Here is an article about parrot rescues I wrote for the May, 2008 issue of Parrots Magazine.
“Parrot Rescue? I thought that parrots were expensive and that they wouldn’t need rescue?” Such was a common response from friends and family last year when I would mention that I was fostering a bird for a local parrot rescue organization. However, the truth is that few large parrots remain in one home for their entire lives. Many parrots find themselves in need of a new home when they outlive their owners or when their owners can no longer care for them.
Some parrot owners simply try to sell their pet through a classified ad if they can no longer care for it or no longer want it. This tactic could attract a conscientious parrot keeper, but it could also attract a person who doesn’t know how to care for one properly. Those trying to sell a parrot through an ad need to be willing to screen potential owners. Parrot clubs can also be useful resources for someone looking to rehome a parrot, as a club member may be willing to take a parrot. Others looking to rehome a parrot may contact a parrot rescue agency, particularly if the parrot has behavioral or health problems, because such parrots can be difficult to find good homes for. In several countries, such agencies either provide a permanent sanctuary for parrots who cannot cope with living as pets, or they find homes for parrots whose owners can no longer care for them. Many parrot rescues also take birds that have been seized by animal protection agencies, or that have been left at animal shelters geared towards housing dogs and cats.
Types of Rescues
There are two general types of parrot rescue agencies: sanctuaries and adoption agencies. Sanctuaries do not adopt out parrots and instead provide them with a permanent home. The best sanctuaries strive to give the birds a natural setting to live in, where they can fly, forage, chew, and socialize with other parrots or people. An example would be the “World Parrot Refuge” in British Columbia, Canada, which provides a sanctuary to a few hundred parrots
Other rescues act as adoption agencies for parrots, and try to find new homes for parrots that are surrendered to them. They may house parrots at a central location, or place them in temporary foster homes until a permanent home is found. Some rescues act as a mix of these two types: parrots who dislike being handled by humans or who have severe behavioral problems are given sanctuary while parrots that are friendly to humans are adopted out to new homes. An example of such a rescue is the Gabriel Foundation in Colorado. It adopts some parrots to new homes, but gives sanctuary to ones that prefer not to interact with people, or whose owners have asked that the birds be given sanctuary.
Should you Consider Adopting a Parrot?
If you are contemplating adding a new parrot to your family, consider adopting a parrot from a rescue. With patience and understanding on the part of their new owners, many parrots – even older ones – can adjust well to new homes. For instance, two of my parrots (Lucy and Ripley) were seven and fifteen when I bought them, and they are doing very well with me. Responsible rescue groups generally attempt to match each bird carefully with a compatible owner, so a prospective parrot owner has a good chance of finding a new lifelong pal by getting a parrot through an adoption agency. Potential adopters do need to have some patience, as it can take some time for a parrot to adapt to a new home. Some parrots that land in rescue do have behavioral problems that make them difficult to deal with, but some are quite friendly and well-adjusted.
What to Expect when Adopting a Parrot
Adopting a parrot through a rescue agency is generally more time consuming than going to a pet store and buying a parrot, and for good reason. Reputable rescues want their parrots to go to excellent homes where they will be unlikely to need rehoming in the foreseeable future. To achieve this, most parrot rescues carefully screen potential adopters for their suitability to own a parrot. The first step in adopting a parrot is usually a several page application form. Questions on the form will generally be intended to make sure that the applicant’s living situation is suitable for the species or individual parrot he’d like to adopt. For example, most rescues would not adopt an extremely loud parrot to someone in an apartment, or an aggressive bird to someone with small children. Most application forms will also help the rescue coordinators determine the level of parrot care knowledge that the applicant has. For example, the application form to adopt a parrot from the “Feathered Friends Forever” rescue in Georgia, USA, asks several questions about parrot care. These include ones regarding what the parrot will be fed, what foods are toxic to birds and what some of the signs of illness in a bird are.
The second step is generally an interview, either in person or on the telephone. I have adopted animals from a number of rescue organizations and have found that most interviews are relatively informal. They give the potential adopter the opportunity to ask questions about the rescue and the birds available for adoption. Sometimes, the interviews will be held at the adopter’s home, so the adoption coordinator can see where the parrot will be living. Other times, they may simply be by telephone.
Once a parrot has been adopted, a fee will be charged and an adoption agreement will be signed. Most rescue organizations ask adopters to return the parrot to them if the adopter finds himself in a situation where he can no longer care for the bird properly. Most rescue organizations also ask that the parrot not be used for breeding. Many also do follow-ups on adoptions to see how the parrot is doing and to answer any questions the adopter may have. These are generally by telephone, although some rescues will want to visit the adopter’s home.
Many parrot rescue organizations also place a strong emphasis on educating current and potential parrot owners. For example, the Parrot Adoption and Education Center (PEAC), which is based in San Diego, California, hosts several seminars each year on a variety of parrot-related topics. Adopters are required to attend three of them – “Avian Basic Care,” “Behavior Problems,” and “Parrot Personalities” – before adopting a parrot. The seminars are open to anyone interested in learning about parrots and they are held frequently and at a number of different locations.
Requiring that adopters attend the seminars helps ensure that they are knowledgeable about parrot care and that they are interested in learning as much as they can about parrots. Bonnie Kenk, president and founder of PEAC, also told me via Email that people looking to adopt a large, demanding bird such as a cockatoo, macaw or African grey as a first-time parrot must spend a bit of time with the bird they are interested in alongside a volunteer. This ensures that they understand what they are getting into with adopting such a parrot and that they know how to handle it.
Common Species in Rescue
Of the larger parrot species, PEAC receives cockatoos most frequently, and they are also the most difficult species, along with macaws, for them to find suitable homes for. Cockatiels and budgerigars are also commonly surrendered to rescues, with cockatiels being the most common bird surrendered to PEAC. While cockatiels and budgies are not amongst the most difficult of parrot species to own, they are by far the most popular. Their low price and widespread availability at pet stores often leads people to buy them on impulse without thinking about the animal’s future.
Why do Animals Up in Rescue?
When I asked why parrots end up in rescue, Ms. Kenk told me that it’s generally due to, “Lifestyle; either a change in the owner’s lifestyle or a lifestyle that wasn’t suited to living with a parrot to begin with. Most people will say that the bird developed a behavior problem that they didn’t want to or were not able to deal with, but in reality the behavior problem developed as a reaction to a change in the owner’s lifestyle.”
Parrots are indeed very sensitive to changes in their surroundings. Many different lifestyle changes, such as job changes, can leave a person without enough time to care for her bird properly. In such a case, a frustrated, bored parrot may start to scream excessively or pluck his own feathers. The parrot could also lose some of his tameness from not being handled frequently enough. In such a case, the parrot may be sent to a rescue. Sometimes, a parrot may develop an intense dislike for his owner’s new spouse or significant other, and it’s decided that the parrot must go. Moves to new apartments that do not allow pets, a divorce, or the development of an illness also sometimes leave people unable to care for their parrots.
Helping Unwanted Parrots
When asked what the biggest challenges are in running a parrot rescue, Ms. Kenk told me that two of them are finding suitable volunteers and finding suitable homes for the parrots. Ron Johnson from Feathered Friends Forever notes that they are finding enough funds, good help, time, and space. So, if you are looking for a new parrot, consider contacting a rescue organization. If you have enough pets, but would still like to help, consider volunteering your time if there is a rescue close to where you live. Rescues often need reliable volunteers to clean aviaries, do administrative work, edit newsletters, help with fundraising, or to provide a foster home for a parrot. Foster parents do need to be willing to work with a bird that may have behavior problems. And of course, any rescue appreciates any donations it may get, no matter what size they are.
As I have found, volunteering with a parrot rescue can be a rewarding experience. While looking for parrot websites a couple years ago, I found the website for a rescue based out of Edmonton, Alberta, called “Feathered Friends Avian Rescue and Resource Association.” I wasn’t really looking for a parrot, but I had room in my house to foster one, so I applied to foster a bird. Since FFARRA does not have a central location where parrots are housed, each bird that is surrendered to them is placed in a foster home until a permanent adoptive home is found for it.
Later on, I received an Email message asking if I’d like to foster a small bird that had been left at the Edmonton Humane Society. Since this humane society is usually swamped with cats, dogs, rabbits, and rodents, they often send parrots they get to FFARRA. I was told that this parrot had a plucking problem and was not tame, so he’d need a patient person to work with him. From the description, I figured he’d be a Green-cheeked or Maroon-bellied Conure.
I had recently attended a seminar given by Dr. Susan Friedman on parrot behavior in Calgary, Alberta, and I had used what I learned to teach my own parrots a few new behaviors. So, I jumped at the chance to apply what I had learned to an even bigger challenge. I let them know that I’d be happy to foster the parrot. The vice president of FFARRA brought the bird, along with a cage and supplies, over to my place.
The little bird was actually a green Quaker Parrot. His leg band indicated that he was fourteen years old, and that’s all I really knew about him. He had a very obvious plucking problem – his chest was completely bald – and he would bite any hands that entered his cage. I figured that getting him used to being handled by people would be a major challenge, but this resilient bird proved me wrong.
He, of course, needed a name. My husband, Quentin, noticed that this Quaker looked like he wasn’t wearing a shirt because of his bald chest. This gave me the idea of naming him, “Randy,” after a character in a Canadian television show who refuses to wear a shirt. Randy seemed stressed at first, so I left him alone for a few days to allow him to get used to his new surroundings.
I really didn’t want to just leave him in his cage all the time, so then came the task of getting him off the cage. He came out of the cage with no problems, but he would bite hard anytime I reached for him while he was on the cage. His cage was in a bird room on the upper level in my home, but I usually take my parrots out of their cages and put them on their play stands on the main level of the house where I do my reading and writing while I am home.
I decided to train Randy to step up on a stick, using gradual steps and positive reinforcement. At first, I rewarded him with a sunflower seed for merely going near the stick. Once he was comfortable with that, I rewarded him for stepping on it, and finally, I rewarded him for allowing me to move the stick with him on it. Once away from his cage, he became very gentle and would gladly step up on my hand. This behavior pattern isn’t too unusual with parrots, as some feel that their cages are territories that need defending. I brought one of my spare parrot stands up from the basement for Randy, and put in the living room next to Lucy and Ripley’s stands.
Randy stayed on or near his stand with no problems and he generally behaved like a little gentleman. I really wonder how he ended up at the humane society, since he acted like he had been somebody’s pet at some point. He was initially very squawky, but as he became more comfortable in his new environment, he began to show off his impressive vocabulary. He could say “Hello,” “Goodbye,” and “Pretty Bird,” in a sweet, child-like voice, and much to the confusion of the other pets, he could bark and meow. He frequently laughed hysterically – and this would then get Ripley laughing – and he also loved to quack like a duck.
My husband and I grew quite fond of Randy, but after a few months, someone applied to adopt him and she was approved. We didn’t want Randy to go, but we wanted to foster more in the future. We were glad to see that the person interested in Randy was a part of the parrot club we belonged to, although the fact that Randy kept squeaking, “Goodbye!” shortly before he left did not make letting him go very easy. However, we receive frequent updates on him, and he has adapted nicely to his new home.
Many parrots like Randy find great homes through the help of parrot rescues, but how can people prevent parrots from needing rescue in the first place? The answer to this question can be controversial among parrot owners. Some people would like to see breeding of parrots stop, while others would rather see less drastic solutions to the problem.
I think that there’s little doubt that education of potential parrot owners can help the problem. Parrots are high maintenance animals, and people who buy them without realizing how much work they require are more likely to want to rehome their parrot later. Breeders and pet shops can do their part by making sure that potential buyers understand how to care for their new pet. Parrot clubs can also help educate parrot owners (current and potential) by hosting educational seminars, publishing informative newsletters and offering to go to schools to talk about pet care. For example, the club I am in (Edmonton Pet Parrot Association) sets up information tables at pet expos and other events so prospective parrot owners can talk to parrot owners about their pets. Monthly meetings always have some educational component, which is usually a guest speaker or an educational video.
Finding a Reputable Parrot Rescue
There are parrot rescue groups throughout Europe, North America, and Australia and most of them can be located using a search engine on the internet. Asking staff at veterinary clinics or animal shelters can also help one locate a rescue organization. Many parrot clubs are also contacted by people looking to rehome a parrot, so a person looking for a second hand parrot may find one by joining a parrot club.
Parrots are very active, intelligent creatures and many people who buy them find them too difficult to deal with and need to rehome them. Other parrots find themselves in need of new homes because of changes in their owner’s lifestyle that leaves them unable to care for their bird. Rescue organizations help find excellent homes for parrots in need, or they give them a place to live out their lives. If there is a parrot rescue near you, consider contacting it if you are looking for a new feathered friend.
-An American adoption organization with chapters in Anchorage, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and San Diego.
-An American parrot rescue based in Georgia.
-An American based adoption organization and sanctuary based in Colorado.
-A Canadian adoption agency based in Alberta.
-A Canadian sanctuary based in British Columbia.
Clicker Training Parrots
-an article I wrote about how I used clicker training to deal with a very aggressive Lesser Sulphur-crested Cockatoo I fostered.