Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The Island of Misfits

Checking out the new visitors and looking for some love and attention
A brochure with the name Oasis Sanctuary sat on my desk for months under piles of paperwork in the "must check out" basket.  So when we had our first 110 degree day and birding was out of the question, we went to explore the much cooler Oasis Sanctuary near Benson, AZ. 

This Blue-and-yellow Macaw, taken from the wild, has the right idea as he swings near the misters on this very hot day

Today's topic is a sensitive one for bird owners and birders.  I had put up my photo essay on Facebook and had all kinds of responses. Obviously, it's different for each person and I would encourage you to add your opinions to the comments section below. This is just my opinion backed up by years of living with parrots and caring for them.  It is one of the contributing factors today as to why I love birding so much. Today my parents still live with two Macaws and an African Grey. This post was inspired after our trip to the sanctuary.  After seeing all the abandoned birds, watching several TV specials, reading reports, living the breeding captive parrot experience, and visiting with border patrol agents and other sanctuaries, I am ready to share my commentary on this uncomfortable topic.  

A Cockatiel decides to pick out my grey hairs and speed up that ever expanding bald spot
For several years, I raised a Peach-faced Lovebird(aka known as the Rosy-faced Lovebird in the wild) on my own.  I loved that bird very much but felt guilty for placing the bird in a cage.  So I'd often let the bird fly around the house with me.  While I took my shower, she would stand on the edge and clean up in the mist.  There came a point when I realized I couldn't bring the bird with me everywhere I went.  I traveled often and for long periods of time. So it broke my heart when I had to give Quetzali back to my mother.  I learned quickly that having parrots or dogs as pets were out of the question. It was unfair of me to have a pet and not be able to spend enough time with them. 

An Amazon parrot is very intelligent and has the ability to mimic human voice
And it wasn't just me.  My mother began to experience some of this as well.  People began to go to my mother for help with their parrots.  She would try to find a home for the birds, but sometimes it was impossible.  The bird was "too mean"(because they imprint on their original owners....especially when they are younger), "too loud", "too destructive" or just "too much work". At least these were some of the excuses we heard when owners gave their parrot away. Some had begun picking their feathers.....a sign of stress.  My mom would try and work with the birds, but sometimes it didn't help.  Then my Dad began to see an influx of birds in our basement. Both of my parents have big hearts, but there was a limit.  And so the parrot years would come to an end. My mother couldn't help all the stray parrots.  It had become a problem. There were too many bird owners out there who hadn't considered the long term commitments of their "demanding" parrots.  

My first documentation of Scarlet Macaws in the wild.  Note how they fly in pairs.  When one dies, the other will fly alone but stay with the flock.  Taken in Costa Rica
Parrots, of course, are not demanding, they are bonded to the owner as they would with their own partner in the wild.  And for awhile, it's wonderful until life happens......a child is born, a spouse comes into the picture, a job takes one elsewhere, etc.  It can be a tricky thing to balance for many people. 


Today, I like to stop at various sanctuaries while visiting other countries for several reasons.  One, I like to get the first hand reports/stories about why the animals/birds are there.  Second, I don't mind giving a donation if it will help the organization out. And finally, it also allows me to study the wildlife up close.  Who doesn't want to get close to a Spider Monkey or a Black Lory? 

Lesser Cockatoo

There is something very powerful and real about connecting with our wildlife.  I am much more aware of the issues going on with illegal poaching, etc.  I can read about it in a newspaper safely from my home or I can actually see the issues happening right in front of my face. In Southern Arizona along the US/Mexican border, birds, like parrots or eagles, are still smuggled across illegally. Often we tell US agents at the border about our birding treks in Sonora, Mexico.(because they generally ask us what we were doing down there) Then they share with us the stories about birds found on people crossing over to the US. An agent told us a story about a hawk hidden inside of a cardboard tube. They had to call in a local wildlife agency to deal with this very angry bird.  By observing all this up close and personal, I feel something. 

Back at Oasis, it was fun to note that there were 4 parrots/parakeets I've seen in the wild.  They were the Monk Parakeets, the Scarlet Macaws, the Nanday Parakeets. and our little Rosy-faced Lovebirds up in Phoenix.  There were so many other birds that I needed to study.  Many of them are found in Australia and Africa. 

A younger me before bed with my love bird Quetzali
The Oasis Sanctuary is home to 700+ parrots/parakeets and other birds. Every year over 1000 birds are turned away from the sanctuary because there isn't enough room.  Many birds are placed on waiting lists. 

Taken in 2011 in Boquete, Panama at a sanctuary.  I love all critters....especially the ones with a little attitude:)
Staff work around the clock making sure these birds are healthy, fed well, and happy.  It was really wonderful to know that the volunteers knew all the names of the various parrots/parakeets. 

Azul and my mother pose for a Christmas card many years ago.  And many years later, Azul is a cover model for pet magazines.  He resides with my parents in Wisconsin.  
When the organization first began back in the nineties, they became a safe place for parrots and parakeets. Before Oasis, many birds faced euthanasia due to the loss of a caregiver, physiological impairment, handicap, behavioral unsuitability, old age, abuse or lack of home placement options. Sadly, some of this still occurs today. The Oasis Sanctuary does not breed, adopt out, sell or trade birds. Once a bird enters the doors, they are guaranteed a lifetime of care and compassion.  It was the first Sanctuary in the United States, completely dedicated to the care of captive birds, to be accredited by the American Sanctuary Association and Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries. 

What's going on over there?
Feral parrot populations have grown in the United States due to escaped birds or an irresponsible owner who doesn't want their bird anymore. And there are many accidental escapes:) The escaped bird incidents are always difficult.  Birds love to fly and when a bird soars high above, it sometimes keeps going and going. I had it happen to me once.  A kid opened a sliding door and out flew my bird from the cage.  Luckily, both of us were able to find our buddy in the neighborhood the next day.  Later on, I would discover that my Lovebird and her peers were establishing themselves up in Phoenix by the thousands.  Today these non-native beauties can be seen in many Phoenix parks and bird feeders. 

Several Monk parrots share a couple secrets with me
I do love chilling out with birds and being close to them.  But after many years with parrots, it is my personal opinion that birds should remain free of cages and be allowed to roam the great big sky.  I love being surrounded by birds because they make me happy.  

I meet Ophelia, a Black Lory, and we fall in love.  She gives the best kisses.
My answer to people who love birds and want them close?  Bird feeders.  In the morning, I wake up and fill the feeders. Obviously, it's a bit different than having a bird right on your shoulder, but I feel much happier watching them play outside than inside a cage.  Again this is just my personal opinion. 

A Cactus Wren recently seen at my feeders-a new one for my yard list
One last thing to consider if you live with several feathered friends.  People have told me over and over to put your birds in a living will. I'm often with birders who have parrots/finches/canaries in their homes.  In several instances, I've spoken with zoo and refuge officials.  Their response is to have a plan for your friends just in case something does happen to you. 

So what's the answer to this issue?  I don't know because it's very complicated. But you can educate yourself before adopting a parrot. For a visit to the Oasis, give them a ring at 520-212-4737.  A 10 dollar donation is suggested.  So what say you?  Do you own a parrot?  Or should parrots be left alone in the wild? Here is a link with some thoughts by Jane Goodall. 

Several wild parrots are featured on Wild Bird Wednesday!  A great place to see these birds in their natural habitat.  More epic outings to come....


  1. Qué divertidos y que bellos son.. Me encanta. Aquí en España tenemos una invasión de cotorras argentinas y cotorras de Kramer.. De alguna suelta se empezaron a reproducir y hoy en día la población ha crecido tanto que empieza a ser preocupante... Tenemos miles de cotorras por parques y jardines.. Un saludo

  2. Hi Chris. I do have a little experience here (little being the operative word). Many years ago, my wife decided that she'd like a Budgerigar as a birthday present. We set it up with a cage in our living room. It wasn't long before we gave William the freedom to fly everywhere by leaving the cage door open but, amazingly, it always returned to its cage to sleep! After a year or so my wife decided that William needed a friend and so, one February 14, we got Valentine. They soon produced a solitary chick (Wol). Sadly the parents' inexperience meant that Wol grew with horizontally splayed legs. Wol used to fly and land in my cupped hands.

    To cut a long story short, we realized that Wol's needs meant we had to construct an aviary outside, and eventually, through natural breeding, we ended up with 23 Budgerigars.

    My wife then found that she was having difficulties with an allergy and so the birds had to go. This was a very slow process as we decided that we'd let the years take their course and just ensure that there was no more breeding. It must have been about a further eight years before the last one left us (one of the two Blues Brothers) and that last couple of years, when he was on his own, were heart-wrenching.

    If we had our time over, would we do it again? We had great pleasure from them but the answer's a resounding NO!! Birds should be enjoyed in the wild.

    The difficulty is - what of the birds that have been bred in captivity for decades or more, and the people for whom bird breeding is a livelihood?

  3. Wow, they are all beautiful parrots.. I do believe wild birds should be left in the wild. If birds are born in captivity that maybe different..Happy Birding, Chris!

  4. Such dramatic colours!! Boom, Bobbi and Gary.

  5. An excellent post Chris! The photos are wonderful too!

  6. It's so sad to see the birds looking like that when you've seen them in the wild. I don't know why humans feel they have to own and cage/confine animals and birds when they could enjoy them in the wild.

    It is good that there is somewhere like this for "discarded" ones to be though.

  7. Thank you everyone for your input. Richard, your outcome was the same for my parents. I would say that it was a great experience and I enjoyed being around the birds, but ultimately I don't think we'd ever do it again. I know my Dad wouldn't for sure:)

  8. Happy Wanderer, I am also thankful for the sanctuaries. It was a reality check visiting this place. At least they have them together so that they can keep each other company. Eileen, most were captive breed.....probably adopted at birth and then when they got to be too much, given to the sanctuary. I'd say 80 percent were captive bred while the other 20 percent were taken from the wild. Very interesting how they all interacted together.

  9. Of course "free of cage" and reading Jane Goudall can only help educate ourselves about animals in general.
    Feeders are nice too but don't help birds to provide for themselves so only when the weather conditions are bad.

  10. Ive never kept birds, so i can't speak from personal experience, but one of the ladies i work with used to keep parrots personally and worked for a zoo. People don't seem to understand that some of these birds are a lifetime commitment... what sounds like a good idea when you're in your 20s isn't going to be workable later in your life. I do love the creatures tho, but i believe they're better off left in the wild.

  11. Beautiful entry. I don't think any other animal represents freedom the way a bird does. It's not mean to be in a cage. I believe they should be free.

  12. Ive never kept birds, so i can't speak from personal experience, but one of the ladies i work with used to keep parrots personally and worked for a zoo. People don't seem to understand that some of these birds are a lifetime commitment... what sounds like a good idea when you're in your 20s isn't going to be workable later in your life. I do love the creatures tho, but i believe they're better off left in the wild.

  13. Some beautiful pictures of very beautiful animals Chris.I am with you.

    If people want to experience birds up close then they should make the effort to learn birding, banding or bird photography. Or all three.

    It is surely better than taking birds from the wild or encouraging others to do so by having even birds reared in captivity.

  14. Beautiful photos Chris and another thought provoking post. I would much rather see birds in the wild and don't like to see them captive unless for any reason they can't be re-released due to injury etc.

  15. An excellent and informative post. It's nice to know about the sanctuary, but so sad to hear of the many birds in need.

  16. Important info people need to know if they have these birds. Love the photos of all the different ones.

  17. Chris, gorgeous photos and a cautionary tail. You already know I would rather see birds in the wild.

    BTW, you look like your mother.

    and...those glasses you had when you were younger were hideous! I would never have recognized you!


Thanks for stopping by!