Dawn Armstrong
Special to the Tribune

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January 21, 2013
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Pet column: Birds and people flock together

Is a bird the right pet for you? January is National Adopt a Bird Month to bring awareness of the unique quality of avian love and also to help rectify the dire situation of America's third most popular pet type.

Birds are fascinating, colorful, playful, and smart. In their wild state they live above the world canopy. Privileged people have maintained elaborate aviaries throughout recorded history. Birds star in ballet, literature, mythology, and spirituality. Egyptian gods and goddesses were represented by birds. In his journal, Marco Polo recorded the value of birds and the bird trade. Pigeons have been couriers, delivering key messages in both peace and war. Legendary nurse and writer Florence Nightingale was known to rescue wild birds and often carried a feathered pet with her. Ahead of her time, she discovered that the presence of a caged bird in a wounded soldier's room helped alleviate suffering.

The human relationship with birds is as complex as the avians themselves. Videos show how the "motherhood" of individual humans and even canines can be imprinted on baby geese and ducks. The pilot of an ultralight plane trained a flock of trumpeter swans to follow him in the air, finally flying on to resume their natural migration. Also recorded are instances, from Vancouver B.C. to Manhattan, of feathered mothers soliciting human help to save their chicks on a ledge or in a drain pipe.

For decades, bird watching has been the fastest growing recreational activity. Individuals hang feeders from eaves and build bird houses. Fascination becomes a lifestyle when watchers enter contests and travel the globe to journal their sightings. Even cats watch birds, imitating them with a phony and seldom successful "chirp" in their effort to attract prey.

From the small finch to the large parrot, tame birds occupy millions of American homes. This has spelled tragedy for some. In spite of international laws, parrots in particular are a highly prized contraband. Taken from the wild, they are packed in suitcases and smuggled for breeding or to be sold directly to private individuals. Cruel pigeon shoots continue in spite of the hero bird's history of service. Birds are routinely released when caretaking becomes difficult or inconvenient. Being a bird guardian can be a full time activity and birds can outlive their owners. Avian sanctuaries are brimming over with orphaned birds, particularly parrots. Urban flocks of various species are well documented. One of the most famous is the video of The Parrots of Telegraph Hill, broadcast as a popular TV nature film. Now a second area of San Francisco has been colonized. Like cats, birds retain enough of their wild nature so that if the environment is right and volunteers are available to help, birds revert and may be able to survive. In other cities, flocks of feral parakeets are reported as well.

Birds as pets can fit into a variety of lifestyles or become a full time avocation. To get started, there are helpful charts which list by bird type the key considerations for caretaking, including size, noise, affection, life span, environmental and nutritional needs (store bought bird seed is not adequate). As birds of a feather flock together, so do their caretakers. Individual pets are often lone birds, lacking the healthy dynamics of a natural flock. Avian play groups form for interaction in safe, fenced aviaries, similar to the dog park concept which brings canines together.

Like the creatures of the sea, the destiny of the creatures of the air is determined by land bound humans. Protecting wild birds and providing for humane care of captive pets is critical to maintaining the rainbow of life on our planet. Fortunately there are good resources for both the novice and the expert bird lover. A good place to start is the Avian Welfare Resource Center web site www.avianwelfare.org which includes comprehensive bird information from legitimate adoption sources to veterinary specialists and more. AllPetBirds.com features an Easy Pet Bird and Parrot Characteristics Comparison Chart to help learn and select the right bird companion. Adoption is the best option to assure critical caretaker support.

- Provided by the Lake Tahoe Humane Society and Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to help "Keep Tahoe Kind." Dawn Armstrong is the executive director.


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Tahoe Daily Tribune Updated Jan 21, 2013 07:45PM Published Jan 21, 2013 07:39PM Copyright 2013 Tahoe Daily Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.