BOOKS: The Parrot Who Owns Me

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, October 2001:
The Parrot Who Owns Me:
The Story of a Relationship
by Joanna Burger.
Villard Books (299 Park Ave., New York, NY 10171), 2001.
256 pages, hardcover. $23.95.

Animal People readers are sometimes accused of being
anthropomorphic–especially by people who pretend to take a
“scientific” view of animal life and intelligence.
Joanna Burger, however, is a world-class behavioral
ecologist, who serves on the National Academy of Sciences advisory
panel on endocrine-disrupting chemicals, yet in The Parrot Who Owns
Me unabash-edly blurs the distinction between human and birds.

And why not? Burger has devoted her life to the scientific
study of birds. Discovering that parrots (and other animals) are
more similar to us than different is the outcome of her years of
This is not a matter of animals having “human” qualities or
humans having “animal” qualitie: rather, we all share certain
qualities of being, including emotion, intellect, habits,
desires, hopes and fears.
“My parrot, Tiko, didn’t court me until five years into our
relationship,” Burger writes in chapter one. “I knew how attached
he was to me, but it came as a complete surprise when one morning in
early April his behavior toward me suddenly changed. I found his
diminutive brightly feathered self on my bed, insistently poking his
head under my hand to solicit preening. That morning Tiko gently
picked at my cuticle and fingernails with his tongue and beak for two
hours while I drifted in and out of sleep, dreaming of jungles,
jaguars, and brilliantly colored parrots flitting through the forest
canopy. (Later) that spring morning, Tiko flew from his perch in my
office, landed on my computer keyboard, and stomped over the keys,
forcefully nudging my fingers away from their task. I knew my parrot
and I were close, but just how close, I was about to discover.
“Tiko finally chose the narrow slot under the credenza for
what turned out to be ‘our’ nest. He peeked out from under the
credenza, fixed me with his eyes, moaned enticingly, and ducked
back into the darkness. He dashed to my toes, which he maniacally
preened, hopped around my feet, then scooted back to the nest.”
What do you do when your parrot is fiercely courting you?
One hopes that your human mate is exceptionally understanding!
Burger’s husband is, and Tiko grows to accept him-as long as the
husband stays out of the way on more passionate occasions. Tiko and
Burger’s husband eventually form their own friendship and engage in
whistling duets.
Burger presents a well-written and engaging story with a
scientist’s discrimination. She includes stories of other parrots,
a chicken, and heartrending accounts of investigative field work to
benefit different bird species. This book is fascinating for people
owned by parrots and a worthy acquisition for animal-related
libraries. If you have ever wondered how so much complicated being
is contained is less than a pound of parrot feathers, read Burger
for her insights.
–Eileen Weintraub

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