Adopt a Rescued Bird Month ~ Dana Hogg, DVM

Move over, New Years—January is about the birds. Not only is the 5th of January National Bird Day, but the month of January is Adopt a Rescued Bird Month.

This month is especially important to me, as I have four rescued parrots of my own. My flock includes two Yellow Naped Amazons, a Red Fronted Macaw, and a Nanday Conure. They all range from twelve to over thirty years of age, and each one has their own unique story and quirks. Jack likes to sing opera scales and laugh hysterically when she thinks something is funny (yes, she is a girl). Finster says “bye bye” as I grab my keys each morning to leave for work. Oogie likes to chuckle and jibber jabber; occasionally, he will perform an opera scale just to give Jack some competition. Oliver likes to say “step up” and blow kisses before bed time.

These are some of the many pleasant behaviors I witness at home; however, as with any rescue animal, they also came with previous learned behaviors from their past that can pose challenges. Jack will yell for help when she is very upset. Oliver will scream for attention here and there. Finster will try to feed the dog formulated bird pellets when she wants attention. Of course, my dog thinks this is just the best thing ever! Oogie has a physical disability and is still learning how to interact with toys and forage at over fifteen years of age. They all will attempt to bite if they are over-stimulated, scared, or simply unsure of something. As you can imagine, there is never a dull moment at the house.

In addition to having four rescued birds in my life, I also sponsor a Timneh African Grey Parrot named Scrappy. Scrappy is a resident at a wonderful sanctuary called Project Perry located in Central Virginia.  She is a wild caught African Grey who had a rough start to life prior to joining the sanctuary. Project Perry rescues multiple birds and offers lifetime care options for owners needing to place their birds in a permanent living situation. With huge aviaries and unlimited enrichment opportunities, they truly allow birds to be birds. We love getting updates on how Scrappy is thriving.

Just like dogs and cats, birds end up in shelters and rescues. Unsurprisingly, there are a significantly reduced number of shelters equipped to handle their needs.

Birds are a huge commitment. Several parrot species can live well into their fifties with appropriate care.  Overtime, caregivers may no longer be able to care for their pet bird due to life changes, or their bird may outlive them. This leads to several birds being relinquished to shelters each year.

Birds are very social animals. They live in large flocks where they communicate daily through a variety of sounds, some of which are pleasant, and others which are not. They attempt to communicate with people in the same manner. As humans, we often unknowingly reinforce these loud behaviors. This can lead to frustration for both parties involved and sometimes even noise violations depending on where you live. Throughout a bird’s life, some may bond with their human caregiver as their “mate”, which can lead to confusion and frustration. This can result in both behavioral issues as well as medical issues such as egg binding. Fulfilling the average bird’s social needs is certainly not an easy task.

The intelligence of birds is truly fascinating. Because they are so intelligent, they need enrichment in several forms to keep them happy in captivity. Enrichment encompasses several categories which include social, cognitive, physical, and sensory aspects. Birds in the wild spend a large portion of their day flying and foraging for food in flocks. It engages their mind and promotes exercise. It involves multiple forms of enrichment. This is a hard behavior to replicate in captivity, especially when housed in cages and fed from a dish. With inadequate enrichment opportunities, birds learn to cope with these social and environmental needs through behavior changes which can be in the form of unpleasant vocalizations, aggression, destruction, feather destructive behaviors, and self-mutilation. All of these can be very challenging to overcome and can lead to relinquishment.

From needing well-formulated diets, to fresh produce, to multiple enrichment opportunities, the expenses can add up quickly. Additionally, birds need veterinary care just like dogs and cats. While there are no routine vaccines, it is recommended to have a preventative care exam at least yearly as well as lab work at the discretion of a veterinarian. Birds are notorious for hiding illness from their owners, which makes the preventative care exam that much more valuable.

Whether it is due to behavioral, financial, or commitment reasons, multiple birds are surrendered to rescues or rehomed each year. In fact, several parrots have had multiple homes in their life time. If you are considering bringing a new bird into your life, please do not hesitate to reach out to me with any questions. This year, to celebrate National Adopt a Rescued Bird month, consider offering new enrichment opportunities to keep your feathered friend happy, or consider donating to a parrot sanctuary. Project Perry is a fantastic sanctuary; I strongly encourage everyone to check them out!

While my day to day is very exciting and challenging at times, I would not change the decision of welcoming my feathered kids into my life for anything. They provide me with constant smiles and teach me daily. I wouldn’t have it any other way.