Canada has a parrot problem.

The large, often brightly-coloured birds are commonly purchased as pets.

The problem, according to Judy Tennant, is “they don’t make a good pet.”

Tennant runs Parrot Partner, a charity based in Smiths Falls, Ontario. It’s a sanctuary and training facility for abandoned parrots.

She knows firsthand how ill-equipped people can be to care for parrots. “Like a lot of people I purchased a parrot from a pet store on impulse which was a terrible idea,” she admits.

Thanks to a background in behavioural science, Tennant learned how to properly care for and train the birds. She says parrots are very intelligent, wild animals that don’t meet the typical expectations we have of pets. Their natural instincts to chew, claw, vocalize, explore, and bond can’t be supressed. Unchecked, that can lead to a lot of bad behaviours like screaming, biting, and even pulling out their own feathers, which in turn leads to a lot of parrots being given up.

Adding to the problem is the longevity of parrots. Some can live up to 80 years. With our aging population, many are starting to outlast their owners. “People (who) have had a pet for a long time, had a parrot for quite some time, and it’s now time to move into a nursing home or a retirement home. They can’t take the parrot with them,” says Tennant.

Parrot Partner currently houses 27 birds. Tennant says she could take hundreds more if she had the room. She keeps them in a “free range” environment in which the birds can interact with each other and, on weekends, with visitors.

Tennant wants the public to visit, both to help rehabilitate the birds and to give people a better understanding of parrots and their behaviours. The ultimate goal is to find, and properly train, new companions for the animals.

Because, while parrots might make lousy pets Tennant believes they can still be wonderful partners. She sees it more as a relationship between “two intelligent minds negotiating all the time.”

“It is an honour to work with them. It is very special.”