I have always had a soft spot in my heart for older birds. I find them charming and lovely companions that seem to have a dignity and a wisdom that younger birds have yet to find within themselves. They typically have a lot of milage on them and that might show. They might be a plucker, they might be a bit bedraggled or they might begin to show signs of joint pain. They might be on medication or might indeed need medication.
Age can do that to a bird. But the maturity they have stemming from the fact that they have a few years under their belts shines through. They have come into their own, they know who they are and it shows.
I adopted an older African Grey about ten years ago. Pepper came to me as a relinquishment. She was originally purchased as a young bird in a pet store in Fort Lauderdale that is no longer doing business. She was brought home by an older women who absolutely adored her. Not much is known how her care was early on. After the woman passed away, none of her children wanted her and neither did the woman’s husband. I was told that he couldn’t stand her which might explain Pepper's occasional hostility toward males, I suppose.
Pepper was about 15 when I brought her to my home. That would make her approximately 25 years old. I had done some previous training and socialization work with her at her foster home and we seemed to get along just fine.
I was told she was a biter, but other than the first couple of days after I brought her home and she nipped me once or twice, she hasn’t bitten me in the ten or so years I have had her in my family. She is a joy to me and has learned a few behaviors which flies in the face of the old adage, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” It just isn’t true, so do not let this line of thinking persuade you int believing that if you get an older bird that they can’t learn anything.
Pepper is not only proficient at a few behaviors so that she can earn bits of almond, she has learned to say, “Thank you” as well as mimic my friend, Bill’s voice when she says, “Hey!” He has a deep voice so it’s a little startling to hear this deep booming exclamation coming out of my bald, petite Grey.
She was and remains a success story and I simply adore her. She has carved a place in my heart and snuggled tightly in. She is my best behaved African Grey and is so easy to live with. She is a quiet and thoughtful bird who loves her pots and pans toy, her phone books and my attention.
The oldest bird I ever had the pleasure of meeting is Paco. Paco is a Mealy Amazon who is blind and he is 59 years old. He was hatched in 1957 and he lives in a large flight in Kanab, Utah at Best Friends Animal Society’s Parrot Garden and for elderly guy, he manages to get around just fine.
He has a parrot friend, Rico who is a Blue Fronted Amazon. Rico serves as his “seeing eye parrot” and he ensures Paco can find the water and food bowls. The care Rico takes to make sure Paco is okay is touching to witness. It is as if he realizes he needs assistance and they are close friends and always together.
People seem to think that the only way you can truly bond with a bird is by raising it from a baby. This is patently false and I don’t know why it is still believed.
Not unlike adopting an older dog, what you see is what you get. There is none of this having to raise them from a very young age and deal with what goes along with it. While training is always a good thing to do, the maturity of these birds is a blessing in most cases. In Pepper's case she adapted to my home rapidly and got comfortable within a few days.
If you choose to adopt an older bird you might find them a bit standoffish and rather reserved at first. Pepper was this way and I simply allowed her the space she needed to adjust and the peace she probably didn’t have for a while when she was living in her former home. Apparently she lived in a hallway near a bathroom and bedroom and her dinner which was served on a paper plate the evening she was relinquished was at the bottom of her 18-inch by 18-inch galvanized wire cage.
On the paper plate was a piece of steak, a piece of chicken and some walnuts. You could gather that this wasn’t the most ideal of circumstances for a mature and meek little African grey parrot. My friend who got her out of that home couldn’t wait to get her out of that cage and into a better and larger enclosure. After I brought her home, I left her alone for a couple of days letting her soak up the atmosphere and observe the goings on in the house. She, like most birds in a new environment was quiet, observant and didn’t move around much. She was checking out the new digs and testing the waters. What I did was talk to her frequently calling her by her name and slipping her a treat here and there.
The one thing this little Grey loved to do from day one was eat! Wow, could this bird chow down! I never had problem covering her to Chop, Grain Bake or literally anything else I put in her bowl. She ate like a field hand and seemed to look forward to any nut meat I handed her. Pepper is still the bottomless pit and when she is done with her bowl, I move her to clean up what Parker has left. This bird is the champion of the clean plate club!
By day three she tentatively began vocalizing. I was surprised that morning when she heard me in the kitchen telling the birds I was making their dinner. From the living room I heard a small and meek, “Thank Youuuu!” in this little Grey voice. Yes, it was Pepper. She had me at, “Thank you” and I never looked back. It seems her way to let me know that after the three day test period, she was ready to come out of her enclosure and join the family. Apparently I had passed the audition.
Are there challenges to adopting an older parrot? Of course! As Pepper has grown older she developed seizures and is now on medication three times a day. It isn’t that difficult now as she as grown used to my putting her on my knee to have a small bit of liquid squirted into her mouth. It used to be hell trying to get her to cooperate as she really didn’t enjoy the process and yelled her head off every time.
But she has grown to accept this as just the way things are and she now looks forward to the almond bit she receives as a reward for being such a patient girl and putting up with the process. She hasn’t had a seizure in months and has come out of her shell a bit. I think she might have had a fear of having a seizure and this made her nervous. Now that she seems to be seizure-free, she seems more relaxed and outgoing.
But I cannot even begin to explain the satisfaction of opening my home to this mature, bald little bird who has seen some roads in her life and can now settle down and relax knowing she is here to stay. There may be challenges on that road, but in the end, it was worth every step.
There are many parrot adoption and education organizations where you can apply to adopt a bird. Here are just a few: