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Birds discarded as pets find home in sanctuary

Dec 28, 2007

Birds discarded as pets find home in sanctuary

By Jean Cole
THE NEWS COURIER (ATHENS, Ala.)

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. -- All Dave Spurlin and his 100 displaced exotic birds needed for Christmas was a reliable truck or van, about 7 to 10 acres of land and some select adoptive parents.

If that sounds like a teenager's unrealistic Christmas list, consider this: The Huntsville bird rescuer and his volunteers are trying to take care of 100 displaced birds and about 100 more are waiting to be admitted.

Where did all the birds come from?

Some came before the federal government banned such imports. But others come from people who continue to breed and sell exotic birds.

"They are just flooding the market with it," said Spurlin, who founded Parrots-R-4Ever Avian Rescue and Sanctuary, or PARS, along with his wife, Vickie. "They have all kinds of excuses, such as they are perpetuating the species, but research shows that sloppy breeding is decreasing the lifespan of the birds and damaging them."

It is the same tragedy afflicting the dog and cat population, he said.

"It's a repeat of the same story only those numbers have stabilized over the past 10 years," Spurlin said. "But the (number of) birds are just going through the roof."

It is the goal of PARS to try to rescue birds, but also to stress that exotic birds are not for everyone and to teach owners how to care for their birds.

"The biggest problem is that people really don't understand, particularly with the parrots, that these birds require a major investment of time and effort," he said. "They think they are cute or they look good with their furniture or their drapes."

Many of the birds -- umbrella crested cockatoos, scarlet and blue and gold macaw parrots, Congo African grey parrots, Nanday Conures parrots, Quaker parrots, lilac crowned or yellow-headed Amazon parrots, Meyers parrots, love birds and others -- are residents because their owners died or they can no longer properly care for them. Many of them need medical care.

"They are extremely intelligent and extremely sensitive," Spurlin said. "If they don't get the attention they need, they start to break down and become pluckers or self-mutilators."

The typical parrot has the reasoning of a 5-year-old and the emotional complexity of a 2-year-old, he said.

"Some of these birds live to be 80 to 100 years old," said Mark Lott, PARS volunteer from Athens. "When you get one, you have to will it to someone because it outlives you. A lot of people don't understand that. A lot of people say, 'I'd love to have one,' and for the first year it's great. Then it�s an inconvenience. It's like having a toddler the rest of your life."

The photographs of self-mutilated birds on Spurlin's Web site -- www.parrotsr4ever.com  -- are disturbing but ones prospective bird owners should see. The Web site also features before and after photos of damaged birds now recovering because they are receiving proper attention, as well as photos of birds available for adoption.

Jean Cole writes for The News Courier in Athens, Ala.


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