Birds in (Helping) Hands

by Cathy Grubman

​July/August 2001

Brian Wilson is a courageous man. No, not because he lets 10 parrots stand on him, balancing atop his head and lining up on his outstretched arms. And not only because he worked for 25 years as a firefighter and rescue worker in Montgomery County, Md.

It's his life's labor these days: animal rescue, and the obstacles he must overcome to perform it that make him courageous. In 1995, Wilson was in a debilitating car accident. Afterwards, instead of sitting at home feeling sorry for himself and letting the world take care of him, he devoted his life to the rescue and care of animals, specifically, domesticated parrots. Why? "I wanted to help the animals that helped me," he says simply.

​After his car accident, which left him with a brain injury and limited use of the right side of his body, he says his future was bleak. "The doctors told me I would be severely limited in my brain function," says Wilson, 46, a handsome, tall man with a handlebar mustache.

​But he was aware enough to communicate with his pet parrots--three, at that time. "They wouldn't just sit there and wait for me... I had to get better to take care of them. They forced me to talk and move, to function." As he slowly, painfully, improved, he realized that the little mellifluous beings that unknowingly helped aid his recovery could use HIS help. "I wanted to give back to them, in a small way," says Wilson. Don't get him wrong--he thanks his friends, family and the medical community--but it was the birds that tugged at his heartstrings.

​Specifically, he was bothered by the number of parrots who were abused, misused and misunderstood by their owners. So he started the Wilson Parrot Foundation, a 501(C)(3) that is "dedicated to education and charitable activities including the rescue of abandoned, neglected and injured birds, as well as their rehabilitation "

​"What happens is that people buy or are given a parrot," Wilson reflects. "They play with them--talk to them, pay attention to them--for a while, but eventually, the bird is shoved in a cage in the corner of the room. Parrots are social animals and they are bred in captivity--they need human interaction to thrive. So the parrot begins to scream and screech, starts plucking itself, destroys the cage, stops eating, whatever. They are depressed and sad." Given that parrots can live as long as 75 years, that's a long time to be unhappy.

​Wilson has rescued 24 but has 26 parrots so far. There's Daisy, a blue-and-gold Macaw, and Annie, a White-eyed Conyar, and Precious, a Congo African Gray. Add in Rosebud and Toni and Rocco and Louie and the rest of the group, and you've got quite a flock!

​The birds are a colorful lot, ranging in size from 8 to 18 inches. Some of them talk and whistle; others perform tricks like moonwalking or allowing a human to hold them on their backs like a newborn baby. Their coos and chatter indicate how happy and well-tended they are.

​Each one has a distinct personality and like any siblings, occasionally get into skirmishes. "I have to be careful who I put next to who," admits Wilson with a laugh. "You know how kids are."

​Funds for the foundation come through school performances (where he also talks about fire and gun safety using the parrots to demonstrate) and a weekly stint at the Inner Harbor in Baltimore. Md. There, Wilson sets up the birds for people to handle and be photographed with. The $8 fee goes directly into the care and feeding of the birds.

​Wilson also accepts donations to help with the project--of food, time and aviary maintenance around his Damascus home, where he keeps the birds. Wilson walks with a slight limp and has lost the use of his right arm, "so I need help cutting up the food for the birds, cleaning cages, that sort of thing." The animals need veterinary care and transportation as well, and then there's the website to maintain. There are a few volunteers in place already--an old friend, a father-and-son team, who he jokingly calls "My parrotheads"--and Wilson realizes their help is invaluable.

​"I'm a very lucky man," he says as he perches Rosebud on his functioning forearm, bringing the two nose-to-beak. "Now, give your daddy a kiss." For more information on the Wilson Parrot Foundation, please call 301-368-3200 or go to the website he only has 12 cause he hasn't had the funds to update it . He now has 27 parrots and is in need of funds. Please email this to as many people as you can and please look up Quirksworld. We will also have Brian on the Montgomery County TV channel all through August.