Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Cost of Wildlife as Pets

Working in my job, I get to interact with a variety of incredible animals. On a daily basis I can talk to a tortoise, converse with a corn snake, vocalize with a vulture, and chat with a chinchilla. I also am able to observe the wild animals that dwell on the property of the nature center. But it's not always fun and happy stories. This week was one of those harder days. 

I received a call about an elderly gentleman who was getting ready with his wife to move from their home of 30+ years into an assisted living facility and needed to find a home for his pet bird. Only this was no parrot or canary, this was a grackle, a wild songbird native to much of the United States. I was told the man had found it as a baby and decided to raise it himself and keep it as a pet. I was unsure what I would find when I walked into the house, but had prepared myself for both the best and the worst. 

What I found when I walked into the kitchen was this:

Here was a bird that was born in the wild, and had spent the 7 years of his life in this small, dirty cage. The gentleman thought he was doing the right thing, he had found the bird young and alone and thought it was abandoned or orphaned. He cared for the bird, gave it a home, and food and water. Unfortunately, the cage was too small, and there was no place in the cage where the bird could turn around without brushing his feathers against the metal bars. In addition, although the man knew that grackles are omnivores and need both animal protein and plant-based foods in his diet, instead of eating insects and seeds, the grackle was fed fruit, canned beans, scrambled eggs, and spam. All of this took a toll on the grackle's body and a bird that should look like this:
instead looked like this:
The malnutrition, cramped cage, and inability to bathe (his water was offered in a coffee mug) left his feathers tattered, oily, and dull. 

When we find a wild animal, it's easy to fantasize about how neat it would be to have that animal as a pet in our home. But before you take home that baby bird, rabbit, or box turtle you just scooped up in your hands, take a moment to think about it from the animal's side. If you keep that animal as a pet, it will never return to its home, it will never find a mate, and never rear young. And for some species like the eastern box turtle, whose numbers are in decline, the loss of even one breeding adult can have a significant impact on local populations. Instead of taking an animal into your home, perhaps instead think of ways you can support the animal in its home. You could turn your backyard into a wildlife habitat (look for ideas here, here, and here!), support a national organization like The Nature Conservancy or your local nature center (like Briar Bush!) through donations or by volunteering. Keeping wild animals wild is the only way to ensure we continue to be inspired, amazed, and comforted by their presence for years to come.

So what happened to the grackle? He was taken to the Schuylkill Center Wildlife Rehabilitation Clinic (another great cause to donate to!) where he was given a larger cage and a proper diet. There it is hoped that he will molt his tattered old feathers and replace them with the feathers that will return him to his natural beauty. Because he has been in captivity for so long he cannot be released into the wild, but he will be given a good quality of life under the care of knowledgeable professionals. He just may come to live with me at Briar Bush once he's healthy enough and teach others about helping wild animals in their own homes.

For more information on what you should do if you find a wild animal that you think needs help, read my post, "Oh Baby!"


  1. I hope this beautiful bird gets what he needs. So far, so good!

    1. Thanks Randy! Stay tuned...I'll have to post an update on him down the road!

  2. So happy that this Grackle found his way into your caring & capable hands.

    1. Thanks Chrissie--I'm happy he's getting the help he needs too! And none of this would have happened if it weren't for the woman who knew the owner and spent a lot of time at Briar Bush with her son as he was growing up and so thought to contact us. Briar Bush makes powerful connections with visitors that last a very long time!