Meet the colourful people devoting their lives to parrots

A photographer goes inside the wild world of people who love parrots, rescuing birds that others have given up.

WHEN FIREFIGHTER BRIAN Wilson retired in 1995, he planned to fill his days teaching fire and public safety classes to children. He liked to bring along his three parrots for these public appearances; he found the birds were a crowd-pleasing way to deliver the message. He even taught his green-winged macaw, Rocco, to stop, drop, and roll.

But a devastating car accident left Wilson with serious and permanent injuries that upended his life as well as his retirement plans. He has since regained his ability to walk and talk, and he credits his birds with the progress he’s made.

Max darts from room to room as a part of his daily routine in Karen Adams’ home, in Overton, Scotland. The impressive blue and gold macaw is Karen’s first adopted rescue parrot, a gift from her husband, Simon.

“My parrots rehabilitated me”, Wilson says. “With what they did for me, I want to rescue every bird I can and make them the happiest birds in captivity”.

Today, Wilson runs a nonprofit parrot sanctuary in Maryland, where he rehabilitates unwanted parrots. He provides a home to 36 of the large, intelligent birds and adopts others out.

Karen and Simon have two rescued macaws of their own that live in their house with them, Max and Scarlett (Max is shown in this image). Karen also cares for 17 rescued pet parrots in an aviary next to her home. This requires Karen to clean and feed them three times a day, seven days a week in addition to her full-time job.

Parrot wallpaper lines an entire wall in Karen’s bedroom. She says she is in awe of the birds’ natural beauty.

Karen’s macaw Scarlett takes her weekly bath.

Julie Porter reasons with Dewy (cockatoo), as Steve, her husband, tries to convince the bird to hop on his shoulder. The couple, married for over nine years, have fostered and adopted several parrots. After meeting through a PT Cruiser car club, they realised they also shared a love for exotic animals like parrots.

Wilson is one of three human subjects who appear in photographer Miisha Nash’s series, “The Wild Ones”. Nash began photographing parrots and their caretakers in 2014, documenting people in the United Kingdom and the United States who share their lives with dozens of the birds.

“I found this subculture of people who were taking in parrots that were once pets but needed to be rehomed and creating these sanctuaries for them”, Nash says. “Originally, I wanted to photograph only the parrots. But then the people I was meeting were all such characters!”

Michael often refers to himself as a parrot whisperer of sorts, as he answers frequent calls to rescue or rehabilitate parrots. In this photo, Michael cares for the respiratory health of an albino Indian red neck parrot with a humidifier.

In one bedroom at the back of the house, Michael has over twenty species of birds separated from the rest. These particular parrots are kept in this room because he's breeding them, something that the non-profit rescue run by Brian Wilson never does.

Michael relaxes in his living room with a cup of tea and a recently adopted red-shouldered macaw. His two-bedroom cottage in Kent (which was once a pigsty), Michael lives alongside over ninety birds of various species.

Parrot problems

The allure of parrots is understandable: They are beautiful, intelligent, and social creatures. They can learn tricks and be cuddly with trusted people. So why the need for rescues?

Parrots, especially those that have not been properly socialised and trained, can be destructive, messy, and loud. They require lots of attention and consistent daily care. After the novelty wears off and owners realise the level of responsibility required for such an animal, many birds end up in need of a new home.

A timid orange-winged amazon sits on top of a cage at The Wilson Parrot Foundation in Damascus, Maryland. Brian Wilson and a handful of volunteers care for over 37 parrots daily at the Foundation, which is also Brian’s home.

Another issue is the simple fact that many parrots outlive their owners. Large amazons and macaws, for example, can live to be 100 years old.

In these cases, rescues are often in order. But moving from home to home and owner to owner can be traumatic for the sensitive birds. Some parrots arrive at sanctuaries with plucked-out feathers or behavioural issues.

“They are damaged, hurt beings”, Nash says. “The people who take on that responsibility are doing a good thing, because the need for it is a byproduct of humans wanting to own birds”.

Going to the birds

Nash says her human subjects share some traits, like extraordinary patience and a strong sense of empathy for other creatures.

Rescuing and caring for unwanted birds can seem selfless, but Nash also sees these birds fulfilling psychological needs for their caretakers.

“I think it is a way to have an intimate relationship that you can control”, Nash says. “These birds are totally dependent on their caretakers for all their needs. The caretakers of parrots are probably attracted to the service aspect of it, too, and enjoy the feeling of being needed”.

Debi Howard, a first-time volunteer at the Wilson Parrot Foundation, bonds with an Amazon parrot while preparing fruits for the birds’ mid-day meal.

Caring for dozens of parrots is a labour of love that requires complete devotion. Yet, caretakers like Wilson say it’s a joy to be able to care for these birds.

“When you give a bird everything it wants”, he says, “they give it back to you tenfold in love”.

Nash calls “The Wild Ones” a love story. The series is about who we, as humans, choose to love and how. It is about our love of beauty and the exotic—a love that sometimes drives us to put birds in cages.

“It turned out to be about how humans love other creatures, but only conditionally”, Nash says. “But when a parrot loves someone, it loves that person unconditionally”.

An Indian Ringneck Parakeet flies from tree to tree in Hyde Park, London. Thousands of feral flocks reside in this park and in other green spaces in London. Legend has several stories about when these colourful and boisterous birds came to be part of the city's biodiversity.

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