Yes, adopting saves lives and helps rescues continue their missions to help animals in need, but this topic goes much, much deeper than that — even beyond the questionable husbandry conditions of large (and small) farm-like breeding facilities. I once dreamt of breeding parrots for a living, because what would be better than to work with the animals I love every second of the day? At the time, I thought I loved parrots, but as I look back, I did not love them as I do today and I realized my dream to produce baby parrots to sell to the public in order to support myself was selfish, to say the least.
In 1996, the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council reported 40-million “pet” parrots, and in 1998 the World Parrot Trust estimated that as many as 50% of these parrots are kept in inadequate conditions. There are well over 100 bird rescues and sanctuaries in the United States, with several only recently coming into existence and immediately being filled to capacity. There is no concrete way to keep track of every rescue, especially the smaller in-home operations, and it is not possible to keep accurate numbers of exactly how many parrots are entering rescues or sanctuaries, let alone at what rate they are being relinquished, but we can conclude from our own experience that the rate of relinquishment is horrifying. The overproduction and promotion of parrots as “pets” has caused serious animal welfare issues; parrots are among the fastest growing group of displaced pets, and to further the problem, most traditional shelters are not fit for their needs. The losers in this commodity “pet” exchange are the parrots. Frequently, the poor souls bought on the Internet or in stores go to people who have no knowledge about how to care for their new “pet” and, consequently, the animals themselves suffer, and in turn, the limited number of sanctuaries and rescues struggle to keep up.
After a quick search I found 5,200 ads for baby parrots in US on one website alone, and most of these ads were for multiple babies. This may not seem like a lot until you factor in the numbers at rescues and sanctuaries that have reached into the thousands (and quickly growing), and the fact that the average household is simply not fit for a parrot companion. Meanwhile, on a separate rescue-only site, there are just over 2,200 homeless parrots within 300-miles of our Traverse City, MI home — this number is not for the entire US, and it does not include every rescue in the area. "Reputable" breeders and stores may claim to strive to place their parrots in wonderful approved homes, but this means less homes for the parrots that are rapidly filling rescues and sanctuaries.
Parrots are not fit for captivity, and many owners will realize this after a purchase — after the daunting reality of the extent and expense of their life-long needs set in. The babies are sweet and cute, but they are still hard-wired wild animals that once they reach maturity, can make for difficult companions. For this reason, aside from outliving their owners with their exceptionally long lifespans of 60-90 years, the average bird is rehomed seven times in its life, and during our experience in rescue we have seen them rehomed as many as ten or more times in a short period. While parrot ownership can offer a lifetime of joy for some, most people are quickly overwhelmed by the noise, mess, expense, time and commitment. You do not have to start with a captive bred baby to have a good companion, because even the parrots that are raised in the best way possible can wreak havoc once they mature — despite what others may say, buying a baby guarantees nothing. If someone is not willing to work with a parrot that may have issues, that someone should not own a parrot at all. And for the record, not all parrots in rescues have “issues” that are not manageable by a novice. Research, volunteering at a sanctuary/rescue to gain experience and seeking mentoring from knowledgeable owners and the rescue itself is the key — and these are things that a potential parront should do regardless, whether purchasing or adopting.
Another argument you will hear is that captive breeders help the wild populations. On the contrary, even since importation to the United States became illegal in 1993, thousands of wild parrots per year continue to cross the US border. And again, the constant breeding and introduction of babies into the pet trade is not helping because parrots are not meant to be captive — it’s that simple. Take a look at what happens when people are locked up in prison; they can lose their minds, and even if they are released, they are never the same. The situation is similar for parrots being kept in cages in captivity, captive-bred or not. Solitary confinement during most of the day while owners are out living their lives can drive a parrot mad and lead to unwanted behavioral issues, and even medical complications, which in turn commonly leads to the parrot ending up in a rescue, or at worst, locked in a room and forgotten.
Granted, not everyone who purchases a parrot from a breeder will turn out to be a “bad owner”, but even the best parronts out there cannot offer their beloved parrot everything that it needs to be happy throughout its life in captivity, leading to consistent feelings of guilt — just ask any experienced long-time parront, more than likely they will agree. Parrots are not dogs or cats, which beginning tens of thousands of years ago, have been bred as pets and even have a history of relating to and living peacefully with humans before captive breeding took place. Most captive- bred parrots are only a few generations out of the wild, and they are not and never will be fully domesticated. They are not “pets”. The only captive breeding programs that are helping parrots in the wild and in captivity are the breed-to-release programs that work to replenish endangered numbers in their natural habitat in an attempt to fix what the human race has done.
Because breeders are contributing directly to the problem of homeless parrots, rescues feel that pressure, and although it's a very difficult decision to make, we commonly end up having to no longer help the pet stores or breeders with their problem birds, whether or not the parrots were just dropped off or returned to the store after purchasing — or at the very least, in order to keep the rescue afoot, we must limit contact. More often than not, these parrots need ample time spent with them for rehabilitation, and this can take years, not to mention many times the parrots are sick because the store or breeder doesn’t have the funds to handle the extensive veterinary bills, or the knowledge about all of the illnesses and testing that needs to be done.
In some stores, even though the owners do the best they can in retail-type settings, in the long run their budgets do not allow for proper care: diet, toys and veterinary being the most common. Parrots can be difficult to sell, and the business can be unstable with its income. Some hard-to-sell parrots that are a difficult species (for example, large cockatoos) or just a difficult bird in particular can end up staying in the store for years. This can be damaging to their health -- mental and physical. Even without the pressure from new offspring constantly being introduced into the pet trade, rescues are forced to turn away several parrots in need every week, and that is the worst, most helpless feeling in the world for a rescuer.
Do you ever wonder why there isn’t a parrot rescue in every city, or at least one within a reasonable distance for every potential adopter? It isn’t because of a lack of homeless parrots; it is because it takes a special person to commit their lives to a companion parrot, and an even more special person to maintain a rescue. It is a lifetime dedication full of stress and heartbreak, along with much financial burden.
I frequently hear the phrases “I love the birds, I don’t care about the income” in conjunction with “Sorry, I cannot stop breeding.” Breeders and store owners may love their birds, but folks that dedicate their lives to rescue and animal advocacy take this love to a whole other level that is indescribable. People breeding parrots to support themselves financially — for monetary gain — is something that I personally will never understand, and there are many other options that reflect on an individual’s love of birds aside from rescue alone.
The AZ Exotic Bird Rescue, Inc. is a 501(c)3 rescue and maintains a storefront that sells quality food and supplies but does not breed or purchase their birds from breeders — they have birds for adoption, and this type of store not only supports the plight of the parrots, but it is a very successful tactic. Andy's Pet Shop of San Jose, CA has been opened since 1950, and adopts out homeless pets through their store and makes their profits by selling quality supplies. This store is very knowlegable, caring, and is a symbol of success! Another very passionate person, Chris Castles, is a co-director of the ARA project in Costa Rica. This establishment strives and thrives by hosting a breeding program for macaws to be bred, raised and released into the wild — working to replenish the concerning numbers in their natural habitat. At the other end of the spectrum is Dr. O, an avian certified veterinarian in Ohio that is dedicated to bettering the lives of companion parrots in captivity with her medical studies. Other establishments such as Foster Parrots, LTD not only maintain a sanctuary with over 500 parrots, but they dedicate their lives to public education, which is the most important thing above anything else when it comes to the plight of the parrots.
The general public is the future and will determine what happens to the unfortunate captive and wild parrot situation. Education is key, and not just about how to keep a parrot happy and healthy in captivity. It is topics like this that need to be known; it is the knowledge of what goes on behind closed doors that will make all of the difference.
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!