Avian Welfare Resource Center from the The Avian Welfare Coalition (AWC) is a grassroots network of representatives from avian welfare, animal protection, and humane organizations dedicated to the ethical treatment and protection of birds living in captivity and in their natural habitats. The mission of the AWC is to prevent the abuse, exploitation, and suffering of captive birds, and to address the crucial issues of rescue, placement, and sanctuary for displaced birds. The AWC also supports efforts to insure the survival of wild birds and the conservation of their natural habitats.



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Exotic Birds Are Not Pets, Really:
They require care and accommodation many people are unprepared to give

by Morgan Henderson

Originally Published in The Philadelphia Inquirer, July 24, 2003

I was delighted to read that the lost Congo African grey parrot at the Abington SPCA, is now safely back home ("After proving ownership, family and parrot unite," July 22). Unfortunately, these happy endings are rare, although with persistence and publicity, many more lost birds are recovered than one would ever imagine.

In the article, the Abington SPCA spoke of people trying to claim Fire, a lost Congo African Grey parrot, as their own.

A word of warning: If you are tempted to adopt, or even steal, a valuable bird like Fire to resell, don't.

Yes, exotic caged birds may seem to be the latest popular pet fad, after pot-bellied pigs and fainting goats. In fact, the market for them is flooded. When they can't be resold, many end up in under-funded, understaffed sanctuaries.

I often hear people react to my African grey and macaw by saying: "I always wanted a bird. When I get the money, I'll buy one." Before you buy or adopt a parrot, macaw, cockatoo, or African grey, read this:

Exotic caged birds are wild creatures. They are not toys, fads, Christmas gifts or even, really, pets. They are not like dogs and cats, which have been domesticated and know how to thrive in human company. Just a generation or two ago, parrots were free and wild before being captured for import to the United States. (New laws require all birds to be domestically bred, though smuggling persists.)

We got our yellow-collared mini-macaw three years ago, knowing nothing about birds other than those that visited our feeders. Suddenly my husband and I were syringe-feeding a baby bird. Then we learned that improper feeding technique could kill it, so returned it to the seller for weaning. (Better to buy from a knowledgeable breeder than a pet store.)

That was just the beginning. On average, it takes us two hours a day to feed, clean (including cages), shower (in the tub) and provide out-of-cage play time for our macaw and Congo African grey. Each.

Exotic birds are sensitive and intelligent, emotionally and intellectually. Think of them having a 5-year-old human brain with a 2-year-old human's moods and imprisoned in a cage for a lifetime that, with proper care, can reach 80 years. Birds without play and stimulation become mean, depressed or mentally ill. They need care, feeding, play and attention every day. You cannot skip a day's care, even if you are sick, divorcing, or in a personal crisis. As Lancaster bird specialist Chet Fuhrman says, "You cannot go on vacation and leave a parrot alone without a well qualified person to tend it in your absence."

Now let's consider what buying an exotic bird will do to your lifestyle: No more Teflon pans (Teflon fumes, undetectable to humans, kill birds). No more smoking or hair spray or perfumed candles. No temperature highs, lows, or sudden drafts. No ceiling fans, unscreened windows or doors. (A friend opened an upstairs window two inches. Within minutes both parakeets had flown upstairs and out the window, gone forever.)

Assume your bird has now reached two or three years old. Suddenly what was cute and cuddly turns monster. Going through bewildering hormonal changes at puberty, your bird may have permanent personality changes — for the worse. It may decide it hates you and loves your husband, or vice versa. Yet it still needs daily attention and care.

Maybe you marry or have a baby. Maybe your aging parent moves in. Overwhelmed, you move the bird to a back room. Feeling abandoned, the bird screams for attention. If you live in an apartment, the neighbors complain. The bird becomes bored and screams louder. It does not understand why its family is punishing it. It begins plucking out its feathers and bites anyone who approaches.

Finally, exhausted and not knowing what else to do, your family puts an ad in the newspaper to sell the bird, or gives it to a friend, or donates it to a bird sanctuary "where it can be with other birds." But your bird has not known other birds; you are its only flock.

In a sanctuary "orphanage" the foster-bird grieves for its lost home and family. Eventually someone may adopt it, but it is bewildered and terrified. It passes from home to home, increasingly unhappy, suspicious of humans, and difficult to handle.

We adopted our Congo African grey through BirdloveSanctuary from a Pennsylvania family that, after 10 years of loving and consistent care, became worn out from having to plan their lives around a bird.

Oliver's original bird-mom recently wrote to say, "I wish I had known what it takes to raise a bird when I was thinking of getting Oliver."

Amen. If you bring a parrot into your home, be prepared to ensure that someone will be there — with discipline and consistency — for the next 40 to 80 years.


Copyright © 2003 Morgan Henderson

All material Copyright © 2002–2010 Avian Welfare Coalition, unless otherwise noted. Contact us to request reprint permission.

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