Birds-of-a-feather raise a big flap
Owners of South American breed will flock to Game Commission meeting today. State wants to ban, not seize or kill, bird it fears could establish colonies in the wild.
By JON RUTTER, Staff
Published: Jan 27, 2008 12:19 AM EST
HARRISBURG - A Pennsylvania Game Commission proposal to ban nanday conure parrots is raising a squawk in Harrisburg.
Bird fanciers say it’s unfair to single out the green South American birds. “If they can justify banning the nanday,” said Chet Fuhrman of Columbia, “then they can justify banning any pet bird species.”
Numerous parrot lovers are expected to converge on Game Commission headquarters, 2001 Elmerton Ave., at 1 p.m. today during a session to gather public input.
But PGC spokesman Jerry Feaser said people are blowing the issue out of proportion.
Rumors aside, Feaser said, the commission has no plan to confiscate birds.
“A lot of this is based on the false assumption that there would be a roundup and euthanization of these animals. That is not part of this proposal.”
Nor is the suggested change much of a change, he said.
Prohibitions against the possession, importation, release and sale of “captive bred” animals from other states or nations have been on the books since 1992.
At that time, the Game Commission explicitly forbade transactions involving monk parakeets, also known as Quaker parrots, which have established feral colonies in Florida, Texas and New York.
Now, said Feaser, the commissioners are considering further clarifications that would ban nandays and some primates.
The Game Commission will hear more public testimony beginning at 8:30 a.m. on Monday and take a preliminary vote on its agenda items on Tuesday.
Feaser said the action must be publicized in the Pennsylvania Bulletin, as must a second approval vote, before the regulation would become law.
The main goal is to keep escaped or released nanday conures from gaining a foothold in the Pennsylvania wild.
The likelihood of colonization is remote, Feaser said, but not impossible.
“We’ve already been down this road.”
Parrots gone wild?
And it rides like a slippery slope, asserted Jen Johnson of the Lancaster County parrot rescue group Feathered Sanctuary.
“Clearly, it’s not as though nanday conures are descending on Pennsylvania and wreaking havoc on our wildlife habitat,” Johnson said.
Monk parakeets are considered pests because they build large stick nests in developed areas.
However, the National Audubon Society’s director of bird conservation, Greg Butcher, said he had not heard of any established populations of feral nanday conures.
Smoketown veterinarian John Hall was skeptical that the solitary nandays could survive a Pennsylvania winter or evade predators such as red-tailed hawks.
“The chance of that is very slim,” said Hall, who helps advise Feathered Sanctuary and the Stanley Parrot Foundation in York County.
Birds are the third most popular pets, after dogs and cats.
Parrot owners were preparing last week to counter possible claims that their pets threaten human health by noting that the birds have not been shown to transmit bird flu or commonly carry other diseases.
Hall said none of the 250 to 300 nanday conures he has examined over the past five years has harbored psittacosis, a bacterial disease transmissable to humans.
But Stephanie Bell, a senior cruelty caseworker with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, said avian health is a key argument against cooping up an estimated 10 million pet birds in the United States.
“No bird is designed to live in a cage” or have its wings clipped, she said.
Bell said birds are intensely social creatures that when confined exhibit obvious signs of physical and mental stress, such as biting and feather pulling.
PETA supports the Game Commission initiative but is not pushing it, Bell said.
“People who know PETA’s stance on captive birds have made assumptions.”
Feaser said the pet industry sparked the proposal.
“We were approached by several reputable pet stores and dealers” seeking clarification of the law, he said.
Irate parrot fanciers from Pennsylvania and surrounding states were mobilizing over the Internet last week.
“People love their pets,” Johnson said.
Caging raises “a little bit of an ethical issue,” Hall acknowledged. But parrots, which are intelligent and long-lived, form strong bonds with responsible caretakers.
“These birds definitely want to be with you,” Hall said.