So You Want To Start A Parrot Rescue?

“Honky”, a new arrival at the Macaw and Cockatoo Rescue Of New Mexico .

We are a bunch of big ol’ softies, aren’t we? Not everyone can be reduced to tears by a touching meme that describes a bird in bad circumstances. Not everyone cares as deeply as we do.

For the human that loves parrots, understands their health and diet needs and can find the fragile balance between too little and too much when it comes to their wants, it makes perfect sense for this person to go into rescue.


Not necessarily.

Today I want to talk about an experience had by a fellow softie that contacted me recently and asked that I write about her experience in the world of parrot rescue. She didn’t ask me not to mention her by name, but  I will call her Jean.

There is a great deal more to parrot rescue than understanding and caring for parrots. Sure, that is a big part of it, but you also need to be a business person. The need for donations to keep the rescue afloat never stops nagging and you will be forever trying to raise funds.

“Kramer”, a long term resident at the Macaw and Cockatoo Rescue of New Mexico is a mutilator and requires ongoing medical care.

You have to think with your head as much as your heart. There will be times when the doors need to be closed to new arrivals. This assures that the birds currently in your care will always have what they need. Sometimes there will be no more room at the inn.

Feeding and watering many birds is harder than it sounds. It is your responsibility to keep dishes, cages and the bird rooms clean. It is a surprisingly hard job from a physical standpoint. But, it is murder emotionally.

This is where Jean got into trouble.

I think the hardest part about rescue is not coping with the birds or their numbers, but with the humans involved. As Jean said: “Why do people have to wait until their bird is naked or half dead before they do something about it? Some of the birds I took in HATED human beings. How did it ever come to that? What happened to them?”

She said the hardest thing about having a rescue was seeing the darkest side of human nature – the side that doesn’t recognize or is able to turn away from the suffering of another living being. The second hardest thing is not lashing out at those people.

Jean said that after a while, it began to change her into an unhappy person. She started her rescue believing it was all about taking in needy and unwanted birds and helping to heal them and prepare them for a new start with another family. But after a few years, she couldn’t take the roller coaster of emotions and shut the doors for good.

She managed to place all of the birds in her care (except her personal flock) – some went to other rescues. The point she wanted me to drive home is that she, with all the best intentions, did not have what it takes to handle a rescue – a fact that took her completely by surprise. She is troubled that she had to displace 9 emotionally struggling birds and cause them to lose their home. Again.

She asked me to warn people not to take this endeavor lightly and to enter into it with realistic expectations. It is not only about watching birds grow and thrive in your care and finding the perfect family for them. There is sadness and disappointment and sometimes death. There are people that you will want to slap.

It takes a special person to do this job. Being a rescue operator is the ultimate catch-22. You have to be the sensitive sort who is deeply moved by suffering, but to do the job well you have to find a way to be objective about those same things.This work is not for the meek and feint-hearted.

If you aspire to be in parrot rescue, please take a good look inward BEFORE you jump into this line of work and before you bring in birds that will have only you to rely on. Jean is left feeling guilty for further complicating the lives of some of her rescues.

All Photos by Anna Sloan

Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.


Karla Nelson

Animal rescue/rehabilitation almost inevitably leads to compassion fatigue of some degree. While this is a condition recognized in fields of social workers, health care professionals, etc., it is not something I have seen commonly recognized in the animal rehabilition world. I don’t know one rehabber/rescuer who has not struggled with the issue of trying to keep up your energy, keep fighting for the cause, and have any quality of life when you are forced to face the cruelty of human nature every day. Depression and feelings of futility are almost a given. Learning to deal with those feelings and remembering it’s ok to take a break and enjoy yourself once in a while too is essential to prevent burnout and be able to continue aiding the animals that need us. It seems impossible to do sometimes, and I am certainly no where close to good at it. I keep reading information on the internet and communicating with other long term rescue workers to deal with the blackness that seems to overtake my heart sometimes. The emotional toll is undeniable and affects the rescuer as well as their families and the animals they want so desperately to help. No one who has ever tried to help an animal should feel guilty for failure. I applaud not only the compassion to try your best to help, but also the courage to know when you are no longer the best solution for any given animal. Jean, remember the good you did for every bird who crossed your path and be proud of yourself for having the inner strength to re-home them when necessary. You took them from an unthinkable place, provided them care, love and compassion. You were a bright spot in each one’s life journey. Thank you for being one of the “softies” who care so much. There is an old Indian legend that says when a man dies he must cross a bridge into the afterlife. At the head of this bridge waits every animal that he encountered during his lifetime. The animals decide which of us can cross and which are turned away.

Karla Nelson

I think Kramer needs a bird psychiatrist, not necessarily someone with a bird psychiatrist degree because, obviously, those do not exist. This bird may need a long talking to, every day, for at least an hour long and almost constant attention for a while. Poor birdie.

Nell Matthews

Donate to a rescue and help a bird out that way.

Nell Matthews
Mel Sprink

I would some day like to build an outside aviary to house a few ( I don’t plan on ever having alot) rescued birds but I have alot to learn as to which birds could be together in an aviary and how best to protect them from other critters, physical elements and provide enough human interaction to keep the tame ones tame.. Where can I find information to educate myself for this future project? Is there some forum or people who could mentor me?? It would be helpful to find a aviary vet who might be willing to contribute experience or treatment for birds who might need treatment as the need arises. I am in Virginia so not sure if the winters get to cold to keep birds outside without some formal heated facility not just shelter from the elements.

Mel Sprink

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