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Polly wanna cuss: Why a British zoo’s plan to curtail potty-mouthed parrots could backfire

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Parrots aren’t born spewing four-letter words. They are like toddlers. They pick up sounds and repeat them, writes Vinay Menon.

One great thing about cats is they do not swear.

They meow. They purr. Sometimes they stare at the ceiling in dead silence, which is spooky when I’m listening to a ghost podcast.

But they never tell anyone to, “F–k off.”

The same can’t be said for parrots, as yet another zoo has learned.

As CNN reported this week: “A British wildlife park has hatched a new plan to rehabilitate its potty-mouthed parrots after they unleashed a tide of expletives.” Or as IFLScience explained: “The eight African greys have become a star attraction at the Lincolnshire Wildlife Park for their tendency to turn the air blue, yet zookeepers have now seemingly had enough of their effing and jeffing.”

Despite a posted disclaimer — “Warning: We Cannot Be Held Responsible For What You Hear!” — visitors, especially children, are taken aback when these feathered vulgarians casually tell them to do the anatomically impossible.

Cussing is contagious to psittacines. Originally, five parrots — Billy, Tyson, Eric, Jade, Elsie — sounded like they were auditioning for a Quentin Tarantino flick. Those five then taught three newcomers — Captain, Sheila, another Eric — to eff and jeff like nobody’s business.

It was a gutter meeting of bird brains, a master class in beaked profanity.

As park exec Steve Nichols told CNN: “When we came to move them, the language that came out of their carrying boxes was phenomenal, really bad. Not normal swear words, these were proper expletives.”

Unhand me, wanker! Put me down, twat!

In a state of blimey, a desperate plan was hatched.

What if the obscene squawkers were relocated to a larger pen with 92 parrots who are polite enough to have afternoon tea with King Charles? Would the fluttering renegades forget the F-bombs?

Would they gradually stick to “hi” and “bye”?

It’s a bold gambit. But since everything in life exists between risk and reward, I fear for the poor bastards running this park if their plan backfires.

They may soon be tending to 100 swearing parrots.

This also seems like a bad business decision. If I owned a rude bird, I could charge a $5 admission and strangers would queue up in my living room for the delight in getting insulted by a different species. I don’t like zoos due to my personal beliefs on captivity and animal rights. But eight swearing birds?

That is marketing gold.

Parrots aren’t born spewing four-letter words. They are like toddlers. They pick up sounds and repeat them. I remember seeing this YouTube video of a parrot that probably lived in a rough neighbourhood as it could perfectly simulate all the stages of a car alarm. It was astonishing.

Equally astonishing is our ongoing hang-up with salty language.

In recent years, academic studies have found swearing to be healthy. Swearing is linked to higher intelligence. Swearing deadens pain. Swearing releases endorphins. Swearing improves circulation. Swearing reduces stress. Swearing sends a clear signal to telemarketers.

Swearing is a magical remedy, a semantic Ozempic. A metanalysis of scholarship is reflected in a 2023 NPR headline: “You should probably be swearing more.”

But if bad words are good for humans, why are they bad for parrots?

Let the birdies mimic sailors and truck drivers. You know what these parrots do after startling a visitor with a #$@!%? They laugh. It’s what they’ve learned from humans: Swear and … ha ha ha. It’s sweet and circular.

As Nichols told the BBC: “You never tire of being told to ‘eff off’ by a parrot. You can’t help but laugh.”

But you have to wonder if this a British phenomenon. I am unaware of a profane parakeet in Pakistan, a lewd macaw in Mogadishu. Are there Costa Rican cockatoos that blurt out, “c–k?”

By contrast, when I glance through my files labelled “Potty-Mouthed Birds” — I never claimed to have a life — there is example after example of British birds behaving badly.

This includes Max who, a few years ago, even learned to amplify his cursing. As a handler explained: “It’s usually when people are walking away … His favourite trick is to stick his head in a tin cup in his cage and then swear. He seems to know it makes a louder sound.”

Then there was Barney, a blue-and-gold macaw who lived at the Warwickshire Wildlife Sanctuary and proved to be a terrible influence on two cage mates. The sanctuary owner ratted out Barney to the Daily Mail in 2008 after the macaw made a mayoress blush and then offended a vicar and two police officers.

“I knew that Barney could swear, but what has happened is shocking,” the handler recalled. “He’s been teaching the other two when we had our backs turned. They just sit there swearing at each other now.”

I’m starting to glean psychological insights into soccer hooligans.

Barney is not to be confused with an Australian duck named Ripper who, in 2021, was recorded saying, “You bloody fool.” Ripper is not to be confused with Louis, a pub parrot who, as the Metro UK reported last year, was banned from watching TV because “now he will not stop telling punters to f–k off.”

Bloody hell. But there is no point in digging in our talons. It’s foolish to pretend every parrot cage can be PG. We have reached an avian tipping point.

Polly wanna cuss.

Birds of a feather #$@!% together.

*****
Credit belongs to : www.thestar.com

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