The Bottom Line
Birders considering owning a pet bird and bringing their love of backyard birds inside will want to read Winging It: A Memoir of Caring for a Vengeful Parrot Who’s Determined to Kill Me before making that leap. Author and parrot owner Jenny Gardiner entered “parrothood” unprepared for the demands of a seemingly innocent bird but quickly learned how dominant these feathered friends can be. While more oriented toward an interest in pet birds, Winging It still offers interesting insight into the emotions, personality and intelligence of birds that any bird lover can appreciate.
- Colorful writing and humorous, tongue-in-cheek tone leads to enjoyable reading, though the title’s focus exclusively on the bird is misleading.
- Epilogue ends with caution to prospective parrot owners to do proper research and adopt a parrot that is right for them, advocating rescue organizations.
- Much of the book’s focus is a personal memoir unrelated to the bird, but can serve as a reminder that life goes on, with or without birds.
- The bird is occasionally neglected and forgotten in the rush of other life concerns, but the author expresses regret for the parrot’s captive life and less than ideal circumstances.
- No photos are included that could have given readers a visual perspective of Graycie.
- Title: Winging It: A Memoir of Caring for a Vengeful Parrot Who’s Determined to Kill Me
- Author: Jenny Gardiner
- Publisher: Gallery Books
- Publication Date: March 2010
- Format: Hardcover
- Page Count: 256
- ISBN: 978-1-4391-5761-9
- Price: $23.00
Review - Winging It
Are pet birds really that different from the wild birds backyard birders come to think of as their own personal flocks? Any birder who thinks bringing one of those birds inside as a constant companion would do well to heed the warnings in Winging It: A Memoir of Caring for a Vengeful Parrot Who’s Determined to Kill Me. Author Jenny Gardiner had always been charmed by parrots and delighted in the opportunity to own a pet African gray parrot when it was given to her and her husband by her brother-in-law, but unbeknownst to her at the time, there is a grave difference between a cultivated, hand-reared pet bird and the wild parrot that became part of their family.
The first question that any devoted birder may ask would be “Why … would we be so cruel as to imprison a bird – the very symbol of freedom – in a brass cage?” and readers will be relieved to know that Gardiner herself asks that question frequently and often regrets the captivity of her parrot under its less than ideal circumstances. At the same time, however, Gardiner insists on strong ethics as a pet owner that dictate “a commitment is a commitment, in good times and bad” even when there seem to be more bad times than good times with this particular bird.
Gardiner’s decades of experience with her African gray parrot Graycie do indeed run from good to bad and back again. Due to a wide range of life events – moving, building a house, medical issues, accidents, other pets, children, etc. – Graycie often seems relegated to the background of the family’s life, and indeed the bird is often stressed to the point of injury, a fact that can be distressing to compassionate readers and experienced pet bird owners. At the same time, this perspective provides an intimate insight into the bird’s personality, including the curiosity, deviousness, aggression and irritability that can be part of any bird’s moods but that backyard birders very rarely see.
Winging It is truly a cautionary tale for anyone who might be considering owning a pet bird, but the book’s humorous tone and amusing anecdotes share the absurdities of life with a demanding pet bird in an enlightening and entertaining way. At times, the book’s memoir aspect diverges from the story of Graycie for a considerable period, but the bird is always present, if only in the background, just as backyard birds and wild birds are always present in a birder’s life. In the end, more than one curious reader may be convinced to forego “parrothood” in favor of a new backyard bird feeder or getting started with bird houses outside rather than giving birds a house inside. That commitment to responsible, informed pet ownership – or lack of ownership – makes Winging It a worthwhile read.