PROFILE: A Professor’s Love for Birds


Pacific Lutheran English professor Charles Bergman, 68, on phased retirement, has had a passion for birds for decades. With years of traveling and discovering wildlife, he shared his thoughts on the current situation of birds being kept as pets. 

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Bergman in Uganda. Photo courtesy of Charles Bergman.

Bergman’s most memorable bird experience was from the summer of 2013, when he, with Jane Goodall, was part of a four-person team from the World Parrot Trust in Uganda. They released a group of African Grey parrots that had been confiscated as they were being smuggled into Bulgaria. Of the 108 parrots, only 17 survived the stress they had been inflicted. This was the first time ever that parrots smuggled out of Africa were returned and released into the wild. This story offers hope in an otherwise dark reality.

Birds are the third most popular pet in the United States. There are more than 10,000 bird species on the planet, but only a few species such as budgerigars and finches can thrive with proper care. Most other species are best left in the wild. The Avian Welfare Coalition stated that the traits that make parrots so intriguing are the same ones that make them difficult to have as pets. 

The animal welfare organization In Defense of Animals informed that even if captive bred, parrots possess the same wild traits as wild born parrots, and their basic instincts such as flying, flocking and finding a mate cannot be fulfilled in a person’s home. Numbers from PETA said that about 85 percent of parrots kept as pets are resold, given away, or abandoned within two years of being purchased.

Bergman noted that birds kept as pets are only two generations removed from the wild, and compares the situation to that of dogs, which have been domesticated for more than 15,000 years. He said “You cannot just place a wild creature in a cage.”

In 1992, the Wild Bird Conservation Act criminalized the import of most wild-caught parrots in the United States. This caused a domestic breeding boom. One of the most famous, or notorious, parrot breeders in the United States, Howard Voren, produces around 30,000 parrots annually. 

A big challenge for birds is that they are not viewed as animals by the law. The United States is the only country in the world that excludes birds, along with rats and mice, from the Animal Welfare Act. After lawsuits filed by animal welfare activists, the U.S. Department of Agriculture have according to the Animal Welfare Institute, begun the rule making process of extending protection to all three animal species.

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Bergman with a cockatoo. Photo courtesy of Charles Bergman.

Bergman takes pride in being part of a movement that has shed light on the complex world of animals. Bergman has travelled extensively, publishing numerous articles in National Geographic among others, on issues ranging from domestic birds breeding to exotic bird trafficking.

It was while he documented the effects of having parrots as pets that he came into contact with Good Fox Birdie Haven, a non-profit organization in Auburn, Wash. that rescue, shelter, rehabilitate and re-home surrendered parrots. He is on the board of the organization, and serves as the president. The founder and executive director, Sharon Fox, speaks warmly of Bergman: “He is of great help. He has such a warm heart and the birds here love him, just as he loves them.”

Although hopeful, he said it will take many years before the sale of exotic birds as pets will be illegal in this country. He said, “We are entering a transition period. The birds are teaching us that they are not equipped for life as pets.” He said that the overall status of animals are undergoing change. “We humans are realizing that we are more like animals, and that we actually are animals too.” 

Categories: Nation & World, nature, Other, PLU, Profile, teacher

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