(This will be a two part post about the life that I've taken responsibility for.)
I grew up with pets - dogs, cats, hamsters, gerbils, chickens, a ferret, etc. I volunteered at a zoo and a bird rehabilitation center when I was still in middle school. I have some wonderful memories of some amazing creatures that I'll share some other time. I loved all animals, and was known to play with any creature that would let me, even if they were wild. I attracted the hurt animals, and the ones that wouldn't let anyone else touch them. I was a safe, caring human that they could trust, and they somehow knew that.
I thought I knew what was required to be a mother to an animal. Until I met Nancy.
I had moved back to Texas from Montana, and was living with my dad and his fiancee at the beginning. My soon-to-be stepmother had a little conure, a pyrhurra named Nancy, who was angry at the world. Because parrots are sensitive to upheaval in their family life, she had closed off when my stepmom had gotten divorced several years ago. Nancy shrieked all the time, and bit everyone who tried to touch her.
My third day there, I was exhausted and trying to sleep, and Nancy would not stop freaking out. Now, just to give you some idea of how loud they can be, most conures can be heard up to 6 miles away in the jungle. Her breed is marginally quieter. Her voice is the same pitch as the most annoying alarm clock. She gets louder, higher-pitched, and faster the more distressed she is.
That day, she was at Defcon 1, and I couldn't take it anymore. I went into the kitchen, sat down on the floor in front of her cage, and asked her very calmly what was wrong. She quieted. I just kept talking to her, explaining that I was tired and needed to sleep, and I wanted to help her so that she could calm down. I eventually opened the cage, somehow sure that she was incredibly lonely, and she flew to me in relief.
Those first six months, I learned that to own a parrot is to be a parent to a winged toddler with an attachment disorder who cannot be potty trained. They require at least 2 hours of one-on-one interaction a day, and 4 hours total of being around the people they love. They are flock animals, which is a stronger bond and more codependent relationship than even a pack of dogs have. Their entire survival depends on trusting each other to watch out for trouble. They groom each other. The talk to each other. They cuddle and play. If a parrot doesn't have that interaction with their chosen flock, even if said flock involves people, they will go into a deep depression - pulling out their feathers, shrieking out for attention, not eating...they'll eventually die of sadness and loneliness.
This is when I walked into Nancy's life.