When Blackbeard has downed his last bottle of rum and drifted off to Davy Jones’ Locker, what happens to his faithful shoulder-sitting parrot?
It’s a question that any bird owner should be asking himself or herself, since exotic birds have lifespans that rival, and sometimes exceed, that of their human companions.
In fact, the average parrot will live to 95 years in the wild, and up to 75 years in captivity. That means an adult buying a young parrot in a pet store will likely die long before it will.
And if there’s nobody to care for the bird, chances are it will wind up at Greyhaven Exotic Bird Sanctuary in Tsawwassen where the bird is left puzzled at its new surroundings.
Jenny Tamas, who has been volunteering with Greyhaven for 10 years, says people buy birds without really knowing anything about them.
“They get them and they don’t realize they’re going to live 30, 40, 50 years,” she says. “And it’s a huge commitment.”
Tamas takes Ariel out of her cage and hugs the 12-year-old macaw gently. Nearby in her own cage is 26-year-old Coco, another macaw who doesn’t quite like so much affection (she bites).
All parrots have different personalities, explains Tamas. Cody, a 40-year-old African grey, squawks out, “It’s time for beer.” His previous owner kept him in a cage and never let him out.
The popular African grey and macaw parrots are purchased by people who like the idea of a bird that talks, but soon grow tired of the noise and get rid of them. Tamas says most long-living birds will have an average of seven different owners.
She says people don’t realize the birds can be destructive to furniture, are loud, and can get nervous habits that require veterinary care. They are then passed from home to home using social sites like Craigslist and Kijiji.
Tamas says most people will call Greyhaven and the first question will be about the biggest birds.
“I’ll ask what kind they’re looking for and they’ll say, I don’t know, give me the biggest you’ve got.”
That’s a red flag for Greyhaven, which aims to find the perfect home for discarded birds, most of which come from owner surrender. The shelter took in over 218 birds in 2012 and adopted out 182, accepting surrenders from as far as Hope and parts of Vancouver Island.
Exotic birds in B.C. are usually bred in captivity and sold by pet stores or bird marts. Parrots, cockatiels, canaries and budgerigars are all common impulse buys for people looking for a pet that they think is low maintenance.
The budgerigar, or “budgie,” is the world’s most common “throwaway bird” according to Tamas, because they are the cheapest parrot money can buy and they can often learn to vocalize words and sentences.
Tamas says Greyhaven receives a lot of cockatiels and other small birds when seniors go into care homes.
Greyhaven was started 17 years ago by a couple who only took in small birds like budgies and canaries. But then they got an African grey parrot and it not only changed the name but the outlook of the rescue.
The non-profit is now composed of dozens of volunteers with five members who sit on its board of directors. Tamas donates hours each day to feeding the birds, cleaning up after them, and showing them love and attention.
“We just have all committed because we love the birds and someone has to look after them.”
There’s an interview process before Greyhaven will adopt out a bird to somebody, including a home visit to determine suitability. It’s during that visit that Tamas will sometimes identify hazards to the bird, such as a large pet with predatory instincts.
Tamas urges potential adopters to research before buying a bird so they’re not abandoned later.
The most emotional part of her job is letting the birds go to a family with the hope it will be treated right.
“A little piece of yourself goes with each one of them,” she says. “The nice part is when you find somebody who loves their bird.
For more information on the birds or to donate visit greyhaven.bc.ca.