“Carly came to us in 2007 after a confiscation from an animal hoarder in St. Paul,” said Galiena Cimperman. “He was a Moluccan cockatoo – a light pink bird native to the Indonesian lowlands, where he should have spent his days foraging for fruits and nuts with his flock. Instead Carly was locked in a cage in a basement, where he had his beak crushed and his skull caved in by a baseball bat.
“Carly was seizing almost constantly when we first took him in. He required a month of round-the-clock supportive care. At one point we almost decided to euthanize him … but we kept on trying, and he ended up thriving. Though he would never be all right again. The bat had also taken his vision, and he would suffer from seizures and other neurological impairments for the rest of his life.
“Moluccan cockatoos love to scream. You have never met a bird more passionate about screaming until you have met a Moluccan cockatoo. But Carly never screamed, which we suspected his former owner was responsible for.
“So we did what we do with every bird here at MAARS: we loved Carly. We bombarded him with praise and affection whenever he uttered so much as a peep. It wasn’t long till he remembered every cockatoo’s greatest joy in life and began screaming at the top of his lungs whenever the opportunity presented itself, which in his opinion was very often.
“Carly was happy, in his little way, playing with his toys and filling our facility with raucous squawking. Not as happy as he would have been had he just been allowed to stay in his natural habitat, but he did as well as he could with the hand he was dealt. Now that he’s no longer with us, we’ll always remember Carly as one of our greatest successes.”
“SKOOWEET!” A sharp screech pealed out just as Galiena finished her story. “Don’t mind her,” said the executive director of Midwest Avian Adoption & Rescue Services (MAARS). “That’s just Zoey, our 57-year-old Goffin's cockatoo. She’s actually one of the less squawky members of her very squawky species, but she’s also incredibly smart. I think she thinks you called to talk about her.”
Indeed I had, although not about Zoey, specifically. I reached out to talk about an organization that has rescued almost 1,500 birds since its foundation in 1999, and which has placed nearly all of them into permanent homes. The Landing, MAARS’ 4,000-square-foot facility in St. Paul, houses a cacophonous rainbow of about 85 parrots, cockatoos, cockatiels and conures; all recovered from horrific conditions, now affectionately tended by almost 70 volunteers.
“Parrots are gorgeous and personable,” said Galiena. “But they also live upwards of 80 years, have bone-breakers on their faces, and amuse themselves by screaming and destroying anything softer than their beaks. That’s why so many parrots wind up as pets – and why almost as many are abandoned. An inordinate number of them wind up outliving, injuring or annoying their owners.
“MAARS was founded to absorb the astronomical influx of parrots that are abandoned in the Twin Cities. Dog and cat shelters are understandably poorly equipped to take care of parrots, which have exceptional behavioral needs and need tremendous amounts of care before they’re ready for their forever homes. Nowadays we specialize in caring for seriously challenged birds that have no chance of getting adopted. We’re one of very few refuges in the country that can accommodate them comfortably and humanely.
“We’re currently looking into moving to a larger location, but we’re well equipped at The Landing for now. We have a cockatoo room, a macaw and Amazon room, a cockatiel flight room, and another area for the conures and rose-ringed parakeets. When our volunteers are running their shifts, all the birds are out and about sitting on their perches, running around, and looking for mischief wherever they can find it.
“We owe everything to our volunteers, who supply the on-site veterinary care, rehab, behavioral training and kindness that heals parrots after lifetimes – oftentimes literally – of abuse. We’re just as indebted to our donors, whose gifts go directly toward purchasing food, medical supplies, and ultimately our new, bigger location.
“We also dedicate a sizable portion of our budget to toys. Parrots, which should spend about 90 percent of their waking hours flying around and foraging, have extremely active minds. They require constant visual and auditory stimuli, which means toys are central to their world while they’re living in captivity. They even have strong preferences. Some love wood. Some love foam. Some love plastic. A few even make custom toys by delicately combining two or three materials with their beaks.”
In a brilliant move, MAARS has begun putting their birds’ creativity to work for fundraising. If you visit maars.org, you can browse abstract paintings created by the likes of Bongo Bob the umbrella cockatoo, Bizzy the Goffin’s cockatoo, and Cookie the double yellow-headed Amazon. Order a print and take heart that your money is going toward things that are good for parrots. You can also learn how to volunteer at MAARS, just like Eden Prairie’s very own Sarah Breiner – the one and only Legal Mama.
“As an attorney who specializes in estate planning, I see what happens when pets outlive their owners all too often,” said Sarah. “Parrots, which can live longer than a century, are extreme examples, but that just makes caring for them that much more important. Whether I’m cleaning out cages or teaching a macaw that it’s okay to trust people, I’m making a difference to animals who are wise enough to genuinely appreciate my efforts.”
“What parrots go through in captivity is heart-breaking to me,” continued Galiena. “They’re wild animals with fierce intellects, and we take so much away from them by putting them in cages where they’re treated like nothing more than ornaments. Decor that suffers – guilty of the crimes of beauty and charisma.”
“And we work with them. And we love them. And we hope against hope that one day we’ll no longer be needed, because we pray people will realize that something so beautiful deserves to be – was born to be – free.”