Digit has been at Foster Parrots since May 2014 and Windsor says it would be an understatement to describe Digit as "the most spoiled little prince on the planet."
"There are thousands of these stories," says Johnson "Millions of them."
Johnson says his sanctuary only serves a small regional area in New England but the organization receives nearly 1,000 calls a year from people hoping to rehome their birds. Unfortunately, there are far more parrot owners who just don't want to care for their birds anymore, and either neglect or completely abandon them. "It's not uncommon for us to get a call from someone who sees a parrot in a tree because someone has let them go," Johnson says. "Or a woman calls and says her husband is about to throw her bird out the front door."
"Birds get displaced like cats and dogs," says Kelly. But because birds live much longer, the situation is exacerbated. "The smaller species can live 15 to 20 years. When you get to the larger species, like macaws and Amazons and cockatoos, you are talking three to five times longer than the average cat or dog," she says. "So there is already a built-in homelessness factor." (Some birds can, in fact, live to be 80 years old.)
Another reason people abandon or neglect their birds is because the birds' behavior changes. "Some of these birds are great when they are little," says Kelly. But when they get sexually mature around the age of 5, that is when they can be aggressive, especially the bigger parrots.
Kelly says, in some ways, it might be easier to see the plight of the larger bird, but captivity is just as troubling for the smaller ones. "The little ones, they are more manageable in that you don't worry about them if they bite you, you won't end up in the hospital with stitches." But, she says, the small birds are hyperactive. "People think they don't need as much space - but they do and even more. They are very active. Those little wings can dart!"
Kelly says it's excruciating to witness. "You walk by some shops and see one just sitting in a cage vegetating. People like the idea of this little canary singing. But the reason why it is singing is because it wants a mate. It is depressed."
"When you think about it like that," she says, "that is awful ... Because you want to hear a canary sing, you will keep it alone from its own species."
Of course, it also shouldn't be overlooked how intelligent parrots are. Psychologist Irene Pepperberg worked for years with a famous African grey parrot named Alex. Through her work, Pepperberg came to believe parrots had the same level of intelligence as primates and dolphins.
Despite all these emotional and physical needs, and obvious smarts, pet parrots can be easily purchased at big pet chain stores like PetSmart and Petco, says Place, as well as local pet stores, Craigslist, individual breeders and flea markets, among many other sources. For people like Johnson, who has been working to offset the industry for 25 years, the situation is exhausting. "We need to raise the bar to a degree that people really understand what they are in for, and what they are doing," Johnson says. "If someone said they wanted to buy an elephant because they have a big backyard, people would say that was insane."
"What right," he asks, "do we have to put a flighted wild animal in a cage?"