Parrots are strong, fierce and determined avians, who can survive devastating injury and ill-health. They do, however, require personnel with specialized knowledge,handling skills, and housing to ensure eventual healthy release. What happens to wild psittacines when disaster strikes? Who finds, rescues, and cares for them? What happens to a wildlife care facility when disaster strikes? What happens, specifically, when a facility designed for rehabilitation and release, translocation, repatriation, or re-introduction of psittacine species is severely damaged or destroyed? And even more urgently, what happens when facilities housing critically endangered, endangered and threatened species are struck?
Practical suggestions and guidelines
Psittacines are intelligent, sociable, curious and strong problem-solvers. They require rescuers to plan ahead. Enclosures, carriers, structures, equipment, tools, techniques and procedures have to be modified to accommodate psittacine behavior and constraints.
Strength: Psittacines are immensely strong for their size (see the viral video of a Sulfur-crested Cockatoo moving a brick). Even the tiniest species can inflict painful and damaging bites. Larger species can be very dangerous and can inflict debilitating and life-long injury to a human handler. They present a challenge to routine capture, restraint, examination, treatment and care. Proper and confident methods are absolutely necessary to avoid personal injury and, likewise harm to the bird. Training and experience can help avoid most serious injury, but there will be accidents; experienced and skilled handlers will be bitten; birds will be hurt. The disaster team must be prepared for both as a matter of course. The most common injuries to humans are to the digits, including puncture, laceration, avulsion, joint injury and even amputation. Common injuries to the birds include head trauma, face and beak damage, long bone fractures, toe injuries, crushing and internal injury. Training must include how to remove a parrot from one’s flesh without causing further damage to bird or human.
Escape and hazards: Strength and intelligence are factors in the choice of equipment and supplies. Routine enclosures, carriers and restraint equipment are often inadequate for even temporary holding and care. Traditional bird “caging” can present multiple hazards to wild psittacines and should not be utilized. Rescuers should select equipment that cannot be chewed, bitten open, twisted or worked over time to the breaking point, items or structures that invite entrapment or hanging injury, unstable or poorly constructed enclosures, and so forth. Parrots can even escape from enclosures that are designed to secure large primate species. Psittacines are escape artists and have been known to open both key and combination locks. Yet, in other situations, a strong, large parrot can be safely and securely confined in a dark cardboard box for hours. Something as simple as dimming the lights and having a calm atmosphere can remediate certain situation.
Ear plugs are 100% necessary. Hearing loss and damage is an overlooked injury to humans that work with psittacines. Especially in stressful or painful situations, parrot vocalizations can be painful and permanent damage is possible. The size of the psittacine is not important, as many small species (the Aratinga-types and Brotogeris species) are very damaging to hearing and even tiny species (example: Pacific Parrotlets, <20 gm) can be painfully noisy when agitated.
Self-injury: Some species of psittacines are prone to self-injury when distressed, mentally damaged, or following tragic incidents. In the embryonic science of psittacine psychology, it has been suggested that they are suffering PTSD-like syndromes resulting from severe mental anguish. Isolation from family and flock structure and loss of companionship, as well as physical pain can induce self-harm. Rescuers need to be aware of this sad syndrome and plan for remediation.
Mental health: After a disaster, or trafficking, or human conflict, parrots can become “war victims”. Rescuers need to be compassionate and empathetic, and try to provide and maintain physical health first. Human responders need to recognize that these birds have witnessed and suffered terrible tragedy, and they may well suffer physical consequences. More aggressive veterinary care may be indicated, even for the smallest physical trauma, than expected for birds adapted to captivity.