The displaced captive bird population is increasing at a frightening rate. Like other exotic "pets," parrots are often much more difficult to keep than people anticipate because they are wild animals like tigers, monkeys, and reptiles, not domesticated as human companions for thousands of generations like dogs and cats. High care demands, behavioral challenges, and an extremely long life expectancy leave many parrots unwanted and displaced as they mature. Only a small fraction of birds — especially large parrots — will remain in their first home for their entire lifetime. Unfortunately, public education has not yet caught up to these realities of birdkeeping. The throwaway bird population has recently boomed as people have tired of the now mature, demanding exotic parrots they purchased during the affluent 90s.
Although parrot breeding is expensive and labor-intensive, many people have chosen to breed their birds as a hobby or business. Some do it as a ill-conceived solution for un-petlike wild breeding behaviors. As their parrots reach maturity and start to show aggression, many people find it easier to place them in "breeding situations" to produce more temporarily sweet babies than it is to work to understand and tolerate their birds' natural behaviors or their frustrations with their artificial captive life. Others breed birds because they want to supplement their income, or because they enjoy bringing new life into the world. These are not necessarily bad motives, but as the displaced captive parrot population has exploded, it is now critical for aviculturists to reassess the impact of their business or hobby on the lifetime well-being of the animals they love.
Hand-feeding baby birds is extremely time-consuming. Some breeders attempt to cut corners and increase their profit margins by selling unweaned hand-fed chicks for a buyer to "finish off," claiming that this ensures a strong bird/human bond. While selling unweaned babies is now frowned upon, most breeders still wean their baby parrots far too early — long before a baby would be independent of its parents in the wild and properly socialized for a successful, happy adult life. Many also still clip babies' wings before they learn to fly (fledge) in order to make them easier to manage. Mature flying, adult behavioral modeling, and proper weaning are closely linked behaviors. A wild baby bird must be able to travel to locate food and learn how to be a bird from its parents. Forced weaning, lack of exposure to adult bird role models, and premature wing-clipping can cause long-term physical and emotional health problems that can permanently undermine a parrot's well-being. This results in the majority of baby birds hitting the pet market programmed for long-term failure as pets. The most conscientious breeders make little, if any, money from their time investment.
Large-scale "parrot mill" breeding operations, such as Kaytee Preferred Birds,* which supplies PETsMART, are now producing thousands of chicks each year, with a goal of producing even more! They have a network of breeders that mass-produce both parent-raised and hand-fed birds, which are transferred to hand-feeding facilities and stores at an early age. While it is in the company's best interest to raise these birds in relatively clean, regulated, disease-free facilities, it is next to impossible to properly, personally socialize and educate baby parrots under such assembly line, parent-free production breeding conditions. To make matters worse, when these birds are sold through warehouse pet stores like PETsMART and PETCO, buyers rarely receive quality products or solid care advice from the inexperienced, transient staff often employed at these stores. In addition, the display and marketing of gentle, beautiful, juvenile birds in pet stores leads to many being purchased on impulse, and a parrot purchased on impulse without a foundation of education rarely finds a lifelong home.
Because of all of these factors, thousands and thousands of captive parrots are displaced each year, and bird rescue and adoption shelters and sanctuaries are full to capacity with unreleasable wild animals that are extremely difficult to place in proper new homes.
It is time for those of us who love birds to work to tackle the displaced bird problem! The solution is threefold:
1) Education BEFORE Commitment
The public MUST be educated about how demanding captive parrots and other birds can be before they purchase or adopt a bird. Thousands of captive parrots lose their homes each year because they were bought on impulse by someone unaware of a bird's potential noise, mess, aggression, destructiveness, longevity, expense, time commitment, and daily care needs. It is a rare person or family that can make a lifetime commitment to a parrot — they are wild animals! If you are thinking of purchasing or adopting a bird, first read current bird books and magazines, join a local bird club to learn from other members, and volunteer at a local bird adoption and rescue organization for hands-on bird care experience. If you are an experienced birdkeeper, share your knowledge with novices whenever possible. Be creative, and be honest! Describe not only the wonderful things that you enjoy about your bird, but the challenges you face every day in caring for him or her. Explain why your lifestyle and personality are suitable for birdkeeping, and be clear about what a big commitment and sacrifice living with a parrot demands.
2) Don't Breed Birds!
Breeders and pet stores must stop supplying more and more "fresh" baby birds to a highly uneducated market that is already spilling over with displaced birds at the other end. Why bring more birds into the world when the ones who are already here don't have homes? If you are currently a bird breeder, consider taking down your nestboxes, giving your bird pairs a comfortable retirement together, and volunteering during your spare time for a local bird adoption group.
3) Adopt, Don't Buy!
People who love birds, know how to properly care for them, and are dedicated to the rigors of birdkeeping MUST adopt and nurture the displaced birds already in the system. If you have done your research and are ready to make a commitment to your first parrot, or you have room and time to add another bird to your life, contact your local bird adoption group to find a wonderful second-hand parrot in need of a home instead of purchasing a bird from a pet store or breeder. You have the ability to make a critical difference in the life of a displaced parrot!
Avian Welfare Issues: Index
Learn more about the issues impacting birds in captivity by reading our position statements and these recommended articles. Categories include:
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