Hundreds of homeless B.C. parrots still need help

Six months after a Vancouver Island parrot refuge was forced to close, hundreds of the birds still do not have homes. But this B.C. couple is serving as foster parents to 34 African greys.

Meet the 34 African grey parrots currently living in a Coquitlam, B.C., dining room

Niki Montgomery has adopted 'Pickles' for herself. But she's also a foster mom to 33 other birds, all living in the dining room of her Coquitlam, B.C., home. (Chris Corday/CBC)

Being foster parents to 34 African grey parrots means there are few quiet moments at the Coquitlam, B.C., home of Niki Montgomery and Bill Sarsons. 

"We get to share all our meals and all of our time with these little monkeys," Montgomery says amid a cacophony of squawking. "I don't even hear it any more, quite honestly."

The couple's dining room has been converted into a bird sanctuary of sorts, filled with dozens of cages.

"I think, for the most part, we make it work," she says. "It will be nice to see them go off to their own homes and see them thrive."

An African grey parrot enjoys a high-protein snack. (Chris Corday/CBC)

Montgomery and Sarsons stepped up after more than 560 exotic birds unexpectedly became homeless this past spring when the World Parrot Refuge, in Coombs, B.C., was forced to close. The refuge's owner had died without leaving a plan in place to care for the birds.

When word of their plight became public, it triggered an outpouring of donations. Volunteers at the Greyhaven Exotic Bird Sanctuary, which stepped in to co-ordinate the parrot rescue, received more than 3,000 emails with offers to adopt the birds.

But so far fewer than half of the birds — approximately 200 — have either found new homes or have been sent to parrot refuges in other provinces.

Bill Sarsons says he spends four hours a day feeding and cleaning the 34 African greys. (Chris Corday/CBC)

Despite the interest, Montgomery says finding the right homes for all the birds has been a challenge for volunteers. Greyhaven is also charging a $500 adoption fee, which has angered some potential adopters.

"I think there are a lot of great hearts out there, but I guess [Greyhaven's] responsibility is to really do the screening process and make sure the homes we place them in understand the noise, the mess, the biting and the medical needs."

Staff say the fee is warranted due to the costs of caring for the birds during the adoption process and because they want people to be serious about giving them a good home.

"We don't want the birds to be passed around," says Dr. Anne McDonald, a veterinarian with Vancouver's Night Owl Bird hospital who played a key role in the rescue efforts.

All the birds in the Montgomery-Sarsons home have names, doled out depending on their personalities. (Chris Corday/CBC)

Montgomery was introduced to the birds because she works with McDonald. She says agreeing to take on the African greys until long-term homes can be found was the least she and her husband could do.

"We have the luxury of having a bigger home so we have to reach out and help."

Greyhaven has been fundraising to cover the mounting costs associated with feeding and attending to the birds' medical needs — the vet bill alone is now over $250,000.

Sarsons, who is self-employed in the construction industry, says he spends about four hours a day feeding and cleaning the birds. He slides between their cages using a rolling chair.

"I feel like I have a kind of connection to them, you know."

The Greyhaven Exotic Bird Sanctuary, which is handling the adoptions, is charging $500 per bird. It's a fee aimed at ensuring the birds go to families that really want them. (Chris Corday/CBC)

He's also given them all names, often with a movie or entertainment theme.

"This is Dante," he said, opening one cage.

Dante is named after comedian and movie director Mel Brooks, because Sarsons says the parrot makes him laugh. Another is called "David Banner," after the Incredible Hulk, because "he gets mad sometimes."

Montgomery and Sarsons say they're prepared to keep their noisy house guests for another 10 months, hoping that will be enough time to find them all homes. They've adopted one of the birds, named Pickles.

"I love them all," said Montgomery. "But I see our role and that's to get them to their forever homes."

Montgomery and Sarsons say their role is temporary until the birds get permanent homes. (Chris Corday/CBC)

About the Author

Chris Brown

Moscow Correspondent

Chris Brown is a foreign correspondent based in the CBC’s Moscow bureau. Previously a National Reporter in Vancouver, Chris has a passion for great stories and has travelled all over Canada and the world to find them.

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