Never Release a Companion Parrot into the Wild
Why it is dangerous to release a companion to the wild.
By Melissa Mayntz Birding / Wild Birds Expert
A pet bird can be a wonderful companion just as wild birds can be wonderful backyard guests, but when pet and wild birds meet, the wild birds face significant dangers from their domesticated cousins. Birders who enjoy owning pet birds should be aware of those dangers so they can minimize any hazards their outdoor companions face.
How Wild and Pet Birds Interact
Pet birds and wild birds interact with one another in two ways, either of which can create problems.
- Direct Contact: Escaped or released cage birds, or pet birds allowed supervised time outdoors, can come into direct physical contact with wild populations. Whether intentional or accidental, this contact can have devastating consequences for all birds involved, whether wild or domestic.
- Indirect Influence: Social perceptions of pet birds have a strong impact on perceptions of wild birds, but pets and wild animals are vastly different. What a bird owner learns about proper care for their pet is very different than the treatment a wild bird needs to stay free and healthy.
All types of wild birds can be influenced by pet birds, but smaller passerines such as finches, buntings, tanagers and doves, as well as parrots and parakeets, suffer the most because of their similarity to the most popular pet bird species.
How Pet Birds Hurt Wild Birds
While the exact impact pet birds will have on wild populations varies depending on the species, the type of contact and the duration of that contact, the most detrimental hazards wild birds face from avian pets include:
- Poaching: Many countries have outlawed importing birds for the pet trade, but poachers still profit from capturing wild birds, often directly from nests, and selling them to prospective pet owners. Black market trading is especially high for tropical species, including birds often classified as threatened or endangered. Poachers often destroy nesting areas or kill eggs or adult birds while they capture birds to sell as pets.
- Diseases: Pet birds develop different immunities than wild birds, and it is easy for a pet bird to spread an infection or disease to a wild population if the birds are in direct contact. This contact may come from an escaped or released bird, or could be from contaminated food or feces that wild birds come into contact with.
- Invasive Species: When pet birds are released or escape and form feral populations, they lack natural predators and can quickly become invasive. As the population grows, they usurp prime food sources and nesting sites, limiting the resources available to native bird populations. This is most common with parrot colonies as well as chickens, ducks and doves worldwide.
- Wild Pets: When cage birds are characterized as fun, easy pets, that perception can encourage people to capture and tame wild birds. Even brief captivity can have a severely detrimental effect on wild birds, causing imprinting that hampers the bird’s wild survival instincts. Improper food and poor handling can cause malnutrition and injuries to wild birds, particularly chicks. In many areas, keeping wild birds captive is illegal, but many such laws are rarely enforced.
- Malnutrition: Pet bird food is formulated for a captive bird’s needs, but it is not the proper nutritional balance for a wild bird’s lifestyle and can cause growth deformities, malnutrition, illnesses and other negative effects. This can be the result of pet seed offered directly to wild birds, or else wild birds cleaning up spillage from a pet bird’s outdoor enclosure.
- Inappropriate Expertise: Even with years of pet handling, a pet bird owner is not a wild bird expert, and pet owners who attempt rehabilitation with young or injured birds can do much more harm than good. Wild birds need specific diets that mimic their natural food sources, and they require specific handling to preserve their natural instincts. Only licensed wild bird rehabilitators can provide the care that wild birds need in emergency situations.
- Genetic Purity: If pet birds mingle with the wild population, hybridizationcan threaten wild birds’ genetic purity. While this takes a great deal of time to become a substantial threat, it is possible for a wild bird species to become endangered because its pure bloodlines have been lost through interbreeding with domestic or pet breeds. Because pet breeds are often carefully selected to enhance desirable traits such as size or plumage color, this can be a threat to any popular type of cage bird, and it has also threatened the red junglefowl in many areas.
- Abundance: Because pet birds can be very popular, they create the illusion of abundance and the easy success of captive breeding. That illusion gives the impression that it is easy to protect bird species since they can be kept as pets, which may lessen critical support for wild bird conservation programs.
How You Can Help
While there is nothing wrong with responsible pet ownership, pet bird owners and birders alike can take steps to ensure that wild birds are not threatened by pets.
- Always obtain companion birds from a reputable source, and ask about where their stock originates to ensure there is no poaching link.
- Keep pet birds healthy with outstanding care, proper diet and regular checkups from a veterinarian.
- Wash your hands after handling a pet bird or wild bird feeder to prevent cross contamination between domestic and wild birds.
- Never release a pet bird into the wild. If it becomes necessary to give the pet up, look for a local pet bird shelter or adoption facility that can help it find a new home.
- Avoid feeding pets outdoors where seed or other foods may spill, and do not offer leftover pet food to wild birds.
- Understand and support local wildlife laws and know how to contact the authorities, including bird rescue organizations, when needed.
- Learn about your pet’s species and where it is found in the wild to gain a better appreciation of wild bird needs and your pet’s ancestry.
Having birds in your life, whether pet birds or wild guests, can be very rewarding, and understanding how wild birds can be threatened by pets is a necessary step to ensuring both types of birds are well treated and protected.