Being a parrot foster parent

I belong to an organization called the Alaska Parrot Education and Adoption Center (AkPEAC). This group has, at times, been referred to as the bird Nazis.  There’s a reason they have that reputation.  It’s well deserved and well earned.

With PEAC, birds and their welfare trump all other factors.  Which means that well-meaning people who want to adopt or foster a bird find themselves facing almost more training sessions and evaluations than people who want to adopt or foster children. 

I bought my first bird in 1970 from a department store in Brooklyn.  Not much was known about parrots back then. I didn’t have to take a course and they came with no instructions.  Birds were considered easy pets to own because you didn’t have to walk them and you could fill their food and water dish and leave them alone for long periods without a problem. 

We know now that isn’t true.  Many companion birds have the intelligence and emotional range of a two year old.  They are flock birds that should never be left alone for any long period. They need stimulation to prevent them from forming bad habits like screaming and self-mutilation.

Unlike dogs and cats, they weren’t domesticated thousands of years ago.  Most companion birds are barely two generations from their natural habitat, which means their wild instincts are still dominant. And many of the larger birds live 60 to 100 years.

So buying or adopting a companion bird is not something that should be done lightly. You are acquiring a life long companion. And this is where the people at PEAC get their reputation.

Before you can adopt a bird from them, you have to take three classes that cover the basics of avian care, feeding, behavior and types.  That last point is very important. 

Different types of birds are as different as different breeds of dogs. Some are very loud and vocal. Some like to cuddle. Some want to be your friend from a distance.  Some talk. Some whistle.  Some mutter.

You have to be prepared to spend time with the bird.  Not time where the bird sits in a cage in the same room with you while you do other things.  That’s fine but not enough.  You need to devote a part of each day to one on one time with the bird in which he has your undivided attention.

Are birds worth all the hassle?  Well, when I first moved to Barrow, I brought my department store parrot Adeline with me. I arrived in Barrow in October and was immediately greeted with a very long, cold and lonely winter. I missed my home, my family, my friends.

As I sat at the table writing long letters to everyone I knew East of the Mississippi describing the total darkness and frigid cold, Adeline would fly over and land on my shoulder. If I didn’t pay attention to her, she’d climb up on my head.  If I still didn’t stop what I was doing to play with her, she’d lower herself in front of my eyes using my hair for her grip.

I’d be in tears, writing home and trying to pretend I wasn’t homesick and suddenly there would be this parrot peering intently into my eyes from above.  There was no way I could do anything but stop writing, laugh at her silliness and cuddle her while she nestled in my arms and talked quietly to me.

Birds are loving, comical, loud, soft, cuddly, prickly, charming and arrogant all in the same few ounces of fluff.  They are never boring, often frustrating, frequently astounding and totally worth it.

So I have no problem with the people at AkPEAC being called the bird Nazis. These birds need all the protection they can get so that their lives as companion birds don’t end up being an endless series of homes from which they are bounced because their human caretakers didn’t know how to handle them.

I just wish I could find the same happy outcome for every child on my GAL caseload, as AkPEAC requires for the birds they place. Wouldn’t that be a great world?