Once loved, forgotten parrots face uncertain future

They are beautiful creatures who had the misfortune of outliving the interest of their owners. Now a Vancouver Island bird sanctuary is desperately seeking to find homes for hundred of parrots left orphaned by the death of a well-meaning would-be saviour.

Vancouver Island group now struggling to find homes for hundreds of twice-orphaned birds

Robert Blake starred as Baretta in a show that popularized the purchase of cockatoos as pets. (ABC television, 1978/Wikimedia Commons)

There was a time when the coolest detective on TV was a cop named Baretta.

The show's theme song topped the charts from France to the Phillipines. Fans stuck unlit cigarettes behind their ears and wore cloth caps in the style of star Robert Blake.

And many bought cockatoos like Fred, the one owned by the series' quirky main character.

'If we take them in as pets, they rely on us'

That was 40 years ago.

Baretta is long gone, along with scores of other '70s fads. But the birds live on, their only misfortune having the good health to outlive the interest of their owners.

John Creviston counts about 150 cockatoos among the nearly 600 abandoned birds whose lives have been thrown into the balance by the death of a well-meaning, but ultimately misguided Vancouver Island parrot saviour.

The interim managers of the World Parrot Refuge are seeking new homes for as many as 450 to 500 birds. (World Parrot Refuge)

Creviston is the interim manager of the Coombs World Parrot Refuge — tasked with winding down the enterprise Wendy Huntbatch spent years building.

He traces the abundance of cockatoos at the facility directly back to the popularity of Baretta.

But the former zookeeper says the same principle applies to many of the parrots Huntbatch rescued. 

"These birds — many of them live 60 or 80 years or more," he says.

"None of us know where we're going to be 10 or 20 years from now. In lots of cases, they're also very, very demanding. And if we take them in as pets, they rely on us."

A 'parrot-hoarding' situation

Huntbatch died of cancer in February, after devoting a quarter century to the care of unwanted parrots.

But in that time, Creviston says what started as a well-meaning enterprise resulted in a "parrot hoarding situation."

The refuge was transferred to Huntbatch's husband after her death, but he no longer wants to be involved with the birds.

Meanwhile, the SPCA has issued orders for veterinary care for the parrots, and the employees of the society Huntbatch started to operate the refuge have struggled to continue.

That's left the caretakers in a race against time — one thing parrots don't usually lack.

Creviston works with Surrey's Greyhaven Exotic Bird Sanctuary, which has stepped up to help.

He describes the noise in the 23,000 square-foot refuge as a "cacophony". Pretty much what you might expect from a building housing hundreds of highly intelligent, social, squawking creatures.

Creviston says immediate problems include tackling a major rat infestation as well as finding the funds to pay for food costs totaling as much as $800 a month.

But the sanctuary is also calling on former owners of parrots to consider taking their birds back. And they're also asking members of the public to consider adopting the abandoned parrots.

Creviston says the birds come from around the world. Many were caught in the wild decades ago by breeders.

Beyond their long life spans, Creviston says parrots are also very sensitive. They attach themselves to owners and can get lonely. Some of the larger birds have anxiety and self-mutilation issues.

"Many of these highly intelligent animals could face euthanasia if the right supports can't be found," he says.

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