Unlike toddlers, parrots never outgrow their 'terrible twos'


August 14, 1993|By Gina Spadafori | Gina Spadafori,McClatchy News Service

They can be playful and affectionate one day, sullen and withdrawn the next. They fling their food when they eat and scatter toys thoughtlessly. Car keys and other bright objects attract their attention, and they've been known to pull glasses and dangling earrings off guests.

And that's not all. They can throw spectacular tantrums, and once they start screaming, it's almost impossible to get them to stop. If you live with them, invest in a hand-held vacuum and keep paper towels handy.

Did you guess toddlers? Think parrots instead, which can

behave very much like a child in the "terrible twos," except for one big difference -- the birds never outgrow that stage. Perhaps that's part of their charm and one reason why these pets grow more popular by the day.

And yet one of the reasons people are drawn to these colorful critters is they think they're easier to care for than a dog or cat and that's not really true. Without proper care, good food and constant attention, parrots can easily become sick, which is why so few pet parrots will ever see even the low end of their normal life span -- 30 years to 70 years.

If you're thinking of laying out hundreds of dollars for a set-up and bird, ask yourself:

* Do you have time to spend with your pet? Birds are social animals and may become physically or mentally ill if left alone too much, such as when the owner works all day.

* If you must leave the bird for long periods, would you consider keeping a pair of birds to keep each other company, even though that will double your set-up expense and the time you must dedicate to care?

* Can you find someone to take care of your bird -- not just feed it, but spend time with it -- when you go on business trips or vacations?

* Are you a neatnik who can't tolerate mess or destruction? Parrots create dust and seem to take pleasure in flinging food and feathers. And since parrots relieve themselves when the need arises, droppings go everywhere your parrot does, ending up on your shoulder, on the kitchen counter, on the tops of the curtains -- in short, everywhere. A parrot can also turn molding into splinters in minutes, and can be just as efficient in destroying any other household item that strikes its fancy.

* Will you have the time to ensure your pet gets a proper diet? It's not just a matter of dumping seed in a dish. Parrots need a variety of fresh food to stay healthy, including such items as fruits and vegetables and even pasta.

* Are you prepared to keep the cage clean? Some parrots need to have droppings removed daily to keep harmful mold from forming. At the very least, you should be prepared to scrub and disinfect every bit of your parrot's environment -- cages, perches, toys and dishes -- weekly.

If the trouble and the cost don't put you off, then you're definitely parrot material. If they do, there are still birds that might suit your household. Think small -- finches, canaries and parakeets make wonderful pets and are nowhere near as demanding or costly as a parrot.

* I met a woman with what she called a Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever. He was a charming dog, but I never heard of such a breed. Was she on the level?

You bet. The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever, as its name implies, is a Canadian breed. The Toller, as it's called for short, is recognized by the Canadian Kennel Club and is now attracting some attention in the United States.

This medium-sized dog was named for its unusual hunting technique: It cavorts up and down the shore at a lake or river, waving its tail tip frantically. This draws the attention of ducks -- the stupid ones, presumably -- which swim over to investigate and are shot for their curiosity. The Toller then retrieves the bird and the game continues.

For those who don't hunt, the reddish-gold Toller is described as having a temperament very much like a golden retriever -- friendly, quick-learning, easygoing and playful. Fanciers say they make good family dogs.

For more information on the breed in the United States, write to the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever Club, 951 Moon Court, Marco Island, Fla. 33937. Quackers is a magazine for Toller fanciers; for information, write to 430 Larkwood Drive, Montgomery, Ala. 36109.

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