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#23556 - 10/07/02 11:26 PM Interesting Article... (long)  
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Jerry Offline
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Avian Rescues Take Flight

May 28, 2002
Written by: Tracy Vogel, Staff Writer

The work isn't for everyone, they admit, generally over a cacophony of shrieking, yelling, chattering, and whistling.

Just as owning a bird differs greatly from owning a dog or a cat, running a bird rescue diverges considerably from the experience of sheltering canines or felines.

"We have too much hubris," said Sybil Erden, executive director of The Oasis Sanctuary, Phoenix, Ariz. "These animals are designed for flight, for constant interaction. They're not designed to live in tiny cages in houses. But there's no place for them in the wild anymore."

And when the homes that originally kept them no longer want them, the birds land in sanctuaries and rescues.

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"They're not designed to live in tiny cages in houses. But there's no place for them in the wild anymore."

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Bird rescues were fairly uncommon until the 1990s. In the 1980s, as quarantine restrictions relaxed and domestic breeding increased, the availability and popularity of birds as pets grew. But the knowledge about them remained limited.

Not your ordinary pet

People obtaining birds often fail to take into account that they are prey animals, not predators like dogs or cats, and thus their behavior differs drastically. Birds are flock animals, hardwired to live in large, highly social groups. Further, they're only a few generations removed from the wild—they haven't undergone the extensive domestication of dogs and cats.

Flock and prey behavior is responsible for many of the traits that drive owners crazy.

For instance, take screaming, rescuers said. Birds tend to scream at dawn, calling to the flock to search out food. They scream in the afternoon, collecting for naptime. And they scream again before the sun goes down, warning the flock to look for food for the last time.

Trying to get a bird to stop screaming is like trying to make a dog stop wagging its tail—it's just a natural behavior that can't be helped, said Dottie Schira, founder and president of the Bird Placement Program parrot refuge in Medina, Ohio.

When you adopt a bird, you can become its flock. And when you leave the home, you're violating a rule that simply doesn't get broken in the wild. The screaming bird is reacting the only way it understands, calling to its missing flock member.

When you shout back at the bird, you aren't disciplining it—you're making it happy because you're responding the exact way that another bird would. "You yell, "Shut up,' and the bird goes: "Oh, look! They're joining in! They like it when I scream!' " Ms. Schira said.

Dramatics are normal to birds. They spend their time in the wild fighting over the best mate, the best branch on the tree, or sparring with predators. So they often aren't shy about delivering a good bite if they feel neglected or wronged. "It's not that they're mean—they don't understand bad behavior," Ms. Schira said. "When you jump up and down [after being bitten], your bird goes: "OK, hey, that's great!' "

Birds can also be highly intelligent. Studies by Dr. Irene Pepperberg of the University of Arizona suggest that African grey parrots may be as smart as dolphins or chimpanzees. That means they don't respond well to a lack of stimulation, and can develop serious behavioral problems if they aren't entertained.

Furthermore, many birds are bred not for personality and family-friendliness, but for color and appearance. The family-friendly birds are living in households, not breeding, rescuers said. And when a household does get a bird it can't handle, the owners will often give it to a breeder, perpetuating the difficulties, Ms. Erden said.

The rise of rescues

In some of the birds, it's obvious that their owners didn't understand—and sometimes abused—them.

B.J., a cockatoo at Oasis, had lived on a back porch in a 1-foot by 1-foot cage for 17 years. When he was rescued, he had a 3-inch hole in his chest that went to the bone because of self-mutilation. The rescuers had to cut him out of his cage because he wouldn't fit through the door—he has permanent curvature of his spine and a bacterial infection in his feet from years of standing on the wire of the cage.

An African grey, K.C., had obviously suffered some kind of abuse—he was the only bird Oasis has ever had to tranquilize in order to transport. Human approach would cause him to hiss and scream in terror.

Both birds have recovered from their experiences to some degree at Oasis. B.J., who has to wear a collar because of his tendency to self-mutilate, is one of Ms. Erden's favorite birds because of his tremendous spirit, she said. "He went from looking like he wanted to die—total depression in his eyes—to learning how to play with toys and interact with birds in other cages, calling back and forth."

He will never trust a human completely—he hisses in terror if she approaches too close—but he shows pleasure when she brings food, or sings to him.

K.C. was placed in an aviary with other African greys, including a few affectionate birds that were raised by Ms. Erden as pets. Over the past two years, he lost some of his fear of people as he watched Ms. Erden interact with the other parrots, especially her pets. Today he will go so far as to let her kiss his beak through the bars. "He realizes I'm not a terror," she said.

In 1990, 11.6 million pet birds lived in the United States, according to the Pet Industry Advisory Council. A 1998 study in the Journal of the American Veterinarian Medical Association estimated the population to be 35 to 40 million.

Since birds like African greys, cockatoos, and macaws can live from 60 to 80 years, it didn't take long for relinquishment trouble to develop with owners who weren't aware of the inherent difficulties of keeping birds.

Ms. Schira bred birds in the 1980s. She started to see a need for a rescue in the late '80s, and started Bird Placement in 1987. She stopped breeding birds in the early 1990s. "By the late '90s, [homeless birds] had become a problem," she said.

Bird Placement takes in birds and places them with "associates" in a number of permanent rescue homes. It will adopt out smaller birds, because they're easier for people to care for, Ms. Schira said, but not the larger ones.

Associates are experienced with birds and animal behavior, accustomed to getting bitten, and unafraid of it. "They're a select group that knows what they're in for," Ms. Schira said.

A difficult undertaking

So what are rescuers in for? Well, there's the noise, for one. The cries of birds, especially ones with behavioral problems, can be incessant.

"I think I have an actual block," said Kelly Mullins, who runs the Coventry Companion Bird Survival Center in Redding, Calif., with her husband. The group currently has 60 birds, ranging from finches to macaws "My husband will walk in and say, "You don't even hear that, do you?' "

One of her favorite birds, a blue-and-gold macaw named Rocky, will scream every time anyone picks an object up. And he wasn't even abused, Ms. Mullins believes. He just wants the object.

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When you shout back at the bird, you aren't disciplining it—you're making it happy because you're responding the exact way that another bird would. "You yell, "Shut up,' and the bird goes: "Oh, look! They're joining in! They like it when I scream!' " Ms. Schira said.

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There's the mess. "We vacuum twice a day because of the unbelievable mess they make," said Eileen McCarthy of the Midwest Avian Adoption and Rescue Services, Stillwater, Minn., which has more than 200 birds in its shelter and about 20 more in foster care. "It's never done—with birds, the work is never done. As soon as you walk away, food and feathers are all over the floor again."

There's the time commitment. Ms. Erden's day starts at dawn, when the birds gets up, and continues until 4:30 or 5 p.m.—and her sanctuary, housing 350 permanent residents, has employees to share the workload. The day involves preparing food for the birds, which mostly live in large outdoor aviaries, sterilizing food and water bowls, cleaning the cages, and feeding.

Ms. McCarthy has two to five volunteers who help on rotating shifts. Again, the food needs to be prepared, the dishes sterilized, the papers changed, and the cages cleaned and wiped down. The small birds are in flight cages, but the big birds need to be let out for exercise every day.

"I always say I'm going to leave by four, and I never do," she said. "When I leave—and all the volunteers say they feel this way—I think about all the things I should have gotten done."

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Rescuers advise others interested in their work to specialize in a certain type of bird that they understand very well, rely on their own money for funding, and don't try to go it alone.

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Rescuers have one advantage. Having multiple birds means that each one requires less individual human attention to keep it happy and sane. The birds have a real flock—they don't need a substitute human one. Many of the birds share cages, and those that can't because of behavioral reasons will still sometimes interact with one another from their individual homes.

MAARS has one bird that must be kept with others of its kind—when exposed to humans, she over-bonds and screams constantly. She appears to have encountered a lot of verbal abuse in the past—when she's agitated, or sees someone she dislikes, she'll start swearing. She also uses phrases like "I'm gonna kill you" and "Shut up!"

Finally, the expense is always a major issue. Rescuers can't count on the public to fund their activities. Money is necessary for food, cages, supplies and veterinary care. Toys, in particular, can be expensive—$6 to $30 for a toy that a bird can destroy in a week. And you can't neglect the toys, because the birds need multiple sources of stimulation in their cages.

The toy destruction is normal; birds play by tearing things apart. Ms. Mullins, whose young rescue is in the process of obtaining non-profit status and setting up an adoption program, uses one cost-cutting approach and gives her large birds two-by-fours to pick to pieces.

Rescuers advise others interested in their work to specialize in a certain type of bird that they understand very well, rely on their own money for funding, and don't try to go it alone. "I don't think you can do this on your own and maintain your sanity," Ms. McCarthy said.

Don't try to start your own rescue, at least not at first, Ms. Erden said. Enough rescue organizations exist for you to join up with one of them. "You don't have to do this 24/7 to help. Only by working with one can you realize how difficult it is," she said.

Helping an existing rescue will provide vital experience in the various areas of avian care, she said. "You're better off donating your assistance and time to an organization that needs help, and after doing it a few years, if you still want to start a rescue, you … won't have to reinvent the wheel."

This article from Vetcentric

#23557 - 10/08/02 06:21 AM Re: Interesting Article... (long)  
Joined: Sep 2002
Posts: 51
Dizkat Offline
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Dizkat  Offline
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LA. CA
Hi Jerry

Great article in fact I liked it so much I emailed to members on the adoption committe I work with. And in fact if you don't mind I will use it with any potential adopters I get. It points out many valid truths and a great explanation of "WHY" and "HOW" that comes with parrot ownership.

Tammy and the flock wink


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