Volunteering Abroad with Parrots
by Peggy Deland
Although it is no longer legal to import wild-caught parrots into the United
States, the practice of capturing wild parrots remains a serious problem.
Widespread habitat destruction from land development is also a major threat to
wildlife, and parrots are no exception. Most parrot species are threatened--if
not endangered--and a few have become extinct in the last century. By
volunteering abroad with an organization dedicated to the reintroduction of
parrots to their natural environment, you can help to improve the health of wild
Over the last few decades, aviculturists have made tremendous advances in the
science of breeding parrots both for the pet trade and for conservation. In the
United States, captive breeding has virtually eliminated the practice of
illegally importing wild parrots. Unfortunately, baby parrots continue to be
poached from nests and sold as pets in their native countries. Wild-caught
parrots tend to make frightened (and often aggressive) pets, a problem
compounded by neglect by their owners. When these neglected birds are
confiscated by local authorities, organizations like Amigos de las Aves (in
Costa Rica) step in to provide care and rehabilitation.
Whenever possible, rehabilitated wild-caught parrots are returned to the wild.
This isn't always possible, however, and some become lifelong residents. Some
parrots that cannot be released can be bred in captivity, providing a new
generation to help replenish the reduced numbers of wild birds. Through captive
breeding and release programs, populations of endangered parrots may eventually
return to stable levels.
One way that you can help with this goal is by volunteering abroad with an
organization dedicated to the plight of wild parrots. These organizations keep
hundreds of birds in large outdoor aviaries and are often understaffed.
Volunteers typically assist with maintaining the facilities, making handmade
bird toys, and preparing fresh foods for the resident parrots.
Caring for large numbers of parrots takes a tremendous amount of work, the bulk
of which is often cleaning. Fresh fruit and vegetables must also be chopped,
mixed, and served twice a day, and natural perches must be scrubbed and replaced
frequently. As a volunteer, you can expect that much of the work you will be
asked to perform will be tasks that seem menial but are incredibly important for
the health and well-being of the birds.
On the other hand, working with parrots can be an incredible learning
experience. In most cases, you will have the opportunity to interact one-on-one
with parrots and assist in the rehabilitation of injured and neglected birds.
You will also be able to enjoy the lush tropical landscape, view native wildlife
up close, and observe the behavior of parrots in the wild. Few sights are as
breathtaking as a flock of scarlet or green winged macaws taking
flight--especially when you know that your efforts help to make it possible.
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