BT Interview: Stalk the Wild Amazons with Michael Schindlinger
By Susan Chamberlain
About Michael Schindlinger:
Courtesy of Monica Rozin
Michael Schindlinger, currently a Lecturer in Biology at Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, was born in Lakewood, New Jersey. He returned to his New York roots (his parents and grandparents were from Brooklyn) at age 13 when he and his family moved to New York City’s Greenwich Village.
Michael attended Manhattan’s Friends Seminary and then spent two years at Boston’s prestigious Berklee College of Music. At Berklee the foundation was laid for Michael’s graduate research at Harvard on the various languages and dialects of parrots, and what a long strange trip it’s been É well, maybe not so strange when you put it all together!
BT: Do you believe conservation in the wild is at odds with pet bird ownership?
MS: Not when love for their pet birds motivates people to become advocates for their conservation in the wild. When we ignore parrots as wild birds and focus on them as pets only, we run the risk of promoting the pet trade to such an extent that it becomes difficult for us to convince people that native birds should remain free.
BT: What would you say to someone before they get their first pet bird?
MS: Parrots are unique as pets because they come with very strong personalities. We can’t change them in captivity because they’re not really tame. We can only negotiate. People should get a bird only if they want all that additional charm/hassle of having an animal that’s never quite willing to acknowledge you as a master in the same way as a dog would.
If you want a cuddly, cute animal, it’s probably best not to get a parrot because parrots come with so much additional stuff: noise, challenging social hierarchy and asserting their independence. It may be many generations before parrots are tamed the way dogs and cats have been. Their quest for freedom is strong.
BT: What do you feel is the biggest mistake people make with their pet birds?
MS: Not giving it the attention it really needs and misunderstanding the bird’s motivations and by responding to calling behavior by isolating the bird. When it calls out, the bird is asking for social interaction and the human is denying it by isolating it. Birds get neurotic symptoms from handling by inexperienced people who don’t understand bird’s motivations or needs but instead only consider their own conveniences.
I do a lot of work with Foster Parrots in Massachusetts and am aware of the problems. People are constantly giving up their large birds for understandable but inexcusable reasons. The choice to get a large bird is a more serious decision than marriage sometimes. The relationship is going to last for the rest of the bird’s life, which may be longer than our own lives. The decision to get a bird on impulse and to get the biggest bird possible without doing one’s ‘homework’ is a total mistake.
BT: What’s your favorite bird care tip?
MS: Give your birds lots of attention and allow them to share mealtimes. Let them eat when you eat, share some safe food. Make the bird an integral part of your life.Don’t make it interesting for just a few minutes a day. Provide an enriched environment: a window to look out of, and different social partners, human or avian.
Two birds make great companions for each other. People mistakenly think that their bird won’t interact with them if they get a second bird, but this isn’t true. You may not be the bird’s favorite creature after that, but it may be a good thing if you’re not home for most of the day. It also takes a lot of pressure off you to provide social stimulation. All birds are ‘lovebird’ -- they need a stable partner to count on, and who better than another bird?
Visit Michael Schindlinger's site at www.freeparrots.net.