5 Tips on being an Avian Foster Parent
By Sheila S Blanchette (Heart of Feathers Education, LLC)
What is an Avian Foster Parent?
An Avian Foster Parent is a temporary home, outside of the rescue, for a bird to get personal assistance with any medical, stress, social or concerning behavior. As an Avian Foster Parent, the goal is to note observations, help with behavior objectives, and prepare plans for transition into a forever home (adoption). An Avian Foster Parent has experience with the specific species of bird(s).
Do not worry! If you have never been an Avian Foster Parent and you are interested, this article will help you get started.
How do you become an Avian Foster Parent?
Some rescues have foster programs. Look in your area for a local rescue that has a foster program: Check their website, visit the rescue, find out about the rescue’s policies. You may have to attend an Avian Foster Parent Orientation.
Why do rescues need Avian Foster Parent(s)?
There are many reasons but let me give you a true to life example.
In November 2014, when I was volunteering at my local rescue, a young green cheek conure was surrendered. The conure was surrendered due to extreme biting. The little conure originated at a local pet store. The person bought the little bird for a child in the household. When the bird drew blood on the child’s ear, the bird had to find a new home.
The local rescue staff members reviewed the intake information and decided to put the nippy conure in a holding area for observations. The conure was very reactive to anyone passing by. When changing the food and water, and hands in the cage to rearrange toys, the bird would bite so hard blood was drawn. The Staff reviewed the conure’s case every day to determine the adoptability of this little bird. After serious discussion the staff determined a foster parent was needed.
Now, the staff has to find that right foster parent to assist in determining if the issue is related to a medical or behavioral issue.
I got the call. I had just finished up my last foster, Charlie, a Quaker Parrot. Charlie was very reactive around humans. I was happy to see Charlie get adopted, and I was ready for another foster.
I do have other birds but I love fostering. Why? Being an Avian Foster Parent is so rewarding. I love getting the education and the fosters teach me stuff as well.
What happened to the green check conure?
Moxie was in foster, with me, for 6 months. Moxie had several behavior issues related to hands and insecurity around humans. In addition, Moxie had a long history of biting.
The behavior training plan was related to hands off and target training.
I would like to share the Rescue Promo which was used to promote Moxie - https://youtu.be/iCbV5F7vBjk <- this promo shows the training and progress during his time in foster.
Moxie was adopted a month later. Moxie is blossoming in his new forever home.
The following are some tips to think about before becoming an Avian Foster Parent
Tip #1: Volunteer
Before becoming an Avian Foster parent, check out the local rescues in your area. Try to become a volunteer at the rescue before becoming an Avian Foster Parent.
- Volunteering gets you experience with working with different birds.
- Volunteering gains you knowledge from the Staff and other volunteers.
- Most importantly, volunteering can see how you feel about birds at a rescue.
I have been a volunteer at my local rescue for about 6 years. In addition, to being a volunteer and a foster parent, I also do mentorship. I assist new volunteers in learning how to clean and set up cages, as well as working with the public. Over this time, I have seen new volunteers walk away because they take on too much or try to “Boil the Ocean” in trying to figure out how to save all the birds in the rescue.
The following quote is a reminder to any volunteer or Foster Parent -
“I long to accomplish a great and noble task, but it is my chief duty to accomplish small tasks as if they were great and noble.” – Helen Keller
Tip #2: Ready for the Commitment
Fostering a bird does not mean the rescue hands over a bird to you and all you have to do is make sure the bird has food and water. In some instances, there is a commitment.
If you have a busy life, you may need to make some time for the foster bird. If you have a family, you need to prepare them for the bird that is coming. The key is to remember the bird is not staying forever, you are a temporary home.
Any vacations, time away from home or family visits, you may not want to take on a foster during that time. You cannot bring a foster home and then go on vacation.
This does not mean you cannot have a life. Just be prepared for a little extra responsibility and putting on that observation hat.
Tip #3: Get a little Education
Many of the birds that need Avian Foster Parents are not the cute, quiet, easy going parrots. The parrots with concerns related to stress, medical or behavior issues go to an appropriate Avian Foster Parent. Now, there is an occasional dove, pigeon, parakeet, or lovebird that may just need some quiet time.
On the other side, birds with behavior issues need some training to help improve adoption possibilities. There are many “Positive Reinforcement” Methodology Bird Trainers. These folks have years and years of experience in the field and have degrees in Applied Behavior Analysis.
Barbara Heidenreich, Good Bird, Inc. has wonderful webinars and in-person seminars. (http://www.goodbirdinc.com/)
Lara Joseph, The Animals Behavior Center, has great onsite sessions along with webinars. (http://theanimalbehaviorcenter.com/)
Dr. Susan Friedman, BehaviorWorks, has in depth course work and she has peer-review articles. (http://www.behaviorworks.org/)
Natural Encounters has a wonderful hands on program in Florida (http://naturalencounters.com/services/training/)
There are some good facebook pages: Parrots Problem Solving 101
Network with other Avian Parrot Families
When you start getting educated on observation, you will be amazed on the training you can start. Just take it slow.
Tip #4: Be Prepared for Tragedy
You could be fostering a bird for hospice, medical or unknown behavior. Sadly, sometimes tragedy happens. You have to remember you gave that bird a home for that moment in time. The bird did not die at the rescue but at home where there were caring people around. It will still pull at your heart strings and make you question what you are doing.
My first fosters were two very young parakeets: Ping and Pong. The rescue facility was not equipped to take care of such young birds. In addition, there was no one with the experience to care for these baby birds. The mother parakeet had passed away. Ping and Pong only had a few feathers and could stand up right, but without an experienced bird person, the age could not be determined.
I never handled baby birds. I did not know anyone that could help. I borrowed the rescue’s incubator, for kittens, and then picked up parakeet baby formula. I read everything I could on-line. I found myself spending every 4 hours (including the middle of the night) making formula and checking on the little birds.
Ping passed away after 4 days, and Pong was 3 days later. I was heart-broken and was ready to quit being a foster parent. Now, I have no idea if the little birds died due to my little knowledge on hand feeding or the birds had an illness. This happened in 2013 and I still have not forgotten these little birds.
I have continued to be a parrot foster. My recommendations to keep in mind:
1. Do not take on a foster that you feel you do not have the experience/comfort level to help. It is okay to pass.
2. If your foster bird does pass away, for whatever reason, remember you gave a bird a home. Do not beat yourself up!
Tip #5 Foster Failure
This tip sounds horrible but in reality it is just a common term among rescues. Foster Failure means the Foster Avian Parent decided to adopt the bird.
Why call it ‘Failure’?
1) Failure to Foster Again – If the Avian Foster Family decides to adopt their foster bird, the family may not be able to foster another bird. Why?
a. Once you add a bird to your family, you may be at the maximum number for animals in your home. Birds should not be like pistachios (the more the merrier). You never want to be out numbered.
b. You may be narrowed down on which birds you could foster. You may adopt a large bird that does not like other large birds or other birds.
c. You do not want to bring a sick bird into your house. If you do not have a quarantine room (away from your other birds), you may not be able to foster another bird. You never want to put your flock in risk.
Now, there is one less Avian Foster Parent available that can foster a bird.
2) Failure to Adopt - The bird is not available to be adopted. Remember the goal is make the bird ready for adoption. Another family would love to have this bird.
Again, there is a good chance you will become a foster failure. Just keep in mind, do you want to continue fostering once you adopt your foster? Do not overwhelm yourself taking on your own birds and another foster bird.
You can settle on only fostering a specific bird or behavior.
I am not saying in any way you should not adopt your foster. Just pick the right one
I have fostered 16 birds over the last three years. I have been a Foster Failure only once. The lovebird was supposed to be euthanized by his owner because the bird had severe seizures and vomiting issues. The owner could not euthanize the bird so decided to surrender the bird to a rescue. A medical review was requested and I was asked to foster the bird for hospice care. The medical review found nothing wrong with the bird so there was some concern around seizures. I fostered the bird for several weeks. One day, my family saw the issue. The issue was not seizure but male mating behavior. The seizure was the head bobbing right before the bird regurgitate his food.
Dusty, the little love bird, was extremely cute and so smart. He loves my husband and a great education bird. We adopted Dusty 2 years ago. Dusty is a great bird and hangs out with our cockatiel. Yes, I am a foster failure, and I still continue to foster other birds. I just can’t have another Foster Failure. Our family now includes 4 birds and 1 pug. My ark is full.
There is a lot to think about when becoming an Avian Foster Parent. When you see a bird go to a forever home, you should be so proud what you did for that bird; Adoptability. You will be proud of all your successes.
Once your work is completed, you can’t wait for the next foster bird.
Every Foster will have a wonderful story, which you will remember and tell over and over again.
BE PROUD. BE AN AVIAN FOSTER PARENT.
Guest Blogger Sheila Blanchette's Bio
My name is Sheila S Blanchette. I am a volunteer Senior Avian Advocate at my local rescue: MSPCA – Nevins Farm in Methuen, MA. I have been volunteering for 6 years and I love every minute. I helped push the Foster Avian Parent at MSPCA – Nevins Farm. There were Foster Parents for Dogs, Cats, Rabbits and Guinea Pigs, but all on emergency cases for birds. I saw a need because adopted birds were being returned due to behavior. Foster Avian Parents can help adjust birds to new environments. A bird transferring to a rescue can be stressful with public coming in to the area.
Some birds have no issue with changing environment and the excitement to see new people. Some birds need a little help.
My journey did not end. I am now a Certified Avian Behavior Consultant. I searched for Positive Reinforcement Methodology for training birds. I loved the sessions and the people who trained Positive Reinforcement Methodology.
I now train other foster parents on assisting behavior issues. I also assist people who adopt a bird and need some guidance with an undesired behavior with the bird.
Being a Foster Avian Parent really opened my life to birds, and I hope others look at this great opportunity and challenge.
Sheila S Blanchette
IAABC Certified Avian Behavior Consultant
PPG Avian Member
Heart of Feathers Education, LLC (www.heartoffeatherseducation.com)
Senior Avian Advocate (volunteer)
MSPCA – Nevins Farm (www.mspca.org)