As I am reading in the New York Times Charles Siebert’s moving essay “What Does a Parrot Know About PTSD,” I remember the parrots that held my attention in the Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort last summer. Siebert’s essay affirmed what I felt. I am using the word “felt,” because how else can I describe what happened–I felt “human presence” as I stood two feet away from the parrots.
They were perched near the walkway–one on the right side and two on the left side–that led between small shops from the hotel complex to the beach. They were always in the same spots. The red one was on the right, the blue and green were on the left. They walked up and down the arrangement of sticks, sometimes they nibbled on food prepared for them in nearby trays.
The first time I saw them, I had to stop and look. There was something about those parrots–apart from their beauty–that drew me in. There was something in their eyes–something knowing, something human, something that conveyed emotions to me. After spending some time with them, I felt like the red one was bored, the blue one was irritated, and the green one was perpetually sad. I felt silly prescribing human emotions to them, but this is how the birds “felt” to me.
One day–on my walk from my hotel room to the beach–I saw two young girls talking to the blue parrot. The girls first ask the parrot questions and then giggled. The parrot “answered,” but the tone of his reply was irritated. It was as if he was saying “leave me alone.” As the parrot spoke back, the girls became more excited, and their voices became high pitched. The blue parrot became more irritated and his answers became high pitched. The girls jumped, waved their arms, and finally screamed. The parrot jumped, open his wings, ruffled his feathers, and screamed back. His eyes were terrified. The girls laughed and left running towards the beach.
Why didn’t he fly away?
Another day, as I was stopping to say my silent “hello” to the parrots, their keeper showed up. It was a young man, in his late twenties or early thirties. He replaced food on the green parrot’s tray and extended his arm like a branch. The green parrot–his head hanging low–walked onto the arm.
“Is something wrong with him?” I asked, and the conversation started. I learned that parrots are not native to Hawaii. They were brought there from the Amazon. They are very social and in their natural environment they are surrounded by other parrots at all times. They thrive communicating with each other. They live and travel together. They are never alone.
The green parrot was depressed, the keeper told me. He was probably lonely, he said. As I looked into the sad eyes of the green parrot, the keeper told me that the parrot begs for attention all the time, and when he doesn’t get what he wants, he plucks his feathers. The green parrot didn’t “want” attention, I thought to myself. He NEEDED it.
“Are their wings clipped?” I asked. “Is this why they can’t fly away?”
“Yes. Clipped a little bit,” the keeper said, bowing his head, not looking at me.
As I walked away, I turned around to look at them one more time–the green parrot and his keeper, together under a blooming tree. Their heads hanging low.