We would like to thank Robin Horemans for sharing his experiences, and also the Calgary Parrot Club for permission to reprint this article from their publication, Calgary Psittascene, on our website.
The World Parrot Refuge Visit, April 2008
By Robin Horemans
I was fortunate recently to take a vacation on Vancouver Island. There, I visited the World Parrot Refuge, in Coombs BC. It’s about half an hour from Port Alberni. To be honest, I’ve never really been a fan of ‘sanctuaries’ or ‘forever’ aviaries. I’ve always thought some birds can be rehabbed and live happy and healthy lives with humans. Sure, sanctuaries have their place, but save those places for the birds who really need them.
Make it the Insane Asylum, the Rehab centre. Let the ‘normal’ birds move to a new, fantastic family. Little did I know what I was about to experience! I have worked with rescues before, so I’m familiar with the trauma, heartbreak, suffering and healing that is involved. I was mentally preparing myself to see 700 birds that have been given up on: who are sad, grieving and torn up inside. I was expecting to see self-mutilators, obsessive-compulsive behaviors, screaming and sad eyes of creatures who have given up hope.
I walked through the aviaries of macaws first, then the amazons. I was amazed at the large spaces the birds were given. The aviaries were the size of a house, filled with trees, perches and every kind of toy. A large set of aviaries just for the cockatoos, filled with many different species of ‘too. There was no sad eyes, no grieving, no depression.
Instead what I found was a vibrant community. A thriving flock of souls who had been through the worst the world could offer and were healing together. They preened together. They played. PLAYED like children: throwing and destroying and screaming and flapping for the fun of it.
I saw large flocks of 50 of their own kind, with all the intricacies. There was a sentry, watching. There was a couple, oblivious to the world and cuddling together. There were the Jokers, getting into trouble. I saw squabbles for perches, food, toys, attention. I saw birds, being birds. It was fantastic!
Then, at the end of the aviary was the ‘Transition Room’. The newcomers to the rescue were getting used to their new-found freedom. This is where MY education began.
In this room, the birds are caged separately to begin with. They come to the rescue knowing only their cage, and their humans who have given them up. They need to get used to the ‘new’ way of doing things.
Slowly, the cage door is opened and the birds are left to venture out on their own. A large set of branches and trees intertwine around the room, allowing for clipped birds to experience more freedom. Eventually the wings grow out and they start to fly and become part of the flock.
I started going cage to cage, saying hello and giving head-rubs. I soon found myself with two African greys who had waddled over and were now chewing on my shoes. I reached down and both demanded head-rubs. The overwhelming sense of healing was everywhere. The amazons looked exhausted and slept. The cockatoos demanded petting, or solitude. Everyone screamed. They were all learning how to be birds again.
Then the most moving part of my experience happened. A man came in to surrender his bird.
It was a cockatoo: it was plucked and had a wound on its front from mutilation. But the bird was friendly and sociable, sitting on the man’s shoulder and getting attention. The man was crying as he took his bird out of the carrier. He was facing the difficult decision to surrender his bird.
She sat on his shoulder as he walked around the room, tears in his eyes. She had a firm grip on his shoulder. They toured the room, saw the cage she would be living in for the first few days, and a volunteer explained how life would carry on after that. The man nodded. The bird stared.
Being introduced to the ‘locals’, the bird made a surprising decision. She suddenly jumped off the man’s shoulder onto the cage top perches in front of him. Fully alert, crest up, she marched over to a high perch, and right up to another bird of her species. The new friend looked at her, obliged, and started preening her head. She leaned over and closed her eyes.
The man stared at her, tears rolling down his cheeks.
She was home.
She refused his hand for a step-up. She refused a head-rub. She moved away from him to a higher perch. She put up one foot and started preening.
I was crying watching all this go on. I can only imagine how that man must have felt. Sad, deserted, alone, yet happy to provide this creature with what she needed. A flock of her own!
I have sincerely readjusted my view of rescues. I was profoundly moved by not only what I saw at this fantastic facility, but how the birds were happy, healthy and comfortable. I am so proud of what this rescue does for the birds. The life they live is as close to natural as we can provide. I hope they continue with their heaven-on-earth for the birds. I can’t imagine a place I’d rather Quentin go.