Great Guys in Guyana – Part II

Jane Goodall hugs Marc Johnson on opening day of Foster Parrots Sanctuary (Karen Winsor at left)

Jane Goodall hugs Marc Johnson on opening day of Foster Parrots Sanctuary (Karen Winsor at left)

I am so taken with the work of Foster Parrots in Guyana. I believe that there is something fundamentally powerful in the approach to their work that contributes to avian conservation as a whole. Here’s my theory:

Because they work with companion birds –  love them, care for them, sacrifice for them, and witness to their beauty and their suffering, they can draw on powerful motivations to address the situation of the free flying wild counterparts in Guyana and other countries.  They do not keep their heart and dedication enclosed into a box, but extend it out to other species, including their fellow great apes – humans.

To understand their sources of motivation, creativity, energy, as well as their struggle so that we all might learn and contribute, I asked them a few questions.

LoraKim:  What do you especially want my readers to know and how can they help?

Karen:   I want your readers to know that, from our perspective, where our lives are dedicated to helping captive parrots and other displaced exotics, there is no greater joy, no more emotional experience than seeing these animals living their natural lives in their wild places.  Guyana is so rich in her biodiversity, so vast and unspoiled.  This is a country that is now standing at the crossroad between conservation and industrialization.  Guyana and her amazing animals and natural habitat can still be preserved.  People can help by visiting Guyana and supporting her budding eco-tourism industry.

LoraKim:  What is most challenging for you?

Karen:  We live as witnesses, continually, to the suffering of very intelligent, emotional, social animals (parrots) in captivity.  Comparatively speaking, few people keep parrots well.  We see so many birds languishing… socially isolated, lonely, angry,bored,depressed, desperate….  or sometimes, they have simply given up.  They just don’t care anymore.

The most difficult thing we have to deal with, I think, is the knowledge that we are just a small organization with limited capacity and limited support.  We can never do enough.  We can never help enough.  There are always going to be parrots languishing in the dark corners of the world with no hope of ever stretching their wings, feeling the sun on their back or having a friend.

The most difficult thing we have to deal with are our own limitations.

LoraKim:  Where do you find joy, hope, or sustenance for your work?

Karen: Our Chattering Lory, Comet, is a wild-caught bird who we had rescued from a terrible roadside zoo situation.  For a while his only friend was a toy rubber duck who he used to feed, talk to, and sometimes reprimand.  When we got a call one day from someone wanting to get rid of their Chattering Lory, Suzie, we knew that Comet’s lifetime of loneliness was over.  Comet and Suzie now live together at the sanctuary and are happy, playful, joyful birds.


We recently finished construction on a large community aviary for Amazons.  Two of those Amazons, an Orange Wing and a White Fronted (both older wild-caught birds),  were fairly new arrivals at the Foster Parrots sanctuary, but they had not previously known one another.  While they waited for the large enclosure to be completed, however, they could see one another from across the room.  When they, along with six other Amazons, were finally released into the aviary, the Orange Winged Amazon and the smaller White Fronted Amazon immediately joined one another and began to dance and call and sing and preen each other.  By the end of the day they were snuggling…


Four years ago we rescued quite a few parrots from a garage in Vermont.  Two of these were a bonded pair of Moluccan cockatoos whose feathers were destroyed and who were terrified of humans.  During their quarantine period they would cower in the farthest corners of their cage and try to disappear from sight.  Now they share a large aviary and are fully feathered, happy and outgoing.  They fly and swing and play.  They prance about on the floor of their enclosure and hop like bunnies and toss their toys around.  They express their joy with their loud calls and by jumping and swinging on their hanging ropes and play-frames.  They are naturally acrobatic and silly, and they take great enjoyment in performing for volunteers, staff and visitors.


My husband and I witness a tremendous amount of suffering on an almost daily basis.  We often encounter parrots who have languished alone in tiny, dirty little cages for years – sometimes decades…. and have all but given up.  More commonly, we encounter situations where the neglect and/or abuse has been chronic, but completely unintentional.  It’s simply the result of an uninformed or misinformed guardian.  We love and lose birds who finally succumb to decades of poor nutrition and lack of exercise.  The best care we can deliver can’t reverse advanced liver disease, heart disease, psychological trauma or diseases like PDD…


Our hearts break every single day.  But when we see two lonely birds find one another and “fall in love”, we know we have made all the difference in the lives of those two birds, and that is what keeps us going.  When Quaker parakeets are hard at work and dedicated to the task of building their stick nests out of the wooden coffee stirrers we provide for them, or when they whisk by in groups, from their indoor enclosure to their outdoor aviary to land and graze and forage in the thick bed of hay that covers the ground…  we are gratified, knowing that we have been able to provide a quality of life for them, and an almost natural life.


We find our joy and hope in each little success story that we are able to facilitate.  We may never be able to significantly impact the trade in parrots and we certainly cannot save them all.  But we know we make a difference in individual lives.  There’s really no bigger accomplishment, I think, than giving parrots back to one another and giving them the opportunity to be who they were always supposed to be.

LoraKim:  Thank you Marc and Karen. For through your work, you give we humans the opportunity to be who we are and were always supposed to be.

Marc and Karen with Friends

Marc and Karen with Friends