I was a thirteen year old internet junkie who had a passion for animals of all kinds, specifically reptiles, parrots, and exotic mammals. As years passed I crammed my brain with information relating to all types of animals kept in captivity with a dream to one day own my own pet store. My passion for animals was and still is inexplicably strong.
Once moved out of my parent’s house at age 18, I began a breeding program for bearded dragons. I had my entire future pet store’s layout engraved into my brain, and even drawn out on paper. There would be an extravagant back room with large, nature-based enclosures to work as a display for my breeding pairs. I had plans for reptiles, birds, and exotic mammals alike— I loved them all. Customers would be able to view the back room as a museum, or zoo of sorts, and the front of the store would hold all of the displays for the babies for sale, along with the highest quality supplies and foods possible. Of course, every enclosure would be immaculate, detailed, and fit every one of the animal’s individual needs. To be able to support myself by working with animals that I love so dearly seemed like a great idea at the time.
After spending time finding homes for the baby lizards I realized how many were in rescues, not to mention the large amount of related animals such as iguanas. From there I gravitated towards rescuing reptiles, but for whatever reason decided to breed green cheek conures. At that time my brain didn’t connect the two, and I did not realize that there was an even stronger need for parrot rescue—something that I quickly discovered once it was time to find homes for the first babies. Upon searching through several different web pages to get an idea of the parrot market, I fell upon a countless number of people trying to re-home their birds due to behavioral problems, medical issues, or life changes. A few ads displayed parrots that appeared so hopeless and depressed, that my heart dropped to the floor. Something had changed in me; from there I researched parrot rescues and found many of them to be full, and at least three sanctuaries had well over 300 birds at that time with more coming in.
A pang of guilt overwhelmed me. What was I thinking; if I love these animals so much, how can I contribute to the problem of the thousands that are already homeless? To this day, it still brings a tear to my eye, but like several others, I was young and uneducated; and without guidance from family or friends, I had to learn everything on my own. I’m grateful that I was not breeding animals for very long, but do you know what? I wouldn’t take this life experience back, because it has brought me to the place that I belong; for all this time, animal rescue was my calling.
I erased my pet store plans from my mind, and burned whatever drawings I had made. I halted my breeding projects, taking away nest boxes. I was on a new mission, and this one just felt “right”. At the time I was working two jobs—for a few months I was working three—and taking in parrot rescues here and there as they came to me. I was not making myself public until I owned my own house and had one full time stable job that I knew would support my rescue missions. In a way, animal rescue was the gateway to my entire life’s success— it was my motivator.
A few years later, in July of 2013, my husband and I opened our home to parrots in need. Working in rescue is far more rewarding, seeing birds in a depressed state or in poor health and lifting them back up is the most magnificent feeling of accomplishment—I know that I’m doing something to give back to the world, and with my husband by my side we can accomplish anything. Because we are fortunate enough to have full time jobs to support the rescue, making a living off of the animals I love is no longer a concern. Thanks to my experience and research from when I was younger, and from my continued life experiences today; when I see an animal, I do not see dollar signs—I see a soul, a living creature that deserves love and respect.
I often feel the reason why a large majority of parrots end up in rescue is due to people not knowing how it truly is to live with one. The experience is like nothing you can read on paper, no matter how much you research on their care. Their intelligence and emotions run so deep, it’s something that you have to witness in order to fully understand.
A common misconception that a unbelievably large amount of people have is that humans are above every other creature on this earth emotionally, mentally and physically—most folks reading this article wont think that way, but regardless, parrots are a prime example of why that belief isn’t true. Every parrot is its own individual, just like a person, so it is hard to speculate exactly what every parrot owner’s experience will be like. There are some birds out there that may not like human interaction, or need a lot more work getting there. The majority of my birds are not the cuddly type, preferring more social interaction such as training sessions, singing, being talked to, or just sitting on a play stand beside me feeling like a part of the flock.
I have heard the question “does it talk?” a countless number of times. It is never guaranteed that a parrot will talk, regardless of the species, even if they are the happiest parrots on earth. I have witnessed many occasions where at first, a new bird introduced to our rescue will talk up a storm only for the speaking to diminish within a couple months as he realizes all of his needs are being met; so in his eyes, perhaps there is no longer a reason to talk. Of course, the opposite has happened where a bird comes to us completely silent, and leaves as a happy chatterbox. In general, a happy parrot will call out loudly to the morning sun, and bid farewell in the same fashion as the sun sets. For the groggy morning person such as myself, this may not be so delightful. Thank goodness for my husband who is a chipper morning person that talks, sings, and screeches right along with them to make their morning complete—a daily morning comedy show while I begin my day with coffee, water bowl changes, and filling every bird’s dish with fresh food.
So what exactly is it like to be owned by a parrot? Think of mother/fatherhood and having a child. Expect to have to teach them how to live a happy life in captivity; they need to learn how to play with toys for continuous enrichment, step up onto your hand and onto a stick in the case of emergency, and they need to be introduced to many new foods—whether they like it or not. Parrots need continuous training and guidance for their own mental health, and also to strengthen the bond between bird and parront. This can include target training and trick training; for more information on training I highly recommend Barabara Heidenreich’s work as she is very highly thought of throughout the world of parrots.
Expect temper tantrums. That’s right, birds have temper tantrums, and depending on the species they can be incredibly similar to a child’s tantrum. A temper tantrum from a bird can include screaming (or telling you how it really is), foot stomping, and biting. Depending on the time of year or the bird’s mood on that particular day, “time outs” can be a frequent occurrence. For this we use a separate cage, have the bird step up on a stick, then into the cage for a five-minute time out. We make sure to always wait until the bird is being quiet before he is released from time out as to not reward him for screeching. During this entire process we remain calm and patient—most times even finding humor in it all since their reactions can be oh-so-dramatic and child-like. A little temper tantrum can be rather endearing.
“Does it bite?” is another common question we receive. The answer is, parrots are wild animals, and no matter how tame they may seem, they will still bite. They get into moods just like people can, or sometimes if something scares them, they will bite the person who is near them. Parrots also have breeding seasons where they can become more aggressive. Depending on the species of bird, these breeding seasons can last for months. Keep a first-aid kit with lots of band-aides nearby. This is why it is very important to get to know your bird and their body language. I still get bit by my African Grey who I have had for almost 10 years, and I know him well— it happens to everyone who is owned by parrots.
If you have already raised human children of your own and thought you escaped the treacherous event of stepping on Legos or similar toys, think again; soon you will have a drawer, or in my case several shelves full, of spare toys and toy parts. Many of my Sundays are spent leisurely making bird toys. It is important for them to have a variety to keep their intelligent minds busy—a busy bird is a happy bird. I find toy making to be a sort of therapy, the equivalent to crocheting, and nothing is more satisfying than watching your feathered family member dig into his new toys.
Diet is another important factor that should be mentioned, and certain food items may vary depending on what species of parrot you have. In general, parrots thrive off of daily fresh foods. We give all of our birds fresh cut vegetables and fruits every morning including (but not limited to): carrots, broccoli, snap peas, yams (cooked), raspberries, blackberries, strawberry, mango, banana, sprouted lentils, green beans, parsley, kale, turnip, beet and mustard greens. We also bake large batches of bird bread – or sometimes birdie casserole – every Sunday, portion it into smaller bags, and freeze it for longevity. Every bird here goes crazy for fresh bird bread! Your feathered friend can also have bits of whatever you are eating – just be sure to avoid junk foods, and never feed them avocado, caffeine, sugar-filled items, or alcohol as those things are toxic and can cause unrepairable damage or death. Meal times at our home are shared with our birds; everyone loves to eat with the flock, and I feel this is important for their mental health.
Plan to give up use of non-stick pans, perfumes, aerosol sprays, air fresheners, candles and incense; a bird’s respiratory track is very fragile, and their lungs are paper-thin. Using any of these items around your parrot it detrimental to their health. If you are a smoker and smoke in the home or around your parrot, you are not only harming yourself, but the damage to your feathered family member is even more severe. The smoke not only goes into their lungs, but the nicotine sticks to the oil of their feathers—when they groom themselves, their body is undergoing a massive nicotine intake. If you think your nicotine fits are bad, you have never seen an addicted parrot. Nicotine addictions in parrots will lead to feather plucking, self-mutilation (breaking the skin), heavy breathing and wheezing, vomiting, increased heart rate, collapse, coma, cardiac arrest and death. Although I quit smoking long before parrot ownership, our parrots have made us live healthier, more fulfilling lives with an overall healthy diet and no more chemicals allowed in the house, and I wouldn’t change that for the world.
I’m sure I am missing something regarding being owned by a parrot—there really is a lot to it. Not a day goes by without laughter, song, and farting noises reverberating throughout my home—and without them, it wouldn’t be a home at all. Each bird forms a different bond, and all of the bonds run deep. It truly is an honor and a privilege to have a parrot claim you as its friend and companion— unfortunately this is something that bird owners frequently take advantage of. They are wild animals kept in captivity, and in the words of French author Antoine de Saint-Exupery; “You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed.”
We try not to make it seem like a "rescue" to our feathered residents, but a rescue is what we are...
While birds are here, they are treated like family. They are all in our home, and our home setup revolves around the birds. We are unable to have kids, so they are our kids. My husband loves them as much as I do, and we work as a team. It works out great since some birds will prefer males over females or vice-versa. The feathered family gets fresh food every morning. I'm known to bake bird breads and casseroles for them every week as well. They are also fed a varied diet of pellets, various nuts, fruits and veggies. Along with plain water, we also offer different waters with teas or herbs infused into them — I’ll even make them fresh juice from our juicer.
Cages are packed with toys, and the toys are rotated once a week. If we leave for the house we normally leave music on so they can jam out. Play-gyms hang from the ceiling of the bird rooms, and we have a 10 x 20 foot flight aviary outside. We have two bird rooms: a bedroom dedicated to macaws (so they don’t have to be around any Cockatoo or African grey dust), and the main bird room located in the lower-level of our tri-level home.
We get asked by many bird owners if we will keep their bird forever if they relinquish it to us. That in itself is a compliment, because that tells me we are doing something right! But please understand that if we kept every bird that came in, we soon would be full and unable to help the parrots that really do need us. This isn’t to say that it isn’t possible that we will keep your bird. The majority of our permanent residents have ongoing behavior problems or expensive medical problems that would make them incompatible to the average household. We are aware that someday, our home will be filled with birds that aren’t adoptable and we won’t be able to take in more, but until then, parrots that would do great if adopted into the right home will be placed.
Sometimes it can take quite some time to find the perfect person and to sort out the "baddies". I spend much of my time doing this with my adoptions; I have a strict adoption process that includes an application, phone interviews, home checks, and a contract. It's a lot of work, and very time-consuming! And in the end, if I feel the person cannot take as good of care of the bird as I can, then they don't go anywhere — and that's some big shoes to fill.
This morning, someone emailed me asking me to convince them of why they should relinquish their bird to me, later stating they have checked every other sanctuary and rescue and found them to be full. The person's goal was to find a sanctuary where her bird could live out his life with lots of attention from volunteers and other birds. This isn't the first time I have gotten an email like this, although whenever I do I find it somewhat ironic. I understand an owners concern for where their bird may end up, and people should do all the research they can before: #1, deciding to relinquish their bird in the first place and #2, before deciding on a place for them to reside. Here I offer my view on the topic:
I’m not one to “convince people to give me their birds”. Most reputable rescues are happy when people are able to keep their birds, and taking in more birds does not benefit a rescue. We don’t make a profit off of rescue. We do this for the love of the birds, and because we are needed, and the majority of people relinquishing birds have the task of talking us into taking their bird, because there is just that many.
There’s a reason why most everyone, rescues and sanctuaries alike, are full. Unwanted parrots are a huge problem worldwide. They are the third top throw-away pet right under cats and dogs. They are loud, messy, and have very long lifespans, and in the end, they are still wild animals — it takes a special person to have a well-cared for, happy bird as a pet and an even more special person to open a rescue or sanctuary. Most sanctuaries started as rescues such as my own, out of their own homes, and there still are smaller in-home sanctuaries that began as rescues. We fill at a very rapid rate, and the majority of what we receive is birds who are not adoptable into the average household due to behavior or ongoing medical issues. All those birds quickly become permanent residents (I have quite a few myself), because we just don’t trust anyone else to handle them and take as good of care as we do.
All sanctuaries are different, but the majority is run by one or two main people, the “presidents” or main owners. I know of a large sanctuary with over 500 birds — they had no anticipation of growing that large, it just happened because the need was there and they are passionate people. They have been trying to retire from the sanctuary life for several years with no success, because no one else wants to take on the responsibility of that many birds. What if they pass on? Well you can only hope that they planned for the future, but that can be close to impossible to do. Perhaps the dedicated volunteers would keep it running, but who is to say that would happen. This is the risk all of us take when running a rescue— cat, dog, bird or others… And this is also the risk a person takes when relinquishing any animal to a rescue or sanctuary. You never truly know where they end up for the long-haul.
For me, personally? Well my husband and I only just hit 30 years old, so I would sure hope nothing tragic would happen to both of us, but if it does, we have a close relationship with a few large sanctuaries. And what if that sanctuary shuts down? We can only hope that they don’t — we can’t tell the future. If only I or my husband fell ill, one or the other would care for the current birds on our own. This is why we limit our numbers to 20 birds at a time, because we know that would still be manageable — difficult, but manageable. I know this for a fact because we have made our way up to 20 birds before, and my husband had a nasty two-week long flu during that time, which he lovingly transferred to me. We both got a taste of what it would be like managing 20 birds on our own while taking care of the other person. Thankfully, we are both equally dedicated to the rescue.
Sure, larger sanctuaries have volunteers, but they also have hundreds of birds. Most large places will have ten volunteers in throughout a day taking care of 300-1,000 parrots, and the birds are left alone at night while people go home to their families. The birds do not get as much individual attention as some people think in a large sanctuary setting. The word “sanctuary” makes it sound nice, and don’t get me wrong, there are great ones out there, but only certain birds will truly be happy there. Many end up there as a last resort. Be absolutely sure that your bird will be happy in a large sanctuary-type setting, because it isn’t for all of them.
The average medium-large parrot costs $75 a month in supplies (variety of foods, toys, etc). That’s $900 a year per bird and $18,000 a year for 20 birds. This isn’t even including vet bills or the electric bills from running UV lighting or television/music for the bird’s entertainment and it isn’t including caging or any needed expansions. Most people don’t realize that they are actually expecting a lot from a rescue by wanting them to take their bird for life, and many rescues and sanctuaries charge a fee to relinquish a bird. I do not, only because I do not want to turn the people away who truly have neglected and sick birds in their hands that need help — the life or death situations. I always take it as a compliment when loving bird owners request for me to keep their bird for life, but at the same time, I’m asked that by almost everyone.
This doesn’t mean I won’t keep a relinquished bird for life. I do not adopt out birds that have severe behavior problems. If they can’t be handled, they remain here as permanent sanctuary residents. The same goes for medically fragile birds. Eventually we will become full of unadoptable birds, and just like the others, we will then just call ourselves a “sanctuary” and rarely take in more.
I am a very upfront and honest person who doesn’t sugar-coat anything. As with any bird, in the back of my mind I hope that they will end up here because I fear of where they might end up otherwise. Just like how bird owners question rescues about taking their beloved family members, I also am nervous when they end up elsewhere; not everyone realizes how many bad people are in the parrot world.
All birds here are my kids, whether permanent residents or not, and even for the ones that are adoptable, I am very, very strict and have a long application process for rehoming, along with a legal contract. If potential adopters can’t show me that they can take better care of the bird than I can (and that’s a big role to fill), then they don’t go anywhere.
Flockcall on Facebook or their main official site is another great resource. This morning, this article posted on their Facebook got my attention, and it is oh-so-true. Every parrot owner should read this and be aware of what they are doing throughout the day. Humans have such a rushed lifestyle that we have to remember to take a deep breath, slow down and enjoy the company of our fids. After all, we have our lives, our jobs and our friends, but we are all that they have.
"Inclusive interactions make a happy parrot.
We humans have a trait that can cause hiccups within our relationships. It's a trait that exposes itself quite often. And it's the trait most difficult to see in ourselves. I am very guilty of it when busy or in one of those mindsets that "I have to get something done".
Exclusion. It's a simple change in attitude and action. We no longer talk to or act with friends, family or companion parrots as part of our day, but rather, as some thing in our way. Much like waiting for someone to stop talking so you can state your opinion, rather than listening and including their voice in your dialogue.
I talk out loud during the day to the flock. I'm always chatting and answering them back. Particularly if they are in their cages. When I'm walking through the room to get to another room or heading outside, I call out a hello, and let them know what I'm doing. If they are out and about, I'll invite them to join me in what I may be doing. (Of course this assumes what you are doing is safe for them to be near and a part of the action. No birdy is allowed in the kitchen when we are cooking, for example. BUT if I'm chopping veggies and fruit, I've eight supervisors on hand to taste test my work).
Inclusion and an inclusive mindset is so strong now amongst us that right now, as I am writing this post, I have a Macaw on my shoulder (Butters) another on my head (Snickers), Kirby on my left wrist, Felix to my right in his tent, and 4 cockatiels peppering the shelving to my left. They all joined me by choice. And they will not leave nor bother me while I work. This will last for about 2 hours or until I grab a pen of course. I can't write ANYTHING with a pen with any of them around.
Felix loves to be around someone. He doesn't like being left behind. If I'm in the kitchen, he wants in there. If I'm in the office, he wants in there. "See the Birdie?", is his way of letting me know, he's not yet included.
Butters will sit on my shoulder all day long. She is my yoga partner as well. Downward dog takes a whole new meaning on with her. She needs inclusion. She also understands "Wait." She will quietly wait for a very long time, because I always come back to include her; Without fail. Of course, she'll call out, "Come here!" occasionally to remind me of my promise.
When they are included I have the quietest parrots on the planet. Truly. When inclusion becomes a normal idea, a calmer bird becomes the norm. Next time your bird is making a bit of a fuss, or calling out, take a moment to consider what you are doing, and where he/she is in relation to you. He/she may just want to be included."
Due to excellent feedback received on my writings regarding the plight of the captive parrots, parrot rescue and parrot care I have decided to attempt to take time from my days to begin a blog. This blog will include my writings, and will also work as a journal as I continue my journey as a parrot rescuer and animal activist. Before getting involved in rescue, I was always an animal lover, but not exactly an activist. After what I have seen while working in rescue, my passion became even stronger than I could ever imagine. I live to save these animals.
Thank you for reading and following my blog. I hope my words can make a difference in the parrot world. I put my heart and soul into everything that I write, and I hope you will find as much meaning and passion in it as I do.
As my main job unrelated to the rescue world, I am a full time writer for a collector car insurance company. Between this job and the rescue, I enjoy sharing my experiences throughout my journey with parrots. Stay tuned for periodic updates!