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Those of us who are birdwatchers have probably occasionally found ourselves trying to explain the appeal of our hobby to non-birdwatchers, and if you've managed to do it successfully, I salute you.

The conversation for me always seems to start at "So, you just really like birds?"

"Err..." I always say. "Not exactly..."

This is awkward because I don't actually really like birds--I mean, I really like dogs, I quite like cats, I dearly love the idea of wombats (even if I wouldn't want to share the house with one) but I don't have that kind of burning affection for birdkind. I would never own a bird. They are beautiful creatures, I can stare at a scarlet macaw or a peach-faced lovebird for hours, but give me a dog any day. There are lots of pets that I don't have the lifestyle to accommodate, but while I feel a pang for my inability to keep a Rottweiler happy, I feel no such pangs over the fact I can't have a parrot. I am a mammal-ist.

And while I think birds are neat, and I wish them the best of their tiny little avian lives, birdwatching is not motivated by the same sort of affection that governs many of our interactions with animals. I love birds, but it's a broad abstract love.

The best I've ever managed to explain is that it's like collecting. It's not really the bird so much as the joy of the chase, the surprise, whatever. If you collect comics, if you are a particular kind of collector, you may know that issue #741 has mediocre art and a lousy story, but that's not the POINT. The joy of having #741 turn up while you're flipping idly through the boxes at an estate sale remains.

And of course, with birds, there's no storage required of anything but binoculars.

Anyway, I thought of all of that because I read a great blog entry by a non-birder who lives with a birder, and who made the comic collection analogy, and it cracked me up. Also, just read the Birdchick Blog in general, it's cool and has bird banding and bees.

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I wish more people would bird watch than bird keep. Most pet birds seem to have a very shitty life, cooped up in a cage, not flying around.

agreed. few people have the time/energy it takes to own the messy little buggers. I love parrots, but would only own one or two species because they are the only kind i could dedicate time to without feeling chained to a squwaky mess maker. I know few birds who perfer you to tote them everywhere, despite their normal functioning wings :D but they are spoiled, not neglected.

I've only seen smaller birds, and they weren't let out because they would fly around, pooing on everything, and tearing up books. So mostly they just stayed in their cage. Pretty sad.

yeah, that's what birds do, eat shred and crap. if you can't handle that, don't get one, or rescue one that doesn't want attention from humans at all and give it a mate or two and let it live out it's life as best it can.
That said, most birds can be well trained and socialize with lots of attention and know-how. If you don't want it to tear up things, don't allow it access to them and plaster your bird room with tarp so it can crap where it pleases. The bird industry makes bird diapers and all kind of poop catchers for those who want to keep the place crap-free.
It's a diffucult pet for the most dedicated owners, if you can't handle it, buy some finches, doves or canaries and give them a large spacious cage, they make great small non-handleable pets.

I mostly agree, but I will say that many lifetimes ago, I had a part time job in a pet store in the mall in my hometown (getting dangerously close to exceeding my allotment of prepositions there). There was an African Grey parrot, and he was the friendliest, lovingest bird I ever met. He would hop onto my shoulder at the start of the shift, and stay there the whole day. People would flip out when I would reach up and wrap my hand around him, and turn him upside down, so he could flex his claws, which I would then use to scratch my chin or something. He loved it, near as I could tell. He also liked to hook my finger with his upper beak, and dangle for a while. If I had managed to scrape together a few hundred bucks, I think I would own him now. But he wouldn't live in a cage, I'd have half my living room turned into a bird sanctuary.

It depends on the person and the bird, really. Some species, like cockatiels, have taken to domestication extremely well even though there is no great difference between them and their wild brethren. Other species would be miserable as pets.

The part that depends on the person is if the person actually cares for the bird as their level of intelligence and biological needs demand. With some species, like 'tiels, this is easy -- not demanding much more of the keeper than a dog or cat would -- with other species this can be a lot more difficult.

That being said, there are a sad amount of people who don't know of aviculture and thus mistreat their birds out of pure ignorance.

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