King O at Best Friends

In view of the recent seizure of the birds at Wings Over the Rainbow, it got me pondering their dire situation, how-heart breaking and frustrating it must be to be in a position where you cannot afford to move out of a building that is not supporting your needs and desperate for help and support.

My last post about the situation generated comments, opinions and discussion. It not only got me thinking, it got a lot of other people looking at the situation. It seems to me that they could have used a lot more help than they were getting. But overall, I think a lack of planning was the issue at hand at WOTR.

How much help do you really need for how many birds? I mean, is there an ideal number in an ideal world?

Naturally, I equate this question with the airline industry. There is an FAA ruling that states that for every fifty seats on an airplane, you must have one  Flight Attendant on the aircraft qualified and trained on that equipment. If you don’t have that crew count for that number of seats, you can’t even board the plane with passengers. One Flight Attendant per 50 seats. Period. In many cases there will be more than minimum crew. This is due to the work load, the service involved and the length of the trip.

So this got me thinking: What if we could figure out a proper ratio for the number of people needed to support the care of a certain number of birds? Naturally, there are a ton variables and I can point out a few right off the bat. Flights are far easier to take care of than cages. There is room for more birds and if you have drainage and a hose, it’s a snap. Cages take longer, obviously. And smaller birds are easier than large ones for the most part.

Clean cage ready to rock at BF

I had a number in my head as to what I thought the ideal Caregiver/ Bird ratio would be in a rescue or institutional setting. In my guest zoo keeping experience, volunteering, interviewing, research  and digging around, I came up with a ratio.

I think 25 birds to one caregiver is the ideal number.  Notice I said, ideal. This is in a perfect world with a proper budget, space, equipment and time. I wasn’t sure this was the proper number. Was it too many birds per caregiver? Could one caregiver look after more given the proper environment? So I called Jacque Johnson, the Manager of the Parrot Garden at Best Friends and asked her what she thought of my number. According to Jacque, my guess was dead on because that is the BF ratio for their labor budget.

Marlene at BF

At Best Friends Animal Society, there is a Cockatiel flight with about 30 cockatiels in it. This population changes with the demand for the space and the rate of intake and adoption of course, but it that number is pretty consistent throughout the year. This is a video that will give you an idea of what the cockatiel aviary looks like:

The cockatiel flight is not a tough area of the Parrot Garden to take care of. The substrate is now pea gravel two and a half feet deep. This just needs some hosing and shifting, a little time for drainage and surface drying, cleaning the perches and feeding stations and you’re good to go. Aside from being a beautiful environment for the birds, Best Friends Parrot Garden is set up from the giddyup for efficiency, cleanliness and speed. Yes, it’s a great space for the birds, but it has to work for the people as well. Best Friends has a budget that they have to stick to.

BF Fort: Great enrichment!

 Inside, the Parrot Garden has 30 cages containing 36 birds. They allot four man hours to clean, feed and change bowls for this inside area. And another thing to keep in mind: While Best Friends does indeed welcome volunteers, they base their intake of birds on their ability to care for their flock without any volunteers. When they get volunteers, this affords them time to create foraging toys, work with the birds and work on special projects. But their projection of their labor cost and time to care for their birds is based on the staff to operate without any outside help whatsoever. I think this is logical and very smart planning. They need to be able to provide their birds with care in the event no volunteers are scheduled for the day.

View from the BF indoor bird room

 You can’t always depend on the the kindness of strangers. I asked some colleagues what they thought of the current situation in Ohio, the state of affairs in the world of aviculture and how they view rescues and even an opinion of my “25 to 1 ratio” of birds to caregivers. These are a few of those thoughts:


“To have no home is a terrible thing.  It’s happening to birds quite a lot, exponentially actually.  Sometimes the only option left is a place with too many birds already.  Maybe the well-intended caretakers got overwhelmed, and now there’s not enough time, people or money to provide adequate care.

 So when it comes to parrots in captivity, perhaps we should change the paradigm, and SOON.

 Let’s start by never using the term “forever home!”  Birds live a long time, they almost always need multiple homes.  The number of aging parrots is growing, and there are fewer and fewer places for them to go.  Parrots don’t start as “rescues” but they often end up in places where they acquire this label, and then the road gets harder and the options get slimmer.

 Phoenix Landing has a perpetual waiting list of 150+ birds; and we also regularly rehome the birds already in our protective system.  There are simply not enough adopters to be found. If our experience is any indication of what is happening nationwide, then the prospects for your bird finding a future good home(s) is getting a whole lot tougher.  This should bother all of us.

 Let’s make adoption an admirable way to acquire a parrot, it’s the right thing to do.  Well-loved birds deseve a good home each and every time; they are resilient and adaptable.   If we all take some responsibility for the community of parrots in need, then perhaps fewer birds will end up in places that really can’t care for them.”

– Ann Brooks, Founder of Phoenix Landing

Feeding the penguins at the Cincinnati Zoo

“25 birds to one caregiver is pretty spot on with medium to large birds in good health. However, that ratio can go up or down depending on the mix of birds and the health of the birds. For instance, 25 budgies is a heck of a lot easier to care for than 25 large macaws. Those macs can be enormous pigs to clean up after. Also we are caring for a severe macaw, Max, who requires treatment every day for an open wound on his chest. He is medicated twice daily and the wound treated once a day. His care obviously requires more hands on attention than a healthy severe. Finally, the amount of attention can vary as well. I spend more time with our super needy cockatoos than I do with our less needy macaws and much less than our untame pair of cockatiels. 
 It’s hard to assign a solid number. I think one volunteer to 25 birds is a good generic number given what are likely an average mix of small to large birds as well as the typical health care needs of the birds.”

-Christopher Burgr, Florida Parrot Rescue

Cleaning Lorikeet Landing at the Cincinnati Zoo

 “From this point on we need to shift our focus from the past and start working on the future. As a friend of mine said,  “You can’t change the past but you can provide for a better future.”

With the headlines and emotions of the latest seizure it is difficult sometimes to put our feelings aside. So here is what I propose: Lets start an open dialogue about ways to help the Humane Society of Greater Dayton get what they need when the time comes. We must be proactive and not reactive. We are a strong, positive and good group of parrot lovers. Let’s show the avian community what we are made of and what we can do. We have made a huge difference in this past year alone-put your thinking caps on and shift the focus of our frustration and anger to helping and fund raising.”

-Kelly Moore Parsley, Member of “The Parrot Posse”

Cleaning the indoor Little Penguin enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo

What are your thoughts about this ratio? If you have a better concept or a new way of approaching this issue, I’d like your opinions. This is an important issue in light of these recent events. I’ll be doing followup posts as my time allows.