Pet Corner

Pet Corner


The Pied Piper of Parrots

Ask people why they chose a parrot as a pet and they’ll usually say they wanted a companion of exotic beauty, gaiety and intellect.

But parrots can also be noisy, needy, destructive and temperamental.

“For some reason, I thought a bird was going to be simple,” said Marty Sokoloff, who owns two parrots, an Eclectus and a Cockatoo, with his wife, Suzie Marchlen. “Boy, was I mistaken.”

Many people interested in parrots don’t realize — until it’s too late and they’ve become owners — that the birds cry for attention and throw tantrums like a toddler. Not to mention, they can live upward of 50 years.

But people continue to want them as pets. In 2011, Best Friends Animal Society, an animal rescue organization, estimated that the number of owned parrots in the United States had jumped from 11.6 million in 1990 to 60 million in 2010, and could increase to as many as 100 million by 2020.

“They keep pumping them out,” said Jacqueline Johnson, who manages the parrot garden at the Best Friends animal sanctuary in Kanab, Utah, referring to the breeders. “There’s no decline.”

The sanctuary averages 60 bird adoptions a year, a 10-fold increase over the past eight years, Ms. Johnson said. Owners often surrender because of the emotional toll that parrot maintenance can take.

“The sheer amount of responsibility for these guys can wear on you,” Ms. Johnson said.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Glenn Sorino is here to help.

A self-described parrot “pied piper,” Mr. Sorino, 60, has been assuaging owner frustrations, coaching, grooming and evaluating behavioral issues in birds for the past 20 years. He currently serves about 40 clients, including the artist Hunt Slonem.

“I don’t know anyone else that does what he does,” Mr. Slonem said. “You have to have a lot of knowledge to handle these creatures.”

As a boy, Mr. Sorino began reading books about birds and attending bird club meetings. He later worked at various bird stores, including the city’s once treasured and now closed 33rd & Bird. Over the years, Mr. Sorino’s expertise spread through word-of-mouth.

“Living with a parrot is very challenging,” Mr. Sorino said. “Every day is a different antic.” His own pet seems, not surprisingly, very well adjusted. Sara, a 24-year-old Jardine’s parrot, cuddles with him under his bed covers, swings from his belt and hangs out in the shower.

Clients seek Mr. Sorino’s knowledge on a range of issues. Once, he escorted a woman to the vet after learning that she had fed penne alla vodka, waffles with maple syrup, and salad with blue cheese dressing to her Eclectus parrot. Twice he’s flown with parrots across the country to reunite them with their owners. And every Wednesday, he visits with Charlie, a Hyacinth Macaw who went through a tough time after her owner, the artist Po Kim, died in 2014. “I don’t know what to do with a bird, so I was like, ‘We need the bird whisperer every week,’” said Ann Thurmond, the assistant director at the Sylvia Wald and Po Kim Art Gallery.

Anne Pollack was recently at her wit’s end when Mahmah, her African Grey, began shrieking for unknown reasons, despite the fact that Mahmah has a vocabulary of 100 words, including several expletives. Her bird sitter advised she try Mr. Sorino. He suggested retraining, and the screaming soon subsided. “There was a code that needed to be unlocked and he gave me keys,” Ms. Pollack said.

On a clear Sunday in November, Mr. Sorino checked on Goose, Mr. Sokoloff and Ms. Marchlen’s 25-year-old Eclectus. The bird was confined to a plexiglass box and looked like a Victorian king in a five-tiered felt collar meant to prevent self-plucking. In March, Goose fell from his perch and became so anxious that he severely picked his backside and developed an open wound.

Mr. Sorino took a seat at the kitchen table, where Goose, wrapped in a towel, had been tenderly transported and placed under a lamp. Mr. Sorino kissed Goose and then tried to pry open his candy corn beak. “Come here, Goosie,” he cooed. Goose squawked four times, beat his wings and refused to cooperate. Mr. Sokoloff tried next, and Goose bit his finger. Finally, Mr. Sorino succeeded in opening the beak. “Lower beak growing askew and splitting down the middle,” he concluded.

Over the past few months, thanks to Mr. Sorino’s advice (a frantic phone call was made to him after Goose’s fall) and 15 treatments in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber, Goose’s plumage has mostly filled in, save a few bald patches. The progress is a relief for Ms. Marchlen and Mr. Sokoloff, who worried Goose might not ever look like a bird again. “We consult Glenn with everything,” Ms. Marchlen said. “He can take the most difficult situation with a parrot and make it seem natural, like breathing.”

Article from NY Times

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