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Exotic Bird Enthusiasts Stress Education, Conservation

Girl with her pet cockatoo

The Peninsula Caged Bird Society is one of many bird enthusiast groups across the country dedicated to both conservation and public education efforts.

According to the

"As exotics like the spix's macaw and Carolina parakeet disappear or severely dwindle in numbers, bird clubs increasingly raise and donate funds to conservation, rehabilitation and medical research, according to Debbie Wilson, who leads the club's educational programs.

Parrot rescue and rehabilitation programs the Peninsula group supports include Phoenix Landing in North Carolina and the Wilson Parrot Foundation in Maryland."

Debbie Wilson, who leads the club's educational programs says, "Conservation includes keeping bloodlines pure for the future, so we discourage hybridizing."

The Peninsula Caged Bird Society brings their birds for visits with patients at the local VA Hospital, nursing home residents, museum visitors and during school activities.

Their goal is to teach the public that adopting an exotic bird is a lifetime commitment, as many birds live from 30 to 100 years. 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.
Dr. Becker's Comments:

The definition of ‘exotic’ per of foreign origin or character; not native; introduced from abroad, but not fully naturalized or acclimatized.

A pet is considered exotic if it is a rare or unusual creature and/or a creature that is not commonly kept as a pet. This can be an animal, insect, reptile or a bird.

Types of Exotic Birds

There are many different types of exotic birds. A partial list includes:

  • Amazon Parrots
  • African Greys
  • Cockatoos
  • Conures
  • Eclectus
  • Lorikeets
  • Macaws
  • Tucans and minahs

Exotic birds are very different from one another and come from warm, rainy, tropical climates. They are indigenous to the rainforests and jungles of Africa, the Amazon, Mexico, South America – even Australia and the Polynesian islands.

One thing these birds have in common is they are larger than domestic pet birds (budgies and canaries, for example), and require very different environments and care.

Sadly, many exotic birds are captured in their native habitats to be sold as pets in the U.S. Laws were passed in the late 1980’s to discourage the wild-caught exotic bird import business. The legislation helped but certainly didn’t eliminate the problem of exploitation of exotics for the U.S. pet trade.

Since that time, predictably, breeding exotic birds has grown in popularity. Unfortunately, many breeders and sellers of exotic birds are cut from the same mold (or are, in fact, the same people) as those who breed puppies for a living.

There’s money to be made, after all. Larger parrots, cockatoos and macaws can be as profitable for sellers as puppy mill dogs.

Throwaway Birds

Like other abandoned pets, many exotic birds end up in shelters as soon as their inexperienced, unprepared owners realize how much time and attention is required to care for them.

According to Carrie Allan of the Humane Society of the U.S. (HSUS), writing for

Many breeders and sellers are indiscriminate in their placements of birds, and the knowledge levels of many bird buyers are very low. Exotic pet birds frequently become homeless for the same reasons dogs and cats do.”

The majority of birds that end up in shelters are stray, surrendered or seized. Some birds escape their homes, others are simply let go outside by their owners.

A few varieties of captive birds manage to survive in certain environments , but most tame exotics are unable to survive in the wild. They no longer possess the instincts necessary to live on their own, and they recognize humans, not other birds, as their families.

Birds surrendered at shelters usually arrive for one of two reasons:

  • Messy cages that require daily cleaning
  • Behavior issues, in particular noisy parrots

Other behavior-related reasons exotic birds wind up in shelters are feather picking, biting, non-stop shrieking, swearing, and conversely, not talking at all.

Endangered Exotics

According to Endangered Species International, about 1 in 8 birds are at risk of becoming extinct. Approximately 1,200 species -- 12 percent of all living bird species – are considered endangered, threatened, or vulnerable.

A hundred bird species have disappeared since 1600, primarily due to habitat loss, overhunting and introduced predators. Especially at risk are island birds. A few examples of endangered exotics:

  • Of the 17 species of macaws, several are endangered, including the beautiful hyacinth.
  • The blue-throated macaw, native to Bolivia, is critically endangered due to habitat destruction and capture for the pet trade.
  • A member of the parrot family, the rare Rimatara Lorikeet is endangered. Rimatara is an island in French Polynesia. This lorikeet is an absolutely stunning bird with a crimson face and belly, purple nape, bright green back and wings, and orange beak and feet.

According to

“The popularity of birds — whether captive-bred or wild-caught — as "pets" in the U.S. has enormous global influence, and fuels the trade in exotic birds around the world. The impact of the pet trade on wild parrot populations is devastating, with parrot species more globally threatened than almost any other major group of birds.”

Adopting an Exotic Bird

If you’re interested in acquiring an exotic bird as a pet and are prepared to make a substantial and lifelong commitment to it, I highly recommend you contact your local animal shelter and/or exotic bird sanctuaries in your area. The latter, in particular, are often overwhelmed with beautiful, wonderful abandoned and rescued birds in need of new forever homes.

I can’t stress enough the importance of understanding what you’re getting into when you take on an exotic bird. They are not simply colorful, entertaining cage decorations. Exotics are high-maintenance pets – expensive, messy, noisy, time-consuming, unpredictable, and sometimes aggressive.

These birds may make wonderful companions for knowledgeable, dedicated owners who have the time and other resources required to insure the best possible quality of life for their pets.

Six Exotic Bird Care Barebones Basics

  1. An appropriately sized cage that is cozy and located in a safe, low stress but social area. Your bird’s cage should be twice the size of your bird’s outstretched wings, minimally. Buy the biggest cage you can afford. I recommend a variety of all natural, wood perches (not dowels) throughout the cage.
  2. It should have a roof perch and contain several toys,  bells, colored blocks and ropes for chewing. The more natural foraging options and toys, the happier the bird. Replace toys several times a month to keep birds interested in their environment.

    The cage should be cleaned daily. Many bird owners wear a surgical mask and gloves to reduce the chance of inhaling feather dander or fecal-borne pathogens. The cage floor should be lined with newspaper that is discarded daily.

    All loose material (feathers, leftover feed, bird poop) should be carefully disposed of before disinfecting cage surfaces. Birds should be removed from the area during the disinfecting process. Make sure to pick a non-toxic, bird friendly disinfectant. I use diluted vinegar on my bird cages and stands.

  3. Generally speaking, it is best to feed a high-quality diet of species-specific commercial pelleted food (not seed mix, which is the equivalent of junk food for most exotic birds), fruits, veggies, and sprouted grains. Many exotics are designed by nature to live a long, long time – the better their nutrition, the healthier and longer they’ll live.
  4. Exotic parrots do not require a source of gravel or grit in their diet (unlike pigeons and other types of birds).

    Please note: If you’re a novice bird owner caring for a species of exotic you’re unfamiliar with, or have encountered a problem with feeding, you should talk with an avian veterinarian or other exotic bird specialist about how to proceed. Providing adequate, appropriate nutrition for an individual bird can be a complex process, so it’s best to seek the advice of an expert. Never change your bird’s diet abruptly.

  5. Birds do get dirty and were designed to be rained on, so bathing is often necessary. Many exotics love baths – some will splash around in a pan of shallow water, others will join their owners in the shower, still others enjoy a gentle spray mist from a water bottle.
  6. Beyond the initial expense of the bird, owners of larger exotic birds should plan to spend around $100 a month for food, toys and other supplies. Birds need annual medical exams from an avian veterinarian to make sure they are healthy. Birds are masters at hiding disease; oftentimes the only way you know they are ill is through bloodwork. All newly acquired birds should be examined by an avian vet for infectious diseases.
  7. Just because birds live in cages doesn’t mean they are easy pets to care for. You can’t just pop your exotic into his cage and ignore him except at feeding time. Parrots are extremely intelligent creatures, and their owners must be prepared to spend a great deal of time interacting with them. To keep my African grey happy and content, he lives outside of his cage all day, and is only placed in his cage at night to sleep.
  8. Hand raised, exotic birds thrive on human attention and develop emotional and behavioral issues when they don’t receive adequate mental stimulation. Experts recommend that some types of exotics, parrots for example, be allowed out of the cage to interact with their human family members for several hours every day.

    During the time a bird must be caged (when they cannot be directly supervised), playing classical music is a good way to provide additional stimulation.

  9. Birds were meant to have exposure to direct sunlight for many hours a day. In fact, sunlight is important for a bird’s emotional, mental and nutritional wellbeing. The correct spectrum of ultraviolet (UV) light birds require for health is filtered out by window glass and screens. I recommend providing all birds access to UV light via a special UV “bird bulb” over their cage for several hours a day.

Three Cool Tips for Living in Harmony with a Bird

  1. To nurture a good relationship between you and your exotic bird, keep him at mid-chest level. Birds in the wild sit in trees according to a specific pecking order, with the more dominant members of the flock in the upper branches.
  2. At home, a bird held at waist level will be prone to feel insecure and nervous; holding him at or above shoulder level will likely make him feel he’s the boss.

  3. Most exotic birds are noisy. You won’t change this fact.  Raising your voice or scolding a chatty bird will only entertain her and encourage her to match you shriek for shriek, until she’s shrieking all the time. Ignoring the screaming and rewarding the quiet is the only positive approach to this innate, sometimes annoying, natural behavior.
  4. Reward your bird often for good behavior with food, conversation and affection.

+ Sources and References