Why should parrots be rescued?

The Problem

Try to imagine a young pregnant woman bringing her two year old child into a facility called “Child Rescue Center,” and explaining that her two year old child cries a lot, is very messy, demands a lot of attention, is very mischievous, and even bites people at times. Imagine her saying, “I’m pregnant now, and I no longer have the time to give him, and I just think he might be happier in another home.” The rescue center takes him in, and he cries for his mother as she walks out the door, never to return.

Unthinkable, isn’t it?

Yet that’s what people are doing with their parrots at parrot rescue centers all around the country. People give up parrots to rescues because they discover that they are noisy, messy, demand a lot of attention, and if allowed their freedom in the residence, very mischievous. They can take an instant dislike to someone, and they won’t hesitate to bite. And don’t think for a minute that a parrot who has bonded with his owner doesn’t suffer just like a little child when he is abandoned.

The fact that so many people were willing to give away something they had paid a lot of money for suggested we may all be headed for serious problems in the future.
-Marc Johnson

Why Should You Be Concerned?

There are two main reasons: first, parrots are our nearest neighbor on the behavioral evolutional tree, and second, we created the problem that puts parrots at risk, both in the wild, and in captivity.

Parrots Are Like Us

Imagine that there were a species of monkey or great ape that could learn to speak a natural human language, say, English or Chinese. How would you feel about such a species? If one said to you, “that hurts me,” you would immediately stop what you were doing to him. You would treat such an animal as almost human.

There is such a species, but not among the monkeys or apes. It is the humble bird. We don’t think a bird can be “human-like” because it has a different body structure; it doesn’t resemble us, but in fact, birds are our closest neighbors in the tree of behavioral evolution.

Behaviorally, parrots are very much like humans:

  • Parrots are intelligent
  • Parrots think in the past, present, and future
  • Parrots can express feelings and emotions, including sympathy and empathy
  • Parrots bond for life (OK, maybe humans don’t always do that)
  • Parrots raise their chicks together, sometimes for up to two years
  • Parrots teach language to their young (yes, parrots do speak their own language, and different flocks have different dialects)
  • Parrots teach their young survival and social skills
  • Parrots like to play, just for the fun of it
  • Some parrots can compose, revise, and perform music (a Cockatiel or green cheeked Conure, for example)
  • While some birds are performing music, others will come just to enjoy the performance
  • Parrots have demonstrated the ability to problem solve without trial and error testing
  • When their trust is violated, parrots require time to regain trust with another person, just as a human would
  • Parrots have a long memory, and live a long time (so don’t get one mad at you)
  • Some birds have navigational skills humans don’t even possess, such as homing pigeons

Scientific Research

Studies done by many researchers, among them Dr. Irene Pepperberg of Brandeis University, and Aimee Morgana, show that parrots have an intelligence level of a two- to five-year-old child. They think in the past, present, and future, and can express feelings and emotion, all of which was once thought to be the exclusive domain of humans.

Most parrots bond for life. They won’t leave the pair bond, except for the death of the partner. They raise their chicks together, and the chicks will remain in the family circle for as long as two years. During this time, the parents and older flock members will teach the younger parrots language, survival, and social skills.

Parrots are fully capable of play, i.e., doing an activity that has no other value than to entertain, and sometimes they sing just for fun. Other birds have been observed coming from some distance just to enjoy the performance, while some arrive and join in the chorus.

Cockatiels have demonstrated the ability to compose music by whistling endless variations of notes until they find a tune which they like.

Dr. Joanna Berger says that her parrot, Tiko, intinsically solved the problem of scratching those hard to reach places on his head and neck with a quill, demonstating that parrots can think about a problem, and come up with a solution without going through trial-and-error testing first.

Parrots, are Intelligent, Thinking, Feeling Beings

Each individual is an empire. When a mine caves in, and closes over the head of a single miner, the life of the community is suspended.

His comrades, their women, their children, gather in anguish at the entrance to the mine, while below them the rescue party scratch with their picks at the bowels of the earth. What are they after? Are they consciously saving one unit of society? Are they freeing a human being as one might free a horse, after computing the work he is still capable of doing? Ten other miners may be killed in an attempted rescue: what inept cost accounting! Of course, it is not a matter of saving one ant out of the colony of ants! They are rescuing a consciousness, an empire whose significance is incommensurable with anything else.
-Antoine de St. Exupéry, «Terre des hommes»

Humans are Responsible

Habitat Destruction

Destruction of tropical bird habitat has been an issue amoung conservationalists for years. The subject is profoundly deep in its causes and solutions. But what’s not in question is the loss many species are suffering. Many parrots species are on the verge of extinction today.

Around the world, the demand for parrots as pets is exacerbating the problem. Hunters may cut down a 200-year-old tree, just to reach a nest with two babies (and sometimes the babies are killed in the process).

Parrotnapping

Parrotnapping is a term we use to describe the taking of parrots from the wild. A parrot is no different than a human in that he has a family, a flock, friends, chicks, a mate, and an excellent memory to remember them long after he has been parrotnapped. He suffers this loss silently, but profoundly, just as would a human who were kidnapped and held in captivity, never to be returned to his family again.

Captive Breeding

Parrots that are captive bred do not suffer from the loss of family, flock, and friends, as far as we know. But in never having these, therein is the loss, even though the parrot may never realize that the loss has occured. “Parrot farms,” as they are referred to, are often horrible places where birds are over bred until finally their bodies give out from the stress. Efforts to stop cruel breeders have largely been unsuccessful.

Two million [parrots] will be sold into captivity this year in America. If only one percent of that figure end up in need of a home each year, that would mean 20,000 homeless intelligent beings would need somewhere to go … each and every year.
-Marc Johnson

Pet Trade Lies

The pet trade exacerbates the problem by advertising myths to discourage adoption, and encourage purchase. For example, baby parrots are advertised by some Petco stores to be better pets because “they think they are human,” which is untrue. Also, potential buyers are advised that older parrots cannot bond with a new owner, which is also untrue. They are promoted as “low maintenance” pets, which is definitely untrue.

The consumer is told that parrots are soft and cuddly and sweet. This may be true for the first two years, but after puberty, and the parrot’s hormones begin flowing, they become noisy, sometimes cranky, and they bite. In reality, parrots do not make good pets, yet they have now become the third most popular animal sold as “pets” in America.

Phenomenal sales encourages more breeding and more deceptions to get the parrots into homes, and the cycle of abandonment continues.

Overpopulation

Overpopulation is becoming a serious concern. Estimates say there may be twenty to sixty million captive parrots living in American homes, and some estimates say that there are two million more parrots being sold every year. Because parrots are intelligent wild animals with behavioral characteristics that make them poorly suited to be a “pet,” it’s probable that fewer than one in five will find good quality, long-term homes. The prospects for the rest are dim, at best.

Comparisons are often made to the dog and cat overpopulation, but there is one major difference that multiplies the problem with parrots: parrots can live thirty to eighty years, depending on the species. That’s two to five times that of a dog or cat. Dog and cat caretakers are likely to outlive their pet, but parrot caretakers, especially those of larger parrots, are not.

Market Saturation

There are no good estimates of how many good parrot caretakes exist in the US, and therefore, no way to estimate when the market for parrots will reach saturation, as it has with dogs and cats.

The basic problem is too many parrots, and not enough qualified homes. The few rescue organizations that are not affiliated with breeders are working hard to place the parrots they have, but with so few homes available, most remain unadopted.

Limited Capacity in Rescues

More than two hundred parrot rescue and sanctuary facilities have been established to handle the growing numbers of cast off parrots only to find themselves quickly filled to capacity. The majority of established sanctuaries operate with waiting lists for birds seeking placement.

The problem has grown steadily and it’s now becoming evident that the human parrot guardian population is growing older and less tolerant of the demands that a companion parrot has on their freedom. Birds purchased 15 or 20 years ago still have a long life ahead of them, and at many rescues, we’re now starting to see many birds who have been in their homes for upwards of 20 years or more.

We’re also seeing many birds given up by people now in their 50’s, 60’s and 70’s who are, as one would expect, facing major illnesses, down-sizing from a large home to something smaller, involved in divorce situations, may have new parrot-intolerant spouses, or having to deal with family members with serious allergies, asthma or medical issues that forbid keeping a parrot in the home.

Abuse

Rescues around the country are reporting horrendous cases of abuse. The worse case we’ve seen is one of a Green Winged Macaw named Lola, who has now found a wonderful home at Foster Parrots. The abuse runs from simple neglect to outright physical violence against the birds. Because they are noisy, some birds are locked up in closets or basements. Some are starved. Some are killed. We have no viable statistics regarding how many of these birds may have been first offered up to sanctuaries who were unable to take them.

Psychological Damage

Because these birds are emotionally and intelectually equivalent to a two- to five-year-old child, the psychological pain inflicted by neglecting, abusing, or abandoning them is the same. The only difference is that a child cries, whereas a parrot suffers in silence.

As with other exotic animals, people are fascinated by the idea of having a parrot as a “pet,” but few are prepared for the level of commitment or the demands of caring for a wild creature who may likely outlive them. The sad reality is that far too many parrots languish in abusive and/or neglectful environments. Avian shelter facilities have reported large numbers of neglected, abused, and abandoned birds entering their programs, with a marked increase in the percentage of younger birds being surrendered by their caretakers.
-Denise Kelly

Euthanization as a “solution”

With parrot rescues, shelters, and sanctuaries overflowing, animal control agencies are turning to euthanization as a “solution” for unwanted parrots, and parrots “who have failed as pets.” Their only crime was being born a beautiful, sweet, intelligent parrot. Now, parrots who have only just begun their long lives are being put to death. This is like euthanizing middle school aged children because there are not enough homes for them (think of the “street children” in Latin America, for example).

In Connecticut, the power company, United Lumination, was trapping feral Quaker parrots, also known as Monk Parakeets, and turning them over to the USDA who was killing them. Before the wanton slaughter was stopped, over 160 birds were killed. We use the word killed because of the inhumane way in which their lives were taken. Had the sanctuary been available, over 160 lives could have been saved.

Future Prospects

From the beginning in 1989 when we began the rescue efforts that resulted in the incorporation of Foster Parrots, Ltd. in 1999, we knew something was wrong.

Just how wrong we could never have imagined. The fact that people were desperate to find a home for a bird that they paid $1,000 or more for just a year or two ago, never mind the $400 to $800 paid for the cage, suggested two things. One, that these people had no idea what they were getting into; and two, that they were dearly concerned about finding a good home for their bird. They were not willing to put their feathered friend up for sale in the classified ads or just give it away to a friend or relative who would only be in the same position of having to find a new home sooner or later. — Marc Johnston

With so many parrots already in homes, and so many being sold, the prospects are dim at best. The solution requires a combination of rescue, retirement, education, and government regulation, but most urgently, the fate of thousands of parrots who are facing euthanization must be considered.

And you say that the battle is over
And you say that the war is all done
Go tell it to those
With the wind in their nose
Who run from the sound of the gun

And write it on the sides
Of the great whaling ships
Or on ice floes where conscience is tossed
With the wild in their eyes
It is they who must die
And it’s we who must measure the loss

There are those who would deal
In the darkness of life
There are those who would tear down the sun
And most men are ruthless
But some will still weep
When the gifts we were given are gone

Now the blame cannot fall
On the heads of a few
It’s become such a part of the race
It’s eternally tragic
That that which is magic
Be killed at the end of the glorious chase

From young seals to great whales
From waters to wood
They will fall just like weeds in the wind
With fur coats and perfumes
And trophies on walls
What a hell of a race to call men

-David Mallett, excerpts from “You Say That The Battle Is Over”

— Dr. Mike

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