They can be friendly, affectionate, chatty, noisy, curious, clownish, enchanting, playful, shy, and maybe even a little exasperating at times—they are companion birds, and thanks to the dedicated Bay Area volunteers at Mickaboo Companion Bird Rescue, thousands of parakeets, parrots, cockatiels, cockatoos, macaws, and others facing neglect or an early demise are finding new homes.
The volunteer-run Mickaboo (a combination of two birds named “Mick” and “Aboo” belonging to the group’s founders) rescues and places a few hundred birds every year, with estimates of helping a total of up to 1,000 birds with its programs. At any given time there are more than 300 birds in the “foster flock”, cared for in volunteers’ homes dotting the region, according to board member Pamela Lee.
The nonprofit is not as well known as dog and cat rescue groups, but for about 17 years it has consistently offered a safe place for San Francisco Bay Area residents to relinquish birds, adopt, and find much-needed advice and guidance.
“People don’t realize that something so intelligent and beautiful would be given up for adoption,” said Jaime Bodiford, a Menlo Park attorney who serves as a foster parent and coordinator of rescues from the Poicephalus species from Africa.
Yet the birds are sometimes surrendered after owners suffer unfortunate circumstances like loss of a job, illness, or even death, or the birds pose a higher commitment than people initially realized. Companion birds can live 20, 30, and in some cases up to 50 and 65 years, depending on the species, far beyond the average dog or cat. Without a rescue organization like Mickaboo, some birds face euthanasia.
Volunteers to the Rescue
The driving force of Mickaboo is a group of about 200 volunteers, which includes around 100 foster parents, who give many hours of service, all for the love of birds.
Lee said she is inspired daily by the “unselfishness of so many of the volunteers—they give up their weekends, they give up hours during the day, they go on emergency ‘go pick up that bird now’ (calls), answer the phones…deal with medical issues that would tear one’s heart apart…It takes a special kind of person to do this.”
Some foster bird parents care for flocks of birds infected with a virus that make it impossible for the birds to be adopted out, in what Lee called a kind of hospice care. The birds can live happily for years without any symptoms, before falling ill and dying.
“We’ve had extraordinary people come up to do extraordinary things to help,” Lee said. The Bank of America senior vice president joined Mickaboo about 15 years ago after witnessing first hand the “graciousness, professionalism, and unselfishness” of the volunteers.
Education and Placement Are Keys to Successful Adoption
In addition to accepting and caring for surrendered birds, the group also spends a large amount of time educating potential bird owners and placing birds in new homes.
All potential adopters must attend a mandatory basic bird care class, be interviewed over the phone, and have an in-home visit before placement. The group makes advanced care classes available, as well.
“We put the bird in a situation where both sides are going to succeed at building a relationship,” Lee said.
And once the bird is placed, Mickaboo is there for both adopter and adoptee, “for the lifetime of the bird,” she said. The group will take back the birds if the need arises, and is on hand to answer behavioral, dietary, or medical questions.
In fact, both Lee and Bodiford said their volunteers answer questions from the public about pet birds free of charge, even if they did not adopt from Mickaboo. Anything to keep birds in their original homes, they said.
The lifetime support and willingness to educate by a rescue organization make adopting a companion bird superior to buying a bird at a pet store, the two women said.
Foster parents get to know the birds and can share specifics about the pets’ unique personalities and needs. The intake and home visit volunteers strive to get to know potential adopters, and will answer questions and offer helpful advice.
“Whereas getting a bird from a (retailer) you’re not going to get that information; you’ll be lucky if you get decent bird care information,” Lee said.
Bodiford currently is caring for Tango, a southern African Meyer’s Parrot, given up due to biting and screaming. After five months of working with the beautiful gray and turquoise bird on behavior modification and socialization, as well as providing a proper diet (her previous diet of too many seeds and not enough balanced nutrition made her hormonal), Tango is ready for a new home.
“She wants to be pet, is cute as can be, is not an overly loud bird, and she likes humans,” Bodiford shared. “She talks; she says ‘Hi, Tango!’”
How to Help
The group survives not only with the dedication of volunteers, but also the kindness of donors to cover the expenses of caring for so many birds, some of which come to the group with serious—and costly—medical issues.
Veterinary bills, which make up about 95 percent of the group’s expenses, are between $15,000 and $20,000 a month, Lee said, even with discounts offered by local vets. Recently, one month’s bills reached a whopping $40,000.
Fundraising is a constant need, Lee said, especially during the economic downturn when the need for Mickaboo’s services went up as people lost their jobs or had to move away to new homes where they could have the birds.
Volunteers, including foster parents, are always needed. Volunteer jobs aside from fostering include coordinating bird intakes, arranging for adoptions, writing newsletter articles and bird biographies, transporting birds, and performing administrative tasks.
“And spread the word,” Bodiford added when asked how the public can help. The two volunteers said most people don’t realize there is a rescue option available.
Written by Pam Marino