The Current

'Parrot listener' mends broken relationships between people and their birds

What happens when a sanctuary for parrots closes? Today's documentary brings us into the heart of the mass re-homing of hundreds of birds from B.C.'s World Parrot Refuge and delves into the complex relationship these birds have with people.

'We’ll be 80-years-old and she could outlive us'

6 years ago
Duration 0:59
What happens to pets - like parrots - that could outlive its owners?

Read story transcript

Imagine living with a two-to-five-year-old child for the rest of your life, says Melanie Shura, a former psychiatric nurse who is now a parrot specialist.

"[A] parrot will tell you everything you need to know. You just have to listen," says Shura.

Owning a parrot is a life-long commitment. On average, cockatoos live for more than 30 years and a macaw can live well past 50 years.

In The Current's documentary No Forever Home, Shura tells the story of a complicated human love triangle — one that involves a husband, a wife, and a  22- year-old cockatoo named Sydney. 

"[Sydney] has attached right to the husband, physically, which is worrisome," says Shura

Melanie Shura and Sinbad, a 22-year-old, blue-and-gold macaw. (Suzanne Dufresne/CBC)
Recently, Sydney returned to Manitoba following the closure of the World Parrot Refuge on Vancouver Island, B.C. — a sanctuary billed as a "forever home" for surrendered birds. 

Five years ago, Jan and Gord of Winnipeg (The Current has agreed not to use their last names ) sent Sydney the cockatoo to the refuge. Now the couple is reuniting with their bird but the adjustment has not been easy.

"I'm stressed out. I don't know what to do," says Jan, exasperated.
Sydney the cockatoo (Courtesy of Jan and Gord)

Sydney has attacked Jan twice, first biting her on the ear, and then on  her back as she turned to protect herself. 

"Now we've brought her here and have to get her back into a family setting with us as her flock —  not her birds anymore — so I'm hoping with Melanie's help we can do that for her."

"But at the same time I'm not sure if we will be keeping her or not," sobs Jan.

Melanie Shura is used to helping parrot owners in distress.  As president of the charity Avian Welfare Canada she receives emails and frantic calls each week from people whose relationship with their parrot has hit the rocks.

"They are so desperate and they know darn well that if this bird goes to another home somebody will beat this bird and harm it even further.  So in order to save the bird another 30, 40 or 50 years of abuse they would sooner euthanize it, " says Shura.

Melanie Shura and Kia, a blue-and-gold macaw at the 2014 Ace Art fundraiser. Kia is 26-years-old and had eight homes before living with Melanie. (Courtesy of Ace Art Inc.)

As a parrot specialist, Shura has seen it all. People who hoard birds, birds left in abandoned apartments, birds who suffer post-traumatic stress from abuse, and birds  who are depressed when the owner they've bonded with, dies. 

In the wild more than one third of the parrot population is threatened or endangered due to loss of habitat and the illegal global pet trade. But while the wild parrot population declines, a steady stream of unwanted birds fill the few avian shelters in Canada and the U.S.

Shura is all too familiar with how demanding parrots that scream, chew and bite can be. 

"Nobody connects with a bird, or brings a bird into their home, with the idea that its going to fall apart and their hearts will be broken."

Nelson, a found cockatiel lives with parrot specialist Melanie Shura. (Melanie Shura)

In almost every case that Shura has been involved with, she says people suffer as much, if not more, than the birds in distress.

Shura will continue to work with Jan and Gord while they decide if they want to keep Sydney to make sure that their bird can adjust to a new life in their home or somewhere else.

"Unfortunately the birds are the ones that end up getting moved and that's just the way it is. The people have to come first," says Shura.

"In my experience, if the people are happy the bird is not happy, so because they are basically wild and can live for a long time, rare is the parrot who does have a forever home."

Listen to No Forever Home at the top of this web post, below the video.

The documentary No Forever Home was produced by Suzanne Dufresne and Josh Bloch.