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Caring for disabled birds

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Caring for disabled birds can be a challenging yet rewarding experience. When veterinarian Kim Danoff rescued Queenie, a parrot with no tongue (terrified of anyone coming near her cage) she didn’t realize that the bird was also completely blind.  

Queenie was one of 600 parrots sold to the highest-bidding breeders in an online auction. Danoff, a member of the Avian Welfare Coalition, an organization that helps rescue birds across the country, had raised money to rescue the disabled birds with special needs, including six wild caught amazons and two conures. 

Eventually, Danoff was able to tailor Queenie’s living conditions to her specific needs, including not only cutting food into tiny pieces and keeping all of her bowls in the same place, but in this parrot’s case, encouraging a healthy dose of “snuggling.” 

“Queenie ended up being the gentlest bird that only wanted love,” Danoff said.

Raising national awareness  

Like dogs and cats, birds can also suffer from -- and adapt to -- disabilities. Consider, for example, the case of an 11-year-old cockatoo that lost her beak in a fight, or the countless number of birds that either lose a wing by accident or, domesticated, have their wings clipped.  

While some instances of bird injuries are treatable, the natural way of healing and adapting is sometimes more effective. Dr. Greg Harrison, DVM, notes that, “While long-term success with prosthetic beaks has not proven to be effective, birds do learn to adapt and learn to eat both without the upper beak, and with a fractured lower beak.”

Peter Dubacher, founder of the Berkshire Bird Paradise, a rescue in New York, agrees that while there are instances where a bird needs treatment, not all need the same attention. “Missing part of a wing is not going to distract a bird from eating and living,” Dubacher said. “I have bald eagles that are missing wings and doing fine -- and, beyond that, another that survived the Exxon Valdez oil spill. She’s still having babies.”  

There are now approximately 120 bird rescue organizations throughout the country, mainly for parrots.  National organizations, such as The Avian Welfare Coalition, also seek to raise general awareness about the plight of parrots and other captive birds and to serve as an educational resource for the humane community, lawmakers and the general public.  

The price of popularity? 

Ironically, bird disability may be the unfortunate price of popularity -- and the rush to breed among hobbyists - as well as movies that romanticize bird ownership.  

“We take in nearly 300 birds a year, (and) one third of them are disabled in some way,” said Sandi Meinholz, Director of Fine Feather Friends Sanctuary, Inc., in Edgerton, Wis., an organization dedicated to the rescue, rehab and placement of parrot-type birds. Some have broken wings and some are blind, mostly all caused by lack of knowledge on the former owner's part, she said. 

While breeders rush to meet the demands of bird popularity, “impulse buyers” often underestimate the level of care birds will need. Not surprisingly, new owners may become frustrated and overwhelmed with the noise level, or other behaviors, such as food flinging. Without proper care, nutrition, toys, flying time, and adequate attention, birds can become disruptive to their households.  

Caring for injured birds

So, what should you do if you come across an injured or disabled bird?  

“Get the bird to an avian vet as soon as possible. Once it is deemed healthy, take it to a reputable avian sanctuary with a no-kill policy,” Meinholz said.  

Here are a few other things you should know about caring for injured birds: 

  • Don’t underestimate the amount of tailored care disabled birds need. For blind birds, you’ll need to arrange and maintain a predictable living space, for instance.
  • Many birds will have long lives. Be ready to provide long-term care. Consider that larger parrots can live to be 80 years old!
  • Look into the past experiences and medical history of the animal.  If you need guidance, consult an avian rehabilitation center or similar support organization in your region, such as Midwest Avian Adoption and Rescue Services, an organization that provides services for captive parrots and other birds in the Midwest in cooperation with other national and international organizations.
  • Birds are wild animals, some of whom will bite, claw and vocalize loudly. Make sure each member of your household gets to know the bird before making any decision about adoption.
Credit: Reviewed by Amy I. Attas, V,M.D.
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