The purpose of keeping strict quarantine procedures in place is to avoid the spread of illness in captive birds. Some diseases can be spread through feather dander, feces and saliva exchange; because of this, it is very important to keep sick birds in a completely separate room, with separate airflow from the rest of the house if possible, to prevent disease from spreading to the rest of the birds in the home.
During times of stress, namely being rehomed or pulled from stressful situations, a bird’s immune system can become weak, making them more susceptible to illness. Often a bird will look perfectly healthy because their natural instinct causes them to hide their illnesses from possible predators. An excellent example of this is one of our rescue birds, a Red Bellied Parrot named Oats. Oats came from a home that had countless cats, several dogs, and two other birds — a hoarding situation. She was absolutely beautiful when she arrived; she was a normal weight and her feathers looked pristine. Yet, when her blood-work came back we found dangerously low calcium and protein levels — so low that the veterinarian was shocked that she was still alive. From there, we discovered a severe bacterial infection in her crop that was preventing her from digesting and absorbing nutrients properly, not that she was getting proper nutrition in the first place. Just imagine what could have happened to Oats if we had not followed proper quarantine procedures. What if she had been prematurely adopted into another home? She could have become more ill or even died, or could have passed illness to the adopter’s flock. What if we would have immediately introduced her to our established flock? Disease could have spread to all 25 of our parrots in the rescue — what a nightmare that would be.
But quarantine goes much deeper than preventing the spread of disease. The 30-90 day quarantine allows for a bird to adjust to the new surroundings and make new connections. It’s a chance for their minds to sort out what just happened to them and also provides an opportunity to adjust, be rehabilitated and prepare for a forever home. This adjustment period is vital to the mental health and well-being of the parrot. I frequently see birds get tossed from home-to-home without having a chance to adjust, and I cringe for them. In the wild, they live in their flocks for life; imagine how much emotional turmoil they must endure when they are rehomed multiple times without pause. They are very emotionally and intellectually fragile creatures.
The point of rescue is to ensure that the birds who are lucky enough to find you receive the best love and care that they possibly can for the rest of their lives, and to break the constant rehoming cycle that parrots often fall victim to. To make sure that mission is achieved, the bird needs time to adjust and show his or her true personality, along with any behavioral or medical problems that may arise. Often it can take a month or more for the new bird to be comfortable enough to let its true feathers (or personality) shine. It is near impossible to match a bird with their human soul mate without even taking the time to get to know the individual bird.
Of course, there are exceptions to every rule, and occasionally we come across a parrot that does not do well in a rescue setting. But that is no excuse to not use proper quarantine procedures; remember that it takes time for a bird to adjust to new surroundings and you won’t know for sure how they will do if you don’t give them a chance. It is rare for us to see a bird be stressed by other birds, but it has happened with certain ones, for example, who have lived many years in a single-bird household with one person as their companion. In these cases, we recommend getting all veterinary checkups done, getting to know the bird as much as possible in a quiet area, and searching for a calm, experienced foster home. We also offer our foster homes the choice of adoption in hopes the bird can avoid being rehomed again — so far this has resulted in a great outcome.
As a rescuer, I understand the desire to help as many parrots as humanly possible, but early adoptions are not the answer. This does not do the parrot, yourself or the parrot’s adopters any favors, and it can create heartbreak and turmoil in the end. The key in rescue is to focus on quality of life, and not the quantity in which you take in. Sadly, there will always be animals in need. This will never stop, and it is a terrible feeling to have to turn birds away from the rescue. But if the quality of life for the animals currently in your rescue seems to be declining due to a high quantity of intakes, it is time to take a deep breath, slow down and re-evaluate the rescue’s purpose: Are proper quarantine procedures still being used? Are all of their veterinary needs still being met? Perhaps it’s time to slow down on the intakes, establish a foster home network, or time to plan for an expansion and to find more dedicated volunteers. Different solutions work for different people, and I am just grateful there are others out there with a passion similar to mine — we are in it for the long-haul.