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Volunteering at a Parrot Rescue: Introducing the Birds

(This is will be the first story in a series about volunteering at a parrot rescue. I find that my experiences reflect research done in the human and animal bond field. I also wanted to highlight some of the people, parrots, and concerns and benefits of parrot care.)

Phoebe.jpg When describing Phoebe, all the male volunteers use the term ‘sweetheart’. She likes to dance for attention and cuddle when allowed. To our female co-volunteers, Phoebe is polite, but distant. Phoebe is a beautiful umbrella cockatoo who was surrendered by her owners and now resides with many other parrots at the Feathered Friends of Michigan Parrot Rescue (here). The rescue takes in parrots from owners who can no longer keep them for a variety of reasons. We call these parrots surrenders. The shelter also receives birds from pet stores that go out of business. Six cockatiels that currently reside with the shelter are rescues from such a store.

Since I began writing for HABRI Central I have researched topics like depression, PTSD, dementia, cardiovascular health, and autism. Animal ownership and interaction has been noted to a wide variety of benefits in all these areas, whether it’s helping a person who is depressed or anxious feel better, giving mental stimulation for someone with dementia, or even enabling someone with autism to better relate to and engage with his or her peers. Whether there is some kind of bias at work or not, I have noticed some benefits from working with the parrots as well.

I consider myself a fairly healthy individual (mentally and physically). I’m active as a dance instructor and participant. I travel a bit on the weekends and I have a group of friends I spend time with most evenings. However, as a new graduate and someone who is starting out on his own I feel the anxieties of bills, car payments, schedules, work deadlines, student loans, and other responsibilities begin to weight heavily on my mind. After an hour or so working with the parrots I feel much calmer, lighter, and while with the parrots I don’t worry about money or bills. Especially now that a few of the birds that were distrustful to begin with are now affectionate and appear happy to see me, visits to the rescue I jokingly call “therapy sessions”.

It’s hard not to smile when working with the birds. They are smart creatures, always puzzling something (or you) out. Phoebe will bob and dance to get attention. Max, a lilac crowned amazon, is a calm and collected parrot who will fly near when someone has treats and wait his turn. If he is not fed fast enough he might say “pretty bird” as a reminder that he is, in fact, a pretty bird. So feed him. Now. Blue is a conure who takes a while to warm up to someone new, though he’s a well-behaved bird, especially around the other parrots. Sonny, a lorikeet, we have nicknamed the Mad Woman. She’s a bundle of energy. We feel she would make a good therapy animal. She never bites, only tastes (lorikeets have an all liquid diet and tongues that are unique in the parrot world). Jango, a sun conure surrendered to the rescue, comes to the corner of her cage and waits for neck scratches. Of all the birds at the rescue, Jango is my favorite (please don’t tell Pheobe). She has a lovely disposition. We don’t let her out yet because she is skittish around the other parrots.

Getting to know a parrot is a bit like getting to know a person, but once a relationship is established they can be very affectionate creatures. Even Max, as stoic as he is, likes to be near people. He would be a great bird for someone who is also low key and wants a companion who respects personal space. Phoebe would cuddle all day if she was allowed to and would be a perfect animal for someone who has the time and the desire for a snowy, warm shadow.

This week I wanted to introduce you to a few of the characters we take care of. Next week I’d like to introduce some of the human staff and their stories, as well as more about the history of the rescue itself.

  1. Birds
  2. rescue
  3. volunteers

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