It’s no exaggeration to say that Danika Oriol-Morway is all about parrots, all the time. Caring for 400 birds – mostly macaws, cockatoos, conures, cockatiels and parakeets – requires, well, a flock of effort for her and her crew: 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 large, all located in a sprawling reclaimed industrial chicken farm, there’s no way to just wing it. As sanctuary director of 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,” said Oriol-Morway, who said she eats, sleeps and breathes animal welfare. Oriol-Morway leads the sanctuary’s efforts to rescue abandoned and unwanted parrots and spread awareness about the plight of wild exotic birds in captivity. Abandonment of thousands of pet parrots has reached a crisis, with a huge overpopulation problem, exacerbated by the fact that parrots can live up to 90 years old. The Globe spoke with Oriol-Morway about why attempts to domestic this wild bird 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 400-700 requests annually. We can get a bird that has been through 10-12 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 infrastructure and 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 had been 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 and sweet 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.”