By Christine Mangan
Not too long ago, Terri Jones, director of the New Jersey-based Arcadia Bird Sanctuary and Educational Center, says they received 15 birds from a man on Staten Island who had passed away. A neighbor brought the birds to the center after no one else volunteered to take them in. According to Jones, if it had been a less thoughtful neighbor, the birds probably would have been euthanized.
These types of stories are not uncommon. Julie Murad, founder of the Gabriel Foundation, a parrot rescue organization in Aspen, Colorado, sees similar situations all the time. “The foundation receives hundreds of requests each year to take birds,” she says.
According to Murad, many people don’t realize how time consuming and costly it can be to care for a bird. She also believes that pet stores, a common place for bird adoptions, often provide inaccurate answers to potential guardians. “Their job is to sell a bird, and there are some that are responsible, but bird welfare doesn’t always come first when a sale is involved.”
This type of misinformation is what leads many people to give up their animals. “Making the decision to adopt a bird takes a huge commitment on behalf of the caretaker,” Murad says. “If most people knew how much it cost to adequately care for [one], they might think twice. There is no such thing as a cheap bird.”
Before rushing out to the nearest bird rescue, there are a few essential costs that every potential bird guardian needs to know.
The first is a cage, which can cost anywhere from $350 to $2,000. “The general rule of thumb is, the bigger the bird, the bigger the cage,” Jones says. “Personally, I believe [pet] birds should not fly free, but they should be taken out daily.” After all, your home may contain a number of potentially dangerous situations for birds, including mirrors, walls, and even boiling water.
While having an adequately sized cage is important, those who find their living space too small for a large cage shouldn’t be discouraged. Murad suggests those living in a studio apartment try different cages, such as one for during the day and a sleeping cage at night. She also recommends augmenting the lack of space for a larger cage by inventing play areas for the bird, using a play stand, rope, or swing. “People don’t understand how important it is to give birds the biggest space they can,” she says. “Birds become cage-bound in one cage.”
The position of a cage is another critical factor. “It’s important for birds to have enrichment in life,” Murad says. “A cage should have a nice view. It is not okay to keep them in the basement. They need something to do and see.”
What your bird eats is likewise as essential. In terms of a bird’s diet, Murad says commercial products are simply not enough. “They are often high in calories, but not nutrients,” she says. Birds need fresh vegetables and fruits, along with specific feed or nuts. The birds at the Gabriel Foundation also receive cooked food consisting of legumes, grains, and essential fatty acids. Too many people, Murad says, feed their birds inappropriate foods, such as noodles, cheese, and pizza.
After factoring in dietary expenses, guardians still need to purchase toys and perches, and also pay vet bills and groomers. And a visit to the vet can be extremely important, warns Amber Schira of the Bird Placement Program, an Ohio-based rescue that has several nationwide locations. “Birds won’t show signs of sickness. They hold it in until the last minute, right before death.” For this reason, Schira recommends taking birds to the vet at least every six months.
Murad suggests that anyone looking to adopt a bird should consider three things first: What are your expectations, why do you want a bird, and is your lifestyle conducive to caring for one?
“If you live in close quarters with other people, a bird might not be a good idea,” Murad says. “Neighbors might not like the noise.” She also stresses that birds are not the ideal pet to teach children responsibility. Using parrots as an example, Murad explains that they are still wild animals and aren’t domesticated. In other words, they are not the same as puppies or kittens. “Understanding the biology of parrots is helpful. [She’s] going to be loud and messy. Birds don’t operate on an emotional basis, they respond to the environment around them.”
“Birds can be wonderful pets, as long as you know your bird,” Schira says. “Some just aren’t meant to be pets.” At the same time, birds can be just the right fit for some. “They can be social, and that’s why people love them,” Murad says.
Guardians also need to be prepared for the fact that birds can live long lives. For example, certain types of parrots, such as the Cockatoo, can live upward of 80 years. “Birds live a long time, and people do need to be aware of that and make some sort of provision,” Jones says. She suggests creating a trust as opposed to a will. Otherwise, birds may be abandoned in the interim.
“People should know the good and bad news of living with birds,” Murad says. “They are not going to grow up and leave.” Unfortunately, the reality is that many unwanted birds, both those given up for adoption or left behind by the death of their caretaker, end up at shelters that are often unequipped to deal with the cost and time of caring for so many birds. This increases the likelihood of euthanasia.
Once you’ve made the decision to bring a bird into your life, be prepared to put forth some effort. The Gabriel Foundation, for example, requires prospective parents to take its “Birdie Basics Online Class,” which it offers to anyone interested in learning more about the realties of adopting a bird. Potential guardians are then moderated and evaluated as they spend hands-on time with the birds before being able to bring one home themselves.
While the decision to adopt a bird is a big one, and not one meant for everyone, both Murad and Jones are quick to explain the advantages. “All pets provide different things,” Jones says. “At night, you want to cuddle with your dog, watching TV you want to be with your cat, but when I want to be entertained, I want to be with my bird.”
Murad agrees. “It can be one of the most rewarding relationships anyone could have.”
A Refuge for Saving Wildlife, Inc.
The Gabriel Foundation
Arcadia Bird Sanctuary & Educational Center