Under a tent at the Seminole Heights Sunday Morning Market in Tampa, Karen Atwood waged a small battle for her sunglasses with a 3-year-old female Goffin cockatoo named Coco.
“No, those are my glasses. You can’t have those,” Atwood said, tugging the earpiece from Coco’s beak as the bird sat on her shoulder.
Atwood and Coco visited the seasonal market outside Hillsborough High School to promote Florida Parrot Rescue, a Tampa-based nonprofit that rescues and rehabilitates birds in need. The group, which seeks foster homes and new owners for birds, also educates owners on the proper care and handling of companion birds.
“These birds aren’t broken,” said Atwood, who took in Coco about seven months ago and decided to keep her permanently. “These birds are very, very smart. They like to do tricks. They’re like toddlers.”
Animal-hospital employee Jennifer Underwood started the group in 2007 after running across several bird owners who, because of various circumstances, wanted to surrender their pets. The nonprofit is now a network of 80 foster homes statewide offering care to 112 birds ranging from finches to macaws, said Atwood, a Gibsonton resident who is the group’s west-coast vice president.
Their goal is to find new homes for the birds. “We’ve done almost sixty adoptions this year,” said Atwood, adding that 173 birds were adopted from the group in 2010.
Birds land with the group for different reasons. Some owners have lost their jobs or homes through foreclosure, or have life changes where they no longer can care for their birds, Atwood said. Other birds have been neglected or abused.
“The biggest problem is these birds outlive their owners,” she said. A bird like Coco can live about 40 years while larger macaws can last 80 years.
Some birds find themselves with owners unprepared for such responsibility. Certain breeds might squawk more than a family or neighbors can stand; others will pluck their feathers because of stress. Their upkeep also is costly. Atwood estimates an exotic bird can cost about $1,200 a year among vet visits, proper food, and toys.
The biggest demand on an owner, however, is time: These birds love attention.
“People don’t understand that you can’t buy these birds, put them in a cage, and expect them to be happy,” Atwood said. “They come from a huge flock. They’ve got to have that bonding and social interaction. It’s not like a dog or a cat who has free roam of the house. All they’ve got is you.”
The group works with Florida Exotic Bird Sanctuary in Wesley Chapel, which has taken birds that can’t be adopted because of behavioral or other issues.
Anyone interested in adopting a bird, volunteering as a foster owner, or donating supplies such as towels and cages can visit the group’s Web site, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 813-516-1759.