A lot of my time and energy at the rescue goes toward helping birds adjust to a new life. Some do better than others; just like with people birds all handle stress differently. When a bird has been traumatized there is no way of really knowing how they will do in a home. It takes time and patience, and often what we see at the shelter is not the same behavior that one sees in a home. We recently placed Elvis, the amazon that spent years in a basement, in a foster home. While normally we do not do this, in this particular case his new caretaker had been in contact with me for some time regarding a suitable companion for her bird. I have boarded her bird and had some idea of what sort of ‘bird personality’ she was looking for and also who would be a good fit for her bird, who is handicapped but very gregarious with a big personality. He has no wings; he is wild caught and the wings were removed at the joint which is the barbaric way wild birds used to turned into ‘pet’ birds. Although this is a severe handicap, he does pretty well and gets around by climbing. It is hard though, to watch him extend his stubby little wings and try to groom feathers that aren’t there; he must still feel phantom wings. But what he lacks in physical beauty he makes up for with a personality that won’t quit, and is a nonstop talker.
Elvis is also a very high functioning talker; something I knew he was capable of from the person who originally removed him from his basement prison, but at the shelter he did not talk a lot. He seemed more interested in just looking at the other birds, and was content to be out of his cage and hanging out in the sunshine, getting spray baths, eating fresh food. Many times the birds at our shelter don’t talk a lot because they are in a room with other birds and so they just respond by being part of the flock. But when he was put back into a home again, it seemed to trigger some sort of stress response.
Elvis began ranting in his new home. He said horrible things; begged for water over and over, and begged for food. He yelled at himself to shut up, he said he was bad, he called himself ‘a fu—-er’. He ranted for hours on end, crazy rantings that his foster parent said were clearly the rantings of a mentally ill person. He called out like a cockatoo, and made a lot of movements that a cockatoo makes when they are cage bound and in stress. His basement companion for many years was a cockatoo who unfortunately died in that home. This went on continually for the entire first day and into the next. His new caretaker wasn’t sure this was going to be a good fit. But I told her it was more than likely a stress response and he should settle in. I have seen this before many times. It can take a bird months or even years to stop reliving trauma. I used to board a cockatoo that had previously been in a very abusive home. If I even raised my voice slightly, even if it was because I was laughing and having an enjoyable conversation, this triggered horrible rantings on his part. He would scream and swear and throw himself on the bottom of the cage and cower in a corner, the way a bird would in terror if someone was kicking or hitting the cage. He called himself names; and he obviously witnessed horrible fights between the owners because he would scream out things in a man’s voice that were directed toward a woman; words so disgusting I won’t repeat them here. I boarded him for over five years at various times, and the first few times I couldn’t even have a conversation with someone in the store without this triggering a response in him. Gradually, over time his behavior improved, until he was capable of handling a little noise or loud talking without falling apart. Eventually his new owner put him in a sanctuary situation which probably was the best thing for him as he was so confused by contact with people.
Elvis should settle in; amazons are unbelievably resilient. Already, things are improving. It is just going to take time and patience. It is not an easy task to help a bird with so much trauma. But the two amazons are getting along well and I am hopeful that it will be a permanent placement for him. With any bird that is rehomed there is a period of adjustment, and even if a bird has not been traumatized they need to get used to their new surroundings. It takes time and patience and a whole lot of love.