Parrot Rescue Requires Special Commitment
In many ways, a parrot is an ideal pet. Parrots are intelligent and social, and they frequently outlive other domesticated animals. But those same traits can also make it complicated to meet their needs and can often cause owners to give them up to rescue groups.
Finding a new home for a parrot isn't as simple as you might imagine. Rehoming a parrot is an individualized process that requires time and effort — and some very specialized knowledge.
A Personal Touch
Sheila Blanchette was inspired to start a foster program for birds at the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (MSPCA) at Nevins Farm in Methuen, Mass., when she met Charlie, a Quaker parrot. He’d plucked out all his feathers, something birds do when they’re stressed and neglected. “He wasn’t a happy guy with people,” she recalls. “He wasn’t going to do well in the shelter — he was going to keep doing what he was doing.”
Blanchette took him home where she could give him individual attention and figure out what made him tick. “We started slow and watched what he did,” she says. “When we got near the cage, did he yell at us, did he attack us? What food did he like? What drove him?”
She and her husband spent between two and five hours each day providing Charlie with enrichment and interaction. “Some days less when we could tell he wasn’t in the mood — maybe just a hand on the cage,” she says.
Blanchette offered Charlie a wide variety of foods and watched what he picked out of his bowl. Discovering that sunflower seeds were his favorite gave her a way to start working with him. She also provided different toys and discovered that he loved anything he could shred, even just a ball of tissues. “He thought that was just fantastic, and we noticed the plucking started to stop,” she says.
After almost nine months, Charlie started to ask for attention from her husband, and the Blanchettes decided it was time for him to find an adoptive home.
Flocking to Rescues
Not all parrots take nine months of rehab, but all need individual attention — and that has to be multiplied by the increasing number of parrots being surrendered to shelters. In 2008, MSPCA took in 11 parrots; by 2013 that number had more than tripled, to 37. But what really complicates the situation is that given their long lifespans, even parrots with terrific owners are probably going to need a new home eventually. Ann Brooks, of the Phoenix Landing Foundation, says that they don’t even like to use the word “rescue” and discourage the idea of a “forever home” for a parrot.
“Birds live so long compared to other pets that it’s inevitable that they’re going to need several homes,” she says. “We try to make sure birds have a succession of good homes.”
Phoenix Landing, which has its headquarters in Asheville, N.C., and foster homes in seven states, has taken in almost 2,400 birds. And the foundation doesn't just foster these birds — it takes lifetime responsibility for them. Every adoption contract says that the bird must come back to Phoenix Landing when it needs a new home. In fact, the group takes in fewer new birds now because it’s so busy rehoming birds already in the system.
Phoenix Landing has all the parrots it can handle: There is usually a waiting list of about 200 birds. “We have people who’ve been waiting to get their birds into our program for years,” Brooks says. “These are people who care enough to wait; they don’t want to dump that bird at the shelter.”
The Next Good Home
If you do think you have the time to devote to a parrot, adoption is an excellent option; as they say at Phoenix Landing, “Be that next good home.” Parrots do tend to bond to one person, but that doesn’t mean they can’t adjust to a new home. “If you’re gone, they can move on,” Blanchette says. “Birds are up front when they’re not sure about you, but then once they know the pattern, they catch on fast.”
As with any pet, realistic expectations and a good match are important. “We tell people, if you want something you can hold and snuggle all the time, go get a cat or dog,” Brooks says. “If you want something that talks, turn on the radio. Don’t have these expectations and then blame it on the bird.”
And even within the same species, parrots have different personalities and preferences. “They’re individuals,” Blanchette says. “One Amazon may look like the next Amazon, but their personalities are totally different. One can be a love bug; one just wants sunflowers.”
At the MSPCA, the in-person meeting is an important part of the adoption process. Blanchette tells of one cockatoo who showed such distress when anyone came near — flailing about and sometimes biting people — that they began to wonder how he’d find a home.
“We had a gentleman come in, and we explained, you have to go slow, do certain things. He walked in there and that cockatoo just walked down to him and put his head down,” she says. “Sometimes the bird picks the person.”
An in-person introduction isn't always an option, though. Phoenix Landing operates in several states, so it’s not so easy for birds to meet potential adopters. Instead, staff members at Phoenix Landing make sure a home is a good fit by starting out with a temporary placement. “We place the bird in foster status for about two months, and we require [potential adopters] to go to classes,” Brooks says. “Even if they've never met before, we find they develop a connection.”
Despite the different approaches, both agree that the reward of seeing that connection in a new successful home is what keeps them going.
“When I foster and I have them at home, they love me. Then I bring them to their new friend and I’m nobody,” Blanchette says. “I love seeing that. That’s why I like doing what I do at the rescue, because you know it’s the perfect bond.”
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