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Home » 2009 - Issue 3, Companion Parrots, Issue

Unwanted Birds - Problems and Solutions

By Dorothy Schwarz


Photographs © Dorothy Schwarz

Are birds considered anything more than an object we can buy and sell? At present the answer is that they aren’t. They are classed as pets. Pets are bred for our amusement and pleasure. This is a profitable business, not only for breeders, but also for traders supplying birds’ food, equipment and toys. Opposing these practices are welfare organizations and charities, many of which are written about in the avian press. Refuges and sanctuaries provide care for unwanted birds. Those involved in conservation want wild parrots’ habitats protected, and their removal from the wild prevented.

Thus many conflicting interests are pulling against one another. Pet industry people make money from their activities. Many of us who keep dogs and cats are hard pressed to source food for them which has been ethically produced. And we can hold similar misgivings about how are pet birds are bred and reared. Many breeder birds are kept in sterile environments that pay no heed to the intelligence or emotional needs of the parents. Some breeders will ensure that hens lay double clutches. Many parent birds are rarely allowed to rear their chicks to fledging. But it is not true that parent-reared birds make less suitable pets. They know they are birds, unlike totally hand reared ones.

My hope - along with many others who love birds - is that many breeders will stop flooding the market with birds, and that birds will be bred with care and acknowledgement of their complex needs. I believe that we, the bird-owning and bird-loving public, must promote better practices by only frequenting those breeders or pet stores who practise the best methods, and also by choosing to support those conservation charities that we admire.

I cannot believe that anyone who supports Parrots International could accept the catching of wild birds for the pet trade, and although the ban on importing into Europe, and previously the USA, has prevented the cruel capture of millions of birds, the trade still flourishes in other parts of the world.  In the USA, where imported birds have been forbidden for some years, smuggling still continues across the Mexican border.

As concerned parrot owners, we must support all initiatives to persuade governments that still allow exports, to cease granting licenses and permission.  However much we may hope this happens in the long term, there are now many thousands of parrots, both wild caught and captive bred, who for a multiplicity of reasons find themselves homeless.  What follows is an account of one bird lover to give a few such birds a second chance.

Two well adjusted Greys
I acquired my two pet Red-tailed Greys from Barrett Watson, a UK breeder.  Bred with care, they were properly fledged and weaned. So that’s one way to prevent unwanted birds - never support careless, thoughtless breeders, and only buy properly weaned, fledged and socialised birds that are already adapted to captive bird situations.  My Greys have been a joy from the first moment I bought them, and have remained so.

Reasons for relinquishing birds
Unwanted birds are given up for various reasons;  they bit, their owner died, they screamed incessantly for attention, a marriage broke up, a new baby intervened - a slew of reasons, some I can sympathise with, others I feel the owners hadn’t considered carefully enough before they bought a wild caught bird, or one that needed constant, thoughtful attention. I built an outdoor aviary for my pet birds, and have in the last 9 years taken in  other parrots and parakeets.

Archie and Lena
Our local zoo rehomed a pair of elderly, wild caught Orange-winged Amazons with me.  Separated by the zoo for over ten years, they had lived together for 20 in a previous home.  I put them together again and elderly Lena promptly laid an egg.  In the six years they have lived here, she lays three or four eggs each year and sits on the clutch, attended devotedly by Archie.  The eggs never hatch.  Lena must be in her late 30s or early 40s. Their absorption with one another is touching to see, but like all happily married couples, they have the occasional squabble.

The Timnehs
Mirt - wild caught, age unknown, was the first.  She had been kept in a cardboard box in a utility room for eight months by a couple who had inherited her from an aunt.  They gave her up to my friend’s small rescue home.  “We’ve no time for her,” they said.  My friend, suggested that I take her, along with another Grey.  She was plucked, unable to fly, lunging and biting.  I had enormous help in the gradual rehabilitation of Mirt from friends, and from an online support group, ParrotBas. Sadly, through my own thoughtless mistake, Mirt flew out of the aviary and was never found; I fear a hawk got her, but in the five years she lived here, she relearned how to fly and learned to step up.

The second bird was a Red-tailed Grey I called Solomon.  He had been imported six months previously, and sold as a pet to an unfortunate young woman who was reduced to tears at the behaviour of the growling, unapproachable bird.  He was already terminally ill with Aspergillosus when he came here.  I provided an open-sided shelter with fir branches for him to hide behind.  The vet said he wasn’t in pain, but treatment would have been impossible.  If I approached, he would hide.  Casper, my pet Grey, used to perch beside him, and I once heard him chirrup to the younger bird.  I hope Solomon’s last weeks were less full of terror.

Timmy came next.  Timmy had screamed, and bitten the owner’s husband, and consequently was banished to a cage in the dining room.  A companion for Mirt, I hoped.  Timmy didn’t act like a cock bird, and a DNA test agreed.  Timmy became Timi, and her frequent exclamation of “Shut up you b****!” in an angry male voice gradually faded.  She and Mirt never became buddies.

One September, I was asked to rehome an elderly Timneh whose 85-year-old owner had entered a Home. The new carer couldn’t cope with the biting, plucking bird.  “He’s vicious.”  She waved her bandaged fingers under my nose almost with pride; she wouldn’t stop trying to pet him through the cage bars.  BigBoy, as I named him, wasn’t vicious - he had simply been afraid.  Using a sunflower seed as a lure, within two weeks I taught him to step up onto a stick, and after a few more weeks, he’d even allow Mirt and Timi to roost in the shed with him.  Perhaps his name had been Captain, for he would find a secluded spot in the aviary and repeat “Hello, Captain” in a quavering voice.  The following spring, he flew to me and died in my arms.  He must have been in his late 20s.  Our vet did a post mortem.  He told me that a long-term diet of sunflower seeds had given him gout, and hastened his death from a stroke.

Another male wild caught Timneh joined our little flock.  Sid, left alone in a small flight for 10 years, had stopped flying.  He was chronically lame from an untreated broken leg.  After several months in the aviary, he began to make little hop flights.  He lost his lunging habit, but a sudden movement on my part would still elicit a bite.  He communicated in what I imagine was West African Timneh language - particular little chirrups of delight when I came to feed him.  One of my happiest moments in rehabilitation came when Sid tentatively stepped up onto my hand for a monkey nut and scuttled off again.

As any bird keeper knows, tragedy can strike quickly.  In spite of all our precautions, one December night a rodent entered the aviary and tore out Sid’s throat in his nest box.  Exhaustive searches never found any traces of rats, but a stoat was found dead nearby.

As I prefer birds to have same species companions, I was able to add Vernon, a large handsome male Timneh to the aviary.  Vernon needed a new home because he was becoming too attached to a certain Red-tailed Grey in his previous aviary, and his owner didn’t want to risk breeding hybrids.  Vernon and Timi have never bonded, but copy behaviour from one another.  Vernon will do a wing raise because Timi does, and Timi will ask for a treat with Vernon’s special chirrup.

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