I’ve struggled for months to come up with an interesting avian topic for this blog. What has made my own lack of inspiration even more acute has been the plethora of fabulous, well-documented articles, photos, videos, podcasts and weekly live interviews online…all about parrots…all fascinating. So many very knowledgeable experts have put a wide variety of information out there for us. All we have to do is click, sign-up and join in, or just read, re-read and in so doing, broaden our knowledge base and enhance the lives of our dear parrots. My input has not been necessary, by any means.
Until now. Something has recently happened in my life that will now impact the quality of the remainder of my life. By sharing this with you, my fellow parrot lovers and owners, it may save you from going through this journey that I am now beginning.
Back stories: I did not experience any accidents chronic illnesses or infections as a child that impacted my ears? No. None. And many years (and I do mean MANY years) ago, I played in a rock band. I was just out of college, had just finished my Masters Degree in Piano Performance, trained as a concert pianist. Rather than pursue a classical track in life, I, of course, did the logical thing and joined a band, and did a brief stint touring, playing keyboards and singing back up vocals. Very fun. Very loud. But very brief. And, (I think I can speak for many here) I had a great record collection, a fine stereo system in the 70’s and played my music pretty loud. For a long time. Because that’s what we did. But, I can honestly say, I never pierced my eardrums with music. All was good. I was young and I think, naively lucky. Did I dodge a bullet then? Unsure, but I think so.
Fast forward to about twenty years ago. We already had one Amazon in the family (DYH) and two lovebirds, and gradually parrot numbers stabilized at five big birds, as the lovebirds passed, and we had welcomed three Macaws and another Amazon (YNA) into the fold.
Our parrots have taken over our spacious sunroom. Everyone is in there, big cages, big play stands, lots of toys and they all head outside to their outdoor spaces year round, as long as it’s over 50°, and there are no chilly winds. It all sounds pretty idyllic, doesn’t it? For the birds, it sure is. No complaints here. Love them all to death forever. But there is a catch here, and maybe you’re anticipating what I’m about to write.
Macaws can be loud. That. Is. Such. An. Understatement. And, as you know, they tend to vocalize at certain times of the day, at increased decibel levels. Like clockwork, I can count on the Team Breakfast Yell and the Team Dinner Yell. When they’re outdoors, they do some pretty high-spirited rainforest squawks into the woods. And sometimes, they can choose very inopportune times to let loose with unannounced blood curdling squawks, for instance, when I am standing right next to a cage, sharing some bonding low-key birdy small talk, and BLAT! my eardrum is pierced. And with the innate knowledge that the sound they made reached its target…another one, then another one comes. Oh, it’s not over then because the other two macaws join in the group celebratory scream, and the room is filled with ear-blinding cacophony as the Amazons join the throng of revelers. Leaving the room and retreating to a quieter spot is the best thing, the only thing, for me to do at this point. I always thought that was enough.
This has been the routine for our three macaws for years. If they start screaming and we’re on the phone, we go to another part of the house. (Of COURSE they when know we’re on the phone!) When we have company, we go to a quieter place to visit. (Of COURSE they know when there is another human in the house!) And I should have learned YEARS ago to grab a pair of ear plugs just in case they pulled the volume plug when I entered their territory. But I didn’t do that soon enough. I just got blasted with glass shattering macaw squawks, didn’t react, just turned around and left the room. Day after day, month after month, and year after year. It was just not enough.
Recently I had my hearing tested. This is why now: standing in the kitchen, around the corner from the sunroom, while I’m prepping their breakfast or dinner, they let out a boisterous group squawk, it is seriously painful; This is why trying to hear other people at a table when eating in a restaurant sounds weird and literally hurts my ears - the ambient noises slice through my head and I can’t hear what others are saying right next to me; This is why when I speak, I sound (to me) like my voice is in a barrel, my voice sounds metallic; And this is why I hear a constant 24/7 static buzz, I believe to be a form of tinnitus, that I have not had all of my life, until now.
It turns out that the hearing in my left ear is now seriously and permanently impaired. Right ear, impaired, just not as much. I was told that this is not the norm; hearing loss is usually uniform between your two ears (unless infection or accident is involved). I believe that the graph of my hearing loss is divergent for a specific reason. I have deduced that, since the big birds’ cages are lined up on the outside wall of the sunroom, and I enter from the left side of the room, and they are on my left side as I move through the room, my left ear is the first recipient of the “meets & greets” from our flock, over and over. Direct hits, each one, every time.
I will still see an ENT doctor in a few weeks to rule out other potential physical health reasons for any of this, but, I know the permanent path that I am now on. In order to retain the hearing I still have and avoid possible dementia (yes, dementia) in the years to come, I will have to wear hearing aids for the rest of my life. Will my hearing improve? No. Will the static noise, the metallic sounds go away? No. But with the hearing aids, I am told that my brain will focus on the correct noises and sounds, and I won’t be plagued by the ambient noises.
And I WILL religiously wear ear protection when I’m around my birds. It doesn’t mean that I won’t hear my birds, but the damaging intensity and specific pitches/tones of the squawking will be muted. My brain will adapt and reprogram how I hear/listen, my ears won’t feel the pain, and I won’t do any further damage to my hearing.
So here is the “cautioneary lesson I want to impart to all of you who work around very loud parrots or live with very loud parrots: start wearing good ear plugs immediately when you are in the birds’ areas. Don’t get the “surprise screech” in or near your ears. This is not vanity, it is not overreacting…it is for the sake of your own health, and for the quality of your life in years to come. It is a small price to pay NOW instead of the larger price (physically and financially) that you will definitely pay later on, when you aren’t suspecting it, and like me, didn’t “hear it coming” until it’s way too late.
It didn’t have to happen to me if I had been more cognizant, more proactive with my flock over these past years. But I wasn’t. I’m not invincible, none of us are, and I’m now going to pay the price for my lackadaisical attitude regarding caring for my hearing. (“Whoa! THAT was loud. That kinda hurt!”= ignore the impact, be oblivious, time after time = paying for it now.)
Don’t think this can’t happen to you as well. If you are exposed to loud parrots (both macaws and cockatoos come to mind), it’s a simple fix: use a pair of good ear plugs - starting now. It’s just a small inconvenience, a very small price to pay, and I really hope that you heed this advice. Hindsight or in this case "hindsound" may be 20/20, and does me, or possibly you, no good at all. Be aware. Now.
PS Some smaller species or parrots can wreak havoc on your hearing, too. You know which ones I’m talking about. Take action. Take care. It doesn't take much effort.