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A Peek Into the Running of a Parrot Rescue

Many of us have read about or seen videos showcasing heartwarming stories about a bird that has been rescued and rehabilitated. Even those of us without parrots in our home have probably come across these stories on social media or even the evening news. While it’s true that there are many wonderful success stories about birds that flourish when they are adopted, there are also countless others that never get their stories told. Behind every parrot in a rescue is a story. Some of happy times cut short, and yet others that tell a tale of neglect and heartbreak. Included in all of those stories are the people that work in the rescues that have devoted their time and energy into helping those birds that are surrendered into their care. For this article, I’d like to take a moment to learn and share more about what happens behind the scenes at a parrot rescue and some of the challenges that they face.


Happy Wings Sanctuary

I’d like to introduce Happy Wings Sanctuary. They are located in Orange, VA, United States. Their website states: “Happy Wings Sanctuary focuses on the rescue and rehabilitation of any bird in need! Rescue, Rehabilitate, Educate!” Their goals are similar to the many, many rescues scattered across the United States. The owner of this facility is Tanya, and she has agreed to let us into her rescue by answering some questions and enlightening us about what it takes to run one. Below, I will ask Tanya some questions about her experience running a parrot rescue and how it has affected her life and the birds in her care.


Tell me the story of how the rescue was founded, and why you decided to start it: “Happy Wings Sanctuary was founded when I met a 29 year old Blue-Fronted Amazon named PePe (pictured right). His wings were clipped and he was never let out of his cage, and due to the amount of feces accumulated, he was unable to walk around or place his feet on a clean, flat surface. His food bowls were overflowing with empty seed shells and he had one bell "toy", which he was not allowed to play with due to the noise it made. So, the bell was placed on the outside of his cage. He could look at the bell but he couldn’t touch the bell. He was later diagnosed with renal failure and despite our efforts in trying to reverse the many years of damage, we unfortunately lost him. All of his ailments, suffering & loneliness could have been avoided if he was properly cared for, but unfortunately, this is a common life for most captive parrots.”

When a bird is surrendered to your rescue, what kind of process does it go through before it can be put up for adoption? “Quarantine. Diet transition. Schedule vet exam/wellness/blood work panel. Address any health and/or behavioral issues.”

How is the rescue able to pay for costs associated with the intake of a new bird? For example, their veterinary care? “Through public donations and private funding. There are also many grant opportunities and fundraising options available through social media to help with expenses for non-profits.”

How do people usually react when they surrender a bird to your care? What are the most common reasons that they do so in your experience? "Most are relieved that they are able to find someone to take their bird. The most common reason for surrendering is being ‘unable to provide the attention, time or care needed to keep the bird happy’.”

Does every bird that gets surrendered get placed into a home? “Not all birds surrendered are placed into a home. If birds have health/medical/behavioral issues that require on-going treatment and/or rehabilitation, they reside here at the sanctuary so that they may continue to receive the necessary care needed.”


Can you give me an example of a bird that was not able to be put up for adoption due to medical or behavioral issues that is a permanent resident at the rescue? “Thumpy (pictured left) had a broken foot after his owners attempted to remove a breeder band. He was traumatized, very aggressive, and was also suffering from fatty liver disease. We were contacted by a veterinarian as his last and only option before euthanasia. Thumpy's foot had to be amputated, and due to his advanced fatty liver disease, he requires a special diet and monthly medications to help his liver function properly. Regular, on-going vet appointments are also needed to help maintain his abnormal beak growth due to his disease.”

What is the process for someone that is wanting to adopt a bird? “Complete an application for review. All pre-existing birds currently in a home must have a recent medical/health clearance from a veterinarian. Schedule meet & greets with the bird in the applicant’s home. Observe & evaluate bird’s body language and response to applicant, before making any final adoption decisions.”

What do you feed the birds in your rescue? Have you had difficulty converting those birds previously on a poor diet onto a healthier one? “All of our birds are on a varied balanced diet of pellets, vegetables, fruits, grains, nuts & seeds. All of our birds were previously on all seed diets, and we have had a 100% success rate in converting them to their new diets.”

 How have Bird Street Bistro’s products assisted you with the birds in your care? “Bird Street Bistro's products provide our rescues with a variety of healthy options and helps make diet conversion an easier transition.” (You can try Bird Street Bistro for yourself and see how their products can help your birds. We suggest the Parrot Food and Tea Starter Pack!)


Do you think community education is important? In what sort of ways has Happy Wings Sanctuary been involved in the community? “Community education is very important for the welfare of captive parrots and is part of our mission. We share all of our experiences and knowledge with the community via social media in order to help educate others. We work with our local county Animal Control Officers, Shelters & Veterinarians whenever there is a need for assistance with birds that have been relinquished and/or confiscated. We are also recognized as one of 'Great Nonprofits Top-Rated Nonprofits' and a recipient of their 'Top-Rated Nonprofit Award.'”

Why do you think so many parrot rescues are overcrowded and stressed? What are some contributing factors that you have noticed? “Parrot rescues are overcrowded and stressed due to the astounding number of people wanting to rehome their birds. On average, Happy Wings Sanctuary receives up to 10 relinquish requests per week. Parrots are wild animals being sold, and portrayed, as domesticated pets and are too easily accessible. Many want to purchase young birds under the false assumption that they will build a stronger bond, rather than adopt an older bird that has been given up by their owners. When a parrot’s wild traits become a reality, it is very difficult to keep a wild animal happy in a confined domesticated environment.”

How has running Happy Wings Sanctuary affected you on a personal level? “There is a lot of physical labor, financial demands and unconditional patience required to maintain a parrot rescue - you also have to be available for the birds 24/7, 365 days a week and the amount of surrenders, demands and losses can cause compassion fatigue.” 

(Compassion fatigue is one of the main things people like Tanya struggle with when it comes to animal rescue and other professions where they are exposed to trauma and hardship. It is defined on WedMD as “the physical, emotional, and psychological impact of helping others”. It can cause a person to feel tired, overwhelmed and emotionally vulnerable at times.)

If someone can’t adopt a bird but they still want to help, what are some ways that they might be able to help their local parrot rescues? “Volunteer. Donate/Fundraise. Foster. Help educate and share information via social media.”

I want to give a special thank you to Tanya for letting us interview her about the issues she and the birds face. Be sure to check out Happy Wings Sanctuary's website and consider a donation to help support the animals in her care.


So, what contributes to the issues?

Facilities like Happy Wings Sanctuary have become the only resource for many bird owners needing to surrender their bird. City animal shelters aren’t usually equipped to handle exotic animals like parrots. Unfortunately, this has caused rescue facilities to become overburdened. Resources and time are stretched thin and many birds needing a safe place to go get turned away or are put on a waitlist due to overcrowding. Some of the reasons behind this rescue crisis are irresponsible breeding and selling, impulse buying and a failure of a person to fully understand the breed of parrot and their behavior before purchasing or adopting.

Unfortunately, many birds needing to be rehomed never get the chance to get placed into a new home. Many parrot owners either don’t know that these rescues exist, don’t want to go through the process or feel shame about surrendering their bird. Many online forums and social media groups are very negative to people that are thinking of surrendering their bird, adding to the shame and fear about the process. But sometimes, rescue is the best option for a bird that is not getting what it needs from its owners. Being more understanding of this fact is ultimately better for the birds, and being less harsh on new bird owners in general can help to prevent issues from coming up in the first place.

Spreading accurate, up to date information and encouraging parrot owners to ask questions is key to helping the overcrowding of parrot shelters. Discouraging impulse buying by making sure we understand the needs of the parrot before buying is important. But perhaps more important is that breeders and pet shops act responsibly in how they breed and sell the birds in their care. They can do so by breeding responsibly by putting the animal's welfare first and providing their customers up to date, accurate information regarding parrot care and the expectations that come with bird ownership.


How You Can Help

There’s no doubt about it. Running a parrot rescue is hard work and is challenging both physically, emotionally and financially. People like Tanya that have devoted themselves to caring for our displaced companions truly deserve recognition for their work. It takes a community to help these animals, and together with volunteers, medical professionals, educators and many others we can help those birds in need and have a huge impact on their lives.

For more information on how you can help, please search online or visit a website like The Center for Avian Adoption, Rescue, and Education to find your local parrot rescue. While this isn't a complete list of rescues, it can help point you in the right direction.



   Image taken from Happy Wings Sanctuary Facebook page