December 5, 2008 / 1:17 PM / 10 years ago

Exotic birds fall prey to foreclosure crisis

SEATTLE (Reuters) - Real estate agent Jeffrey Dolfinger was making a routine occupancy check on a foreclosed home near Poughkeepsie, New York, when he made a heart-wrenching discovery: two bedraggled cockatiels nearly starved to death.

Phoenix, a one year old cockatiel, sits on his perch in Cape Town January 22, 2002. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings

“We had entered into this wreck of a house, opened the door, where there sat two cockatiels with about a six-inch-high pile of bird feces under them,” Dolfinger said. “I’m not a bird person, but I knew a bird is not supposed to look this way.”

Despite terrible bird allergies, Dolfinger gathered them up and brought them to a pet store specializing in birds. A woman at the store nursed them back to health.

The pair of cockatiels represents a little-known side of the foreclosure crisis: exotic birds abandoned or dropped at shelters because their owners cannot move into an apartment or a relative’s home with the sometimes noisy creatures.

No group tracks such cases, but animal rescue groups say they’re becoming inundated with calls from people who lost their houses desperately trying to find a new home for their macaw or cockatoo.

Adding to the problems of finding new homes is the life span of the birds, which can run from 20 years for a cockatiel to between 50 and 80 years for the larger birds.

“There are easily 8 to 10 calls a week here” because of foreclosure problems, said Judy Sawin, who with her husband runs Avian Retreat in Seattle, a sanctuary for abandoned or homeless exotic birds.

“Not only are people in unfortunate situations, but this is throwing birds into terrible situations.”

Many owners try to take their exotic birds to an animal shelter but most shelters are not equipped to house birds, Swain says, because they are built to handle mainly dogs and cats, who are also being abandoned in large numbers because of foreclosures.


Intelligent, lively birds like parrots, cockatoos and cockatiels can be time-consuming to care for, loud, and destructive to themselves or their surroundings if neglected or mistreated, she said.

Sawin, who also works full-time at a construction management company, is caring for 25 birds, which amounts to almost another full-time job.

“That’s way more than what we want to have,” said Sawin, who also screens potential owners willing to adopt birds. “What we try to do here is take the ones nobody else will take, like a cockatiel with one foot.”

Mollywood, another sanctuary for exotic birds in Washington state, also has been inundated by birds left homeless after their owners lost their houses. Located near Bellingham, Washington, it is now home to 400 exotic birds.

“I’ve definitely seen a higher turnover of birds in the last six months than I have in a long, long time,” said sanctuary owner Betsy Lott, who has fostered birds for 15 years.

“It’s really sad — you can tell these people are really struggling. For some, it’s like losing a child,” she said. “But they know they can’t live out of a car with a bird.

“It’s really hard, and it’s really heartbreaking.”

Editing by Mary Milliken; editing by Mohammad Zargham

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