domestic, but some species of parrots have been domesticated for centuries. We call some cats domesticated even though there are many wild species, same with dogs. I’m not a fan of keeping parrots in cages and I make that point in the article.

      1. What is your source for parrots having been domesticated? The act of domestication, permanent genetic changes of lineage that lead to “a heritable predisposition toward human association”, should lead to recognizable differences (either physical or behavioral) between the domesticated animals and it’s wild counterpart that are noticable even in the absence of human involvement. Otherwise the animal is simply tamed. A chicken will not revert to being junglefowl in one generation if it’s raised in isolation of humans, because a chicken is domesticated. The same can not be said of the parrot though, unless you have a source you’d like to share? Did the Roman’s captive breeding of parrots alter a species genetic make up? If so, where and how can I read more about this research. Surely you’ve not conflated “tame” with “domesticated”. I’m kinda disappointed in a website that claims it’s all about bird science but isn’t actually offering any scientific back up for it’s controversial assertions. I came here looking for actual help on this topic.

        1. Thanks for your comments but this is a blog, not a scientific paper. You are correct, I misused the word domesticated , but many species are domesticated such as parakeets and cockatiels, African grays, lovebirds, and others. I can back up all my information with scientific sources, but the purpose of a blog is to give an overall, general view of the topic to the average reader. Few people would go back to read any scientific references I might cite. I have 30 scientific publications and 12 books, soon to be 14, and those are full of references to back up my statements. If you want specific, scientific references, go to google scholar and look at the journal literature.

    2. You’re 100% right. Anyone who has ever owned a parrot knows they are not domesticated. They’re the 3rd most popular world wide pet, and the #1 most rehomed. It’s a problem.

  2. Pingback: When Did Parrots Get Domesticated, & How? Fascinating Facts! – LOVE + RESCUE

  3. Shannon McGunn

    Not all parrot companions keep their birds in those conditions. Mine has free flight of the house ( one floor) as well as he interacts with us at least 12 hours a day. Hes in excellent health and very happy. Pet parrots, if kept in optimal conditions-which they deserve- live up to a decade or several longer as pets. ( depending on species lifespan ) Mine lives 12-17 in the wild and up to 30-40 with me, hopefully:)

    I agree they are rehomed often and people tend to get them without thinking.

    1. Your parrot may have a decent life but he is a captive kept for your pleasure and has been eliminated from the gene pool. Doesn’t matter how long he Ives in captivity, in the wild he would have offspring.

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