Recent 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.
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!
Overworked 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.
Video: a look at parrot ownership and parrot sanctuaries
Behavioral Enrichment for Parrots: adding zest to your pet’s life