From the Wall Street Journal:



Parrots, the most popular pets after cats and dogs, aren’t exactly suited for domestic life. ‘They scream, bite and are messy,’ acknowledges one bird lover who tries to place unwanted cockatoos and macaws, while schooling new owners in proper care. One pro tip: no kissing.

By

Clare Ansberry

Anyone thinking of adopting Scooter should know a few things about him first.

He is a bully and he bites. When he’s bored or anxious, he plucks out his own feathers.

Arrr! It turns out that parrots—the most popular pets behind dogs and cats—aren’t always man’s best friend.

Charlie, a blue-and-gold macaw

All of which makes Dawn Martine’s job extra tough. She runs the Parrot Education Adoption, Rehoming League, or Pearl, a nonprofit rescue organization that does its best to find new homes for unwanted birds, including Scooter.

“They scream, bite and are messy,” says Ms. Martine, who has 12 parrots, including two Moluccan cockatoos, the loudest parrot on Earth, whose piercing scream can he heard up to 5 miles away. “My daughter asked why I couldn’t rescue fish instead.”

Fish might be less of a commitment. Unlike goldfish, parrots live up to about 60 years. There are reports of parrot centenarians. Owners are advised to include them in their wills.

Bird lovers do their best to inform potential owners of what they are getting into and help them deal with problem behavior. Barbara Heidenreich, the Austin, Texas, author of The Parrot Problem Solver and owner of Good Bird Inc., offers webinars, workshops and videos that discuss parrots’ phobias, potty training and petting preferences.

A professional parrot trainer, zoo consultant, and past president of the International Association of Avian Trainers and Educators, Ms. Heidenreich assisted authorities in New Zealand, where a very rare kakapo parrot named Sirocco was captured on a YouTube video attacking a sanctuary visitor and trying to mate with his head. Using positive reinforcement, Ms. Heidenreich redirected Sirocco’s affections to a Croc shoe instead.

Pittsburgh-based Pearl, which doesn’t have a sanctuary and relies on volunteers, has taken in 60 birds, placed 40 of them and has 18 available for adoption, according to board member Laura Fickley. Most are from owners who are no longer willing or able to care for them. Pearl relies on its website and informational booths at local pet shops, sometimes bringing well-behaved ambassador parrots.

Volunteers talk about what parrots are like, explaining why they are naturally messy and destructive. In the rain forest, they chew on nuts and seeds and fling them. In homes, they’ve been known to break out of their cage by removing the bolt and peck off the computer keys on a keyboard and drop them on the floor. They shred wood, including picture frames and furniture, and chew electrical cords, paper and curtains.

They need a minimum of 10 to 12 hours of sleep each day. Sleep-deprived parrots can be mean. So can a cramped parrot. A green wing macaw, with a wingspan of 47 inches, needs a cage the size of a queen mattress.

Potential adopters must fill out applications and take basic care classes. They are told not to smoke in front of their birds or burn scented candles because birds are very sensitive to air quality. Cooking in Teflon pans is discouraged, as is Febreze air freshener. Their homes are inspected to identify potential hazards, such as ceiling fans, and to make sure interested owners aren’t hoarders. Pearl once helped rescue 160 cockatiels from one home.

Advanced behavior classes are required for anyone adopting larger parrots. Nutrition 101 is advised. Many people think birds are supposed to eat seeds because that is what people put in their outside bird feeders. Indoor birds don’t get as much exercise and can get fat from seeds, putting stress on their hollow bones and leading to potential damage to kidneys and livers. Some people feed birds Cheerios and Doritos and peanut butter crackers. That’s a no-no.

Edward Moats chops fresh vegetables and bakes whole grain bird bread for his nine birds. He bred birds for 27 years, inspired by his grandmother, Myrtle, who lived on a farm and bred canaries. He stopped breeding birds two years ago, realizing he was contributing to the overpopulation of unwanted birds and is now on the Pearl board.

A certified avian specialist, he takes in special-needs parrots, including those who are blind and amputees, or have severe behavior problems. Parrots can develop phobias, refusing to leave their cage, and suffer panic attacks, and other mental-health problems due to unstable home life. Lucy, one of his parrots, had been through several foster homes. “She carried a lot of baggage,” he says, and she screamed a lot.

Ms. Martine has been working with Charlie, a blue-and-gold macaw, who sent two previous owners to the emergency room, one with a piece of his ear lobe missing and the other who lost part of her tongue after trying to kiss Charlie through the bars of his cage. She makes a point of including him in her routine, trying to socialize him. She took him to a parade on a leash. He loves noise and fireworks.

“We take them everywhere,” she says of the family birds. Caesar, an umbrella cockatoo, is especially social. Ms. Martine’s husband brings him along to Planet Fitness and the grocery store, places that wouldn’t usually allow pets. He has never been questioned. “They just assume he’s an emotional-support bird,” she says.

Ms. Martine says as challenging as parrots are, they are also loving and smart. She got her first bird, a little cockatiel, when she was 14. “It sat at the pet store for three years. I begged my dad to get it for me.” She named the parrot Lunch because she also had a cat that spent a lot of time staring at the bird. Ms. Martine taught Lunch to whistle. Lunch also learned to sing the theme to the TV show Fantasy Island.

She taught another bird, who had a piercing scream, to quack instead. “He would scream, I would quack. He would scream, scream, scream. I would quack, quack, quack. Finally he quacked,” explains Ms. Martine.

She is still working with Scooter, a lesser sulphur-crested cockatoo whose owner could no longer take care of him. “I’m trying to teach him to be a nice bird,” she says.