Posts Tagged ‘pet birds’

Another Grey Bust

Tuesday, February 16th, 2010

Another 1000 African Gray parrots were discovered earlier this month in crates about to leave the airport in Cameroon for transport to Bahrain and the Middle East. This is the second illegal shipment of these parrots intercepted in two months in Cameroon. The total number of birds discovered numbers over 1500 between the shipments – all sent to Limbe Wildlife Refuge for rehabilitation. The birds who are alive and who are able to be released will be. Many have already died from being crushed or glued or just general rough handling and fear during the “shipment.”

These are all wild caught birds of the endangered species variety. They are CITES II which means trade in them is restricted because their populations in the wild are so low that they cannot sustain any trade. I spoke with Dr. Irene Pepperberg of The Alex Foundation who has done the seminal work on the intelligence of African Grey Parrots. She told me that when there is this high a number of birds being poached, it means there are a number of large flocks from which the adults are taken. Stripped of their teaching population, the younger birds remaining in these substantially decreased flocks are left trying to learn to survive in the wild on their own and it makes these diminished flocks extremely vulnerable. If any of the birds that eventually are released are young, they have an equally challenging situation in that they also need adult birds who will teach them how to survive. But in this case it’s even trickier because these unrelated birds being released will need to know to search out and find adults who are willing to teach them. Add to this the fact that, according to research done by Dr. Pepperberg over a 30 year project, African Grey parrots have an emotional equivalent of a 2-3 human child and the intelligence of a 5-6 year old human child, and seeing these birds tightly crammed in baskets and crates is even more heartbreaking.

Limbe is charged with caring for over 1000 parrots right now – a financial and time burden they never expected. The best way to stop these kinds of killing shipments is to end the market for wild caught birds. It can start with each of us. Triple check your desire for an exotic bird before buying one. Make sure you are prepared for the commitment. It can be up to 80 years of commitment and you can expect your life to change dramatically to accommodate the bird – you cannot reasonably expect the bird to accommodate your lifestyle and still have any kind of satisfying life for either of you. If you still must get one, then be absolutely certain the bird was domestically bred and raised and there are several generations of domestically bred and raised birds in his or her lineage. Wild birds make terrible pets anyway. Those domestically bred and hand raised are more accustomed to human interaction and there is generally less aggression than with a wild caught bird. We can avoid unwittingly aiding and abetting the poaching of exotic birds by shrinking the market for them. The birds are much happier when they remain in the wild. And, it would be a travesty for a regal bird like the African Grey to disappear because of his ornamental value in the pet trade.


Photo credits: Limbe Wildlife Refuge

Finch Fights

Monday, February 15th, 2010

Apparently there are no animals too small be bet upon in forced fighting rings. The latest bust, this one in Massachusetts, of illegal immigrants who keep finches in intolerable conditions, get them worked up , sharpen their beaks and then get them fighting, is a sad testimony to what goes on. Who would have thought finches weighing just grams could be considered fighting instruments with which to make money? This article in the Boston Herald tells a tough story about an improbable, but apparently not uncommon form of animal abuse.

photo credit: Boston Herald

Life With Exotic Birds

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009

If there ever was a moment to pause before making a decision about which path to take when it comes to the animals in your home, getting a bird is one of those moments. They are so beautiful and it seems so simple – just put them in a cage and feed each day, right? Well, not exactly. What most people don’t realize is that day to day life with a bird – big or small – can be difficult. They are demanding flock creatures whose desire for round the clock attention and activity is insatiable. They are also really smart. In fact, Dr. Irene Pepperberg who has run a 30+ year seminal study of avian intelligence through the Alex Foundation, has shown us that they have the intellectual capacity of a 5-6 year old human child and the emotional capacity of a 2 year old human child. Still thinking you can have a happy bird who spends all his time in a cage? Many people are accustomed to seeing smaller birds in cages and think this is a suitable life for a curious, intelligent, feeling creature. As a result, they don’t realize the trouble the bird is having with life alone in a cage with no stimulation. Bigger birds often let you know how they feel by screaming, developing unusual behaviors or plucking out their feathers.

There was a very insightful piece on CBS Sunday Morning this week entitled Bye Bye Birdie about the aftermath of bird “ownership” which shows rescue centers overloaded with birds cast off because they were too loud, too demanding, too difficult, too destructive. I highly recommend visiting both the Alex Foundation site to find out more about exotic birds as pets as well as watching this CBS piece before making the decision to live with birds of any size. Exotic birds (little birds like parakeets included) are amazing curious creatures and ones whose intellectual and emotional capacities run so deep and who are so needy that it can be overwhelming.

I recently was at a lunch with some friends and one of the women asked if there was anyone we knew who could take in a 20 year old Cockatoo. The bird had been with her owner for all those years and one day ripped into the woman’s face – a violent act she had never even hinted at before. The vet told her to “get rid of the bird” which begs the question of what to do with her? She would live another 40-50 years and had bonded to this one woman who was her mate. Could it be more appropriate to find out what caused the outburst, addressing the problem and finding a way to keep the bird in the same home? This particular situation is not unique. Birds (and other animals) may live for years in a situation they find frustrating only to finally reach the “end of the rope” and lash out. The “owner” sees it as aberrant violent behavior. But, the animal generally has been sending out clues about their unhappiness for a long time – clues the person never understood or picked up on.

I have had the pleasure of living with small exotic birds for 20 years and can attest to the fact that it is a full time position. Fortunately I have worked at home for all the time we had birds. I am not sure what I would have done if I had to work outside the house, as the need for attention and companionship by birds surpasses anything I have ever known with other animals – even dogs. Birds are brilliant in mind and body and can be pretty mysterious. A good human companion to a bird is one who is prepared for a lifelong commitment to an unusual and complicated lifestyle. The cost can be very high to bird and human if it’s the wrong match. And apart from the ethics of “getting rid of the bird”, as indicated in this CBS piece, placing the bird somewhere else is not always an option. The best way to avoid these sad stories is to not take in a bird until you are absolutely certain you are prepared for it. And, if you are ready, then adopting one or two of the many birds already in need may be a good option for all of you.


Photo courtesy of The Alex Foundation


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