Pink Panther the cockatoo loves head scratches, understands French – and is one of around 45 parrots still receiving veterinary care after being taken from a Vancouver Island refuge last winter.

The World Parrot Refuge ran into trouble and shut down after the death of its founder Wendy Huntbatch last February.

Huntbatch, 70, an avid animal rights advocate, opened the refuge in 2005 at Coombs, about 150 kilometres north of Victoria. At one point she had more than 800 parrots under her care.

What followed after the facility closed is believed to be one of the largest bird relocations in Canadian history, with hundreds of parrots being removed from the facility and transferred to various locations on Vancouver Island and throughout Metro Vancouver.

The Greyhaven Exotic Bird Sanctuary, a non-profit society in Surrey, B.C., dedicated to bird conservation, was part of the effort to relocate the parrots, agreeing to take as many birds as they could and find homes for them.

“We heard that things were not good at the refuge and went to see for ourselves and were horrified,” said Jan Robinson, who has volunteered at Greyhaven for the last 15 years. 

“Birds were not being cared for, injured – [there were] a lot of injuries, a lot of obviously ill birds. There were rats everywhere.”

Veterinarian Anne McDonald has spent countless hours providing care to the sick parrots. While a few of the birds have not survived, most have responded well to treatment.

“Some of them need to have an injury repaired or a toe needs to be amputated, some of them are more minor problems, and then some of them are major illness,” McDonald said. 

“We’re paying for food, medical care, caging, and everything else for 500 birds or so at this point, and the costs are incredible," added Robinson.

Another challenge has been finding homes for the more than 400 birds scattered amongst several facilities in Metro Vancouver and Vancouver Island. Parrots have long lifespans, and often live up to 75 years. 

Dozens of birds have already been adopted or reunited with former owners, but there are many that still have nowhere to go. 

Leslie Strawson recently adopted Fernando the bird after learning about the need. 

“It’s just kind of heartbreaking when you hear the stories of what they’ve been through,” he said, petting the green parrot perched on his arm. “[Fernando] is a very, very well-behaved bird.”

Anyone interested in adopting a bird or donating to their care can contact the Greyhaven Exotic Bird Sanctuary here

With files from CTV Vancouver’s Michele Brunoro