Opinion Piece: By Alan Parker of Avian Rescue Otago
Large parrots have always been a point of fascination for people; They see them in shops, movies, on TV and they fall in awe. With more and more people buying these birds, comes more and more people breeding them to meet that demand. Sadly though, the general public have a very poor understanding of the reality of owning these birds.
As a director of a rescue, vet nurse and general Cockatoo lover myself, I have had many large parrot owners relinquish their birds after the cute, fluffy bird they purchased as a baby, has grown into a monster child that wreaks havoc on their lives, 'something the petstore person/breeder never told me would happen'.
A lot of times these birds have been unhandled and unstimulated for 2 years or more and suffer from various dietary induced medical issues and destructive, aggressive unwanted behaviors due to a lack of stimulation. The sheer size and bite force in these birds can cause serious damage and presents a whole other level of danger, as someone who has had their finger broken by and aggressive cockatoo I can not stress that enough! A single bite has the potential to deglove skin, break bones, cause severe infection and some of the even larger species, remove fingers.
These birds not only present a challenge to keep and handle in captivity, but also present a challenge to most Veterinary clinics due to the risk of harm to staff and also their vastly different anatomy and physiology compared to their mammalian counterparts, meaning most Veterinary clinics don't have the appropriate experience, tools or drugs to treat or handle these birds resulting in them receiving infrequent medical care regularly due to the struggle it is to find a vet clinic that can see them. A lot of owners feel that even if the vet sees them, they aren't receiving proper or knowledgeable care.
In captivity these birds require a substantial amount of mental stimulation through captive foraging, environmental enrichment, social interaction and physical exercise to maintain their psychological well being, furthermore their dietary requirements are of an even higher importance due to their long lifespan. The failure to meet these needs results in the behaviors we are faced with often such as screaming, aggression, destruction, plucking and mutilation, feeding into the 'Rehoming cycle' where an owner, unaware of the birds needs, purchases the bird, the birds begin to develop aggression, excessive vocalization, destruction and even self mutilation and plucking, the owners hold onto the bird, lock it away, neglect it then finally put it up for rehoming, another person unaware of its behavior and requirements buys the bird and the cycle starts again.
To address this issue rescues, vet clinics, pet shops and breeders need to put a emphasis on providing that accurate information, already we have seen countless rehomes this year in the larger species, usually the same bird as a year ago, just a different name and more damaged than before. Increasingly we are seeing 'breeders' and hoarders leaving behind birds after they pass, one of our own resident cockatoos came from such a scenario.
The reality is, these birds are not suitable 'pets' they bite, alot, and their beaks are designed in such a way they can and often will easily deglove the skin on your fingers, they will draw blood and some species even will amputate
fingers. There is no way that in captivity as a pet, these birds social, physical, dietary and psychological wellbeing can be maintained to that of their wild counterparts, they need large flocks, with intricate social structures, and constant social interaction. To many become the bedroom bird, Locked away in a small cage to live out its life in the spare room and it's time that this was stopped, it's time that the people buying these birds understand just what they are like, just what the commitment is, take responsibility for their wellbeing and be prepared for bites, they're wild animals that are never truly tame, what do you expect when you cage an animal that is meant to be wild