Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number

I’m sure we’ve all heard that saying at one time or another. Most of the time, it seems this saying applies to those who are ‘young at heart’, while on rare occasions it can refer to the younger person with that ‘old soul’. In our society today, age is becoming more of an important landmark. You have to be 18 to smoke, 21 to drink, 25 before you get the ‘good’ car insurance rates, and 35 to be president.

In aviculture, and bird keeping in general, the general population is of older, seasoned individuals. Now hear me out: you don’t really see too many ‘younger’ people in aviculture, attending lectures, volunteering, or heck, even keeping birds as pets outside of the family parakeet. We do exist!

I can count on one hand the number of extremely knowledgeable, dedicated, and educated young aviculturists under the age of 35. That saddens me greatly. What’s worse, is reading literature that says “Don’t get a bird until you are out of college. Don’t get a bird until you are married. Don’t get a bird until after you have kids. Don’t get a bird until you are retired. Don’t get a bird unless you are under a certain age, because then you are just a burden on the people who have to care for the bird after you are gone.” I’m not making this stuff up. I once read a book that had all of those comments (albeit the fact that I did indeed paraphrase them), and needless to say I promptly returned that book back to the store.

Being young is tough. Diving deep into an expensive, time consuming hobby that can literally last the rest of your life, is difficult. It’s even worse when no one has your back, because of your age. Everyone urges you to get involved, learn more, gain knowledge – but then when you start learning, they disappear. Or you get lectures on how the information you learned is wrong, but no offers to correct that information and show you why it was wrong and how to do it right.

In other hobbies, the younger you start, the better. You can walk in, take lessons, get a mentor, attend seminars, and grow. I’ve been horse crazy since childhood, and from the time I was 12 years old I’ve been working in exchange for riding lessons. Even now, I exercise ride horses just for the chance to simply ride and continue to expand my skills. With birds, you can’t really walk into a big bird store (if you are lucky enough to even have one in your area), and say ‘please teach me all you know’. For whatever reason in the avian community, it just doesn’t work that way.

Higgins and I, early 2005

I was 15 when I attended my first bird club meeting. Everyone assumed my mom was the one with parrots and was bringing me with her, never thinking that it could be the other way around. I adopted my first rescue when I was 16 – I remember going into the foster home, getting the absolute shit bitten out of me, and still determinedly walking out with what I lovingly refer to as Satans Spawn, aka Higgins. The next bird club meeting I went to, people kept coming up to me and saying they heard of this crazy story where a little girl picked up a foster bird that attacked people. She got bitten, and still took it home! Everyone wanted to see if it was true – and yes, it was. In fact, that day, that little ‘attack bird’ was with me at the meeting and was acting sweet as pie (a rare occurrence).

That bird and I have been together many years now. I’ve grown, graduated college, gotten married, and bought a house. One thing that never stopped for me was my passion for parrots. Ever since I got bit, literally, by parrots, I’ve firmly held my ground and continued to set a path for other young aviculturists to follow. It’s been rough. There have been times where I’ve been ignored because of my age, pushed aside because I am too young, or just flat out not been taken seriously. I’m involved in a lot of online communities, and that helped hide my age a lot – and gave me the opportunity to begin rubbing elbows with my peers, who unknowingly at the time started listening to what a 16 year old had to say.

There is no more hiding. I’m young and proud of it. I’ve owned birds for close to 10 years now, and I am constantly breaking misconceptions and wrong assumptions about young people in aviculture. We are the future. I look upon all of the people whom I have learned from with great respect, and I am so thankful that they took the time to teach me, help me hone my skills, and encourage me along the path. I thank the veterans who have worked so hard to get the proper information out there, for anyone with an interest to be able to access. I am continually seeking out information, and engaging in online courses, real time seminars, and anything that will expand my knowledge and help me grow.

I realize I’ve never been one of the typical younger kids – I was a lot more focused, and a lot more dedicated then other people my age. However, I know there are others like me out there. To continue in aviculture, we must bring up the younger generation. It is not about hording all of the ‘secrets’ to ourselves, nor is it about ignoring people with a passion, because they may not be ready for parrot ownership. It’s all about the spark. Getting a young classroom full of kids interested in birds is the starting point. Maybe it lasts a day – maybe it doesn’t. You never know which one of those kids will take that passion and run with it full force for the rest of their life. Why should we take the chance of not ever letting that happen? We shouldn’t.

My challenge to everyone out there: be open. Be receptive to the younger person (I don’t care what age they are) that has an interest in birds. Nudge them a bit, and see how receptive they may be. Even just answering their questions and instilling them with some basic, yet important knowledge, and breaking common bird myths, can positively impact the avian world for decades to come. Don’t look down on someone because of their age: seize this as a moment to feed an interest and perhaps help grow it into a passion. Not everyone is cut out to be a bird owner – but that doesn’t help that the general population has to have an ignorance about birds, due to lack of education. Step out of your comfort zone and help spread the seeds of knowledge – however small they may be. You may find some of those seeds worth watering, and blossom into something truly wonderful.

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Emily July 25, 2012 Bird Training and Behavior, Blog, The Birds