Having a friendship parrot fashion

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 21 June, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 21 June, 2009, 12:00am

Every animal has its own way to communicate. Dogs bark and whine; cats meow and purr; and birds whistle and sing. But for those who want to add another dimension to the pet-owner relationship, Paul K. K. Lee recommends getting a talking parrot.

Mr Lee, chairman of the Hong Kong International Parrots Association (HKIPA), says psittacines are clever birds and have an intelligence level similar to that of a five-year-old child. He now has 18 parrots at his apartment, including a yellow-naped Amazon and an African grey. But his first parrot died soon after he took it home about seven years ago.

'My cockatiel died about two months after I got her. I didn't know she was sick when I brought her home from the pet shop,' he says.

'I was careless and when I took her to the vet it was too late. My wife and I felt so sad we cried. We blamed ourselves because we didn't know anything about how to keep a bird.'

Determined not to repeat the same disheartening incident, Mr Lee set up the HKIPA. 'I established the association to gather information about parrots and [foster awareness of] how to raise your bird in a healthy way.' The association, set up in 2002, now has about 700 members, and about 100 parrot enthusiasts gather every month to share information on how to raise a bird.

Some parrots live for about 10 years, while other, large parrots, such as Amazons, macaws and cockatoos, can live for up to 80 years.

Mr Lee says another reason for setting up the association is to find potential pet owners who can adopt his parrots.

'If I have birds that live to be over 50 years old, I will give them to people in the association,' he says.

Mr Lee's yellow-naped Amazon named Wasabi is a well-mannered large parrot that can call your name and say 'good morning' and 'be a good boy'. He describes his goffin's cockatoo named Cutie as a naughty white parrot that enjoys playing with people, and says, 'Paul, come here'.

Cutie also gets noisy when someone doesn't play with her and can make barking sounds.

How much does a parrot cost? According to Mr Lee, the size of the bird affects its price.

Small parrots start at around HK$1,000, while a medium-sized parrot can cost HK$10,000 and a large parrot such as a Macaw can set owners back HK$60,000.

Then there are upkeep costs. Mr Lee spends on average HK$400 a month for all 18 of his parrots on food, medicine and vitamins.

Mr Lee warns that reselling a parrot is not easy because it is an endangered species. Only licensed pet shops are allowed to sell parrots.

Mr Lee checks that his birds are in good health each day by looking for healthy, shiny feathers; ensuring that the eyes, neck, nails and beak are in good condition; and that droppings are normal. 'If parrots do not move or are sleepy they may be sick,' he says.

He also plays with his parrots for at least one hour a day, which includes letting them out of their cage to walk around and training them to talk.

Mr Lee's most vocal bird is an eight-year-old African grey called Owen that can sing entire songs in Cantonese and English, including Jingle Bells.

'He doesn't only repeat words, but he can talk with us too,' he says. 'Owen knows I'm going out when I put on my shoes and get my bag. Then he'll say, 'bye-bye daddy' and 'have a nice day'. Or, in the evening, when I open the door, he says, 'You're back daddy, I love you.' It's so sweet.'