A tropical parrot ‘oasis’ deep in the desert {An ASNS Video}

Down among the small farms and cattle ranches, amid hoards of prickly pear cactus, mesquite trees and creosote bushes in Cascabel, Ariz., 50 miles north of Tombstone, anybody can hear the normal droll sounds of rural life.

But listen closer: high-pitched screeches echo throughout the valley. Squawks and shrieks akin to the dinosaurs heard on T.V. become louder and more prominent as you approach Teran Road. A sign that pictures a pink cockatiel explains the cacophony: “The Oasis Sanctuary.” A big arrow points west, directing drivers toward a 71-acre wild bird and parrot rescue sanctuary.

How many birds?

“Oh boy, I’ve lost count,” said Janet Trumbule, executive director of administration at sanctuary foundation. “We have about 12 to 15 different species of birds here. I think we’re up to 728 birds.”

The sanctuary is a non-profit founded in 1997 devoted to providing “permanent sanctuary to any psittacines (parrot-type birds) who have no fatal, contagious disease but are otherwise unplaceable in homes,” according to their website, http://the-oasis.org/.

That’s a lot of noisy, colorful birds, and the sanctuary is now at capacity, with little room for new rescues. That’s because parrots, with a life expentancy of 60 or 70 years, usually outlive their owner (sometimes multiple owners). In many cases they are given away by owners who acquired a magnificent macaw or a chatty whistling African gray without realizing just how much time and attention parrots require. Parrots acquired on impulse often end up being unwanted, and sanctuaries like this one take them in and provide care.

The Oasis Sanctuary is “a life-care facility for captive exotic birds.” It is a refuge for African grey parrots, budgies, cockatoos, macaws, conures, lories, Amazons, quakers and cockatiels as well as many other species.

Trumbule lived in California for most of her life and adopted her first bird, a budgie, when she was 17. She said it was love at first sight. She discovered the Oasis Sanctuary in 2005 and immediately became a member. In 2007 she relocated to Cascabel and became a full-fledged employee.

Most of the birds that are brought to the Oasis are abandoned pets from owners who could no longer take care of them, Trumbule said.

“Many of the birds here have behavioral problems,” Trumbule said. “So they self-pluck their feathers.” Many of the birds have large bald spots where they have mutilated themselves due to psychological issues like getting abandoned by their family, not learning how to properly clean their feathers as young chicks and medical problems like scoliosis. Some birds are brought in through illegal smuggling operations.

Parrots and other exotic species of birds are only a couple of generations out of the wild, so many birds still need to exercise their wild tendencies, making it difficult to own them as pets, Trumbule said. Many people do not understand what it takes to own an exotic bird, and pet stores sometimes do very little to educate would-be owners.

“Some birds are good as pets but generally, no, parrots do not make good pets,” Trumbule said. “If you want to be around birds come work at a sanctuary and help all these birds that really need some human interaction.”

The Oasis is a “true” sanctuary meaning they will not adopt out any birds living there. All of the birds will stay there and live out their lives.

A lot of the parrots here have some form of human vocabulary and talk, Trumbule said. They mimic what they hear. It could be a simple “hello,” their own name, a short sentence and even other things like car horns or squeaky toys.

Walking through the 71-acre refuge interspersed within the screeches are plenty of “hellos” and other pet names the birds are saying. The Oasis has nine employees and a number of volunteers that keep the place on track everyday.

The Oasis is at capacity right now and can no longer accept any more birds but they can refer anyone who would like information about where they can bring their rescued birds.

Trumbule said the thing she likes the most working here are “the birds, of course!”

“I’ve owned birds for 30 years and I know there will come a day when I’m going to have to find a place for them,” Trumbule said. “I hope there’s a place like the Oasis for the ones that need special handling.”

The Oasis is funded through private donations and to donate or become a volunteer just visit their website, the-oasis.org.

Thinking of getting a parrot?

Owning a parrot or other exotic birds is harder than most people think. Here are a few facts about them that may influence the decision to own one as a pet.

They have a very long lifespan. Small parakeets live to be about 20 years old while large macaws live to about 70 or 80 years old and some have lived past 100 years. Cockatoos have a lifespan of 40 to 60 years. Amazons can live up to 70 and African greys up to 60 years old. Know before buying a bird that it may outlive you.

They are, at most, two generations out of the wild, so many of their wild tendencies need to be exercised which include:

  • Preening – They clean their feathers throughout the day, which can make a huge mess.
  • Teething – They need to chew and generally like wood, so if they are not provided with the proper chew toys they will destroy other things.
  • Squawking – They are incredibly loud so a neighborhood that prides itself on peace and quiet may not be the best home.
  • Flying – They were made to fly and need to be in a place that accommodates that, like the Oasis, or else aggressive behavior or self-mutilation may be a result.
  • Eating – They need fresh fruits, nuts, vegetables and other foods every day, which can get expensive.

Many birds are pulled from their parents when they are just days old. These birds do not learn how to properly be a bird without the lessons from their parents. A lot of them do not know how to fly, preen or eat properly. Knowing how long they were with their parents before you purchase one is a must.

Some birds become very territorial and cannot live with other birds without hurting and sometimes killing them.

Birds mate for life in the wild and they can quickly become bonded to their human caretakers, so buying a parrot on an impulse and then abandoning it will break its heart, much like a human.

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