The iconic image of the weathered seadog and his trusted parrot was made famous by Robert Louis Stevenson’s’ Long John Silver in Treasure Island, but was there any truth to this myth that pirates were accompanied by parrots? It’s very possible to understand why pirates might keep other pets; a cat, for example, to keep the rats and mice under control, but why would pirates want a parrot?
Reason pirates might keep a parrot as a pet
Well the reason is partially monetary, as you might expect of pirates, but it was also about status. Buccaneers who travelled to the tropics often brought home exotic animals and plants which were in high demand in the European capitals. Parrots, in particular Macaws, were in very valuable because of their intelligence and beauty. There are over 300 species of these clever creatures found in the Caribbean with the smallest being around 3 inches, and the largest reaching 33 inches tall, though not all of these species are capable of mimicking speech.
Here’s a list of the main reasons that pirates had for keeping parrots as pets, rather than cargo, during the Golden Age of Piracy:
• They don’t eat a lot which means that, like cats, they are low maintenance pets when food stores start to dry up.
• There’s not a lot of meat on them so the chances of crewmen trying to eat them when there’s not enough food on board.
• They were valuable, and as such a symbol of status and success.
• Many species are very sociable and like people so they wouldn’t attack the crew.
• They can be taught tricks with time and care which would help to pass the time during a long, boring voyage.
• They’re in no danger of falling overboard and drowning in the swell.
• They can keep you company, even if they don’t always say the right thing.
• They’re capable of protecting themselves during a fight by flying off or up into the rigging.
So, you see, parrots were the perfect companions for pirates of import and skill.