Parrots get final word selecting their new owners



AKRON, Ohio — Parrots remind us of warm breezes and sandy shores, tempting us to shelve responsibilities and the gray days of the Northwest, and head south.

But the impulse, in the immortal words of Jimmy Buffett, might be “a permanent reminder of a temporary feeling” — sort of like getting a tattoo while inebriated.

Depending on the breed, a parrot can live 50, 60 or 100 years, or more. Some, such as brilliantly colored large macaws, are gauged to have the intelligence of a 6-year-old. Can you imagine handling a petulant child that has a bite force of 500 to 700 pounds per square inch and is not afraid to use it?

As much fun as that sounds, it is only one of the reasons so many birds, from conures to cockatoos, end up being abused, neglected, abandoned or surrendered to a group such as the Bird Nerds Rescue and Sanctuary in Canton, Ohio.

“I probably get bit five times a week,” said volunteer facility manager Connie Phillips of Canton.

A bite, in the rescue’s vernacular, is one that draws blood and doesn’t include painful little warning nips.

Many of the birds living at the center will be lifelong residents, so damaged in previous lives that they need the protection of the sanctuary. But most of the 18 birds at the center were available for adoption.

But fair warning before you run out to adopt: You might not live up to the bird’s expectations.

That’s right. The bird always has the final word.

An adopter won’t get the bird of their choosing unless the bird agrees. If it doesn’t like you, it might turn you down, no matter how stellar your reputation or pure your motives.

Plus, each bird that enters the center already has four or five people waiting to adopt its particular breed.

“We have a waiting list,” said rescue founder Jen Yost of Springfield, Ohio, who started the agency eight years ago from her home.

“It’s not first come, first served here. Once we assess the bird’s personality, then we choose the adopter,” said Yost. Only if the bird agrees, she added.

The adoption process can take several weeks and include as many as 10 hours of in-house visits and one or more home visits. Even with the requirements, more than 960 birds from the rescue have been placed with new owners in the past eight years.

It isn’t that the birds are standoffish. Just like one of Little Orphan Annie’s friends, the birds vie for a visitor’s attention. “Pick me,” they implore with a raucous noise.

Mack, a relatively new resident, is a gorgeous shamrock macaw that greets visitors with a cheery “hello bird.”

“We’re trying to teach him to say ‘Hello, Bird Nerds,'” Phillips said with a laugh.

It’s Mack’s first chance to get attention. He then ups his game by flirting — bowing and claiming to be a “love bird.”

“No, you are a macaw, Mack,” Phillips said.

It’s difficult not to fall for their ploys, from tail-feather fanning to their constant barrage of whistles, words and shrieks when they are happy. Still, a human-bird relationship can’t be forced, said Yost. You will know it when you see it.

“They are engaged, talking, displaying, their feathers are up. There is light in their eye,” she said.

While she would love to see every bird in the agency’s care go to a loving home, the reality is that not everyone is cut out for ownership of a strong-willed bird. The birds, which mate for life, generally bond with only one or two people in a home.

“If you want a pet for your family, get a dog,” Yost candidly remarked.