Author: Anne Feldhacker

Parrots are not pets. It is not mutually beneficial for parrots to live with us. Parrots are more intelligent and more empathetic than we, as humans, have even begun to understand. Parrots deserve to live their lives with their families, in the rain-soaked jungles, dense forests and fog shrouded mountains of the world. Unfortunately, as usually happens when human beings get involved, millions of parrots worldwide will never have the chance to live with their own families in their natural habitat. If you have never actually lived with a parrot and worked to understand its motivations, fears, unending memory, sense of humor and sense of loyalty, this concept of parrots not being pets may sound like a hysterical response to a nonexistent problem.

Let me help you understand why this is a very existent problem. The most widely publicized attempt at understanding a parrots intellect, by human criteria, is a university study. That study has estimated the learning capability of an African Grey parrot to approximate that of a five year-old human being. Think about these implications. If you have ever spent time with a five year old, you know what their memories are like; how they soak up everything they see and hear and how their learning grows like a wild fire in a high wind. We take that mind and put it in a cage in our living room and wonder why so many of these captive birds literally go insane. 

What does this have to do with adopting an older parrot versus buying a baby? Thousands of loving, brilliant and sensitive older birds are abandoned each year because people just dont want them anymore. These birds have not had a choice in the decision. These birds feel very lost and scared and have no idea what is going to happen to them next. Yes, they really do understand that the person they loved is gone, and they really do feel emotional pain and enormous fear when this happens. They have no control over what is going on and for a mind that knows it should simply fly to higher ground and find its flock for safety and comfort, this feeling is truly horrible. These birds need emotional nurturing as much as you and I do and, if they have lived in more than one home, they have very real fears and mistrust.

The amazing phenomenon is that most of these birds will bounce back within months if they get the chance to live with someone who loves them. They will always carry their experiences with them, and be more afraid of life, for the rest of their life, than they were before, but they will love you with all of themselves if just given the chance. After having had to stay in a pet store (most people sell their unwanted bird through pet stores or classified ads) or rescue shelter with many other birds, an opportunity to be back in a home with people who care for them is a chance at finding their flock and being safe again.

Over my years of living with parrots, all of whom are older rescued birds, it has taken anywhere from two days to two years, to & (still counting) for my birds to fully recover, fully relax and, in most cases, become fully feathered again. Many parrots, large and small, pull their feathers out when they are stressed, sick or bored. If you had the mind of a five-year-old and were given attention for an hour or two a day, lived in a cage that you rarely got out of and ate the same thing every day, you would pull your feathers out also.

One of my birds was kept in the foyer of the house in which he lived because he made too much noise to be closer to the family. When I finally met him, he had a few feathers on his wings and on the top of his head. He was completely picked clean everywhere else. He had lived this way for several years, completely ignored, and even spoke in voices that sounded far away since his people were never near him. He was a brilliant, loving bird who destroyed himself because his family wouldnt pay attention to him, as if it were his fault. After four or five months of living with me, his feathers were back, with the exception of his tail feathers. He never seemed to be able to grow them back fully, perhaps never believing he was worthy of them. He sang, though, at the top of his little lungs, a song about his name that he had learned as a baby bird. He laughed a huge laugh whenever I even giggled and was a huge presence in my home. He didnt live for very much longer because the extent of the damage done to his mind was too large, but he demonstrated intense love when he was here and I am a better person for having known him.

Experiencing his loss helped me understand to an even greater extent how important rescuing a bird is. Watching him return to relative physical health as quickly as he did proved to me that, no matter how damaged a bird may be, these beings have an amazing amount of survival ability and an overwhelming desire to live and to love.

Am I a gifted bird healer? No. I didnt do anything special. I didnt do anything other than love him (they do feel that, you know), leave him alone when he wanted to be left alone, and let him sing, talk, scream, and play out of the cage whenever he desired. Usually, all it takes to bring a bird back to some sort of mental health is being there for him, paying attention to what he needs. Talking to him, feeding him what he seems to like to eat, even just watching television with him and letting him come to you if he wants to, allows a bird a chance to grow toward you in his own time. Thats it just be there for them, in as non-threatening and reassuring way as possible. The birds sense of security and safety will grow a little every day. Every day is worth it. These parrots are amazing friends and worth more than all of the cleaning, feeding, time and noise that is involved in the experience.

All of that aside, when you give a bird a second chance instead of buying a baby, you will eventually reduce, by one, the number of baby birds produced for sale. That means that you have reduced, by one, the number of birds that will suffer a miserable, lonely adulthood. That alone is hugely important. I acknowledge that my view on this is a very stern one, and I realize that not all people, especially those who breed birds, would agree. I must tell you, though, that although there are, undoubtedly, many ethical, gifted breeders out there, my view speaks to the larger issue of humanitys responsibility to respect and to safeguard species we have learned to exploit. This view, joined with incidents of breeders and pet stores selling unweaned baby birds who die from holes that are burned through their little crops, because the person who purchased them didnt know how warm to make their food (the pet store, and you would recognize the name, told the purchaser not to worry, she could come back and get another one if it died), and the fact that a certain seed company is running what amounts to bird mills to keep major chain pet stores supplied to ensure their future financial success has proven to me that protecting the rights or feelings of independent, decent bird breeders fades in importance when placed face to face with what amounts to unregulated torture and killing of baby birds. To address the issue of the emotional impact this production has on the parent birds would be to delve into an arena so dark as to be forbidding. Therefore, I leave my statements where they fall, placing a focused light on the need to prevent as much suffering as possible, on a personal level, and change, by one, the way we, as a society, do business. There is no denying that we have created an entire population of misery, an entire population of emotionally lost and suffering adult birds with nowhere to go. Although certain aspects of the current status quo are dark and seem hopeless, the fact remains that we can still change the lives of so many amazing birds. Each of us has the ability to help, to listen, to give the time and energy necessary to become an abandoned birds flock. Please become a place for even one of these birds to go. Please consider sharing your home and your love with these very deserving, very special birds.

A fairly comprehensive list of bird rescue foundations is available at www.worldparrottrust.org/WPWA/biglist.html , but dont limit yourself to rescue foundations. Remember that older birds for sale anywhere are abandoned, and if they seem to be picking feathers, or abnormally thin, or in a situation that you, as a human being, would not want to be in, please help the bird.