B.C. parrot refuge set to close Aug. 1, hundreds of birds in need of homes

Parrots at the World Parrot Refuge in Coombs, BC
Parrots at the soon-to-close World Parrot Refuge in Coombs, BC. Photo by The Canadian Press.

Hundreds of parrots living at a Vancouver Island sanctuary need new homes as an Aug. 1 deadline approaches for the closure of the World Parrot Refuge.

Between 450 and 500 parrots, including macaws, cockatoos, lovebirds and conures, are up for adoption, following the death last February of refuge founder Wendy Huntbatch.

"After Wendy's passing, the money has basically run out," said Matthew Spate, a refuge supervisor and one of its few remaining paid staff.

Huntbatch, 70, an avid animal rights advocate, opened the refuge at Coombs, about 150 kilometres north of Victoria, in 2005.

At one point she had more than 800 parrots at the refuge, which includes 2,100 square metres of heated indoor free-flight avaries and about 1,500 square metres of outdoor flight area.

The refuge was open to the public.

An obituary posted on the refuge website by her son Justin Huntbatch says his mother devoted last 25 years of her life to the health and welfare of ex-breeder and ex-pet parrots. "Her goal was to educate people why parrots should not be pets, to stop the trafficking and importing of parrots into Canada and to provide a home for life for those parrots that were here already."

Spate said parrots can be difficult pets, which is why many of those living at the refuge were given up for adoption. Some can live to be 75 years old.

"They take a lot of work and they often outlive their owners," he said. "Parrots need a lot of attention and when they don't get enough attention they do get into trouble. Stories of people getting their kitchen ruined or base boards ripped off are not uncommon."

Parrots are loud, he said. Their squawks and screeches are louder than barking dogs, said Spate. They also talk, often mimicking the words of their owners.

"You also get bit quite a bit," he said. "You definitely get put through the ringer. But once you get to know the birds and they get to know you, they are actually great animals who are very intelligent and very personable."

The refuge is contacting the previous owners of the refuge's adopted parrots and asking if they want them back.

The Greyhaven Exotic Bird Sanctuary, a non-profit society in Surrey, B.C., dedicated to bird conservation, is part of the effort to relocate the parrots, agreeing to take as many birds as they can and find homes for them.

The city council in nearby Nanaimo has agreed to a short-term lease of a former Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Shelter to give some of the parrots a temporary home, Spate said.

He said he expects to find homes and shelter for all the parrots.

"But it's going to take a while."

— By Dirk Meissner in Victoria

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