The days of folks browsing the cages of pet stores and, on a whim, taking home a parrot are mostly gone. That’s mainly because pet stores no longer sell the talkative birds.
And Renee Quimby couldn’t be happier about that. Not only are parrots social, often loud and extremely loyal, they also live a long time. Up to 100 years for a large macaw.
That life span, as well as a variety of other challenges associated with parrots, is really what has made the work of Quimby and her Parrot Adoption Education Program (PAEP) necessary: Simply put, parrots often live longer than their owners can keep them.
Part shelter, part sanctuary, PAEP seeks to pair responsible and knowledgeable owners with parrots that have been given up by their previous owners for one reason or another.
Last August, the 18-year-old program moved from Lino Lakes to its new home at 108 Lake St. N. in Forest Lake.
“We watch the bird for those clues,” Quimby said of an adoption process that often means the parrot chooses its human, rather than the other way around. “The bird has to like the owner, otherwise it’s going to be a fight.”
PAEP is one of a handful of parrot shelters or sanctuaries in the Twin Cities area, including Minnesota Avian Adoption and Rescue Services on the East Side of St. Paul and Avalon Parrots in Mahtomedi.
About 15 volunteers operate the nonprofit PAEP shelter, located in a former dental and medical chair reupholsters shop next door to a pet store in downtown Forest Lake.
The shelter’s annual budget is about $5,000, Quimby said, with most of it coming through adoption fees, the sale of cages and supplies, and donations.
On a recent Saturday, as traffic outside sped north to fishing lakes far and wide, 24 parrots of different species squawked, talked and socialized with each other and several volunteers.
When asked about the shelter’s oldest parrot, Quimby mentioned 40-year-old Buddy, a blue and gold macaw that was just adopted after more than two years at PAEP. Buddy’s owner of 35 years had to give up the parrot after her husband died and she moved to a townhouse that didn’t allow parrots.
Then there’s Lucky, who came to the shelter from a home where the husband abused his wife — and the parrot, too. Lucky would attack men who came into the shop, Quimby said, so he now stays in a foster home. In fact, that’s how the shelter got its start, she said: So many birds had been given up that there weren’t enough foster homes to hold them.
Adoption fees for birds range from $600 for a macaw to $15 for budgies, Quimby said. Continuous care — such as beak and feather grooming — is included, she said.
But a huge part of the shelter’s mission is education. Many of the people who have adopted an estimated 2,000 parrots since 2000 decided to volunteer first to better learn about the birds, which have the intellect of a 5-year-old human but the emotional maturity of a toddler.
“I’ve been in it for 25 years and I’m still learning,” Quimby said.
The shelter is open to the public from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturdays and from 4 to 8 p.m. on Mondays and Wednesdays.