Snowy and parrots : a strained relationship

Dossier ~ Thursday 18th November 2010
Tintin in Congo (1931) - Page 2

'ABANDON SHIP ! WE'RE SINKING !' This is how parrots make their first appearance in The Adventures of Tintin. Readers come across the birds on several occasions throughout the series. It is time to find out a bit more about these winged creatures that never cease to fascinate human beings.

Why doesn't Snowy get on with parrots ?

Snowy meets parrots early on in the series : from as early as page 2 of Tintin in the Congo ! The little dog had not met any in the Soviet Union as the climate there is not very favourable towards the birds. At the time, Snowy often expressed Hergé's opinions. From this we can deduce that the author was not too keen on parrots. 'A parrot ! ... Nothing but a stupid parrot!' exclaims Snowy when he discovers the source of the call to abandon ship. In 1963, some 33 years after Tintin in the Congo (first published in 1930), it was Captain Haddock's turn to betray Hergé's sentiments regarding the colourful birds, as he tells one to : 'Shut up, you cachinnating cockatoo !' Why doesn't Snowy like parrots ? According to some veterinarians, their bright-coloured feathers drive dogs wild. But in The Castafiore Emerald, Snowy gives a reason for his hatred of the birds : 'I can't stand animals who talk !'

The Castafiore Emerald page 9
The Castafiore Emerald page 19
The Castafiore Emerald page 13
Tintin in Congo page 2
The Broken Ear page 7
The Cacatuidae
The Loridae
The Psittacidae

Do you know that...

- There are between 315 and 320 species of parrot in the world. Most of them come from regions in the Pacific and Australia, and from tropical rainforests (notably the Amazon).

- Scientists have split parrots into three categories, the Latin names of which are : the Cacatuidae, encompassing 18 to 21 species ; the Loridae, representing around 50 species ; and the Psittacidae, which includes more than 150 species.

- The Cacatuidae are large birds, which are mostly white. They have flat tails and feather quiffs on their heads that can stand up. They can be found in the Pacific and in Australia. Cockatoos are part of this family.

- The Loridae family are found above all in Australia, New Guinea, the Fiji Islands, Tahiti, and more generally in the Pacific region. They are very brightly coloured, with powerful voices and often-aggressive personalities.

- The Psittacidae live all over the world. They are the first parrots to have been discovered by mankind. The diverse sizes and colours of these parrots sometimes results in them being confused for budgies. The latter birds are members of the wider psittaciforme family.

L'Oreille cassée page 5
Le trésor de Rackham le Rouge page 29
Les Bijoux de la Castafiore page 27

Can parrots really talk ?

Sadly, no ! They have a vocal organ called a syrinx. This is a muscle  -  a kind of membrane  -  which allows for the modulation of sound. It permits parrots to imitate sounds, including human language. Sometimes people who buy parrots are saddened to see that their new pets insist on mimicking car horns or hoovers, and that they refuse to answer questions ! But think about it from a parrot's point of view : even though it may be able to reproduce up to 800 different sounds, human language is just another noise among the rest, for the bird.

Do you know that...

- Parrots communicate more with their feet than they do with 'language'. Parrot feet have four toes.

- Hearing is the most developed sense in parrots. It keeps them alert to danger or to nearby animals, and allows them to judge the distance to an adversary, for example.

- Parrots have almost no sense of smell. To find out whether or not food is edible, they are obliged to lick the morsel in question !

- When a parrot licks you, don't panic! This is simply its way of 'meeting' you and becoming comfortable in your presence.

Tintin in Congo page 3
The Grey Gabon

Which parrot is the best at talking ?

'Jaco', who gives Snowy such a hard time in Tintin in the Congo and nearly gives the little dog a dangerous and contagious disease called psittacoses, has no trouble living up to his name. 'Jaco' is a nickname for the Grey Gabon Parrot. This parrot was first called 'Jaco' centuries ago, by Portuguese sailors who captured them in Africa, before setting off on long journeys. The word 'jaco' has the same root as the French verb 'jacasser', which means to chatter. The Grey Gabon can have a repertoire of up to 800 sounds, unlike to other species, which are limited to a few dozen sounds.

Did Hergé make a mistake ?

At the time he introduced parrots into the Tintin adventures, Hergé didn't think about what colours to draw. The first issues of Tintin in the Congo and The Broken Ear were published in black and white ! It was only at the time when the books were reworked to fit the 62-page colour format, that the colour of the parrots' feathers came into question. The parrots in Red Rackham's Treasure and The Castafiore Emerald are not grey, but look more like the multi-coloured macaws that visitors admire in zoos. These well-known parrots are not the most loquacious, but they can make some sounds and are more pleasing to the eye, than grey birds. We can safely say that the parrots that have retained Sir Francis Haddock's bad language are a species under the Psittacidae branch, which are yet to be discovered!

What would Tintin do today ?

Do you know that there exist more than 190 endangered species of bird ? Among these birds are included many species of parrot. They are sought after for their lively colours, but unfortunately they are not meant to be kept in captivity. The more we catch them, the more they die. Some species could soon become extinct. It is a good idea not to buy parrots or birds : kept in tiny cages, they do not have enough space to live satisfactorily. They get depressed and literally die of grief.

People can support organisations that work towards the preservation of birds, such as the WWF, Greenpeace, and many national and local charities and institutions dedicated to protecting birds and wildlife. In France : the Ligue pour la protection des oiseaux (www.lpo.fr). In Belgium : the Ligue royale belge pour le protection des oiseaux (www.protectiondesoiseaux.be). In Switzerland : the Association suisse pour la protection des oiseaux (www.birdlife.ch). In Great Britain : the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (www.rspb.org.uk). It is easy to find out more by doing an Internet search : type the keywords 'birds' and 'protection'  -  and the country you live in  -  and you are on your way !

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