Preventing Companion Bird Abandonment


Abandoned Caged Birds Create a Need for Companion Bird Rescues

Over Breeding, Poor Owner Choices Fuel Growing Bird "Refugees"

Studies have shown that a parrot will live in cages in anywhere from 4-7 different homes during its lifetime.  Environmental transitions are difficult for companion pets, just as they are for humans, which is why this statistic should concern all bird owners.  These changes often occur because people are unprepared for the commitment bird ownership demands or because their life circumstances have changed.  In the best of situations, owners recognize their inability or lack of desire to continue ownership, and they will surrender their birds to a reputable bird rescue mission for adoption.  In worst-case scenarios, owners will let their birds out of their cages and into the wild or abandon their birds somewhere (while they are still locked in their cages).  Although quality avian rehabilitation centers require intense dedication from knowledgeable staff, excessive breeding and bird neglect have led to an extraordinary need for these rescues.

A Devastating Comparnion Bird Abandonment Trend

Thousands of birds leave their homes each year because their owners are unable or unwilling to continue caring for them.  Mickaboo Companion Bird Rescue is a non-profit organization located in the San Francisco Bay area that has seen this trend first-hand.  According to Mickaboo's Director, Tammy Azzaro, Mickaboo’s cages house hundreds of birds each year, and they currently have over 300 birds in their foster care program looking to be adopted.  They accept birds of all species and health issues.  Tammy admits that the adoption process is longer and more intensive than what an owner might go through purchasing from a pet store. This is because they require their clients to attend a bird education class to ensure the adoptions are successful and won't result in additional turnovers.  Tammy explains that these classes are necessary since many birds need to be rescued because their owners weren't properly educated in the first place.  These classes teach about proper diet, the importance of selecting an avian vet and how to provide proper enrichment in their cages so they don't get bored and engage in self-destructive behaviors.  However, Tammy insists that even if their process were expedited, there would still be an overwhelming amount of abandoned birds needing good homes. 

Where Are These Birds Coming From?

Tammy first recognized this need to help displaced birds when she worked at a vet hospital and received regular phone calls from owners of smaller, less expensive birds that appeared sick.  When the owners discovered that the cost of a veterinary exam was more than what they paid for their birds and cages, they became disinterested in seeking care and instead asked her about performing euthanasia at home.  Tammy tried calling local rescue centers for her callers, inquiring about their options, but even these centers said they would euthanize any sick birds because they didn't have the resources to treat them. These regular calls disturbed Tammy who realized there was a serious need for avian rescue of both small and large birds.  Tammy says that smaller birds often end up in Mickaboo cages because they are often inexpensive and an easy “impulse buy.” In these cases, owner attachments aren't often strong when medical issues threaten financial distress. 

Tammy says that larger birds often come to Mickaboo because they have developed behavior problems their owners are not willing to deal with.  These larger birds exhibit behaviors such as biting, screaming and feather-plucking. Tammy observes, "You see [this type of behavior] with birds that aren't given the proper enrichment in captivity."  Patti, a Mickaboo administrative volunteer, adds that  "these behaviors can be managed, but people need to be educated about how to work with birds."  Both agree the negative behaviors may arise with the improper placement of cages or inadequately-sized cages, and owners unknowingly promote them with how they respond to their birds (even negatively) when bad behaviors are displayed since the birds interpret this as the wanted attention they are missing.

Other reasons for surrender include different lifestyle incompatibilities.  For example, some people discover allergies they were previously unaware of.  Additionally, larger birds can live for 40-100 years, a commitment some may not fully understand when they are first attracted to the novelty of bird ownership.  Children who grew up caring for birds may go off to college and cannot take the birds and cages with them. Others may move from houses into apartments, where their birds' noise levels may be disruptive to their new neighbors.  Whatever the reason, rescue centers like Mickaboo are struggling to serve a growing population of needy birds.

The Problem with Letting Birds Out of Their Cages

Sometimes when owners recognize their birds are sick or feel they can no longer take care of them, they consider opening up their bird’s cages and letting them fly away.  They believe that the birds may be happier in their "natural" environment.  Unfortunately, this is by no means the romantic expression their owners imagine.  According to Tammy, it is true that enough Conure parrots have been released into the wild to create a surviving native population in the San Francisco area –if a released bird of the same breed is lucky enough to find and be accepted by this type of flock. Other breeds will typically die if they can’t find a group that has already discovered a recurring food and water supply. But even these “reintroduced” birds have much shorter lifespans than their captive counterparts and often meet violent fates (like getting hit by a car or preyed upon by hawks).  “The majority of birds allowed out of their cages die within a week,” Tammy notes sadly.

A Contributing Factor: Breeding Practices

Bird breeding has unfortunately led to an overpopulation of companion birds. While making bird ownership easier than ever, breeding has contributed to the bird abandonment problem.  Tammy and Patti blame an active breeding population (enhanced by the Wild Conservation Act of 1992), along with a culture that promotes the novelty of bird ownership.  The 1992 law was meant to help preserve wild bird populations by prohibiting their importation, thus removing the United States from the international bird market.  The (probably unintended) effect of this law was that parrot value increased, and breeders were able to charge much more for their birds which in turn accelerated the practice for commercial sale.  Unfortunately, some breeders saw the potential for large profits and began acquiring additional cages to multiply their practices with no regard for parrot quality of life.  As a result, some bred birds are kept in inadequately-sized cages, contributing to behavioral problems and other health issues.  Breeding farms may house up to 1.000 breeding birds, all producing offspring in need of quality homes.  As Tammy explains, "We are here trying to manage the byproduct of all that, which is the overpopulation, the birds sitting in shelters and garages waiting for a proper life."

Retention Services

Mickaboo also offers retention services to support bird owners who are thinking of surrendering their birds and cages to a rescue organization.  Volunteers will foster birds for temporary periods so that their owners can get through whatever situation makes them reconsider bird ownership, such as an extended hospital stay or a round of chemotherapy.  They also intervene by teaching behavior modification techniques to see if they can help owners cope with negative behaviors before surrendering their birds.  Not all retention services are successful, but sometimes the surrender is worth a second look.  Tammy reports that while some cases clearly demand removal to preserve the bird's health, sometimes the best decision isn't so clear since many owners do not realize how long it may take to find the bird a new proper home; it may be only days, but it could be a few years.

Financial Obstacles

Operating a successful bird rescue mission requires an extreme amount of time and dedication to a selfless cause.  This is especially true for non-profits and volunteer-run organizations like Mickaboo.  But bird rescue centers must not only find quality staff willing to devote their time to the mission, they must also find the financial means to care for all of the birds inside their cages.  For organizations like Mickaboo that commit to helping all types of birds with any kind of health problem, the veterinary bills can really add up.  Tammy explains that Mickaboo pays $10-15,000 a month for veterinary care.  Finding funds for avian healthcare is essential to a successful rescue operation and should be taken care of by a CFO.

But for reputable rescue organizations with committed staff, all of the hard work is worth it.  Helping nurse the smallest and sickest animals back to health, beating all the odds against these seemingly hopeless creatures and watching them thrive in new homes is a powerful reward that continues to fuel the mission.

The BIG 3 Bird Feeding Links!
Bird Training
Cage Sizing by Breed
Cage xChange Program
hand feeding of new cage birds can be done by pet bird owners
Fritz is one of many birds available for adoption at Mickaboo Companion Bird Rescue. Many of the birds that end up in rescue centers are in need of medical attention, like Fritz was.

bird cage training materials

Bird rescues like Mickaboo report that adverse bird behavior is one reason owners surrender birds. They help owners learn how to train birds to stop unwanted behaviors. Bird training materials can help owners learn these important skill to increase enjoyment and help stop the growing trend of companion bird abandonment.

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