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A bird in the house: An anthropological perspective on companion parrots

Anderson, P. K. (2003). A bird in the house: An anthropological perspective on companion parrots. Society & Animals, 11(4), 393-418.


Research Questions: (1) What is the role of psittacine companionship in the household? (2) How is avian companionship rewarding?

Sample: The typical bird owner who completed the survey is female, married, in the 41-50 year old age range, and has owned birds for a minimum of five years. 93% of the 114 respondents fell in the 21-70 year old age range, 88% were female, 67% of participants were married. Male and female data is combined due to no differentiation in data, similar to Kidd and Kidd (1998).

Methodology: Anderson posted in multiple online companion parrot owners internet lists and requested that members to fill out a voluntary survey. She outlined the purpose of her research, her university affiliation, and the promise of anonymity to all participants. Parrot owners responded, completed the survey, and sent them back to her via email or postal service. The research includes an analysis of 114 surveys and focuses on the results of responses to the essay question regarding what people find most rewarding about avian companionship. She focuses on the qualitative data recorded in the essay responses.

Findings: The essay question regarding how avian companionship is rewarding was answered by 93% of participants. The top responses are: Love/ Unconditional love (41), Birds as family/ children/ fids (40), “Talking” ability (33), Companionship (31), Intelligence (29), Make owner laugh (28), Provides joy (24), Interactive (15), Physical contact (11), and Personality (11). The survey also included a question regarding their quality of live being enhanced by their bird, and 95% of participants agreed. Anderson finds that these “fids” (feathered kids) act as a placeholder for human children for many parrot owners, and anthropomorphize them as true members of the household – which challenges a traditional definition of “family.”

Strengths & Limitations: Anderson’s study is researched and conducted in an informed and thoughtful way. She outlines her research, methodology, study, and findings quite clearly. In addition to the research question, her essay also included commentary regarding current anthrozoological literature including parrots (which she makes a point of stating that there is not enough), birds in captivity, the market of selling and breeding birds, and the risks that come with both. Her final point is that the modern consumer does not know enough about avian care, diet, and behavior to be an appropriate bird owner. This is evident in the rehoming of birds (sometimes three or more times) after the hard work and complexities of these animals are revealed. She writes that many owners will adjust their homes to make it a safer and more enjoyable living environment for their birds (using different cleaning products, eliminating air fresheners, etc.). One area I would have liked to have seen developed would be if any of the parrot owners changed their lifestyle choices once they developed such a deep love for their avian companion as well as avian intelligence. Did any owners change their avian purchases regarding food or products (chicken or turkey meat, feather bed covers or pillows)? Did they ever connect their pet’s intelligence with their purchases? Overall, this essay is informative, eye opening, and thought provoking, and educates the reader on all of the elements that are involved with bird ownership.

Summary by Julia Johnson

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