The Inside Scoop on Owning a Handicapped Bird

Upon introducing people to my birds, one of the most common questions I am asked is ‘What is it like to own a handicapped bird?’  Immediately I want to answer “just like owning a non-handicapped bird”.  However, when I actually think about it, that is not the case.  Owning a handicapped bird can be a rewarding experience, however the adventure is not for everyone.

Lets start by my definition of handicapped.  In my opinion, a handicapped bird is any bird that has some sort of disability that hinders it from living the typical way a person would expect to care for the animal.  This means it cannot live in a starter package cage, cannot eat the same as other birds, and requires an owner who is willing to work around the roadblocks and find a way to accommodate and allow the animal to live as normal and happy of a life as they can.  Needless to say, I do not think a bird missing a toe is handicapped.  If they are missing ALL their toes, they are handicapped.  However, one toe does not really count.

I have only had experience with handicaps in the form of leg, wing, and beak deformities.  There are other people in the world who have dealt with blindness, missing beaks, and paralysis.

And from what I have noticed of the bird world, there are also three types of bird owners, each of which is suited for a specific level of bird owning.

The first group is what I call ‘bird likers’.  These people think birds are beautiful and colorful.  They want a bird they can teach to talk and show off to their friends.  However, they feel birds should be ‘cheap and easy pets’ and much less work than a typical dog or cat.  They often buy the cheapest food, feed all seed diets, believe cage cleaning is of a lesser importance than dusting, often complain about the mess or screaming their animal makes, and believes a bird should be available to entertain and come out of the cage when company is around, but has no rights to be let out any other time.  Birds are disposable pets, and need not ever venture to a veterinarian. These people often lose their luster for the animal after they acquire their first one, and will recommend friends against getting a bird as they are ‘loud’ or ‘messy’ or ‘mean’.  The only type of bird suited for these people are stuffed birds, Thanksgiving turkeys, and pictures or statuary.

The second type of bird owner is one I call ‘bird lover’.  They understand a bird needs more than just being locked in its cage.  They try to get their pet out, buy higher quality food, clean the cage regularly and change out toys.  Although they may raise an eyebrow at taking their bird to a vet, understand that a vet may be the only way to save their birds life, and venture in when sick.  However, these people still look at their bird as a bird.  They feel it should entertain itself when they are not around and be able to put it in its cage when they do not feel like handling it or are too busy to get it out.  They also typically have a problem with biting, and will often reduce the amount of time they spend with the animal if they are being painfully bitten when it is out.  These people are well suited to own any range of handfed baby birds and some mildly handicapped birds, and will give their little bird a terrific life.  This is what most bird owners are.

The third type is the ‘bird obsessed’.  These people look to their birds as a member of their family if not children.  They understand the need to take the animal out, feed a varied diet, and buy some of the most outlandish toys.  Their birds are usually well-behaved and happy.  These people are patient to no end, willing to dedicate any amount of time to turn around the life of an unhappy animal.  They have an avian vet on speed dial and a recipe book of treats for the birds.  And honestly, like a computer nerd would spend all his spare cash on his high functioning computer system, so would a bird obsessed person.  Birds are usually a bird obsessed persons biggest hobby or passion.  These people are prepared to own just about any bird, ranging from handfed babies to severely handicapped or behavioral rehabilitation birds.  These people simply have the patience and the drive to help them.

So, at this point lets say you still feel comfortable with your level of interest and the level of the handicap of a bird you are thinking about adopting.  What can you expect?

The Cons to owning a handicapped bird

inability to use store products: whether it be store-bought perches or commercial food, almost every handicapped bird is going to require the owner to use a certain amount of creativity.  For example, three out of four of my birds cannot perch.  So, I have ordered in shelves of different sizes and textures as well as built some of my own. 

underlying health problems:with handicapped birds, you never know what else might have been affected besides their handicap.  This can lead to many visits to the vet, which gets expensive.  Taylor is a great example of this.  Not only are his feet deformed, but he also has an enlarged ‘watery’ crop.  This is some sort of quirk that goes along with his handicap.  Some underlying health problems can even cause a premature death, which can be heartbreaking.

physical appearance: Maybe this isn’t true with all handicapped birds, but with my guys, broken plumage is a big thing.  All of my handicaps look ratty all the time.  They are never sleek and well-groomed with long tails, just because they get around so differently they are always breaking off tail feathers and wing feathers.  For some people, the ratty look can be a problem.  I personally dont mind.  Twisted legs and feet and awkwardly placed leg angles are another thing.  If the handicap is physical, you’re going to look at it for the rest of the birds life.  If it bothers you, do not adopt.

giving up some of the things others can do: Three of my four birds will never ride on my shoulder.  Anytime you adopt a handicapped bird, you are going to be giving up things that a typical bird can do.  You gain from the experience, yet your going to sacrifice as well.

Never Knowing when its going to happen: you don’t contact a breeder and put yourself on a waiting list for a handicapped bird.  Most of the time, you stumble upon them unexpectantly.  I did not intend to buy any of the birds I have now, but just happened upon them. 

The pros of owning a handicapped bird

Knowing you saved a life: many handicapped animals are looked at as being imperfect and are destroyed.  By adopting one, you get to know you saved a life.

the gratefulness: like shelter dogs, handicapped and rescued birds are grateful. Although they may still bite you and scream, there’s just something about them that you can tell they are grateful.  And its a nice feeling. 

The uniqueness: Theres something special about each little handicapped bird that is different from all the others, and as an owner you get to enjoy that.  Also, how many other people announce that they have not just a cockatiel, but a handicapped cockatiel?

If you can’t tell already, handicapped and rescued birds are my passion.  And if after reading this you feel that you are interested and capable in adopting a handicapped or rescued bird, I encourage you to keep your eyes open for the next little angel that needs a home!

PS: in the close ups of the feet, I know my birds nails are too long.  These are all old pictures and when I took them, I was clipping their nails that day.  I then realized I should have clipped nails and then taken picture, but I’m dopey and did it backwards. I assure you, everyones nails are under control and healthy.