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A parrot sitting alone in a small cage in a poorly-lit room, companionship consisting of a tiny mirror, is not a pleasant image. Considering birds are social animals, physiologically and mentally adapted for flight, this is indeed harsh punishment.

While not every bird suffers this fate, cruelty and neglect is a reality of the exotic bird trade. There are an estimated 20.6 million birds kept as “pets” in the U.S. alone, according to the 2013-2014 American Pet Products Association’s Pet Owners Survey. Even if just 10 percent of these birds lived in conditions described above – or worse – that would still be about two million birds.

A Widespread Crisis

Based on previous conversations with avian rescuers, including for an article I wrote about avian rescues for ASPCA Animal Watch magazine, the estimates above are conservative. Each rescue I’ve spoken with has shared stories of having to turn birds away for lack of room, and of regularly rescuing birds who have experienced physical and psychological damage.

I’ve seen some of this first-hand: Birds who had plucked most of the feathers off their bodies, some on Zoloft, and others terrified of humans because of traumatic past experiences.

People may think they want a parrot. And who can blame them? A social, intelligent, exotic animal is hard to resist. But the truth is they often don’t have a clue that keeping a bird is a monumental task. There are no licenses or classes required to take, so virtually anyone can walk into a pet shop and buy a bird – even on a whim.

Consider the Plight of Captive Birds to Honor National Bird DayPixabay/ariesa66

Birds are not Domesticated Animals

Even if born in captivity, birds are essentially wild animals. They are extremely high-maintenance, with dietary, social, physical, emotional, and mental requirements most of us are not equipped to provide.

Not to mention their loudness (ear-shattering at times), ability to create messes within a moment’s notice, and willingness to bite at whim. Some species have very long life spans – some into their 70s – so chances are good that the bird will live in at least one home during its lifetime.

What’s the Solution?

  1. Don’t buy birds. That goes for parrots, finches, doves, or any exotic bird. This creates a market for “pet” birds, and ultimately more potentially unwanted ones. If your heart is set on a bird, you’ve done your research, and understand that you’re entering into a lifetime commitment, go to a qualified avian rescue. Check out the Before You Donate article by Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries, and their list of accredited sanctuaries, for an idea of what constitutes a quality rescue.
  2. Watch Parrot Confidential. Allison Argo’s documentary offers a glimpse into the crises parrots and rescues face. After watching, you may feel motivated to help out your local rescue with a donation of money or time. (Please do – most really need and appreciate it.) Originally broadcast on PBS, you can purchase a copy of Parrot Confidential online, or check with your library to see if they carry it.
  3. Participate in National Bird Day. Sponsored by Born Free USA and Avian Welfare Coalition, January 5, 2015 is a day to bring awareness to the plight of exotic birds kept as pets in the U.S. Getting involved is fun, and you can choose your own level of participation. The following are just a few ways to get involved; check online for more ideas. National Bird Day is officially held on January 5th, but you can celebrate all month long.

Short on Time?

Have an Hour or Two?

  • Ask your mayor to sign National Bird Day Proclamation; a sample letter and Proclamation are available online. Mayors are usually happy to do this for their residents.
  • Download one of the colorful posters online, print, and post at your favorite grocer, veterinarian’s office, humane society, or coffee shop.
Consider the Plight of Captive Birds to Honor National Bird Day


Have a week or more?

  • Team up with your local humane to create an event, such as hosting a coloring or essay contest or meet-and-greet for adults.
  • Ask your library if they’d be willing to host a display, similar to the one we did at our branch last year. It doesn’t have to be anything too complex – a few posters and books about birds set up nicely in a corner nook is all it takes.

Exotic birds are not ideal pets. Even the most optimal conditions available can’t compare with what they experience in the wild; and sadly, most birds are likely not living in optimal conditions. Avian rescues are overwhelmed with birds, available spots becoming harder to locate. This qualifies as a crisis. Finding a solution begins with awareness – and awareness begins with you.

Lead image source: Crazypitbull/Pixabay