The Story of the Shivering Parrot
Among humanity’s interminable crimes against nature, caging a magnificent creature for its entire lifetime ranks beyond the unforgivable.
But we do it.
It’s even acceptable in most social circles.
But acceptance doesn’t make it right.
Caging a species desperately yearning to fly free strikes me as senselessly selfish. Sure, some animals easily adapt to people. Some animals even seem happier when they’re around us — such as dogs and cats. But imprisoning animals purely for our selfish pleasures displays utter indifference to the laws and beauties of nature. A bird’s wings aren’t meant to be caged. A bird’s wings are meant to fly.
Yesterday, I sadly looked upon wings longing to fly which were instead wasting away inside a cramped cage. The wondrous Amazon parrot — so full of vibrant colors and natural splendor — was housed in the waiting area of a Mexican restaurant in West Palm Beach, Florida. It matters not if this parrot accepts this odd place for an animal. He has no choice. This is his home. It will probably always be his home — from this point forward and forever — so long as a steady stream of hungry visitors continues to pass through the foyer and into the restaurant.
The parrot’s best day probably consists of being fed a tasty treat — if he’s lucky. Perhaps it’s a slice of pineapple. Or a pistachio nut. For him, most days must be mind-numbingly dull, witnessing a dining parade of all ages — who constantly point, laugh, and stick their hands into what little sanctuary exits that’s his own, no doubt hoping to amuse themselves for an instant a the frightened parrot’s expense.
Nights must be worse. When darkness falls as it does all nights, there’s no companionship. The parrot sits on a single perch alone. His life is joyless imprisonment of solitude.
What must this caged parrot think hour after hour, day after day, month after month, and year after year? Was he born unto this earth for this purpose?
Captivity isn’t natural for either humans or animals. And yet the great irony is at least for convicted criminals — those ending up in jail or prison — they have the chance for parole. But this innocent creature is serving his own life’s sentence, for no crime other than making a devastatingly fateful mistake of flying into a baited trap when he was a younger and happier bird flapping freely through a rain forest. Now, he’s become little more than a sideshow mascot used to sell tacos.
Surely most parrot owners take good care of their birds. I presume these cherished pets are even happy in their human homes. They get to connect with people daily. They’re given outlets to express their intelligence and develop a personality. But others are not quite as fortunate. And more than a few birds (and most animals) are abused and mishandled, treated as little more than a commodity.
It was unseasonably cold in South Florida this past weekend. Temperatures dipped into the low 40’s. There were periods of ceaseless rain and 60 mph wind gusts. That might not seem cold to a nation buried under a blanket of snow. But to a sensitive creature accustomed to a tropical environment and constant warmth, it was like the arctic.
I peered more closely through the iron bars and looked directly at the little colored angel bound in captivity. His eyes were dilating. Something was wrong. Even more disturbing — the parrot was shivering violently. He was cold.
For all creatures, cold is among the most unpleasant of sensations. There’s simply no way to tune out the discomfort of lacking body heat. The caged parrot was shivering so violently that his feathers were trembling. I later learned that parrots are very sensitive to the cold. They involuntarily shiver and sometimes even lose consciousness which is what happens when muscles in their bodies try desperately to create enough heat to keep warm. Imagine what it’s like to sleep outside on a cold winter night with no blanket. That’s the senseless discomfort the parrot was feeling at this instant.
The parrot was losing his battle to stay warm. He was miserable. Worse, it was getting darker and would sooner get much colder the rest of the night.
Instantly, I was overcome with emotion. Maybe it was gazing at the parrot so closely and looking into his eyes. I wanted so badly to break open the cage and grab the parrot. I desired to give him the warmth and comfort of a human hand. I wished for a cloth or a blanket to wrap the bird inside, offering protection. He didn’t need much help. He just needed someone to care.
But the cage bars served just as much to keep me out, as the captive bird confined within. I too was a prisoner of helplessness. I was prevented from engaging in an act of good consciousness, forbidden from performing a simple act of human kindness.
But there were some options.
Two thoughts came to mind. One was to go out and buy a pair of wire cutters and cut open the cage and turn him loose. But that would be wrong. First, it would be against the law. Second, the bird might not be able to survive on its own. Perhaps it’s been in captivity so long, that he couldn’t survive as a free bird in the wild. So setting him free would be a death sentence.
Only one option remained. That was to have a stern talk with the restaurant manager.
I approached the restaurant host at the front door and requested the manager. I explained that the parrot was shivering violently. I pleaded that he deserved to be treated humanely. And to my astonishment, the manager agreed. A few minutes later he unlocked the cage and brought the parrot inside and placed him in another larger cage located indoors where it was much warmer. Sometime later while eating, the man came to the table and said thank you. He apparently didn’t realize the parrot had been so miserable.
I wonder — how many other people that same day, or the day before, or the day before that, passed by the parrot oblivious to its suffering? Did anyone else care about a trembling animal? Shouldn’t someone have said something or done something much earlier?
In the grand scheme of life, rescuing one parrot on a cold day hardly qualifies as a heroic act. It shouldn’t be worthy of mention. Sadly, it’s a microcosm of considerably worse crimes we commit against innocents.
But it’s something.
Taking a simple action made a difference — to one.
This brings me to my favorite parable, which is “The Starfish Story.” This wonderful story has many versions. The tale basically goes something like this:
One afternoon, a young boy was walking along a beach. A bad storm had taken place. Sadly, a great many starfish had been washed up on the beach. The starfish were stuck in the sand. Most were doomed to die.
The young boy saw this and decided to do something about it. Each time he saw one of the trapped starfish, he dug it out of the sand and threw it back into the ocean. People on the beach saw what the young boy was doing and they were amused. It seemed so pointless to try and save just a few starfish when so many were trapped in the sand.
One man was puzzled by what he witnessed. So, he approached the young boy.
“Why are you doing that?” the man asked. “Look at all these starfish trapped on this beach. You can’t possibly make a difference.”
The young boy looked sad. Then, he looked down and saw another poor starfish struggling in the sand.
The young boy reached down. He picked up the starfish and tossed it back into the ocean.
“Well, I made a difference — to that one!”
There’s a powerful lesson here that I believe illustrates one of the most fundamental of human virtues.
Imagine the possibilities if every human grabbed just one starfish. Or every person tried to make a little parrot more comfortable for a single day by saying something.
Little things do matter.