Liz Wilson tells us more about Parrot rescues.
With the Parrot’s long potential life span, everyone in the Parrot world needs to confront the question of where a psittacine bird should go when it can no longer stay in its present home. After all, most medium and large-sized Parrots will outlive their humans. Plus, there are multiple other reasons why Parrots need a new home.
Owners without a trusted friend or relative who already has an excellent relationship with a Parrot need to look carefully at the options that are offered.
When deciding the future of a pet that doesn’t wish to become a breeder, there are two alternatives at this time: sanctuary and/or adoption (so-called “rescue”) organizations. So it is necessary first to decide whether adoption or sanctuary are best for an individual Parrot – then it is necessary to evaluate specific organizations to decide which is the right one for this individual’s future.
For background on this article, I talked extensively with several luminaries from the world of Parrot adoption/sanctuary: Sybil Erden – founder and director of the Oasis Sanctuary (https://the-oasis.org/); Bonnie Kenk – the founder and now retired director of the Parrot Education and Adoption Centre [PEAC]; Karen Webster – founder and director of the Anchorage, Alaska branch of PEAC; and Ann Brooks – founder and director of the Phoenix Landing Foundation (www.phoenixlanding.org).
All these organizations are in the USA. PEAC is an adoption or rehoming organization, the Oasis is a sanctuary which does no adoptions, and the Phoenix Landing only rehomes right now but is in the process of building a sanctuary. The Gabriel Foundation is another excellent organization that provides both adoption and sanctuary.
In the interest of full disclosure, I am on the adoption committee of the San Diego, California (www.peac.org). And I’m on the Anchorage, Alaska (www.akpeac.org) chapters of PEAC. I am also on the Board of Directors of the Phoenix Landing Foundation. I have also physically visited all the organizations mentioned here (as well as many others), but I have not visited Gabriel’s newest home.
According to those I interviewed, I need first to correct a romantic but totally erroneous label. Most Parrots needing new homes are not in life-and-death situations (like being trapped in a burning building, for instance), so they do not need to be “rescued.” Therefore, according to my illustrious interviewees, to call most adoption organizations “rescue” facilities is totally inaccurate. And as an aside, buying a Parrot from a “bad” pet store is also not a “rescue,” it is a purchase.
Adoption or Sanctuary?
True sanctuaries do not generally adopt out their birds. Instead, their function is to permanently take in birds that cannot succeed in the human habitat, or who would prefer not to be forced into close interaction with people. For example, old retired wild-caught breeders are often perfect candidates for sanctuaries. Adoption or rehoming organizations do what their name implies: they find a new home for your Parrot.
So in choosing between a sanctuary and an adoption group, you need to consider what future would be best for your own Parrot’s personality.
The Future of an Undisciplined Young Macaw
A while back I talked extensively with a nice person who had an adolescent blue and yellow Macaw that was totally out of control, and she needed to give him up. She was considering sending the bird to a sanctuary that did no rehoming because she was afraid that the bird might go from failed home to failed home if put into an adoption situation, though she admitted he really liked people.
I disagreed emphatically with the idea of sanctuary, as I hate the idea of sentencing a people-oriented young Parrot to a lifetime with little or no human contact. Most sanctuaries have very few people and a whole lot of birds. This means an individual animal will get little or no human attention. For example, there is one sanctuary I have heard about here in the USA that has 400 birds, cared for by an older couple. How much human attention could those birds get?
So this youngster who had never known anything but human companionship and being a beloved pet would be sentenced to 50-60+ years without human interaction. As far as I was concerned, this person’s failure to handle the bird successfully did not mean no one else could succeed with him. Nor did it mean he was automatically doomed to fail in future homes.
When I talked frankly with the owner, she confessed that she couldn’t bear the thought of the bird bouncing from home to home, which is why she thought he would be “safer” in a sanctuary. In other words, this was about what made the owner most comfortable, not what was necessarily best for the Parrot. Much to my delight, the owner finally decided to give the Macaw to an extremely experienced person who had no trouble handling the bird, so she could foster and then rehome him. Eureka!
According to Sybil Erden, this was the right thing to do for this youngster. It matters not what the owners wants. It matters what is best for the bird, and as far as Erden is concerned, birds with good pet potential “are immediately out of the loop.” Indeed, a sanctuary should be the last resort and only for birds that cannot be human companions.
Karen Webster says, “Most birds we get calls about have no business being in a sanctuary. They have just been confused by uneducated owners.” Bonnie Kenk agrees. She said that most of the calls PEAC receives are about pet birds, not old breeders. Ann Brooks estimates that maybe one out of every thirty birds that are surrendered to her organization should be in sanctuary setting. Indeed, Brooks added that sometimes it is difficult for owners to have sufficient perspective regarding their bird’s future, especially if there are serious behaviour problems.
In situations like this, I would suggest that people consult with those experienced with adoption and behaviour to get a clearer idea of what is best for the bird. Adoption people can tell you that many birds that fail in one environment often succeed brilliantly in another.
Selecting the Right Organization
The best rehoming organizations work extremely hard at educating and training people to successfully live with Parrots, often running classes for little or no charge. When they take in a bird to rehome, excellent organizations provide foster homes with specially trained personnel to help resolve any behaviour issues that might threaten the bird’s future in a new home, as well as get a feel for the best type of home the bird will need. For instance, a rowdy Amazon might not do well with a very meek person. Whereas a high-strung Grey Parrot might become a basket case if placed in a household with a passel of boisterous children.
These excellent organizations also interview and screen possible new adopters to make certain they offer a bird the best chance of success in the future. Potential homes are visited and all family members are interviewed. The last thing they would want would be to place a Parrot in an environment when only one person living there wants it.
And the very best kind of organization does not turn its back on Parrots once they are placed in new homes. Indeed, these organizations insist adopters maintain contact with them, keeping them updated as to how the birds are doing. And if ever the bird needs to be rehomed again, which isn’t infrequent considering how long the birds can live, the organization steps in to accomplish an easy transition to another good home.
Investigate the Possibilities!
When choosing either type of organization, the interviewees agreed it is crucial that you do your research. Under NO circumstance should you automatically assume those pretty pictures on a website are reality, as the truth might be horrifically different. Before surrendering your bird, you need to visit the facility yourself or question someone you trust who has.
Also, if you are considering a sanctuary, you need to ask if the organization is financially sustainable. After all, a Parrot can live a long time, so an organization has to be set up to provide care for long into the future, outliving most founders. So that nice old couple with too many birds who are barely scraping by is NOT a safe place for your Parrot’s future.
A couple of years ago, I was asked to develop a list of questions to ask Parrot adoption and/or sanctuary organizations, to get a feel for how upstanding that organization is, and I came up with the following. Please note: NO list of questions, no matter how wonderfully answered, can replace an in-person visit.
Questions to ask:
1. How old is the organization and how long have the owners been involved with Parrots?
Do they have an established track record or did they just get into the world of Parrots a couple of years ago?
2. Is the organization a licensed charity?
Licensed charities in the USA must make their financial records available to the public and this is important when assessing the organization’s financial health. If they are not financially healthy, they will not be able to keep your bird safe in the future.
3. How many birds are at the facility (if they have one) or in foster homes?
4. What is the average number of birds that are taken in per month?
# 3 & 4 will give you a feel for the size of the operation
5. How many were adopted out in the last year?
If it is an adoption organization, one would hope they rehomed as many birds as they took in.
6. Do they ever turn birds away?
If they take in any bird no matter what, this is not good. It sounds like they do not yet realize that no one can save them all, meaning they are inexperienced, and not grounded in reality.
7. Do they breed birds or place birds with breeders?
Most good rescues do not place birds in breeding facilities.
8. Is facility open or closed to public?
Are they getting free birds for a zoo?
9. How many employees or volunteers do they have at the facility?
This will give you a feel for how much attention your Parrot might get.
10. What foods are fed?
A good diet is crucial to physical and mental health.
11. How often are the birds fed?
Should be once a day at minimum.
12. Who is their avian veterinarian?
If they don’t have one, hang up!
13. May you have the veterinarian’s contact information so you can call him/her?
If they will not divulge this information, something is fishy.
14. When was the last time the vet inspected the facility?
Should have been at least within a few months
15. Can you get names of people who adopted birds as references?
If they can offer no references, that is fishy.
16. Are the birds quarantined when new ones are brought in?
Quarantine is crucial to protecting the birds already in the facility
17. Where are new birds quarantined?
Ideally, should be in a separate facility or building. At minimum, a room at the other end of the building.
18. What types of enrichment do the birds get?
Enrichment is crucial for intelligent animals like Parrots
19. How big are the cages and do they have outside flights? If so, how many birds are in each and how big are they?
Too small cages and overcrowded cages and flights are dangerous.
20. What kind of financial planning do they have to care for the birds in the future?
If they are not financially strong, there are no guarantees they can properly care for your bird in the future. This is especially important with sanctuaries.
20. Who will take over when the current caretakers retire and what are the legalities set in place for that?
As mentioned earlier, medium-sized and large Parrots have similar life spans as people. So someone must be in the wings, waiting to step in when needed in the future.
Regarding #20: Several years ago, there was a nightmare situation in the area where I used to live. The founder of a Parrot adoption and sanctuary organization died, leaving hundreds of birds behind, and her surviving family members put many of the birds up for auction.
Those who had donated their Parrots were horrified, and many tried unsuccessfully to recover their animals. I am sure they thought their birds were “safe” in that facility, but they were sadly wrong. When I discussed this situation with Erden, she felt this organization was not set up properly. If it had been, the birds would’ve been the property of the organization. It would’ve been impossible for the family to auction them off.
So please, do your homework and do your best to do what is best for your Parrot.
Read about some of the charities and rescues we support here.