December Parrot Rescue Spotlight - Birds of a Feather Parrot Rescue
Here at Bird Street Bistro, in addition to helping parrot owners provide quality, healthy nutrition to their parrots, we’d also like to take the time to acknowledge the people and organizations that have helped parrots and their owners live healthy and happy lives together. One major component in this is helping ensure all parrots are cared for properly. Parrot rescues everywhere take in birds that no longer have a home and rehabilitate and place them into new ones. Sometimes a parrot is surrendered by their owners because of changing circumstances and sometimes they are turned over to a rescue because of abuse or neglect. Without parrot rescues, these birds would have nowhere to go.
So, we’d like to shine a light on the people who are making a difference not only in the lives of the parrots themselves but also the people on all sides that are affected as well. Each month we will feature a new parrot rescue and their specific journey in helping the birds we all love so much.
Birds of a Feather Parrot Rescue
Birds of a Feather Parrot Rescue is located in Albuquerque, New Mexico. New Mexico is known for abundant sunshine, great food, and cultural diversity. However, just like many other places in the country, they are also experiencing a crisis with many parrots needing a home and the struggle to find the space, time, and funds to provide for them.
Today, we’ll speak with Dorothy, the owner of Birds of a Feather Parrot Rescue about her experiences and challenges running the rescue and how it affects her life and the lives around her. Not only have they been open for many years, servicing the needs of birds and their owners, but they have also been heavily involved in community education around parrot ownership. They have held several fundraising events and have even been on local radio and news stations advocating for parrots and their wellbeing. Over the years that the rescue has been in operation, many birds have had another chance at happiness thanks to her and the people around her supporting the rescue. It is through the kindness of volunteers and donations that facilities like this can continue to function and provide for animals in need.
Dorothy is here to tell us about her story and the story of the birds in her care. To help Dorothy and the birds in her care you can donate to Birds of a Feather Parrot Rescue here: https://www.birdsofafeathernm.org
Tell me about how BOAF got started and what motivated you to open up a parrot rescue:
"When I was younger, one of my friends and I knew of someone who had smuggled in a bird and got in trouble for it. The bird was going to be taken to an unknown location because 40 years ago or so, there were bird owners but it wasn’t as common as it is today. This bird, a macaw, was wild-caught and of an unknown age. She had a hard life by the time we got her. People didn’t know how to care for her, her owner would scream at her and they would hit her cage - so she didn't trust people. I was young and didn’t fully know what I was getting myself into when I took her in. At a local bird store, they told me how to care for her and educated me about her diet. I eventually got to the point where I could touch her. After some time, I got to know her behavior. My husband also had birds at that time. When people found out that we had birds and that we had helped this macaw, they would ask us for help with their birds. I recall one woman calling me crying. She had an umbrella cockatoo and her husband threatened to put the bird in the freezer. She asked if I would take her. Her name was Dolly, and I found a home for her and adopted her out. This was the start of my rescue."
"Once my children started elementary school, I had to take a break from rescue since they needed more of my time. When they started high school and became more independent, I got back into bird rescue. I wanted to do it right. I looked into the 501(c)(3) certification. The USDA used to classify us as a zoo up until recently. We had their certification but never anyone dedicated to exotics. Now they have vets and partners who know exotics that understand birds at least a little that help with the process."
How long has BOAF been operational?
"In total, it's been about 27 years."
Your rescue is located in Albuquerque, NM. Is parrot ownership common in this location? Is there anything specific you’ve noticed about your community and parrots?
"Ownership is pretty steady, this past year most of the birds we got were older amazons and macaws that were owned by older people. Many of them are the last of the imported, wild-caught birds. However, we are now seeing a younger generation using birds as a status symbol because of social media. They want what they see on TikTok and YouTube but don't want to put the work into it. They call asking for specific bird species asking if they talk and do tricks. We of course explain to them that bird ownership is a complicated commitment."
What is the most common reason that people surrender their parrots to you?
"Lack of education. People will tell me “I bought a bird, the cage, and the food but I didn't know they were so messy, screamed, or bite so hard.” I explain that you can take the bird out of the wild but not the wild out of the bird. People at the pet store are uneducated and do not inform buyers about behavior and stages of their life such as puberty or breeding times where behavior changes might occur. I often try to encourage and help them to continue and get through but many do not wish to."
How do you feel about pet stores selling parrots?
"Pet stores do not do a good enough job of educating people about the parrots they sell. I have one lady I had to stop who would go to a local pet shop and would feel sorry for the birds in the cages, so she would buy them. She would then call me and give them to me because she didn’t want them but she felt bad for them. I told her by doing so, she was putting money in that pet store's hands - making it more likely that they would sell more birds."
How do people usually react after they’ve surrendered their parrot?
"It depends on the person. Some people are mad, they buy a Conure for their child for example, and they blame the bird and call us to take them in. They don’t want education. They are mad that the bird was sold to them. They blame the bird. Some are sad when they do. Especially older people who surrender when a bird has been in the family for many years. They get upset if they can no longer care for the bird and realize the bird will outlive them. Many of them are diligent and interview us and care about where the bird goes."
"We have an initial questionnaire that gives us an idea about the person and living environment. We have telephone calls/interviews and we also have a meet and greet. Someone may say “I want a Macaw” but when they visit and see the bird and the requirements they end up adopting a Conure or Lovebird. Bonding visits are important and a person might love the bird but the bird might not like them. We want to make sure it is a good match. We do a home visit, we discuss cookware, cleaning supplies, lifestyle, etc. We discuss getting rid of dangerous items. When they are ready, we do another home visit with the bird and go through the house. If we see the bird is ok in the house we do a final placement. It's a longer process, a lot of people complain but still go through with it. They end up happy with the end result. We generally tell them about 3 weeks to start to be okay and 3 months to settle in."
Do people ever get impatient with progress when adopting?
"Yes, we have had people get impatient and bring the bird back. I can’t be 100% sure that education will work and I stress the need for patience when adopting. I don’t mind when they come back. We will talk on the phone and discuss housing and how we can help the bird stay in the home but if they give up I immediately bring them back. Once a person gives up, progress will not happen."
"They all scream and they all bite. When you watch a movie or you are at a pet store or best friend's house, if you think they are perfectly behaved, I guarantee they aren’t. When someone says “I want a bird that doesn't scream, bite, and is clean'' I tell them “So do I”. But that's not a thing. They do bite sometimes and likely they are trying to tell you something. Even biting is a way that they communicate. One of my biggest pet peeves is when someone asks me “Do they talk? '' I say yes, but it's their native tongue. It is not mandatory that the bird needs to speak English, sing, play games, etc. I have Greys that have never said a word of English but are great talkers."
"We offer our birds fresh veggies and fruits with a seed mix in addition to their pellets and we have seen them have improved health. I buy cases of fruits and veggies and make birdie bread etc. Some people that speak to us will say “All he will eat is pizza crust and crackers'' but of course, he will choose that over healthier food. Many people don't know better, especially older people with outdated info."
"We just adopted out an African Grey. The person adopting did all the visits and bonding and he is so happy with his bird. He said ”I would never have known I would have so much meaning” If the process is followed correctly and a good match is made, people realize they are not just pets - they are part of your family. He said he was so thankful he went through the rescue process because he knows his bird and the bird knows him. One woman called thanking us because we “saved her life” and that the bird “gave her a reason to live” as she struggles with mental health issues. Though I was unaware of her issues, her volunteering, being a part of the bird community, and having the bird have helped her tremendously. I was in awe, I was in tears. Just doing what we are doing welcoming and accepting her and asking her to come back and help changed her whole life. It changed her whole outlook. I couldn’t believe we impacted someone's life that heavily."
Is there one bird in your care, past or present, that stands out to you as particularly difficult or tragic?
"Most recently, Ricky came to us. He wasn’t surrendered by the owner, but by a friend of the owner. The friend noticed when the guy would get drunk he would abuse Ricky. The last time they were together, the owner broke the bird's wing by slapping him off of the cage. His friend called and asked for help and I took him to the vet and they chose not to do surgery. We wrapped him and it helped his pain. One wing healed as well as possible but the other wing, due to the nature of the break, won't heal. We keep taking him to the vet and he is almost ready for surgery. We will have to amputate above the elbow and that surgery is hard to recuperate from. We don't know if we should amputate the whole wing or not, we are consulting with other avian vets to do what is in the best interest of the bird. I don't understand, if you don't like them or want them, bring them to a rescue. But some don't. The owner never called to check on the bird. Some birds come in from drug houses and we have had to detox them and get them on little O2 tanks. We have had several birds exposed to drugs. We have an O2 chamber and we keep them warm and humid to help their bodies get rid of the harmful substances."
What about one bird as a success story that has inspired you and made you feel really positive about what you’re doing?
"Azul came in attached to a piece of wood. His cage and space were so tiny that he only had one perch. He couldn’t move and so when he used the bathroom it just piled on his perch. The fecal matter was so bad that it became attached to him. They brought the bird with the piece of wood and it took a long time to separate him from it. I used water and a chisel. His beak was severely overgrown and his nails were grown into his feet. He was also badly dehydrated and the vets were unsure if he would survive. We continued to do our best with him. One day, I had a young man drive in from Los Alamos to see a cockatiel. He asked about Azul and if he could interact with him. He enjoyed him so much that this young man started coming to Albuquerque twice a week to visit with him. Meanwhile, Azul kept getting better but he had sadness in his eyes. He seemed so sad. As the young man came over and played with Azul, the bird started coming around. He started acting like a bird. One day, the young man asked the big question, "Can I adopt him?" I told him no, that the bird had gone through too much. However, he continued to come and play. I noticed that Azul got very upset when this man would leave. One day, Azul chased him down the room screaming and having a fit as he was about to leave. He tried to fly to him even though he couldn’t. There was no doubt that the bird chose him. He was the right home and that was the right thing to do. To this day, they are best friends and inseparable. That was one of the hardest adoptions I have ever done. I did not want to see that bird go. But it was so good for Azul. He has the best home imaginable. All of the abuse, neglect abandonment but he won the multi-million dollar lottery ticket."
What are some of the specific challenges you’ve had to deal with personally in running the parrot rescue?
"People. Dealing with difficult people. Some people are unhappy and have tried to hurt the rescue because they don't agree with our process etc."
What sort of community events have you run to help raise awareness around parrot care?
"Educational classes at pet stores etc, and we also do fundraising. People come out and want to know more about why there is a rescue. They ask “Do we really need one? I had no idea about them” A lot of people came out saying they have a bird and need help with care. We do a lot of help and we don’t charge for that help."
What are the most common needs that your rescue experiences?
"General supplies and maintenance like food, bird toys, bird bread but always fruits and veggies."
Other than adoption, how do people help your rescue?
"We have a volunteer coordinator. People make birdie bread etc. and they donate auction items for fundraising. If you have a special craft you can still help with events by donating items and your time."
I want to thank Dorothy for speaking with me and for doing such an amazing job with the birds in her care. Working in animal rescue can be draining physically, mentally, and emotionally. That makes it that much more impressive that people like her live their lives every day giving their time and energy to help animals in need.
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