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Stories of Captivity: The Journey of Six Parrots to Their Forever Flock


Me hanging with my little old man, Spock

I’ve always been an animal-lover. As a child, I wanted to be a vet. As a young adult, my life was too itinerant for pets, so I made pocket money by petsitting. But it wasn’t until my partner had the kooky idea (at the time!) of becoming a bird guardian in 2016 that I discovered a whole new level of love for animals. It was at that time that we began a lifelong journey of not only caring for feathered friends, but learning about and advocating for them.


Six birds and six years later, I’m honored to be part of the One Earth Conservation team. I don’t spend my time in the field though. Instead, I provide communications support in the realm of web development, graphic design, writing, and social media – the same thing I do at my day job. When I’m not doing "comms" work, I spend most of my time caring (and cleaning!) for my flock. I've learned so much about their needs, their behavior, and above all else, why none of them should be in captivity in the first place. Below are their stories as well as some reflections from my journey as a parrot parent.


Sam and Floyd

L-R: Floyd & Sam

Where to begin with these two old men? My partner and I adopted this pair of bonded Amazons in 2018. Floyd is a 49 year old Red-lored Amazon and Sam is a 39 year old Orange-winged Amazon. They’ve been bonded for almost 25 years, and we are their fourth home. They found their way to us via Foster Parrots after their previous owner relinquished them due to declining health.


Floyd and Sam were wild-caught. To this day, they are clearly both wild birds. Neither has ever sought or needed much attention from us. But as their residency with us has gone on, that has changed a bit. About a year ago, Floyd – for the first time – bowed his head, asking my partner for some scratches. A few months ago, he climbed up on his shoulder.


These little moments bring us joy, but few days go by when I don’t think about their journey to our home – all the pain, fear, and stress they’ve endured from their nest to the U.S., to three different homes, to a sanctuary and finally here. What they’ve endured is simply too much to expect any animal to experience. I’m so grateful they have each other.


Of all of our birds, Floyd has the most health problems. Unable to fly, he suffers from atherosclerosis. Sam on the other hand can and does fly. All around our house! But anytime Sam leaves Floyd’s sight, Floyd is overcome with anxiety and frustration, often resorting to biting his own legs. We keep Sam and Floyd in the center of our ground floor, so that even though they don’t always want or need our company, they know that we’re right there, everyday.


Dodi

Sweet, sweet Dodi

Our Citron-crested Cockatoo, Dodi, is a daily reminder of why parrots shouldn’t be kept in captivity. This 19-year-old little lady constantly craves our attention and affection. Not a day goes by without a piercing, blood-curdling scream because we’ve left the room for a second, or because it’s been too long since we’ve pet her.


Dodi was brought into this world almost twenty years ago by a breeder who then sold her to a woman who was curious about birds. She was then “swapped” for a Toucan after a few years, and ended up in the home of Jewel, a woman whom she would grow to love and live with for over 12 years.


When we met Jewel, her life was undergoing significant changes. Her new fiancé didn’t like Dodi, and she had started her own business as an in-home pet-sitter. Unfortunately, being called away to work outside of the home 40+ hours a week was incompatible with Dodi’s needs. And that’s how we came upon a Reddit post by Jewel, seeking a new home for Dodi.


Dodi is a chronic plucker and occasionally a self-mutilator. She won’t hesitate to send us into a panic by proudly ripping out a massive wing feather, her otherwise pristine, white coat soaked in deep red blood. I still wonder how many days she spent locked up in her cage when Jewel, who really loved her deeply, was pulled away to work from 9-5 (plus a commute). I wonder if I could begin to count the number of feathers Dodi ripped out in those days.


Spock

Spock keeping watch.

Spock is a 35 year-old Cherry-headed Conure (a.k.a. Red-masked Parakeet) who also came to us via Foster Parrots. Born to a breeder, he at some point experienced significant trauma, resulting in not one, but two broken legs that never healed. He is unable to walk or perch, but he doesn’t realize that. Given the opportunity, he will fly right to my shoulder as though he can perch right there with ease. He will then hang by his beak on my shirt (or skin!) until I adjust my body so that he can lay – like a floating duck – on my shoulder, chest, or lap.


Spock’s health upon arrival at Foster Parrots was precarious. He had a cataract that they feared might portend greater health problems, and they considered making him a permanent resident of the sanctuary. But his deep and intense desire for human companionship won out – he simply wouldn’t be happy there, because he isn’t happy if he isn’t around humans. To this day, years later, if I even place Spock in his cage for a few minutes, he makes his displeasure known – immediately, loudly, and unyieldingly. He does not want to be in his cage. Ever.


Spock is a very old man in conure years. We don’t have much time left with him. We’re incredibly grateful and honored that Foster Parrots allowed us the privilege of caring for him in his final, golden years.


Kachina

Kachina and me outside on a gorgeous day.

Kachina is a spunky 32-year-old Catalina Macaw, who we adopted from a family in Vermont. Their daughter wanted Kachina so much, she exchanged months of labor for a pet store for the privilege of taking her home. They became fast friends, but Kachina didn’t take to anyone else in her home. After a few years, the young girl made plans to move away to college, but couldn’t take Kachina with her. And so began Kachina’s journey to our home, facilitated via Craigslist.


Kachina, which means spirit in Pueblo, is the most recent addition to our flock. We often wonder about her overall health and well-being – specifically, does she miss her best friend? Is she better off with us? Her former family loved her dearly – they were so proud of their nutritious, homemade chop recipe, and let her roam around their living room all day every day as she pleased. But they admittedly never once took her to a veterinarian. She slept in a dog crate measuring no more than 4 ft x 3 ft.


We struggle to keep Kachina occupied, and she quickly becomes frustrated if she isn’t receiving a wealth of attention. I wish we could let her roam free, but she is so curious, so full of energy that it inevitably leads to her climbing, chewing, or chasing something (or someone!) she shouldn’t. Every day brings new challenges for us, but we realize that Kachina faces challenges we’ll never understand. I will never know how she spent the first 20 years of her life, before being plucked from a pet store.


Mango

Mango in total love with my partner, Eric

Mango, a Sun Conure (a.k.a. Sun Parakeet), is another little fellow we adopted from a family who could no longer keep him due to changing circumstances. He belonged to a 16-year-old, Lauren, who loved him very dearly, along with his cagemate, a Green-cheeked Conure (a.k.a. Green-cheeked Parakeet) named Kiwi. But her parents had divorced, and, like so many Sun Conures, he was becoming aggressive. Schlepping Mango back and forth between homes was proving unsustainable, and neither of Lauren’s parents cared much for Mango when Lauren wasn’t around. He spent most days in a cage alone. And of course, Lauren knew that someday soon she would be moving away to college.


Like Dodi, we found a post about Mango on Reddit, after this young girl made the brave, mature, and highly emotional decision to re-home him. Now 7 years old, he is still a typically feisty Sun Conure, and as such, he presents many challenges. Like Lauren, we struggle with his aggression – he attacks not just his flockmates (his most common victim is sweet Dodi), but also our dogs and cats (yes, we have three of each)!


Unfortunately this means that Mango can no longer be out of his cage all day like the other birds in our care. We maintained a peaceful symbiosis for about a year, but by that time, his aggression became too much of a risk to our other pets. We hope that one day we are able to resume his previous routine. Until then, he is out 6-8 hours most days, but he can never be part of the rest of the flock. Instead, my partner and I must spend time with him one-on-one. We’ve also moved his cage so that he is in the center of everything. He may be confined to his cage more than we like, but he’s never alone.


Lessons Learned as a Parrot Parent


Since adopting our first birds in 2015, parrots have slowly but surely taken over our lives. It’s joyful and it’s frustrating. At times it’s overwhelming. We have learned so much about these animals – chief among those lessons learned is the underlying reality that none of them should be captive in the first place. Every day brings a new reminder of why these animals are still wild at heart, and why their lives are stunted by living in a human home. Dodi’s plucking, Floyd’s atherosclerosis, Mango being cagebound…all are products of life in captivity.

Dodi and Mango vying for Eric's attention

Being parrot parents is no longer a simple joy for us. It’s become a calling with a much deeper meaning, providing our lives with purpose and passion. We’ve designed a new life, with our flock at the center of it. We bought a home in a small New England town so they could have space and security. We no longer up and travel to Europe for six weeks on a whim. Every day, we try to do right by them, and we hope more than anything, that for all of them, we are their final, forever home.


Still, at times I find myself overcome with anxiety. We are blessed to be young and healthy, but what if we are in some kind of accident, or what if our health fails at the same time? What will happen to our birds then? We are upwardly mobile young professionals now, but what if that changes? An economic depression could turn our lives upside down, like so many others. What if we’re no longer able to work from home? We live in a comfortable, spacious home now, but what if a fire or flood takes that from us? If that nightmare materialized...what if we need temporary housing? Who will take in six parrots?


We have taken every precaution possible – savings, flood insurance, pet insurance, a highly specific will, back-up bird food reserves...but in the event of a true disaster or emergency, will any of it matter? What will our birds do when even the most comprehensive arrangements can’t take into account their needs?


There’s no easy answer. Hopefully these fears will never become a reality. But what’s scarier, even more overwhelming, is the realization that this is the same fate that basically all birds in captivity are doomed to. Human structures, human constructs, human schedules, human habits are not compatible with the needs of wild animals. Parrots were never meant to be captive. Yet we continue to put them in cages. And they continue to suffer. Even the happiest, healthiest parrots in human homes will never find the same environment they would find on a daily basis in the wild.


The fact is that our six parrots are the lucky ones. Countless birds out there will be harmed, failed, and even murdered by humans, in some ways much worse than we can imagine. For every joyful, healthy parrot I see on Instagram, I know there are a dozen more suffering, and even more who never made it past the clutches of a trapper or smuggler.


Eric balancing his time between (L-R) Spock, Mango, Dodi

This is why I give my time to One Earth Conservation. It’s why I spend hours every day caring (and cleaning!) for my parrots. This is why I support multiple sanctuaries, like Foster Parrots, Magnolia Exotic Bird Sanctuary, the Rhode Island Parrot Rescue, the Northeast Avian Rescue, the Iowa Parrot Rescue, and Pearl Parrot Rescue – only a few of the inspiring, indomitable organizations out there who pick up the pieces for parrots where humans fail. Because countless parrots need sanctuary. And because this crisis will only get worse as long as humans keep breeding, buying, and selling parrots.

If you love parrots and/or want to care for a parrot, I implore you, as would any of the staff at the rescues above, all bursting at the seams with surrenders – #AdoptDontShop! Adopting Dodi, Floyd, Kachina, Mango, Sam, and Spock has been the most fulfilling experience and greatest privilege of my life. There are so many birds out there who need a forever home.


And if you can't adopt a parrot, that's okay! Most humans live lives incompatible with the needs of parrots. Please consider supporting your local parrot rescue – they need all the support they can get.


From my flocks to yours,

Josh Anderson



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