All Heaven in a Rage

“A robin redbreast in a cage puts all heaven in a rage”
~ William Blake

On June 7th of this year, a 67-year-old man named Dennis Zeglin shot and killed a parrot who was being kept in a cage in Zeglin’s family home.

Zeglin was charged with several counts of animal cruelty after telling an animal control officer that he shot Mikey because the bird irritated him while he was watching television. Defense attorney Stephen Fletcher said his client was watching a NASCAR race at the time, and was intoxicated.

On Wednesday, September 10th, Zeglin appeared in Court. The prosecutor’s office has stated it wants a psychiatric evaluation done before taking the case any further. Mikey, the African Grey parrot, had been living with the family for 20 years.

This is not the first time something like this has happened.

In January of 2002, a German man was fined 1,050 euros after he admitted killing his parrot for screeching incessantly. Police had been called to his home when neighbors mistook the parrot’s screeching for human screams. The man had owned the African Grey for 11 years.

Because of their unusual ability to imitate the human voice, African Grey parrots have been marketed by the exotic bird industry as highly desirable. Tragically, the industry has been successful in their campaign to convince people, including apartment dwellers and senior citizens, that parrots make ideal companions.

In fact, birds are very difficult to care for, with complex physical and psychological needs that life in captivity simply can not fulfill. Captive parrots, whose natural life span can be anywhere from 25 to 90 years, often die within five years, usually due to negligence or mistreatment.

Because of their exceptional intelligence, African Greys, in captivity, can develop serious behavioral problems, such as destructive feather plucking. This self-mutilation can cause permanent damage, making it impossible for feathers to re-grow. The unbearable monotony of life in a cage leads some birds to develop a habit of screaming.

Many parrot owners eventually give up on the responsibility altogether, and most of these abandoned birds will never find a home. Some spend the rest of their lives isolated and confined to cages in shelters and bird rescues, most of which are already over-burdened. An unknown number of unwanted birds are simply set loose, to face the dangers of the city, a world in which they have never learned how to survive.

In 2007, the Grey Parrot was raised to Near Threatened status by some environmental groups. Although it is illegal to import African Greys into America, that is not the case elsewhere in the world, and tens of thousands of these remarkably intelligent birds are exported from Africa each year. For every bird that reaches a pet shop, three others have died, either during capture, transportation or confinement.

The exotic bird trade is a billion dollar industry worldwide, and in spite of escalating numbers of unwanted captive birds, the number being bred increases annually. At the same time, cases of abuse and negligence continue to increase in number.

Some researchers say that African Greys are emotionally similar to a two year old child, and have the intelligence of a five year old child. They have been known to have vocabularies of over 200 words, and one particular bird is noted as having a vocabulary of over 1000 words. They have an exceptional ability to not only mimic speech in a voice that sounds almost human, but also to communicate and conceptualize.

Regrettably, their remarkable abilities, combined with the tendency of humans to see other animals as toys rather than as living, feeling beings, makes the African Grey parrot a popular choice for live, at-home entertainment.

When you really think about it honestly, it is nothing short of an act of sadism to put a bird in a cage. Birds are creatures who embody the very quality of freedom itself. Perhaps they remind us of what we sacrificed when we chose to build walls between ourselves and the world of nature. Perhaps we somehow imagine that the only way to suppress our longing for freedom is to rob the rest of the animal kingdom of theirs.

These two seemingly isolated occurrences of parrots being killed are deeply saddening and horrifying to anyone who recognizes that birds, just like other non-human animals, are sentient beings with a will to live. However, I continue to wonder why people are so surprised at these ‘animal murders’, when they make an appearance in the press.

As a society, we see animals as disposable. At every meal where body parts and other animal products are consumed with relish, and with every television commercial depicting sizzling flesh as a culinary delight, we reinforce the idea that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with killing animals, as long as we eat the bodies of our victims.

So why are we so surprised when that callousness toward the innocent crosses the line into our relationships with ‘pet’ animals? These two occurrences are not at all inconsistent with our attitude toward animals in general. We kill birds every day, systematically, in massive numbers, in factories and on farms. Every year, in the US, we gather together with our families to celebrate a holiday that has made a tradition out of killing birds. Every Thanksgiving, 50 million birds are served as turkey dinners around the country.

The killings of Mikey and Charlie were condemned by ordinary people, and so they should be. It is nothing short of horrifying to think of what each of these poor birds experienced, who were not only forced to live in a cage, but were robbed of life itself, by the very people they trusted to care for them. Then again, that sounds much like the death of any animal on a family farm, shot point-blank by someone he or she knew and trusted.

Why are the killings of these two animals so different to the mass killings that go on every single day? We choose to perceive them as different, because to see the similarity would require us to admit that we are complicit in similar atrocities.

There is only one way to meaningfully stand up for the rights of all beings, and that is to relinquish one’s own stake in the slavery of animals, and to embrace a lifestyle in which all sentient beings are afforded the most basic of rights life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Image: www.parrot-bird.com

73 comments

Danielle P.
Danielle P7 years ago

It is simply tragic the absolute lack of respect humans give animals.

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Thomas Barlish
Thomas b7 years ago

first time i heard that poem by blake. beautiful. buddha said and i believe. all sentinent beings have the same basic rights.the same basic desires. little else more basic than freedom.

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Lionel Mann
Lionel Mann7 years ago

To keep any pet in close confinement is cruel and therefore particularly so in the case of birds that need space for flying. Owners should be educated to realise the specific needs of the pets entrusted to their care, and also before acquiring a pet they should consider such elements as noise, dust, dirt, diet.

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Amal D.
Amal D.7 years ago

When keeping birds as pets, it truly depends on the type of bird. Large birds like macaws and African Greys are smart, intelligent animals that don't do well in confined spaces. I agree that they should not be kept as pets (at least, not without some companionship and stimulation).

However, I own two budgerigars that I've had for almost 9 years. We keep the cage door open for most of the day so they have enough room to wander, but their cage is so big that they don't come out of it too much anyway!

With adequate and specialized care, almost any animal can adapt to captivity. Uninformed pet owners are not particular to birds. Get the facts about how to take care of an animal before you decide to keep a pet.

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Trina Patel
Trina Patel7 years ago

This is quite a powerful article, thank you. I have a great interest in ornithology and certainly can understand that depriving a creature whose nature is freedom and should never be confined. But on the other side of that, if done properly and with a lot of care and understanding of the animal, sometimes owning a bird may be a benefit for some people. It takes a mix of education, exposure, and experience with something to care about it. Those who perhaps grew up with a bird might feel more passionately about saving other threatened birds. It is not in the best interest of that individual bird, but because of it, many more birds might benefit. Just a thought, no one needs to rush out and buy an illegal bird!

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Christina L.
Christina L7 years ago

Thank you for the article. The wise words Heather G. was quoting are from Mahatma Gandhi: "The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are being treated." Obviously there is a lot of work to be done here in ours!

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heather g.
heather g7 years ago

Thank you for this article. I was brought up in an area in the Eastern Cape where we had dozens of African Greys in our orchard. We didn't cage them or shoot them - just respected their freedom to be birds. I enjoyed a wonderful childhood and was brought up to respect our environment, and to treat people and animals with respect. I know only too well about the thousands of birds that die during overcrowded transportation. When I read this article I could feel my heart area burn with indignation and distress at what irresponsible people do by being ill-informed and uncaring. A parrot is just another consumer item providing temporary satifaction and some entertainment. It is controlled by caging it. I am reminded of some oft quoted wise words, which I'm probably misquoting : A society's evolution may be judged by the way it treats animals.

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Jackie D.
Jackie D7 years ago

Thanks for your excellent article. Blakes poem "A robin red breast in a cage puts all heaven in a rage" isn't quite true. It's puts some people in a rage, but many people still keep birds unfortunately. Animal Lib in Australia are running a campaign aganst caged birds: http://animal-lib.org.au/campaigns/118-freedom-for-birds-campaign.html

Here's a good site about birds to send to anyone who is thinking of buying one:

http://www.mytoos.com/chained.shtml
and http://www.mytoos.com/main.shtml


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Kevin W.
Kevin W7 years ago

Let me ask people this... what do birds do most of all?
I hate hearing about birds in cages especially when like my mother who had a canary thought it was tweating because it was happy. I knew damn well it could hear the birds outside in spring and wanted to mate. It late died eggbound.
That's ignorance for you.

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Julie D.
Julie D7 years ago

We keep mainly rescued ex-battery hens who have the run of the garden in good weather and pigeons, again a varied crew, who we allow to fly free when they want. Sometimes I find them standing on the velux windows in the roof looking in on me working in the loft. An interesting reversal of roles!
A hundred years ago people in Europe used to keep wild songbirds in cages and blind them so that they would sing more loudly in their terror (the issue William Blake was writing about). We've stopped that, let's encourage people to move on from wanting to keep birds in cages all their lives.
In addition CITIES (the commission on the trade in endangered species) needs to be enforced as people buying "exotic pets" don't realise the horror of the trade.

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