Unwanted Birds: A Growing Problem

Over the past few years, there has been a significant increase in the number of unwanted birds who are being sold, given up for adoption or abandoned by their owners.This has been a common problem with dogs and cats. But until recently, it has not been a major issue with birds. Unfortunately, the situation may continue to get worse. Why have things changed and what is the cause? What can be done to prevent or reduce the problem? How can we help the unwanted birds? And what are the pros and cons of adoption organizations and sanctuaries.

What is the Cause?

There are a number of things which contribute to this problem.

  • Birds live a long time. The smaller species such as budgies and cockatiels live from 15 – 30 years, while the larger species can live as long as 75-125 yrs. Unlike dogs with an average life span of about 15 yrs, parrots will not only be around for a long time, but many will outlive their owners. It is thus likely that they will require, more than one home. As more birds are bred, the population increases more significantly than with shorter lived animals.
  • Birds have become more popular as pets – they are now third behind dogs and cats. People are intrigued by parrots because of their beauty and their talking ability. Many will purchase a parrot not understanding the commitment and time required in keeping a parrot. And now that more birds are being bred, the prices are coming down, making them more affordable.Many people are unaware of the needs of parrots and the problems they will create in the home. Parrots are only a generation or two removed from the wild. Unlike domesticated dogs and cats, they still have most of their natural instincts intact. Often birds are purchased on impulse, with little or no education as to what can be expected.Once the parrot is home, the new owner learns about the mess, the noise and the attention required. They don’t understand bird behavior and socialization, why a bird will bite or scream, or its need for companionship (a flock). They are also often unprepared for the costs: feeding, toys, perches and veterinarian care. They are surprised that a parrot which should be easier to own – as it is kept in a cage – can be so demanding and that if it is let out, that it can be destructive.

    Sometimes the bird is purchased as a display item for friends and neighbors. When it doesn’t talk or do tricks and demands attention, it becomes an inconvenience. The bird may then be placed in an unused room, garage or offered for sale.

  • Parrots who are ignored can turn to screaming, biting, feather plucking, self mutilation and even become mentally unbalanced. Such parrots will often become unwanted pets which have little hope of finding a new home.
  • Birds should be socialized to accept more than one person in their lives. In the wild they are part of a flock. Overbonding with one individual, can cause behavioral problems with other members of the family and result in the bird losing its home. Bird owners need to understand more about bird behavior and dynamics.
  • Life style changes are another reason why birds are dipossesed. Marriage, boyfriends, having a baby, moving, a new job or going to school are all situations where even a beloved and well-behaved pet can be displaced. Death of an owner is another such cause. We all go through changes throughout our lives. Since parrots have such a long life span, it is likely that life style changes will one day have an effect on a companion bird. A bird needs to be part of a family, but unlike children, life style changes can result in loss of its home and family. In cases such as a new addition to the family, if a bird has been well socialized to interact with more than one person, a new member of the family should not be a problem. Much thought should be given to this aspect before purchasing a parrot.
  • There has been a large increase in breeding in the US. Thus birds have become more available, while prices have decreased for many species. As more birds are bred, the overall population increases. This is more significant with birds, due to their long life spans.
  • Most people looking for a pet want a baby bird. They are unaware, that a previously owned bird, if carefully chosen, can also be a wonderful pet. Adopting an older bird can bring joy to both the owner and the bird.

What can be done to prevent or reduce the problem?

Obviously education is a major factor. If prospective birds owners were made aware of parrot needs, behavior and the commitment required, perhaps those unable to provide a good environment would decide not to purchase a bird. For those with birds, making information on their care more available can help in avoiding or correcting problems.

  • Learning more about bird behavior and instincts can avoid many problems. If trouble does occur, then seeking help from a bird behaviorist is a possible solution.
  • Each of us can play a postivie role by discussing the pros and cons of bird ownership with friends, family and acquaintances. Even if information seems to fall on deaf ears, if it is heard from more than one person, in time it may eventually make an impact.
  • Providing literature at sites where a bird is purchased, at bird shows, and at humane societies, educating children via school or club presentations are a start. Making information available and easy to find on the internet or in publications and at libraries is another approach.
  • Support for existing pet owners should be expanded and pet owners should be made more aware of its existence. Bird clubs are a good means of support, if owners can be made aware of them. Many clubs have wonderful programs, people and libraries available to help bird owners.
  • For those who have internet access and are interested in learning about their birds, there are many sites with articles, email lists and forums which can help educate owners and help them work through their problems with their bird. Making potential and existing pet owners aware of them is the issue.
  • Avicultural Societies exist for many species as well as for promoting aviculture in general. Some publish magazines, articles and have websites. They help bird owners in learning care for and breed their birds. These programs can be expanded.
  • Encouraging more programs about birds on TV and articles about birds in newspapers can also help increase awareness. Pet channels and pet sections in newspapers are places to approach. Individual voices can make a difference, when there are many of them.
  • Increasing awareness of our responsibilities for any pets and animals will aid in creating a climate where abuse and mishandling of pets is criticized and not tolerated. Public opinion is a powerful deterrent, but it is a long term goal.
  • Euthanizing birds has not become an issue yet as it is with dogs and cats. It is also something that must be avoided. Unlike the domesticated animals, many parrot species are endangered in the wild and the gene pool in captivity is still fragile. Supporting organizations which help birds, will help ensure their future and ours as well.

How can we help the unwanted birds?

Whatever is done to improve the care of companion birds, there will still be birds who are in need of a new home. Whether they have been abused and need rescue, are no longer wanted by their owners, or are suffering from an illness, they need and deserve suitable homes. What are some of the possible options?

  • If a bird is healthy, then adoption is the preferred choice, if possible. Not every bird should be adopted. But a well socialized parrot without behavioral problems is very capable of forming a bond with a new owner and becoming a wonderful pet. We have purchased four previously owned cockatoos (one had at least four prior owners and was abused) and they have all become wonderful pets for us.If a bird has behavioral problems or has been abused, then there are some adoption organizations and sanctuaries which attempt to rehabilitate birds. If successful, these organizations will then offer the bird for adoption. Some experienced bird owners are also willing to take birds with some behavioral problems and devote the effort required to overcome the problems. We have had one such success and can only say that the rewards far outweigh the effort involved.
  • People should be encouraged to adopt an older bird as a pet. Since parrots live so long, this is much more important for birds than for other animals like dogs and cats. More information on the rewards and successes of purchasing or adopting a previously bird (as well as guidelines on what to look for) should be available and promoted by bird lovers.
  • For those birds with severe problems or illnesses, sanctuaries or people who will take in ill birds are a solution. More of these are coming into existence. Sanctuaries provide homes for birds who are unadoptable or whose previous owners wish them to remain. Some will also provide adoptions for birds and some will rehabilitate birds. Many sanctuaries rely on donations from bird lovers to operate. For those who can, this is a worthwhile charitable deduction. However, before donating and giving your support to a sanctuary, learn more about its policies and how much of the donation goes to the birds. Once satisfied, a donation may save more than one bird’s life.

The Pros and Cons of Adoption Organizations and Sanctuaries

Those who can no longer keep their pet bird, often seek help from adoption organizations and sanctuaries. There are many of these who provide excellent help, but there are also some who are not what they seem. When deciding to give a pet bird to one of these organizations, it is important to determine if it is reliable and to understand its policies. Unfortunately there are some people who disguise themselves as such organizations solely for the purpose of obtaining free birds. Others are legitimate, but may operate under policies which are in conflict with your desires. Investigate before choosing an organization. Check references and policies and get any agreements in writing.

  • Many bird clubs and caring individuals offer rescue and adoption services. Most are run by caring individuals who have the welfare of the birds at heart. If you are thinking of one of these, ask for references. If the bird needs to be taken from the home before a new owner is found, ask what quarantine and housing facilities they have to care for the birds until they are adopted. What vet care is available? What fees, if any, will be required? If the bird is not adopted by a certain time period, what happens? If the bird has problems, ask if behavioral training or rehabilitation is available and how it is handled. What evaluation, fees and follow ups are made of potential adopters? Will adopters be retricted to members of the bird club? Can the adopter sell or give the bird away? Are there any time limits on the adopter? If you have any further concerns, such as whether the bird is not to be put in a breeding situation, then ask. Be sure to get any agreements in writing.
  • Be very careful with individuals. Some people will take in birds and keep them. This is not a problem, if you agree. Beware of hoarders – people who have a compulsion to obtain more and more birds and may not be able to properly care for them. Be careful of people who will take and keep birds for breeding purposes. Be sure that they are not keeping birds which are intended for adoption to get free breeding stock and make a profit. Also be careful of people who are running scams – claiming to adopt birds for free or for very low prices and who then sell these birds for a profit. Check references thoroughly, ask others in the area about their reputations.
  • Sanctuaries offer permanent homes to birds. Many also offer rehabilitation and adoption services.Some, such as the Dutch Parrot Refuge offer a permanent home to birds with severe problems such as self mutilators or birds which have gone insane. These birds are given a home and offered companion birds to be with. The object is to make their lives as pleasant and unstressful as possible. Such sanctuaries are needed due to conditions provided by their previous owners.Other sanctuaries will take unwanted birds with behavioral problems or birds whose owners cannot keep them but wish their bird to have a permanent home at the sanctuary. When selecting a sanctuary, carefully review their policies and references. Some will breed the birds they receive and if the bird is not breedable, will sell the bird. Others will breed the bird, if possible, but will keep the bird whether or not breeding is successful. Some will allow the owner to specify that the bird is not to be bred. Breeding a bird is not necessarily a negative. If the bird desires it, it is a way for the bird to be happy and for the organization to help support itself. If a companion only bird is desired for a bird, then ask if that is possible. If birds are flocked, then ask how this is done.

    If the bird is never to be sold, make sure that this is agreed to. If the bird needs rehabilitation and then can be adopted, then select a sanctuary which provides this service and ask about their methods and adoption processes.

    Some sanctuaries require fees for taking a bird and for its maintenance. Look at the housing, quarantine and veterinarian facilities. If the owner wishes to visit the bird periodically, ask about the arrangements for this and when and how often visits are allowed. Whatever arrangements are made and agreed to, be sure to get them in writing.

    If the sanctuary is a 501 c 3 non-profit, check the IRS reports to see how much of the funds are going to the birds and how much to salaries and other items. If a large part of the money is being spent on items other than the birds, ask questions as to why. Remember, that 501 c 3 status does not mean that the operation of an organization is being monitored for their treatment of birds. At the moment, this is a tax status designation only.

    Again, ask for references and check out reputations. There are people representing themselves as sanctuaries who are really looking for free birds to breed or sell. There is a story of a veterinarian who “adopted” many birds and was later found to have kept them in poor conditions and bred them for profit. Check things out carefully before giving anyone a bird or before donating funds to help birds.

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