AK: Parrots

Amber O’Neill, president of the Alaska Bird Club, and Twiggie, an African Grey parrot. Photo by Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

Although the sale of wild caught exotic birds has been banned in the US for decades, commercial breeders in the country make a variety of parrots and parakeets available for pet lovers. But they are challenging pets. And there are more parrots in Alaska than there are homes for them. KSKA’s Ellen Lockyer profiles two women working to solve the problem.

Amber O’Neill is for the birds. She’s the president of the Alaska Bird Club, and any conversation that takes place in her Nunaka Valley home will definitely include comments from her parrots.

Amber lives with three parrots. Twiggie is the loquacious African Grey,

Sassy, a Senegal parrot, nestles against Elise Patkotak. Photo by Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

Junior, a bronze winged pionus, and Janey, a small conure found outdoors, are relatively quiet compared to Twiggie. Talkative Twiggie is adopted. Her first owner had her 13 years, and gave her away for personal reasons.

“Hello,” Twiggie squawked.

But who could not love a talking parrot? Well, it seems lots of people.

That’s one of the big problems with owning a parrot. Life changes – marriages, deaths, relocations happen to us all, and a parrot pet, in most cases, is a pet for life and beyond

“Sometimes people will pass the bird down to the next generation, but sometimes the kids don’t want the birds. Very often, if someone moves or has a child, the person couple will decide maybe the bird shouldn’t be in their life anymore,” O’Neill said.

Finding homes for lost or unwanted birds is one of the Bird Club’s big challenges. Amber calls it re-homeing

“The big birds are a huge commitment. It takes somebody who knows what he or she is doing. And you’ll have cockatoos, macaws, Amazons – we have a lot of those in our adoption program, because you kind of have to be fluent in bird before you get one of those,” O’Neill said.

Janie’s owner was located, but didn’t want her back. And two dozen bright parakeets now housed in big cages in Ambers’ home, were found flying free outdoors in Alaska.

Some people, like writer Elise Patkotak, put their parrots in their will.

“These critters live to be 80,90, 100 years old. So their possibility of being thrown away increases by the amount of years they live,” Patkotak said.

Elise’s living room is dominated by two huge parrot cages, in which Captain, Seebee and Abdullah reside.

All three birds have intriguing stories as to how they came to Elise. Captain is the only bird that started out as her pet.

“Captain and I are going on close to 35 years together, which is more than most marriages I know,” Elise said.

Captain’s cage mate, the dazzling, all white Australian bare eyed cockatoo named Seebee was sold on the streets

“And normally you would never put two different species like this in the same cage. But I got her in ’83 in Barrow and there was no place else for her to go. And I only had one cage, so, and I didn’t know any better back then and now, they’re like the odd couple. They’re the bonded pair. I can’t separate them,” Elise said.

Seebee had found a good home and a good companion. But the African Grey Abdullah still misses his first owner. Parrots have the emotions of a three year old child, she says, and get attached to their owners.

Downstairs, Elise shows me four more birds. Two are foundlings, two are rejects from a parrot breeder

“Baby and Kenya came out of the home of a breeder. Who, I guess the nicest way to put it that I can think of, is to say fell on hard times and got sick and towards the end they were very, very neglected for many years. So they had it very difficult. Sassy, the one Senegal on the end there and Wilson, the conure, were both found outside,” Elise said.

All four perk up with the attention. Elise takes Sassy out of his cage and he immediately nestles into her shirt.

“I mean, I’m holding him, I can hold him upside down, I can put my face in his belly, I can love him. He won’t hurt me, he won’t bite me. There are wonderful birds like this and Sassy is just one of my favorites. I mean, he just wants a home where someone will let him love them,” Elise said.

She’s adopting the two birds from the breeder, because of their special needs. Sassy and Wilson will be fostered until suitable homes can be found. Elise says it takes a certain person to keep a parrot pet.

“They make a lot of noise. And one of the things we try and talk to people about if you are thinking of adopting a parrot, is to research. It’s kind of like a dog, you know, you have little dogs that are yappy little ones, and then you have bigger dogs that are kind of laid back and friendly, and then you have other dogs that are guard dogs. Birds are the same way. People think a bird is a bird. It’s not,” Elise said.

Alaska Bird Club has helped to educate pet stores to not sell the longest- lived larger birds, like macaws or Amazon parrots.

Amber O’Neill says that may help reduce the number of parrots she needs to re-home.

“There are birds all over the state of Alaska that need homes. There is a conure in Anchor Point, I have an Amazon in Sterling, I have some macaws in Seward, I have some Amazons in Fairbanks,” she said.

The Bird Club and a sister group, the Parrot Education and Adoption Center, PEAC, are working to match unwanted or lost parrots with committed, and bird-educated owners.

PEAC is hosting a parrot care seminar at BP Energy center on Tuesday, Nov. 20.  Pre-registration is required and there is a fee for non members  see akpeac.org for details.

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APTI Reporter-Producer Ellen Lockyer started her radio career in the late 1980s, after a stint at bush Alaska weekly newspapers, the Copper Valley Views and the Cordova Times. When the Exxon Valdez ran aground in Prince William Sound, Valdez Public Radio station KCHU needed a reporter, and Ellen picked up the microphone. Since then, she has literally traveled the length of the state, from Attu to Eagle and from Barrow to Juneau, covering Alaska stories on the ground for the AK show, Alaska News Nightly, the Alaska Morning News and for Anchorage public radio station, KSKA elockyer (at) alaskapublic (dot) org  |  907.550.8446 | About Ellen

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