Portrayals of pirates, including Jack Sparrow, show that the pirate captains would have parrots with them. Here, we’ll look at the meaning and significance of the parrots that the pirates traveled with.
In the book Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson, there is a depiction of a rather grizzled buccaneer along with his quite trusty parrot. This is the kind of depiction that seems to cut across the worlds of buccaneers and pirates, and it always begs the question, why?
Pirates often had parrots with them, and there are different reasons as to why this was a go-to option for them. These parrots were also known as the Macaws, and the pirates kept them for different reasons.
The first reason why the pirates kept macaws is that these birds aren’t eaters, meaning that even when their supplies ran low, they wouldn’t drain the already scarce resources. Also, the parrots can easily take care of themselves. During fights, for example, these birds would fly away from danger, whether the danger came from above or below the ship – the chances of the birds falling into the sea and drowning were minimal.
But that is not all: the other reasons for the popularity of the parrots in pirate ships include the fact that there was a huge demand for the exotic fauna and flora in the European capitals. In these markets, the macaws fetched the highest prices, hence the popularity of the parrots.
There’s also the fact that parrots are very intelligent animals/ birds capable of learning incredible tricks, and they can imitate speech easily. Parrots/ macaws are also very sociable, meaning that they helped the pirates to pass the time, especially on the long, boring voyages. Parrots also gave the pirates good company. Interestingly, the long trips, whether legal or illegal, would see the presence of pets. The pets in these voyages would be vetted carefully. Since the voyages would last for weeks or months, meaning many boring and quite uncomfortable days and nights with little to do, the pet selected would have to offer good comfort and company. The pet chosen would have to be of small stature, with low maintenance and care requirements, and the parrot easily fit the checklist.
Lastly, the parrots were a status symbol. This is because the birds were valuable and also quite rare. So, by combining these two elements, you would only find a few of the pirates with the parrots. Often, the parrots would be talking perched on the shoulders of the pirate captains or other pirates who were highly regarded. At the same time, a talking parrot perched on your shoulder would mark you out as an important person among the crew.
The parrot was common with pirates and pirate ships because they are colorful, funny, and intelligent. And since the parrots allowed pirates (captains) to show off, there wasn’t any other better fit for the captains. The parrot would do what the monkeys and dogs would do, and they’d fare quite well in comparison.