HOW TO SAVE UNWANTED PARROTS
By Dani Clevenger
“Unwanted Parrots;” a sad, ugly topic that many breeders shy away from and rescue organizations loudly discuss. “Adopt, don’t shop!” we are told, and how could we disagree as we see the overflowing bird rescues and see the numerous Craigslist ads for birds that we know are unwanted? Unwanted parrots pose a huge ethical issue for those of us who love them, so we must ask the question: How do we keep parrots from becoming “unwanted”? It may surprise you to learn that the solution is not “adopt don’t shop,” but quite the opposite.
Birds usually end up in need of a new home directly following one of these two phrases being spoken by their owner; “I cannot keep this bird,” or “I don’t want to keep this bird.” Though the circumstances are different, the main solution is the same.
“I CANNOT KEEP THIS BIRD.”
Finances, illness, even death can lead to a person being unable to care for their parrot any longer. Some actions against this can be taken, such as leaving money to care for the parrot, and passing on the care of the parrot to a family member in the will. This is very wise and all adult parrot owners should make arrangements for the care of their bird should the parrot outlive them as is common in larger parrots. But what about birds which are displaced for reasons such as a lost job or a sudden illness that no one could have predicted? Aside from having a savings account for the parrot to prevent this, the best thing parrot owners can do is to take the bird back to the breeder rather than risking the bird’s safety on craigslist or the newspaper.
Many breeders refuse to take back birds once they have left the property, claiming it would put their flock at risk of diseases. However, unless the breeder breeds indoors, allows absolutely no visitors of any kind, and changes his clothes and shoes between being outdoors and inside the bird enclosure, their flock is already “exposed” to diseases from outside birds, even through things that may be tracked in on shoes. Simple blood tests (many costing less than $20 each), vet visits, and responsible quarantine procedures are all that is needed to reasonably protect against diseases being brought in from a returned parrot. Many breeders know this but still refuse to take a bird back because the above process requires time and money. Sometimes the money required can be much more than the “profit” that the bird brought in to begin with. The question then becomes what is more important to the breeder; the profit, or the wellbeing of the birds they produce? The policies of the breeder on this issue often reflect their priorities, and should be taken into account when deciding which breeder to purchase from. After all, by breeding the parents, was the breeder not accepting the responsibility of making sure the babies have good homes?
“I DON’T WANT TO KEEP THIS BIRD.”
This reason for unwanted parrots gets a little more tricky to address than “cannot” because it involves human selfishness in many cases, and pure irresponsibility in others. The first and easiest solution is exactly like the one above; hold breeders responsible for the birds they produce; only buy from breeders who will take the bird back if the need arises, even if you do not anticipate the need ever coming. This is a first step, but understanding this problem involves understanding how things go wrong in the first place. What makes someone decide they don’t want their parrot anymore?
We will soon look at all the ways a buyer can be the victim when purchasing a bird, but it is important to note that with the internet and the age of information most people are capable of researching a topic. While breeders and pet store owners carry a huge responsibility, it is always the job of someone looking for a pet to make sure they have all the facts and are committed to caring for that pet until it dies. It is advisable for anyone considering a parrot to visit at least one sexually mature member of the same species and gender of the bird they are considering. Many birds behave much differently as adults than they do as babies, and no description on the internet can provide a true understanding of the amount of noise, etc, that a bird makes.
Lack of Education
Many people buying a parrot are given almost no info and are sent out the door without being told so much as “he needs toys,” and wonder why things go wrong. Often people are under the assumption that their bird will be like a dog with feathers, and they treat it as one. Others think that a bird is like a fish; pretty, but doesn’t really need that much attention and won’t disrupt your life. Some people are simply not told and to not seek out answers about things like the following:
-How much noise does this bird make?
-How much of a mess should I expect?
-How much will it cost to care for, including vet bills?
-What does it REALLY need to eat (Hint, neither “seeds” and “pellets” are quite the right answer)?
-What kind of cage, toys, and perches does the bird need?
-What leads to behaviors such as biting, screaming, plucking, attempting to mate with humans, phobias, and racial or gender biases, and how do I stop them?
No one wants to live with a pet who screams all the time, bites people for “no reason” or plucks themselves bald, also for “no reason,” do they? And while some birds will struggle with these things, the vast majority do them only because their basic needs are not being met. Their poor owners are befuddled – after all, the bird has clean food and water, and was so sweet when they bought it! Lack of information about proper diet, socialization, environment, and training leads to a great deal of suffering by parrots, and thus to a great deal of unpleasant behavior that leads to people not wanting to live with them.
Very similar to simply not giving the new owners anything to go on, some sellers of birds actually give false information. Sometimes this is due to the seller being inexperienced and/or irresponsible and simply not having the correct information themselves. Other times it is because the seller deliberately misleads the customer in order to make a higher profit. This can range from “bring her back in six weeks so we can trim her beak,” to “Make sure he has a snuggle hut and millet spray!” but there is one “grand-daddy” of lies when it comes to selling parrots: “You can finish hand feeding him yourself, it is easy and leads to a deeper bond between you, and you save money because it is cheaper to buy them unweaned!”
This article is not about the risks and abuse involved in buying unweaned babies, nor is it about the bald faced lie that the bird will bond better if you wean him yourself. When I do write about that topic, I will include all the physical issues and psychological damage that usually accompanies an inexperienced person buying an unweaned bird. The results are often very similar to what is listed above, only more severe. Screaming non-stop, vicious biting, plucking, and sometimes even chewing on their own skin. Again, who wants to live with a pet that does this? Not many people. Suddenly these birds whose owners either received no information or misinformation are “unwanted” because of the behavior that is a product of their suffering and lack of training. There are many solutions to this, starting with repeating that the breeder should be responsible for taking the bird back if it becomes unwanted. This lays a heavy burden on the breeder to be sure they are giving enough information and correct information, enabling the new owners to live a happy and peaceful life together because if the bird cannot coexist with the family, it returns to the breeder, placing the burden of dealing with the problems and finding a new home where it belongs – on the breeder.
Irresponsible and unethical breeding and weaning practices
The first weeks and months of a parrot’s life are crucial and mistakes made during this time can have a life-long effect just as trauma to a human child will change them forever. The main critical processes for a young parrot are weaning and fledging which happen around the same time. During this time the parrot is learning many things about himself and is very impressionable. In simply terms damaging a young bird by clipping his wings too early is similar to binding the legs from a child who should be learning to crawl and then walk and then run. Not only does it severely impact his physical development, but it also keeps him from exploring and experiencing new things on the level he needs to at that age. This leads to a whole basket of problems, only one of which is that a young bird deprived of flight cannot rely on his flight instinct, and must instead bite for protection. This can become a permanent habit and just that easily, because the breeder did not wish to put the time and effort into dealing with a fledging bird, his brain is now hard wired to bite every time he is unsettled.
Another common practice among breeders who care about money rather than birds is called “force weaning.” This is where the feeding of formula to a hand raised bird is restricted in order to force the baby to search for food until he finds something to eat, rather than allowing the baby to have his emotional and nutritional needs met by his parents or hand feeder while he learns on his own to explore and eat new things. This process is used to rush the sale of babies by weeks or months rather than letting the bird wean naturally, that is, waiting until the bird decides that his new solid food tastes better and he no longer wishes to be formula fed. This may seem like a small issue on the surface, but babies who are force weaned suffer horrible psychological side effects and often remain “babies” and presents an enormous barrier to their mental and emotional development in a similar way to human babies who are starved and neglected.
These practices are just two examples of the damage that can be done byunethical, greedy, or ignorant breeders. Breeders who practice these and other habits demonstrate that they either do not know what they are doing, or do not care as much about the birds as they do about squeezing a little extra profit from each baby, and they should never be purchased from. These practices damage babies so badly that they often are not capable of being “good pets” and are routinely rehomed or abandoned. Refusing to buy from breeders who do these things is key to saving parrots from a fate of being misunderstood and abused.
While some breeders like those described above are back yard breeders, often people who simply allowed their own pets to produce out of ignorance, many of them are “parrot mill” breeders who raise mass quantities of birds with minimal human interaction under the label “hand-raised” simply because the bird was fed by humans. This in no way indicates that the bird will be tame and is a common gimmick used to sell birds that are not tame to people who think that they are. Because parrot mill breeders spend little to no time training or socializing their birds, they are able to produce huge numbers and are often the suppliers of certain pet stores. Many pet stores only pay a breeder 20-30% of the retail value of the bird, so producing huge quantities is necessary for these cruel breeders to make the same amount of money as an ethical breeder would make selling far fewer birds for full price directly to the new home. The bird then sits in a cage in a store and continues to be environmentally and socially deprived, deepening the damage done by the breeder in the first place. While this is a common practice, it is important to note that not all pet stores buy from parrot mills, and not all pet stores let their birds languish in cages without interaction.
What about “rescuing” a bird from a sanctuary, Craigslist, or even a pet store? Doesn’t every bird deserve a home?
Yes, every bird deserves a home, but doesn’t every bird deserve happiness? We have discussed many things that lead to a bird becoming “unwanted,” and each of them traces back to irresponsibility on the part of the breeder. In the end most unwanted parrots are unwanted because the breeder failed in some way, either in the raising of the parrot, the education of the owner, the contract in case of extreme need, or more than one of these issues. The only way we can end unwanted parrots is to hold breeders to an incredibly high standard and purchase only from those who rise to it. Consider each of these situations:
-What if no one bought birds from unethical pet stores who source their birds from parrot mills? Then parrot mill breeders would have a very hard time selling their birds, and be forced to drastically reduce their production because the extra birds would cost them money instead of making money. Since they rely on mass production in order to make a profit while getting paid only 20-30% of retail value, they would quickly go out of business which would save thousands upon thousands of birds from hatching into a cycle of neglect and unhappiness every year.
-What if no one bought from” backyard breeders” who showed a lack of knowledge, particularly by simply letting their pets breed? If they knew that people would not buy the babies and they would have to keep them all themselves, they would take more steps to prevent their pets from reproducing, thus eliminating the flood of poorly raised and often inbred birds. This is an especially huge problem in small species like cockatiels, budgies, and lovebirds, who often spend their lives unbalanced and suffering emotionally because of humans who were not properly educated on the psychological and developmental needs of a baby parrot, not to mention the vast inbreeding that results from buying siblings and allowing them to breed.
-What if no one rescued birds from sanctuaries? Well, if everyone refused to buy birds from people who did not practice good ethics and responsibility, there would be far fewer bird rescues, because the unwanted parrot would be the rare case instead of the common one.
“Adopt don’t shop” sounds like a compassionate life philosophy, but in reality this mentality fuels a monstrous system that leads to more parrots suffering every year. If responsible, ethical breeders stop breeding healthy and well adjusted birds then soon no one will know what a healthy and happy bird looks like, and birds across the nation will be doomed to live miserable lives with people who do not know that biting, screaming, plucking, and other behaviors are desperate cries for help – birds will cease to be understood by anyone.
Buying poorly raised birds which originate with irresponsible and unethical breeders creates a financial incentive for those breeders to continue cruel and irresponsible practices which lead only to the further production and thus abandonment of misunderstood and damaged birds. The only way to stem the tide of unwanted parrots is to discipline ourselves to be strong enough to buy only birds bred in humane and healthy settings by breeders and sellers who take responsibility for the birds they produce. The parrot at the pet store or advertisement online is cute and does deserve a good home, but the thousands upon thousands of birds produced every year by breeders who are ignorant and uncaring deserve not to be hatched into a cycle of misunderstanding and abandonment which is propagated by the purchase of parrot mill parrots and back yard breeder parrots sold in pet stores and other venues. Resist the parrot mill parrot, save a generation of birds.
How then do you find the right person to buy from? Please see our article on Finding the Right Seller