Avian Adoption Group Takes Parrots Under its Wings

Parrots are clever birds. They can live up to 80 years in the wild, foraging for food, escaping predators, and imitating each other to identify friends and foes. Their vibrant feathers and ability to mimic sounds might make them seem like appealing pets. Unfortunately, the survival skills that allow parrots to thrive in the wild can make them challenging as pets. Acquired on impulse by unwitting owners, many parrots are abandoned or neglected. And, even under the best circumstances, their longevity means the birds often outlive their owners.

Enter Phoenix Landing. The nonprofit parrot welfare group is dedicated to finding homes for these resilient birds, as well as parrots that were well cared for and loved by owners who have passed away or are no longer able to care for them. Their long lifespan means that most parrots will likely need several homes in their lifetimes, and Phoenix Landing’s network of volunteers works to identify and educate people who have the dedication to care for parrots as they age.

Finding Feathered Friends

The nonprofit, headquartered in the Asheville area and operating in seven states, including District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia, was founded in 2000 by Ann Brooks and five other parrot owners and educators. The name comes from Brooks’ own parrot, a male green wing macaw named Phoenix. “He was named for that concept of rising again and being reborn,” she says. “Birds that need new homes need several new landings.”

More than 2,000 birds like Phoenix have been adopted since the group was founded and there are currently about 160 parrots on its waiting list. Phoenix Landing matches birds with people who want to open their homes to these complex animals. Potential owners must have the funds for adequate veterinary care and the time to provide parrots with the stimulation that they need.

It’s All About Joy

Susan Steenstra adopted three macaws from Phoenix Landing in 2009 and 2010. Her mother saw a story about Phoenix Landing on the local news and called to tell her about the organization. Steenstra checked out the website and submitted her application that day. At first she thought she was just going to foster a single bird, but Steenstra says that once the parrots entered her home, “they just had to stay.”

Steenstra goes to great lengths to make sure her parrots have an active life in their new home and keeps them busy and engaged by finding ways to emulate the activities they would perform in the wild, like foraging for food. “They are so clever and social,” she says. “They’re incredibly intelligent.”

She has special affection for Lily, her blue and gold macaw. She guesses Lily is about 22 years old, although no one knows for sure. Lily may have had as many as five homes by now, but Steenstra is more concerned about making sure she has an enriched life right now than uncovering her backstory.

It is possible that Lily — who could live for a total of 60-80 years —will outlive Steenstra, but no matter what happens, Phoenix Landing will make sure that Lily always has a safe and nurturing home. In the mean time, Steenstra deeply appreciates the time she has with her flock. “For me, it’s all about joy,” she says. “They’re everything to me.”

A Home For Now

Unlike many dog and cat adoption groups, Phoenix Landing does not aim to find each parrot a “forever home.” Most parrots will outlive their owners and need a succession of homes as their human caretaker ages. Owning an animal that can live for 80 years requires a certain amount of planning.

“Birds are smaller animals, so people don’t automatically assume that they’re going to have this long lifespan,” Brooks notes. An owner’s life can change dramatically over the years and everything from illness to moving for a new job can force people to give up their parrots.

“A lot of people don’t realize there are adoption organizations for birds,” Brooks says. “Everybody hears about the dogs and cats at the shelters, but the shelters often call us to take the birds.”

A Healthy Bird is a Happy Bird

A large part of Phoenix Landing’s mission is to educate parrot owners about the best ways to provide their birds with a healthy life. The group recently hosted a wellness retreat in Asheville featuring a wide range of information about avian health. Veterinarians, scientists, and experienced bird owners came together to talk about everything basic first aid to understanding the complexities of parrots’ brains.

“They are so smart that you can’t just park them in a small cage and expect them to do what you want,” Brooks explains.

Phoenix Landing offers free classes up and down the East Coast on topics like safety, nutrition, and enrichment. Anyone who wants to adopt a parrot must attend one of these classes, which are also valuable resources for current bird owners who want to give their animals an enriched and fulfilling life.

“So many birds need homes and those of us who have birds care about their futures,” Brooks says. “We re-home birds on a regular basis in the hopes that someday someone will look out for our birds the way we look out for the ones in our system now.”

Photo by Tim Robison

Photo by Tim Robison


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