Liverpool’s Diane Cooke has an undying love for parrots. She says you can call her crazy, but she enjoys the challenge that caring for these creatures presents.
“I’m strange, they’re strange. It’s a good fit,” says Cooke.
Cooke founded the Privateer Parrot Rescue group — one of only a few bird rescue groups in the Maritimes — about 20 years ago, but the love for birds began much earlier.
“When I was younger, I didn’t really connect with people, and I always preferred the company of animals,” she says. “I happen to get this budgie at one point and it took off from there.”
She began breeding smaller birds, such as budgies, but found the outcome wasn’t as she had hoped. Several of the birds she sold were neglected, or ended up coming back to her.
She decided to go a different route and started a parrot rescue group.
“I learned everything I could, and I am still learning. But 20 years of reading books and talking to people and speaking with avian vets, I feel comfortable in what I know.”
Cooke did a lot of work on her own for the first several years. About five years ago, her friend, Daniel LeBlanc, began helping out. She also has a network of other friends she can call upon.
Along with rescuing birds, Cooke and her volunteers provide refuge for older birds that are near the end of their lifespans. An average lifespan for a parrot is about 80 years.
“Some birds are in their 50s and have been to multiple homes, so we don’t want to uproot them again, or maybe they have some psychological issues, whether it be feather plucking, aggression, or stuff like that,” says Cooke. “We also have one bird here that was just 11 years old when I got him and he had already been in 11 different homes.”
Birds come to her from across the Maritimes as people realize the amount of care that’s involved.
“We never want to make someone feel bad about having to relinquish a parrot,” Cooke explained in an email. “Our first response is always to offer to work with a client to hopefully deal with the issues at hand, so the bird can stay in its current home.”
She occasionally adopts out parrots, and is often used as a support network for people who have birds who have run into behavioural issues, or they need help in deciding whether to take their bird to a vet.
Her reasons for liking the birds are many and varied, she admits.
“I like dogs and cats, but there’s just something about birds, the parrot species in particular; they have an attitude about them,” says Cooke. “They’re spunky, and they keep you thinking and on your toes. They are also not going to do what you want them to do. They are not obedient pets, but I like the challenge.”
While parrots continue to be a popular pet, they aren’t for everyone, according to Cooke who has discouraged a few people from taking one on.
“People are learning more about birds and they want to bring these big parrots into their homes,” Cooke says. “But the problem with that is people aren’t fully educating themselves. These guys are going to chew up your house. They are extremely loud and they’re wild animals. They also have behavioural issues that you just can’t train out of them.”
Cooke plans to expand her business as the only Parrot Rescue place in the province. Currently, all the birds are living in her house, but her goal is to have a dedicated building to house them and possibly act as an education centre.
To help cover the bills, Cooke and her volunteers hit the road for appearances at schools and private events, such as birthday parties and weddings. They’re mainstays at Yarmouth’s Seafest and Liverpool’s Privateer Days.
“We’ve kind of branded ourselves around the pirates, because what goes better with pirates than parrots? And it fits right in with Nova Scotia," explains Cooke.
Although COVID-19 has halted most events, they expect to be participating in a meet-and-greet-open house at the Milton Community Hall on April 10 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
“It gives people a chance to kind of see what they’re like in person,” Cooke says of the many appearances. “It’s very different from looking up an article online,” she suggests. “Working with parrots is, like, a lifestyle. There are people who have birds then there are bird people.”
Kevin McBain, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, LighthouseNOW Progress Bulletin