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If you’re thinking about getting a parrot, read this first

“My job is largely about helping people help animals,” says Danika Oriol-Morway of the New England Exotic Wildlife Sanctuary.Lisa Hornak for The Boston Globe/Globe Freelance

It’s no exaggeration to say that Danika Oriol-Morway is all about parrots, almost all the time.

Caring for 400 of them — mostly macaws, cockatoos, conures, cockatiels and parakeets – requires a massive effort from Oriol-Morway and her crew: there are vats of kale, pellets and nuts; bird meds and check-ups; playing and socializing, and lots and lots of cleaning. With over 60 aviaries, some 16-by-15 feet — and all located in a sprawling reclaimed industrial chicken farm — there’s no way to just wing it.

As sanctuary director of the New England Exotic Wildlife Sanctuary, it’s no wonder that Oriol-Morway doesn’t just work at the Hope Valley, R.I., shelter, she lives on site in a converted school bus.


“Birds don’t take a day off,” says Oriol-Morway. She leads the sanctuary’s efforts to rescue abandoned and unwanted parrots, and to spread awareness about the plight of wild exotic birds in captivity. The abandonment of thousands of pet parrots has reached the crisis stage. There’s a huge overpopulation problem, partially due to parrots’ ability to live for as long as 90 years.

The Globe spoke with Oriol-Morway about why attempts to domesticate the wild birds often end up in disaster.

“Parrots are very intelligent. Being around them is a different experience than, say, a cat or a dog. Parrots have the emotional capacity of a 5-year-old; they have a sense of humor and watch and connect with you. There’s a lot of interspecies communication that happens with a parrot.

“But a parrot is a wild animal and can be a very challenging companion. Screaming, biting, flying, mating, aggression and chewing are all skills that parrots developed for survival in the wild. And it is these very characteristics that people often cannot tolerate in their home. We receive one to two requests a day to ‘surrender’ a bird, if not more — that’s 400 to 700 requests annually. We can get a bird that has been through 10 to 12 homes because people can’t handle it. These are not simple apartment pets.


“We are the largest sanctuary of our type in New England, and, technically, right now we are at capacity. The birds we take in are at death’s door. We have an adoption referral network to find homes for needy parrots, but our main mission is to help perpetuate welfare and conservation issues. We are continually improving naturalistic environments for our parrots, streamlining our animal care process, and improving the operations of our 18,000 square-foot-facility.

“My job is largely about helping people help animals. The complexity of human-animal issues is hard to handle. At times, I feel both anger and sympathy simultaneously. But aside from having a cockatiel growing up, I actually didn’t have much exposure to parrots until recently; previously I was at a wolf sanctuary out west.

“Now, at the sanctuary, I wish I could say that all the birds are my favorite, but that wouldn’t be totally true. We have an Amazon named PJ who was rescued from a store where he was neglected for years. He had a chronic sinus infection and held his head upside down all the time, even when eating. PJ is incredibly gentle, although he’ll literally yell while you try to give him meds. But he never bites and there is sweetness in his ability to forgive us, despite all the medications and face wipes — as if he knows we are just trying to help. Of course, I don’t know if that’s really how he feels, but that’s just how it seems to me.”


Cindy Atoji Keene can be reached at cindy@cindyatoji.com.