The Parrot Who Owns Me

Tito, a 30-year-old, Red-lored Amazon, comes to live with Burger and her husband when the previous owners die. Unhappy and aggressive at first, Tito eventually becomes convinced of Burger’s good intentions. The Parrot Who Owns Me tells the story of their growing relationship through the minutia of daily life. However, this is not a memoir written by a doting pet owner.

Among other things, this book is set apart by Burger’s expertise in ornithology and by her ability to smoothly weave factual information into the narrative. Burger explains mating behavior, for example, noting that parrots select mates based on personality, and once they have chosen, that’s it. It is not uncommon for parrots to mate with members of the same sex, she says, and homosexual couples go through the same courtship dance and mating rituals as heterosexual pairs.

Five years later, when Tito chooses his own mate, it is Burger herself. Details of the courtship are of the laugh-out-loud variety. The first mating season, Tito builds a nest under the credenza and tries to coax Burger in by darting out and preening her bare toes passing by. The next season, he tears a hole in the back of a vinyl recliner, crooning from inside the nest. When that doesn’t create the desired result, he fakes choking episodes that bring Burger running.

Despite her background in science and her love for animals, Burger confesses that the concept of man’s dominance was still ingrained. But Tito teaches her otherwise, another reason this book is atypical. Burger comes to see Tito as an autonomous creature whose dependence on her “only highlighted the need to really understand, deep down, that his life was as important as mine, his desires and inclinations equally valid.”

This is a book as much about being human as it is about parrots. Tito teaches Burger, self-described as a headstrong and ferociously independent woman, “the importance of interdependence, the importance of taking care, and the importance of being cared for.” In today’s world, these lessons are ones that most of us can probably still learn something about.