Unlike canids or felids, psittacines are not domesticated. They live much longer than domesticated cats (not infrequently, 40-80 yr in captivity) and are highly intelligent (larger parrots have IQ of 2-4 year old child). They bond with a mate ( in a household, this is the bird's "owner) and mourn if mate dies or is lost (ie, abandons it).
Their habits and needs in the wild are only now becoming appreciated whereas their limitations as pets are rarely and poorly taught or followed. These create unique problems--ie. their need to chew, loud vocalization, uncanny ability to escape from cages. This is particularly a problem with "whim" purchase of a large parrot from an unethical or uninformed pet store.The overwhelming number of parrots are purchased on impulse without adequate thought.
Types of Abuse
*A red-lored Amazon named Maynard lived for 10 yrs with an ATF agent who hit him with fists,shook him and banged him on his cage, and often banished him to a dark closet. Consequently, Maynard chewed off his own toes. Several parrots have been rescued who lived up to 17 yrs in garages which were nearly devoid of light .The birds are often contaminated by gas and cigarette fumes; the latter leaves their feathers filthy and oily.
*JayDee ( a parrot at the Midwest Avian Adoption and Rehabilitation Center) was a self-mutilator, eating through her chest muscle due to her owner's abuse. Her tissue had become infected and necrotic, and she had developed lead toxicity.After placement in a loving home, she has healed mentally and physically.
*Another parrot(now at the Earth Angel Parrot Sanctuary) is so psychotic from chronic abuse that he shards wood and drives it into his chest like a spear
*At the Oasis is B.J., a self-mutilator who was kept for SEVENTEEN years in a tiny cage with no toys or any visual/auditory stimulation and a single metal perch. He had to be cut out of his cage. He had a 2' by 2' gaping wound on his chest from self-mutilation which extended 1/4 " into the chest muscle. He was systemically infected and had bowed legs and curvature of the spine due to a combination of malnutrition and cramped quarters. With love--and pairing with Ozzie, a one-winged parrot, B.J. is greatly improved.
*At MAARS is another bird--Jeremiah--a mitred conure who was abandoned on the side of the road in a tiny cage held together with duct tape. He was terrified, thirsty, and emaciated.
*At The Tropics Exotic Bird Sanctuary, Tango , a Citron-Crested cockatoo, had lost his right foot, and part of his left, to frostbite from being left outdoors in the winter by an uncaring owner.
*In Madison, Wi, the football Coach's son microwaved a Quaker parrot to death at his fraternity. The United States Secretary of HHS (a close friend of the coach) actually wrote a letter to the judge to ask for leniency
Illegal trade in birds is second only to (and frequently associated with) smuggling of illegal drugs , in $billions/yr. Smuggled birds have their beaks taped, feathers guillotined and are stuffed into PVC tubes ,and then are packed in truck wheels, crates, etc. Mortality: Up to 90%. (Mortality of even legally imported birds can be 20-50%). The remaining smuggled birds, if rescued, often require lifetime sanctuary and may never recover
Some procedures carried out by respected veterinarians are barbaric and mutilatory and in essence, vivisectionist. In one, used to halt male aggression against the female at the time of mating, the lower bill of the male is irreversibly cut in half to prevent him getting a good grip on the hen. (see pictures, details temporarily at www.birdstheword.com/birds/beakmutilation.htm ; may be moved to www.savethewave.com; available from me on request) Additional adverse effects include the facts that this procedure probably prevents the cockbird from feeding his chicks, or eating shelled nuts thereafter. The motive is strictly financial, although often rationalized as 'for the sake of the hen' (who could simply be removed!)
Although it is illegal in the EU and Australia, another procedure (devocalization) may be carried out in the U.S. to quell noise emanating from parrots. This involves removing the syrinx (vocal apparatus) and may damage other structures. It is very painful and impairs both the parrot's function and dignity,by removing its critical ability to communicate with other parrots (see details on website, above).
While the efforts of regional Humane Societies are rarely deliberately abusive, they almost totally lack experience identifying abuse of parrots, not less relieving it. Most Societies can not intervene as long as the bird has some cage (albeit woefully small), some food (even if just sunflower seeds) and some water (even if rank with the bird's own feces).Even the San Francisco SPCA has no real intrinsic program to deal with psittacines (E. Sayres; personal communication). The birds received by local agencies are often sent to parrot rescue organizations; however, sick parrots are notorious for concealing illness and may die before veterinary help can be provided. Most local Humane Societies lack adequate cages or food on site for large parrots .
Many zoos, while well-intentioned, cannot (or will not) easily provide adequately for psittacines , with their special needs. However, with the help of consultants who deal with avian behavior, improved conditions can be provided
Parrot Welfare Organizations (PWOs)-- Sanctuaries, Adoptive Facilities, Foster Homes a woefully-inadequate, post facto approach. Only about 1-5% of birds needing a new home can be accomodated in current PWOs. Funding is extraordinarily limited. Can easily lead to mental, financial and physical overload of the caregivers and their "burn-out"
Shining a Spotlight on Abuse of Parrots:
Education and Bringing the Problem out of the Shadows
The commons threads in this dilemma, as described above, are IGNORANCE and CRUELTY. While the latter may not be readily amenable to treatment, the former is remediable. EDUCATION and AWARENESS need to be greatly increased at the level of:
We are hopeful that THE ARK TRUST can help to bring the plight of these loving, beautiful, intelligent creatures out of the darkness and into the light of our collect consciousness (and conscience).
These birds love us, teach us, even heal us. To abuse them in return in unconscionable. Now that the problem has become recognized, and the unique needs of these animals have been identified, the true prreviewence and depth of the issue is astounding. This crisis must be dealt with on an urgent basis, since parrots have become the "fad pet" of the decade. We OWE them no less.
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When They Stop Singing