By Scott Malone
Like many a first-time parrot keeper, Marc Johnson had little idea what was in store when he got a bird to keep him company while he worked in his pottery studio.
Back in 1989, the young artist scraped together $600 and bought a blue-and-yellow macaw. The bright plumage soon attracted the attention of passersby, who started bringing other birds for Johnson to take in.
A quarter of a century later, Johnson has given up pottery and runs Foster Parrots, one of the largest wild-bird rescue facilities in the United States. This summer he completed renovations, transforming a chicken farm into a 20,000-square-foot (1,858-square-meter) sanctuary.
Filled with nearly 500 screaming, squawking cockatoos, macaws, parrots and a variety of smaller birds such as parakeets, cockatiels and love birds, Foster Parrots is thriving. It fields 900 to 1,000 calls a year from bird owners no longer able or willing to keep their pets. A longevity factor comes into play.
"There's a certain unwanted factor built into parrots. They are going to live to be 50-, 60-, 70-years-old," Johnson said in an interview at his facility in Hope Valley, Rhode Island, 30 miles southwest of Providence. "Parrots are not a domesticated animal, they are a wild animal."
Parrots are known for their bright plumage and intelligence, but they can also be demanding. Without company and stimulation at home, the birds can take to biting people, destroying furniture or pulling out their own feathers.
After dogs and cats, birds are the third-most-popular pet in the United States, but statistics on how many are kept vary widely. A 2012 survey by the American Veterinary Medical Association put the figure at 8.3 million birds of all kinds - smaller songbirds and larger exotics - while a 2013 study by the American Pet Products Association, a trade group, put the figure at 20.6 million.
Johnson's facility, with six full time staffers and 30 volunteers, is one of a handful of large-scale bird rescue centers in the United States. Others include The Oasis Sanctuary outside Tucson, Arizona, and Phoenix Landing in Asheville, North Carolina. More....