Native Intelligence: Hawai‘i Island

Parrots in Paradise

Story by Meghan Miner Murray. Photo by Megan Spelman.

Down a hidden jungle road on the slopes of Mauna Loa, Dorothy and Jerry Walsh have created a refuge for parrots. Their rolling, acres-wide lawn sports a macadamia-and-fruit orchard and camogreen-trimmed custom aviaries, some as large as studio apartments, arranged in a Tetris-like grid. Eighty parrots, mostly former pets—a riot of color and sound—have come to the Parrots in Paradise sanctuary from difficult situations across the state.

Longtime bird owners, the Walshes, an amiable couple in their sixties, started the Kona-based sanctuary almost twenty years ago at the request of their then-15-year-old daughter. “She came to us one day and said, ‘I think there are people out there who can’t take care of their parrots anymore, so we need to form a sanctuary,’” says Dorothy. The birds—many that have outlived their owners—soon followed. The Walshes formed a nonprofit, moved to a larger property in Kealakekua and began Parrots in Paradise in earnest. “It started out as a way to rescue parrots, but it turned into a way to rescue people who’ve found themselves in a difficult situation,” says Dorothy.

The Walshes don’t know the full history or even the gender of all of their residents, but one thing is certain: Each cage contains a story. There’s a cockatiel that belonged to a woman who moved to Utah. There’s a wild crested cockatoo that was shot out of a tree in Australia forty years ago. There’s an African gray that mimics the chime of Dorothy’s old cell phone ringtone. There’s Wild Thing, one of Kona’s feral mitred conures, who made a miraculous recovery from a tumor that was impeding his ability to fly. There’s a macaw that asks, “Are you married?” to all passing women.

Pet owners often find the sanctuary through the internet and word of mouth, but twice, escaped or released parrots have found them on their own. Though many birds will live out their years there, the Walshes have placed several hundred in adoptive homes. Sadly, “There are more birds in tough situations than we can help,” says Dorothy. “I often feel like we’re the voice for the parrots, but never in a million years did I think this would be my path.”