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Number of Unwanted Parrots Reaches an All-Time High in the USA

Rainbow LorikeetsRecent advances in parrot husbandry and captive breeding may have had an unintended effect.  Lower prices and a larger selection of available species may be contributing to a problem of epic proportions – hundreds of thousands of abandoned parrots, macaws and cockatoos, many of which will never find a permanent home.  While parrot ownership has soared a staggering 147% over the past 20 years, from 11.6 million pets in 1990 to 60 million in 2010, our ability to provide for them has not kept pace.

Desirable but Demanding

The very qualities that draw people to parrots – intelligence, sociability and long lives – also render them as unsuitable pets for the average person.  Many live as long as their owners, who often find it difficult to provide for their pets, financially and otherwise, as time goes on.  According to a study by Best Friends Animal Society, it is not unusual for an elderly parrot to have 7-11 owners over the course of its life.

Parrots are likely the USA’s third most popular pet, yet many people do not realize that, unlike dogs and cats, they are not domesticated animals.  As wild animals, parrots have very different needs than domestic creatures.  Few people are able to provide the space, social situation and emotional environment needed by these active, “complicated” birds.  I have observed many species in the wild, and, despite years of study and zoo experience, was surprised by how much of their time was spent on the move and in direct contact with others.  The noise they produced was deafening…even on wide-open grasslands.

Permanently Homeless

Unfortunately, even a short period of social isolation or stress can lead to screaming, self-mutilation and other behavioral problems that may be nearly impossible to reverse, even with intense therapy.  Such birds are virtually impossible to re-home, and often spend their lives in over-crowded shelters.

Frightening Statistics: Legal and Illegal Pets

According to Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, the US captive parrot population could swell to 100 million by the year 2020. US breeders now hatch 2-5 million parrots yearly, and an additional 15,000 birds are legally imported.  I was quite surprised to read that, despite our long-term ban on wild-caught parrots, illegal imports remain a problem.  The US Fish & Wildlife Service estimates that 20,000 parrots illegally enter the USA from Mexico each year, with at least 5,000 smuggled in from elsewhere!

Amazon parrotsOverworked parrot rescuers are, by and large, terrified by these figures.  The USA’s approximately 100 large parrot sanctuaries currently provide for 100 – 2,000 birds each; those kept by smaller organizations bring the total number of unwanted birds into the 6 digit range.  Largely supported by donations, such organizations simply cannot continue at this pace, much less expand their work.

How to Help

Please post here or email me (see below) for advice before deciding on parrot ownership.  Other things you can do include supporting parrot rescue and conservation organizations (please see below), volunteering at shelters, educating others and fostering/adopting rather than purchasing parrots.



Further Reading

Video: a look at parrot ownership and parrot sanctuaries

Best Friends Animal Society

Behavioral Enrichment for Parrots: adding zest to your pet’s life


  1. avatar

    This is a very thoughtful and well written article about the growing problem with abandoned parrots.

  2. avatar

    Hello Melissa, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Thanks very much for your kind words and interest; much appreciated. I look forward to hearing from you in the future.

    Please let me know if you need any further information.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  3. avatar

    i wont to by or adoped a parrot. i wont a yong one if possibell

  4. avatar


    Thanks for your interest. Adopting is a good option, however it may not be best for a first-time parrot owner. Birds put up for adoption may have behavioral problems, and would require an experienced owner. Be sure to discuss the bird’s history and needs very carefully before considering adoption.

    Please let me know if you need any further information. Good luck, enjoy and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  5. avatar

    The only solution to the companion parrot overpopulation problem is to stop the commercial breeding of parrots! The only parrot breeding we support is captive breeding for conservation and reintroduction into the wild. Falconers are required to undergo apprenticeship and licensing to own a raptor. Why should parrots be any different?

  6. avatar

    Hello and thanks so much for your input. requiring training and a license would be ideal. I just heard from a reader in Australia who relayed the following:
    “One German operation make their clients go through an entire course before they take hold of their new pet.
    People come in and choose a certain species of parrot from the young being hand-raised. They then spend some time with the bird as it is being reared. At the same time they are taught about the bird and where it comes from, its social structure, the correct and incorrect ways of dealing and interacting with the bird. This training can take a few months.
    By the time they take charge of their new pet they are fully aware of what they are getting into.”

    Unfortunately, short attention spans and financial considerations (buyer and seller) would likely doom such a noble effort in most situations. But something we might works towards…
    Amazing how much info is out there, yet is ignored or does not get to the right people. There are still grave, widespread misconceptions regarding parrots as pets.

    I’ve been involved in breeding programs designed to bolster rare bird populations., i.e. black palm cockatoos, Guam rails, Mauritius Pink Pigeons; in a few cases private breeders were able to become involved. I’d love to see more of that, as you mention. But, again, money gets in the way – in the programs I mentioned, the private breeders were wealthy individuals who footed the costs of participation on their own.

    Best, Frank

  7. avatar

    I know. I have a licensed rescue for all types of birds. Most of what I get are abused, stressed, and starved. People ask me why I don’t rehome, but most of the Parrots I get are not rehomable. I make a lot of progress with them, but they will never be pets again. I give them a permanent home, with lots of love and attention. Some Parrots, it has taken over a year to let me touch them. Its a shame. Beaten birds, broken wings, beaks, and other bones. How can someone do this? If they don’t want or love the bird, give it to someone who will. Lynn Woodard, Country Acres Rescue

  8. avatar

    Hello Lynn,

    Thanks for your thoughtful comment and concern. Re-homing in indeed very difficult, which of course only adds to the problem and increases the burden on concerned people such as yourself.

    I wish you the best, Frank

About Frank Indiviglio

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I believe that I was born with an intense interest in animals, as neither I nor any of my family can recall a time when I was not fascinated by creatures large and small. One might imagine this to be an unfortunate set of circumstances for a person born and raised in the Bronx, but, in actuality, quite the opposite was true. Most importantly, my family encouraged both my interest and the extensive menagerie that sprung from it. My mother and grandmother somehow found ways to cope with the skunks, flying squirrels, octopus, caimans and countless other odd creatures that routinely arrived un-announced at our front door. Assisting in hand-feeding hatchling praying mantises and in eradicating hoards of mosquitoes (I once thought I had discovered “fresh-water brine shrimp” and stocked my tanks with thousands of mosquito larvae!) became second nature to them. My mother went on to become a serious naturalist, and has helped thousands learn about wildlife in her 16 years as a volunteer at the Bronx Zoo. My grandfather actively conspired in my zoo-buildings efforts, regularly appearing with chipmunks, boa constrictors, turtles rescued from the Fulton Fish Market and, especially, unusual marine creatures. It was his passion for seahorses that led me to write a book about them years later. Thank you very much, for a complete biography of my experience click here.
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