Parrot passion

This story was first published in The Straits Times on Feb 22, 2014

Every parrot needs a cuddle. They are social, affectionate creatures that like to be patted, tickled and rubbed - not left in a cage all day long.

"Once a macaw bonds with you, it cuddles and it comes when you call," says Mr Simon Ling, who bought a macaw which he named JS in July last year.

"I take JS to my office, where it stays on a stand by my desk," adds the 35-year-old who works in electronic sales.

"It will walk over to me, put one of its claws on my hand and hold it while I'm working. It gives me kisses too."

Mr Ling is among a growing number of parrot keepers in Singapore, captivated by the birds' intelligence, loving nature and loyalty.

Pet shops which sell these tropical birds say parrot ownership has increased 10 per cent every year for the past three years. They sell mostly birds which are bred through local breeders and farms, though some are caught in the wild.

Mr Derrick Soh, 27, who works at KS Aquatic & Trading in Yishun, says the increase in interest in parrots has been most noticeable in the past two years.

"People like them because they are not like song birds. Parrots react to you and you can interact with them, call them and teach them tricks. There are forums and hobbyist groups which meet every week to fly their birds," says Mr Soh.

"A lot of newcomers have seen bird owners interacting with their birds in public and become interested in owning one themselves," he adds.

They start by owning smaller birds, such as budgies, before buying bigger birds - cockatiels, which cost about $150 each, and African greys, between $850 and $1,000 each. Depending on the colour and species, imported or locally bred parrots can cost up to $20,000 each.

Members of the parrot family include more than 350 species, such as macaws, lovebirds and the budgerigar, or "budgie".

Mr Aminnurrashid Jamaludin, 28, bought a parrotlet, a miniature parrot species, as a birthday present for his wife in September 2012.

Smitten with the parrotlet, the SingTel field engineer bought another, a cockatiel, a few months later.

The couple now have 12 birds, kept in cages in the five-room flat in Woodlands they share with Mr Aminnurrashid's in-laws.

"They complete my life since my wife and I don't have any children yet. Each parrot has different characteristics and different abilities. Some are good at talking, some at flying, some at tricks. Of course, it's the colours and cuteness too, I just fell in love with them," he says.

But their social nature and high intelligence also mean that the birds can become distressed and depressed if they do not receive enough attention.

Mr Ling, who is married and has an 18-month-old daughter, says: "You need to spend a few hours with them every day if you can.

"They have the intelligence of a two- to three- year-old kid and, if they don't get attention, they will scream, become upset and may start plucking out their own feathers."

Mr Nurhisham Abdul Wahab, 33 co-owner of Parrots Network, a company which provides parrot training, boarding and grooming through its facilities at Singapore Polytechnic, says time is the most important factor when taking care of a parrot.

"Daily maintenance is relatively easy. Compared to other pets, such as fishes, cats and rabbits, birds are the easiest to maintain but you must have time, at least half an hour a day, to give them attention. Attention is the most important thing.

"You should also give them a bath once a week, misting them with water from a spray bottle, or put out a bowl of water for them to bathe in, and give them a regular rotation of toys to keep them busy. Feed them twice a day, and that's it," he says.

To help parrot owners keep their birds entertained, Parrot Network opened Aviatrix in January last year, a mesh enclosed area - the size of a four-room flat's living room - where people can take their birds and train them to free-fly.

Free-flying is when a group of owners take their birds to an open space and let the birds fly untethered together. Typically, birds are trained to free-fly by being tethered to their owners with a nylon lead attached to their legs. The lead is gradually lengthened, until the birds learn how to return when called.

Tomorrow, more than 200 bird owners will flock to HortPark to celebrate online bird forum BirdCraze.Sg's third anniversary and let their birds free fly together. The Facebook group has more than 1,000 members.

Mr Daniel Kor, 27, who has trained birds for the past eight years and specialises in teaching birds to free-fly, says the increase in parrot ownership - and bird-keeping, in general - is due to free-flying.

"Free-flying has attracted more members because people see the birds flying and coming back, and they see the joy in the owners' face when the bird returns. To give the birds freedom and see them return, it's a great feeling," he says.

In 2011, he started a free-flying group called Flightmasters to spread the word about free flying and bird training.

From five members then, it now has some 30 regular members. They meet on weekends at West Coast Park, East Coast Park or a field by Christ Church Secondary School in Woodlands.

"A parrot is a companion for life, especially when even the smallest budgie can live for more than 10 years and a macaw can live to more than 60 years old," says Mr Kor, whose wife Kimberly Yang, 24, works in a cosmetics shop. They have no children.

"They are my family. Hopefully my future children will like parrots and look after them when I'm gone."

This story was first published in The Straits Times on Feb 22, 2014

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