By Dr. Becker
I came across a story in the news recently about a parrot rescue center in Rhode Island that was being forced to close its doors by December 30 because the commercial building it was housed in was slated for demolition.
What struck me about the article was not only the number of parrots that were about to be homeless, but also the amount of calls the owner of the rescue received – often 10 a week – from someone looking to unload a parrot because it was too loud, too needy, or of all things, too long-lived.
The owner of the rescue, Steve Lazicki, calls his Bird House and Rescue his orphanage for unwanted birds. Lazicki says it isn’t easy to find space to house dozens of large, loud birds. As Lazicki, a 67 year-old Army vet and former aerospace machinist explained in an interview with the Associated Press, “They’re my kids. They’re very intelligent. They need a lot of attention. People often buy a parrot without any idea of what they’re getting into.”
Lazicki has been running his shelter for 17 years. He takes in abused and abandoned parrots and tries to find them new homes. He adopted out over 50 parrots during last year alone, but still had 80 in his care and a steady stream of phone calls from people wanting to drop off their birds when he received the news that he was losing his facility.
Caring for a Pet Parrot is a Significant, Long-Term Commitment
Birds are the third most popular pet in the U.S. after cats and dogs. It’s illegal to import most types of parrots into this country, but breeders have stepped in to fill the supply void. What many novice bird owners don’t realize is that parrots often require a greater commitment of time and energy than a dog or cat.
Parrots are as smart as human toddlers and require significant mental and social stimulation. They’re loud, messy, and sometimes aggressive. They’re also long-lived. It’s not uncommon for a parrot to outlive its owner.
According to Marc Johnson of Foster Parrots, an organization that oversees New England’s largest parrot sanctuary, “They were a fad pet and millions were sold for years, and now the problem is coming home to roost.”
7 Things to Consider Before Adopting or Purchasing a Parrot
The number of abused and abandoned pet birds in the U.S. is a tragedy. As an avian veterinarian, I’m committed to trying to stem the tide through awareness and education.
If you’ve never owned a bird, here are some things to give careful consideration to before you take the plunge:
- Because they are so intelligent, parrots need constant environmental enrichment. Birds that aren't given the opportunity to interact for several hours each day with their human family and that don't receive frequent mental and social stimulation, are sure to develop emotional problems and self-destructive behaviors.
- Just because birds can be kept in cages doesn’t mean they are any less demanding as pets. Many parrots are extremely vocal and noisy (and therefore hard to ignore), whether they’re in or outside the cage. And they aren’t simply cage ornaments. A cage is convenient for short-term confinement of a parrot, but it’s not healthy for your bird to spend hours on end in his cage. Committed bird owners only confine their pets to their cages at night.
- A bird’s messiness is rarely confined to the cage even when she’s in it. The area under the cage will be littered with discarded bits of food, water and bird droppings. In most bird-owning households, the parrots are by far the messiest members of the family.
- Happy, healthy parrots are naturally clean and don’t require a lot of grooming help. But you will need to provide regular baths, showers or mist sprays. You may also need to trim your bird’s beak or nails regularly or arrange for a professional to do it. Some birds may also need to have their wings trimmed.
- Prepare to spend a significant amount of time interacting with, training and socializing your parrot. Many of these birds do best treated as full members of the family – allowed outside their cages for several hours each day, and included in at-home family activities. If you leave your bird in his cage most of the time, his need to be social and mentally stimulated will not be met, and he may become unhappy and self-destructive. Many birds tend to bond more closely with one member of the family than others, and some may show aggression toward certain family members.
- If you own a large parrot, prepare to spend around $100 a month for food, toys and other supplies. The best nutrition for most parrots is a high-quality diet of species-specific commercial pelleted food (not seed mix), fruits, veggies, and sprouted grains and whole, organic nuts. Your bird will also need annual wellness checkups from an avian veterinarian to insure she remains healthy.
- Parrots are not necessarily good pets for renters. A large bird can cause plenty of mess and damage, often even more than a dog or cat. Another consideration is the noise level. If you live in close proximity to others and your bird is prone to shrieking, you’ll be in trouble with your neighbors and landlord in short order.
If you’re wondering if a pet bird might fit well with your lifestyle, I hope I’ve given you some food for thought in your decision-making process. My goal isn’t to discourage bird ownership, as I’d love to see every abandoned parrot in a loving, appropriate home. But the decision to acquire a bird requires careful consideration and the ability to make a long-term commitment to meet your pet’s housing, nutritional and socialization needs.