The parrot became a favorite pet of seafaring pirates in the Caribbean Sea during the Golden Age of piracy (the late 17th century). It is likely the buccaneers first claimed tame parrots from the plundering of Spanish ships laden with exotic tropical goods on the way back to Europe.
The parrot soon became a popular choice of animal companion, eventually eclipsing the ever popular monkey as pet of choice. This was largely due to the parrot’s unique nature and the demands of the larger, more complex pirating operations of the buccaneer age. The parrot had one skill the average rum-addled pirate did not: the ability to memorize and repeat random facts and figures ad infinitum. Lacking both this and an ability to read and write, many pirates came to rely on parrots to retain key pieces of data that could mean the difference between finding crucial land markers, remembering debts and sums, and other values that couldn’t easily be counted in physical objects. The parrot kept many swashbucklers sailing independently who otherwise would have had to join larger concerns of the day.
When rival bands of pirates did close in battle, one of the top priorities was to capture the enemy’s parrot in attempt to learn information that could be of value. Many pirate captains taught their birds a word or phrase the bird would have to hear first before it would recite anything else.
The pirate parrot entered popular culture in 1881 in Robert Louis Stevenson’s book Treasure Island. In it, the pirate captain Long John Silver is depicted with a parrot ever perched on his shoulder. Pirates of the day did often take their parrots with them for security, but often wore capes of rough fabric to keep the parrot’s feces from building up on their clothes.