The Story That Won’t Be Told

By Sybil Erden, Founder – December 9, 2002

First published as “The Story that Must Be Told” in CPQ, Spring 2003

If you went to any of the Internet search engines and typed in the words “Avian Rescue” five years ago, perhaps three or four names would have come up.

Go to any of the same sources today and literally hundreds of names will scroll down the screen.

Ask breeders now or then and most will tell you there is no problem. They will often say that all birds they breed have found a good home. Ask them where the birds they bred five or ten years ago are, and if they are honest, they must admit that there are a significant number that have vanished without a trace, bounced from home to home.

The argument remains whether there are, as the breeders say, twenty million parrots in homes in the United States…or whether there are, as some in rescue say, up to sixty million exotic birds living in captivity in homes in the United States. Part of the argument is in the language: “Homes” versus “living in the U.S.” for example; “Parrots” versus “exotic birds,” which include any and all avians kept at “pets.”

If, as the breeders say, there are only twenty million parrots in homes in the U.S. and if only one percent of them have fallen off the radar (lost, placed in inadequate homes, placed up for sale again and again), we are looking at two hundred thousand birds.

However, any statistician will tell you that one percent is an inadequate representation of anything. The numbers, if they hold to statistical norms, are probably higher. But no one knows… not the breeders, not the pet industry, nor any of us in rescue. We must just agree that it is too many. Ultimately the numbers don”t really matter, not to the displaced birds and not to their desperate caregivers trying to find placement for animals they can no longer keep, for whatever reason.

If we are honest we must acknowledge that a problem exists. There are more birds than can find homes in this country. Realistically, we are not talking about “a few” birds. The numbers are in the thousands – this can be proven. Simply look at the names scrolling down the screen when you type in “Avian Rescue.” If each one of these people or organization has one bird, then we know the number of birds who could not find a “regular” home environment is in the hundreds. If each organization or person listed has ten birds, then we are looking at birds in the thousands.

An industry, the “Avian Rescue Industry”, has sprung up in the past five years. Most people taking in birds do it out of love for the birds. Some may even do it as a means of scamming free birds. Some think that starting or calling oneself a “non-profit” is a way to make money. But whatever the reason that these people and organizations start up, all too often, within a few short years they are overwhelmed, overworked, unable to take in any more birds for lack of placement options even for the most placeable of animals. And the very fact that people who have spent hundreds or thousands of dollars on a bird are now willing to give that bird away for free or in some cases pay a “turn in fee” for someone to take him or her proves that a problem exists.

A recent e-mail survey was done of several well-known adoption programs across the country. These are organizations which have been in existence as 501(c)(3) non-profit corporations for anywhere from six months to three and a half years. The discouraging results found that all but one had waiting lists for in-coming birds and that more than half were unable to take in any birds into the foreseeable future. Several who had between fifty and over two hundred birds were planning on cutting back the numbers of birds due to lack of funding combined with at least one of the following factors: lack of good volunteer help, lack of room, lack of quality adoptive homes in their region.

More frightening still is the hidden truth that birds are already being euthanized for behavioral problems. It was discussed and acknowledged at the Association Avian Veterinarians Conference in California this summer. And recently the discussion of “what if” and “when” will birds be euthanized was whispered among some in rescue… The reality is: All of us are turning away more than we can take in.

Where are these animals going? A recent follow-up on a few of the birds we had thought were staying in their present home situations after behavioral consultations showed that most were either sold, given away, placed in breeding situations. One woman said that she had “found a sanctuary that would breed the bird.” It is simple – bona fide rescues and sanctuaries do not breed. So now, in addition to trying to find placement options, the public needs to learn to ask questions of the places calling themselves “Rescue” to ascertain whether this is simply “new speak” for breeders or brokers.

While there are many new, young organizations with good hearts and high hopes beginning around the country, that are taking in any and all birds…within two to five years they too will be overrun. One adoption program on the East Coast told me that in this week alone they had to turn away 18 birds for lack of room…

It is not at all uncommon for adoption programs to have over a hundred birds in their facilities or in foster care. Until communities unite to help their local rescue organizations, helping with funds and volunteers to care for these animals, the overworked and understaffed organizations attempting to help the birds will, out of the sheer weight of the problem, collapse and fail.

And until we all recognize the seriousness of the problem, we urge you to stop supporting and buying birds from mass-marketing pet shops, and begin regularly encouraging the adoption of the birds already in need of homes, or the problem will continue to grow…

The Aviculture industry decries Avian Rescue. The AFA (American Federation of Aviculture) and others who are making money from the status quo of the pet industry attempt to instill fear in the public, saying we in rescue wish to take the “right” to “own birds” away from you. There is no “right” to own anything…not a car or an animal. What there is, what there should and must be is a responsibility.

All of us in avian rescue began as caregivers to these incredible animals that we love. Some of us even began as breeders. But somewhere along the line we came to the realization that there were too many in need of homes for us to remain on the sidelines while the problem grew.

Currently the cat and dog “problem,” the mass euthanizing of tens of thousands of healthy and loving cats and dogs monthly, at shelters across our country, continues unabated. Even with mass media awareness, with the cheap and simple solution of low cost spay and neutering programs, the overwhelming and ever increasing overpopulation of cats and dogs continues. And they die in our communities, their cries unheard. Is this the future for our birds?

The arguments continue on whether it is appropriate to keep exotic wild animals as pets. Arguments roll on regarding the correct numbers of birds. Still more arguments bray into the long night as to whether one rescue or another is good, bad or indifferent. And all the while, the birds in need of placement sit waiting….

But the situation, while difficult, is no hopeless, There are solutions.

  1. Volunteer. Take one day a month, or make it weekly if you can, to go to your local avian rescue group and offer to clean some cages and give some birds a bath. Bring your kids with you. It is important for them to learn about the responsibility of care giving and I can think of no better way than to give love to a homeless animal.
  2. Support your local Avian Rescue and Adoption Programs. Have a garage sale or a bake sale and give the proceeds to help the birds. Work with your Boy/Girl Scout Troops, your church or children”s school to start a recycle program to benefit homeless birds. Take your change out of your pocket and start a change jar and send the three or four dollars monthly to an organization that can care for a few more birds with those few dollars.
  3. Adopt your next companion animals, whether bird or four-legged friend. You are the ones who are offering your birds the best possible lives. Make room in your heart and home for one more bird. And if you don”t have the time or the room, sponsor a needy bird from a Sanctuary.
  4. Stop buying from the big chain pet stores who are more interested in profit than lives. Don”t even buy dog food at the chains flooding the market with unweaned and improperly socialized birds. But go in and tell the manager why! Write letters to the corporate heads and tell them that you will shop there when they listen to you.
  5. Support stores and manufacturers who support rescue. Many rescue organizations have on-line gift and supply shops. The profits from these places goes to caring for the birds and keeping their doors open. A note: Many of these companies do not advertise much because they would rather put their money into a worthy cause than into advertising. Seek them out.
  6. Make out a Will with provisions (including financial if possible) for all of your companion animals. Remember that as we grow older, so do our friends who have promised to care for our beloved animals. Your kids and relatives may not be able to take your animals. Ask your spouse as well as your relatives or friends whether they can live with the “noise and destruction” (for that is how many people see the joyous calling and play of our birds.) And when making out the Will make sure you have second options listed in case the first choice doesn”t work out for any reason.
  7. And as I have said many times before…. Once a year put a dollar in each of five envelopes and send them to the five rescue or research organizations you want most to support. Both the breeding community and the rescue community agree on this statistic: there are between five and six million homes in the United States with at least one bird in residence. If each of these homes sent a dollar a year to the organizations of their choice, there would be enough money to properly care for the birds who are displaced.

It doesn”t take much…but it does take you.