When you ring the doorbell at Marie Frank’s Dunwoody home, she barely cracks the door.
“Come in quickly,” she says, opening the door just enough for you to squeeze through.
Once inside, the reason for her caution is clear. Frank has three pet cockatiels that fly freely about her home.
Dixie perches on the handle of her oven, singing to his reflection in the stainless steel appliance. Lucky hops over to the table where Frank is sitting, curiously inspecting her coffee mug.
Frank said her birds are always entertaining her. But she said most people don’t know what they are getting into when they buy a parrot.
“These are the best pets,” Frank said. “But if you don’t treat them well, they can be your worst nightmare.”
Frank is passionate about teaching people about responsible bird ownership.
Frank said when she got her first gray and yellow cockatiel, Dixie, she assumed it would be happy living in its cage. “I had a 5-year-old son who wanted a parrot,” Frank said. “I think people think – like I did – that you can buy a big cage and look at him because he’s pretty.”
But she soon learned that her bird needed to spend time outside of his cage, flying and interacting with her family.
“Dixie is kind of the one who trained us on how he wanted to be treated,” Frank said. “To treat them properly, you have to give them little or no cage time.”
Since getting her first cockatiel, Frank has rescued three more and has traveled to Arizona to volunteer with a bird rescue sanctuary.
She said there are many things people don’t know about parrots – the family of exotic birds that includes macaws, cockatoos and Amazons.
If birds are bored or unhappy in their cage, they can be very loud and destructive, she said.
Some birds will even pick out their feathers and bite their skin with their beaks if they are confined to a cage.
“People need to know they are social creatures, they do need stimulation, they do need interaction,” Frank said.
Frank said many people give away their parrots, annoyed by the noise the birds make. There are only a few bird rescue groups around the country, and there often isn’t much space.
“The rescues are bursting at the seams. They’re so overcrowded,” Frank said.
One reason those rescues are so crowded: birds have incredibly long life spans.
Smaller parrots like cockatiels can live up to 25 years. But some larger birds, like macaws and African Grey Parrots, have a life span of up to 100 years.
Ron Johnson, owner of Feathered Friends Forever, cares for 1,400 birds at his rescue facility near Augusta.
He said birds come to the rescue from around the country for a variety of reasons. Some have owners who have died, or owners who have moved and can no longer keep them. Some people turn their birds in because they are simply tired of being bitten by the birds or hearing them chirp.
Johnson said the problem is that breeders continue to sell the birds for a large profit.
“Breeders and pet stores don’t care what people buy so long as they collect their money,” Johnson said.
Johnson said someone recently dropped off a bird that was only six months old.
“A breeder convinced this lady that this was a quiet, lovable bird,” Johnson said. “She paid $900 for the bird, $300 for the cage, and had it 48 hours because she couldn’t stand the noise that it made.”
He said it’s important to keep in mind that parrots are wild animals. They still have natural instincts that can make them unfriendly.
“They’re in a sense “domesticated” in that they will take food from your hand and they will talk to you,” Johnson said. “When it’s breeding season, you have Dr. Jekyll.”