Why Cee Lo Green and The Voice have bird-rescuers’ feathers ruffled

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Jan Robson has been a volunteer with Greyhaven Exotic Bird Sanctuary
in Surrey, BC, since 2003. She has been director of volunteers and
director of education, and now focuses on education and pet therapy. She
is also the doting mom to seven rescued parrots: a mitred conure, four
lovebirds and two budgies. To pay for her addiction to her feathered
friends, she works as coordinator of the dementia helpline at the Alzheimer Society of B.C.


cockatoo photo

Bailey is an adoptable Citron Crested Cockatoo at Greyhaven Exotic Bird Sanctuary in Surrey, BC.

So Cee Lo Green has decided to replace Purrfect, his cat companion from the second season of The Voice, with Lady, a Moluccan Cockatoo. (Read the story on PeoplePets.com and TMZ) But the decision to have Lady perched on his shoulder as he judges has animal welfare and rescue organizations concerned. Why the fuss?

First of all, it is important, I think, to have a sense of what might be motivating Cee Lo to have various creatures cuddling with him as he sits in judgement. It seems to me there are a few possibilities:

  1. He is a publicity and attention hound. A beautiful big bird sitting on your shoulder makes you stand out.
  2. He just bought/adopted Lady and he wants to spend as much time with her as possible.
  3. He realizes the situation with parrot rescues and wants to draw people’s attention to the issue.
  4. He is doing what the producers want him to do.

My hope is that #3 is the correct answer. But I suspect that is not the case. I have watched the show, and there really is no room for any of the judges to use their time to educate and raise awareness about issues close to their heart. So assuming that this will not be an educational endeavor, what’s wrong with having Lady participate on the show? On the surface Lady’s inclusion seems innocuous. Purrfect didn’t rate a fuss, so why should Lady?


Lady’s presence could encourage people to get Cockatoos impulsively.
Cee Lo Green is a celebrity. We are a celebrity-obsessed culture. Lady
is exquisite, and we have no idea if she has any special talents that
will make her even more appealing, like talking. Seeing a bird like this
may very well plant a seed in people’s minds. My fear is that many who
would not otherwise have any special interest in parrots, and Cockatoos
in particular, might decide they need a wonderful companion like Lady.
They will check out their local pet store or breeder and bring home
baby.

Cockatoos are not good companions for the unprepared.
The problem is that Cockatoos, especially Moluccans, are one of the top
species to require re-homing. This means the first home couldn’t cut it,
and often the second home, and third home, and so on. And, with a
lifespan of up to 70 years, this “and so on” can become extensive.

Moluccan Cockatoos can be sweet and cuddly, and bond closely to their person, but there is a dark side to this:

  • Cockatoos are clingy. The cuddliness often turns
    into clinginess as the bird matures, and they become demanding,
    territorial, and high-maintenance. When they cannot be with their person
    24/7 they may scream, self-mutilate, and become aggressive.
  • Cockatoos are loud. The volume of the screaming is enough to curdle blood, and simply cannot be tolerated in many residential settings.
  • Cockatoos self-mutilate. The self-mutilation can
    become so severe that the bird is virtually naked and requires collaring
    to avoid damage to the flesh. This is heart-breaking to deal with.
  • Cockatoos are destructive. If the noise and the
    clinginess don’t cause the guardian to waiver in his resolve to care for
    the bird, sometimes the destruction of their homes does. They like to
    chew, and they must chew to maintain the health of their beaks. Without
    proper training and access to appropriate toys they will chew anything.
  • Cockatoos are messy. Cockatoos produce copious
    amounts of powder down. Some people cannot tolerate the fine dusty
    particles that cover everything, since sinuses can be aggravated and
    many are very allergic. At the very least it is extremely challenging to
    keep the living space clean.
  • Cockatoos are smart. This
    is not a pet that you can interact with for 30 minutes a day, then pop
    into a cage with little to keep him or her busy. Cockatoos take time,
    lots of it, and an endless supply of challenging toys.

Most people who adopt on a whim are not prepared for this.

If Lady happens to be a talker, it’s even more problematic. When I take
my Mitred Conure out to educational sessions or pet therapy usually the
first question people ask me is “Does she talk?” I tell them “Yes,
absolutely. She speaks parrot, and I’m trying my best to learn.” Too
often parrots are adopted because the idea of a talking pet is simply
irresistible. If Lady talks, look out.

Buying a Cockatoo might support illegal importation
If all of this attention meant that parrot rescues would be inundated
with people willing and able to provide long-term, loving, knowledgeable
homes to the cockatoos in their care, fabulous! The more likely
scenario, though, is that people will go to pet stores, or head to a
breeder for a baby. And the cycle of buy, become exasperated, dump, will
continue, as it has over and over again. Add to this the very real
concern that you cannot be certain where pet store birds come from. They
may have been bred locally, and the quality of breeders is extremely
variable. They may also have been imported.

The Moluccan Cockatoo is listed as a vulnerable species, on Appendix I [the most endangered list] of The Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species,
so the trade in wild-caught Moluccans is illegal. Sadly, this does not mean
that it has ended, and the ways that smugglers get birds into the
country are typically horrific.

Impulse-buying of Cockatoos will lead to more shelter-overpopulation
Rescues
are typically responsible about educating prospective adopters about the
challenges of the species they are interested in, so it is no surprise
that finding suitable homes for the many, many Cockatoos that come into
their programs is tough. And if Lady’s appearance on The Voice encourages even a few people to buy a bird, there is no doubt that this means more future shelter residents — NO doubt.

In The Parrot Who Owns Me,
Joanna Burger wrote that “being owned by a parrot is not for the faint
of heart.” Multiply this by ten when it comes to Moluccans. If those who
purchase these birds aren’t prepared to maintain the relationship over
the long haul, somebody will have to step in, and that somebody too
often is a rescue organization that is staffed mostly or entirely by
volunteers, in a space that is inadequate, and with more Cockatoos than
can possibly be adopted out.

How you can help

But you, the reader, can help Cockatoos.

  1. You might want to let The Voice know what you think. (You can contact the show here.) If they risk losing viewers they might reconsider.
  2. Please help your local parrot sanctuary/rescue organization, as a donor or a volunteer.
  3. Finally,
    never, ever adopt a bird or animal that you have not researched and
    that you are not prepared to truly make a member of your family. This
    means you must be in it for better or for worse. [If you're thinking of adopting, read 10 Questions to Ask Before You Adopt A Bird.]

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    Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article
    are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official
    opinion or position of Discovery Communications, LLC or Petfinder or any
    affiliated entity.

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