Rarely do I work with a client when I don’t spend time debunking myths. I do this patiently most of the time. I enjoy talking with my clients and getting to the truth about things. I feel genuine distress, however, for those who experience such frustration at hearing that the information they worked so hard to find and have trusted is not reliable.
Mostly, I marvel at how resistant to extinction this incorrect information has become. I have been around long enough now that I was there when some of this material was originally published decades ago. It wasn’t true then and it’s not true now. Nevertheless, it gets repeated ad infinitum online and in print. At this point, some of it qualifies as urban companion parrot legend.
Here are a few of the myths that I have addressed with people within the last two months.
Myth #1: Parrots need 10 to 12 hours of uninterrupted sleep each night.” Not true. I believe that I have put this issue to bed with this previous blog post.
Myth #2: Parrots must be kept at warm temperatures since they originate in equatorial regions. Not even close. Parrots, like all animals, acclimate to the temperatures at which they live. (Dawson, Marsh. 1989)
Myth #3: Parrots must be protected from drafts. Not true…mostly. “Contrary to popular opinion, drafts are not harmful to healthy pet birds. A draft is really nothing more than a slight movement of air, usually accompanied by a mild temperature drop. A bird’s feathers provide insulation against temperature extremes far in excess of what a draft represents.” (Animal Hospitals USA, 2018)
This information about the need to protect against drafts originated decades ago when homes were not well-insulated. People would place canaries in front of windows, around which there was an icy draft in winter. This set the bird up for illness.
These days, most of us live in well-insulated homes that don’t have drafts, unless we create them artificially by using window air conditioners. These should not be placed where they will blow directly on a parrot.
Myth #4: Cockatoos are cuddly, needs birds who require more attention than other companion parrot species. Definitely not true. The real truth is that cockatoos display different behavior characteristics depending upon how they are reared. Current rearing practices that remove babies from their parents early on and force wean them to increase profits produce birds who arrive in their homes with a wealth of unmet needs. They appear cuddly and needy because they didn’t get the nurturing they needed in their early stages. Those who are parent-reared until weaning do not display these qualities. They are independent parrots who need no more attention than others.
How does it happen that incorrect information gets repeated so often that it becomes accepted as fact? How do people get away with posting information that is untrue?
I’ve given this problem a lot of thought and have decided that the following factors all contribute to this problem. If we can understand how a problem occurs, we can get closer to a solution.
First, material written by experts is not updated regularly. This means that you can pick up readily available books and magazines that contain incorrect information. Knowledge is always evolving, but what gets published doesn’t always reflect this increased understanding.
If someone wants to reprint an older article of mine, I make sure that I update it first. My own knowledge has grown over the years and I want to ensure that people are reading what most clearly represents my current thinking. (I was wrong about a lot of things early on.) Authors of hard-cover books don’t always have that luxury.
Second, many people have a bad case of not knowing what they don’t know, coupled with a strong desire to be helpful. It feels good to dispense advice that fills a need someone else has. The opportunity to sound like an authority is very compelling. This leads to an endless amount of incorrect information being repeated online, since these helpful folks don’t check their facts before offering advice.
Third, the internet erases our ability to evaluate the signals we usually rely on when it comes to judging people and their information. Experts differ in their exact estimate of just how much of communication is non-verbal, but a range of 60% to 90% is generally accepted as accurate. (Eastman, 2018)
The largest component of any communication is non-verbal – body language, tone of voice, inflection, eye contact, facial expression. This means that, when you read online something that someone else has written, you are missing between 60% and 90% of important information about them and their message. On social media and websites, anyone can appear to be an authority.
Fourth, speaking as an authority is seductive. Some individuals who are very knowledgeable in some areas still give advice in others in which they are not, apparently unable to stop themselves.
Last, tribalism is alive and well in the “parrot community,” just as it is in politics. It is difficult to know when those publishing on social media have an agenda that is driving their posts. Much incorrect information is published with a real sense of urgency and commitment, simply because the speaker seeks to validate herself and her friends’ information.
I first decided on this topic two weeks ago, and spent some time searching online for examples to illustrate my points. Oddly, I was having a difficult time. The usual crap I read was absent from social media that day. Then, the two posts below dropped into my lap when a friend sent me these screen shots. These were published publicly on a Facebook group within the past week. Since they came to me unbidden, I deem it within the bounds of fair play to use them here.
Now, let me be clear before I go further. I believe this author has good intentions and I don’t think she meant any harm. (I did contact her personally when I received the posts and she understands that I would be using them here.) She clearly cares about nutrition and wants every parrot to be eating a healthy diet.
However, as so often happens, she dispenses valid information along with some very incorrect details. This illustrates the BIGGEST problem with online sources, which I did not list above. Most sources offer mixed advice – some good, some bad. This astronomically complicates the issue of finding trustworthy information.
Let’s examine these posts using critical thinking (the objective analysis of facts to form a judgment):
- I am not a parrot behaviorist. I do not have the credentials. I am certified as a parrot behavior consultant through the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC).
- There is no such thing as a “parrot nutritionist.” There is no educational program or certification for this title. Instead, many of us are knowledgeable about nutrition due to intensive self-study. This is an extremely complex topic due to the number of parrot species and their diverse regions of origin, making it highly unlikely that anyone will be sporting this title in the near future.
- Vitamin supplementation will not cause organ damage when a parrot is severely deficient in nutrients. Added vitamins will never be a valid replacement for a good diet, but can be very helpful in the sort term. Calcium is especially helpful and is used widely in cases of chronic egg-laying. Any vitamin supplementation undertaken should always be at the direction of an avian veterinarian.
- These posts were written in response to something one of my previous clients had just contributed on that forum. Unintentionally, this client had misrepresented the recommendations I had given her. The author of these posts did not contact me to verify that the information was correct before publishing her opinion.
- The author dispenses nutritional advice for a parrot who has had a life-threatening medical condition in the past, without asking the individual what her veterinarian had advised her to feed.
- The author herself provides a great deal of nutritional advice in her posts, although she herself is not an avian nutritionist. Her qualifications, according to her profile, are that she is a “diamontolgist” (which is misspelled) and “former esthetician.”
To correct the record for those of you who care:
- I do recommend pellets as a staple in the diet, as a recent blog post discusses.
- I do not recommend TOPs pellets as the primary dietary staple.
- I do not recommend a plant-based, mostly veggie diet.
- I do recommend limiting carbohydrates and excessive fats in the diet.
- I do not recommend vitamin supplements unless a veterinarian has suggested their use.
- The diet I had been coaching the client to feed had been recommended by her veterinarian.
I will leave you to arrive at your own judgement, but I think that these posts are an excellent example of the ways in which misleading information gets established as fact each second of every day online on websites and parrot forums.
So, how can you protect yourself when you go online for information about parrots? We certainly can’t ignore the value of the internet when it comes to researching and learning, but how can you identify sources that you can trust? How do you decide who really knows what they are talking about?
I suggest asking the following questions and evaluating the following criteria when deciding whose information to trust. They have served me well over the years.
- What is the educational level of the author? People can certainly become well-educated through independent effort, and well-educated people can certainly publish incorrect information. Therefore, this criterion will not serve as a definitive indicator. However, I believe that those with higher education will be more likely to research their topic, have a higher commitment to publishing truth, and may be better able themselves to identify trust-worthy information.
- Spelling matters. If you see someone dispensing information about Scarlet McCaws, that should serve as a red flag.
- What credentials does the speaker have and are these related to the information being posted? We should hold people accountable for what they publish. It should be acceptable to ask about a speaker’s depth of experience in the topic under discussion and the speaker should graciously welcome the chance to explain how she knows what she knows.
- Does the individual provide sources to support the information being published? When research about a given topic is available, it should be cited.
- Does the information posted contain generalizations, such as “Amazons need….?” Behavior is a study of one. What any given parrot needs depends upon his previous socialization and training. Such declarations cannot possibly be accurate when we are speaking about parrots.
- Is the speaker a recognized expert in the field? Has she published peer-reviewed journal articles? Is she certified by any institutions who recognize knowledge and achievement?
- If the speaker is dispensing nutritional or veterinary information, does she herself have real work experience of any duration in the field of avian medicine?
- Does the speaker publicly criticize or speak poorly of others? True professionals are respectful and are supportive of others in the field.
- Follow a resource trail. Identify someone you consider to be a knowledgeable resource, and then ask who they promote and whose information they trust.
One excellent resource recommends evaluating information for: Currency, Relevance, Authority, Accuracy, and Purpose (CRAAP.) (Illinois State University. 2018) To paraphrase, this source recommends asking the following questions:
- Determine the date of publication. Is the information outdated?
- How applicable is the information for your needs? For what audience was the information intended?
- Is the author a knowledgeable source? Examine the author’s credentials or organizational affiliation.
- What is the accuracy of the content? What type of language is used and does the information seem to be well-researched?
- Why was the information written? How might the author’s affiliations affect the slant or bias of the information?
This is a problem that belongs to us all. If we are ever to be able to go online and trust what we read, we must each take individual responsibility for evaluating the information we find and for being careful about what we post. Thus, the most important question of all becomes this:
Where does YOUR level of commitment lie when it comes to the welfare of companion parrots? When you are online, is it more important to be liked and validated or more important to stand up for parrots and their welfare?
If it’s the latter, you will ask for credentials before trusting information that you apply to your birds or pass along to others.
If it’s the latter, you will question everything you read and use the criteria above to evaluate the information you accept as true.
If it’s the latter, you will not repeat information or offer advice unless you yourself have hands-on experience in the area under discussion and/or have absolutely verified it to be true. “I heard it somewhere” or “I read it in a book” is not good enough.
If it’s the latter, you will support those who work hard to publish truth about parrots.
If you just want to chat online for fun or to get validation, be clear about what it is you are about. On the other hand, if you are trying to learn, then please first don your critical thinking cap. Don’t lend truth to this slogan: Critical Thinking Skills… the Other National Deficit!
It’s up to all of us to stem this never-ending tide of misinformation, disinformation and malinformation that undermines our ability to provide a good quality of life for our birds, to effectively deal with behavior problems, and to maintain their physical health over their optimal lifespans.
If we step up and accept this challenge, just think what we might accomplish when it comes to the political climate in this country! Get out there and vote everybody!
Thank you for reading my blog. I am Pamela Clark, an IAABC Certified Parrot Behavior Consultant and licensed veterinary technician. My passion is helping people with parrots. To access many free resources or subscribe to my newsletter, please visit me at http://www.pamelaclarkonline.com. Until next time!
Animal Hospitals USA website. 2018. “Bird Care: Drafts.” Accessed October 22, 2018. http://www.animalhospitals-usa.com/birds/bird-care.html
Dawson W.R., Marsh R.L. (1989) “Metabolic Acclimatization to Cold and Season in Birds.” In: Bech C., Reinertsen R.E. (eds) Physiology of Cold Adaptation in Birds. NATO ASI Series (Series A: Life Sciences), vol 173. Springer, Boston, MA. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4757-0031-2_9
Eastman, B. 2018. “How Much of Communication is Really Non-verbal?” The Non-Verbal Group, 548 West 28th St, Ste. 231, New York, NY. http://www.nonverbalgroup.com/2011/08/how-much-of-communication-is-really-nonverbal
University of Illinois, Guides at Milner Library. May 2018. “Determine Credibility (Evaluating): CRAAP (Currency, Relevance, Authority, Accuracy, Purpose).” https://guides.library.illinoisstate.edu/evaluating/craap
6 thoughts on “Parrots: Navigating the Ocean of (Mis)Information”
We have used TOPs as a base pellet for 170 sanctuary parrots for the last 4 years, along, of course, with daily fresh food, germinated seed and tree nuts. I am very curious why you would not recommend it?
Thanks so much for your comment and question. I don’t recommend any product about which I do not feel 100% confident, and largely this is a matter of simply preferring Harrison’s and Roudybush over TOPS. I don’t like how crumbly the TOPS is – it’s more difficult to determine how much was eaten vs how much was just crumbled for fun. Second, I’ve never seen anywhere that it is considered to be 100% nutritionally complete. The website says that it was formulated by “avian nutritionists.” However, that title requires a PhD and there aren’t very many of them. I know the people who originally formulated the product and this title would not accurately apply. I could feel more confident if the website listed the “avian nutritionist” who stands behind the product, but it does not. No information is provided on the website about the facility in which it is prepared or what other products might be produced there. A lot of their advertisement contains information about what is NOT in the product. As a veterinary technician, I learned to be suspicious of companies who advertise their product based upon what it doesn’t contain, rather than what it does. Harrison’s and Roudybush have a lot of science behind them and a much longer track record of reliability. Also, the avian veterinarians I know recommend Harrison’s over TOPS and, since I have seen the benefits of feeding that product to my own parrots, I tend to rely on their judgment.
So that’s my thinking!
Thank you for responding. There is some updated information regarding your concerns on the website’s FAQ page that might be of interest. I’m on the fence about any product that claims to be 100% nutritionally complete for roughly 360 species of parrot. We’ve had tremendous success with birds that were malnourished under different leadership at this facility but I’m not trying to change your mind 🙂
Another great one, Pam. Thanks for sharing!
Another super read. I love your stuff my dear.
Thank you so much, John. It means a lot that you would take the time to write and say so.