A parrot poses for a portrait Thursday at Omar's Exotic Birds on Wilshire Boulevard, the site of a cage exchange event to take place Sunday. (photo by Daniel Archuleta)

WILSHIRE BLVD — After a hate-hate relationship with a boyfriend’s pet parrot, Mira Tweti didn’t feel any particular affinity toward the exotic birds.

That changed when she picked up a rainbow lorikeet at an Echo Park lotus festival in 1995.

Though she knew little about parrot care, Tweti kept the bird, named him Mango and began a close friendship that lasted 10 years.

“It’s like adopting a child,” said the author and journalist from Playa del Rey. “They’re so smart, it’s dumbfounding.”

He asked for juice when he was thirsty, greeted Tweti each day with a “Good morning! I love you” and apologized before doing wrong deeds.

“When you have that with a bird, there’s nothing that compares,” Tweti said.

Mango eventually died of a fungal infection, but Tweti’s new awareness of parrot care and the prevalence of parrots in substandard conditions spurred her to push for better owner education for 17 years.

This Sunday, Tweti’s nonprofit organization Parrot Care Project is kicking off the Cage xChange Campaign by hosting a bird cage exchange at Omar’s Exotic Birds on Wilshire Boulevard on the east side of town. The event runs from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. and will allow bird owners to turn in their too-small cages for larger ones at below wholesale prices. The store will also have rescued and pre-owned parrots to adopt.

A few hundred people are expected to attend, said Omar Gonzales, owner of the store.

Though parrots are seen as beautiful, exotic and highly conscious birds, Tweti said many owners are unaware of the amount of time necessary to keep them healthy. According to her research, the vast majority of birds are in cages that are too small for them, leading to conditions like feather picking and biting.

“People really don’t know how to care for them,” Tweti said. “It has to change.”

In Santa Monica, there are few calls about parrot abuse or mistreatment, said Jessica Davenport, animal control officer at the Santa Monica Animal Shelter. Any parrot concerns usually fall into the category of occasional noise complaints, she said.

Yet, adequate parrot care is something that has surfaced in Irene Pepperberg’s research. As a research assistant at Harvard University and an adjunct associate professor at Brandeis University, Pepperberg studies animal cognition and specializes in parrots.

In the wild, parrots are highly social and live in huge flocks, frequently foraging for food across long distances. These conditions cannot translate into captivity, when birds sometimes sit alone in a cage for hours, she said.

Though she said parrots can be good pets, she emphasized that the specificity of their needs do not always fit into every owner’s lifestyle.

“(Owners) don’t realize how intelligent and incredible these birds are,” Pepperberg said. “It’s an incredible responsibility.”

This is what Tweti said she is hoping to change.

“That event should start a domino effect of people changing the way they treat their parrots,” she said. “Right now, parrots are really seen as fish in a cage — they’re decorative … and the majority of people don’t take their parrots out of the cage. This is the beginning of this re-education.”

Omar’s Exotic Birds is located at 3301 Wilshire Blvd. For more information about the Cage xChange event, visit www.cagexchange.com.

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