Monday, January 24, 2005

Friends For Fine Feathers

(From The Register-Guard )

ike your average toddler, Sydney gets a kick out of throwing things on the floor.

On a recent sunny morning, the 16-month-old blue and gold macaw - a South American parrot - sat on a large perch in the middle of Andrea Larsen's kitchen, grabbed a spotless metal bowl in his beak and dropped it on Larsen's unsuspecting dog Elvis, an aging pug who skittered out of the way.

"He's pretty outgoing and boisterous," Larsen said. "He's still got baby tendencies and won't mature for four or five years."

But Sydney's not just your average playful youngster. He's a bird with two serious problems: torn ligaments in his left leg that make it impossible to stand on both feet and a scissor beak with upper and lower parts crossing over, making it more difficult for him to climb around or to munch the fruits, vegetables, grains and nuts that make up his diet.

He's come to Larsen's north Eugene home because his owners could not give him the care he needed. Larsen, the chairwoman of Exotic Bird Rescue of Oregon, is providing foster care for Sydney, hoping to find an adoptive home for the bird.

She'd also like to get him to the vet for a beak trim and an operation to repair the ligaments, but that costs $800 and her nonprofit network of volunteers has 89 other birds in foster care and not enough in the bank to pay for Sydney's operation.

He needs it soon, Larsen said. Parrots spend their entire lives on their feet, often standing on one to rest the other. Sydney doesn't have that luxury and his good foot already has pressure sores, she said.

For a bird that can live a century, it's an untenable situation.

Exotic Bird Rescue, a 10-year-old Eugene nonprofit, takes in birds throughout Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Northern California from owners who can no longer care for them, Larsen said.

The very things that attract people to cockatoos, cockatiels, macaws, parakeets, lories and conures, the family of birds commonly known as parrots, also make them challenging to live with. The birds are smart, loud, long-lived and require plenty of attention and discipline. Larger birds like Sydney have a powerful beak that can crack a walnut or break a finger.

More people have been contacting Exotic Bird Rescue, said Larsen, seeking to give up a problem bird that's developed destructive habits such as self-mutilation, pulling its feathers or constant screaming. Some well-behaved birds come to the group because owners can't provide the attention the birds need.

Sydney belonged to a Newberg resident who purchased him from a Louisiana breeder, hoping her local veterinarian could correct the bird's ligament problem, Larsen said.

But that vet didn't have avian training and was unable to help Sydney, so the owner contacted Exotic Bird Rescue, Larsen said.

Larsen's home is alive with the birds. In addition to fostering four birds needing adoption, Larsen has also purchased or adopted 10 others. They range in size from tiny Sweetie, a 5-inch Pacific parrotlet to imposing Zelda, an umbrella cockatoo about 18 inches tall.

Larsen's love of the species surprised her, she said. She and her fiance first purchased Presley, a cockatiel about three years ago when they lived in an apartment that didn't allow cats or dogs.

"He blasted all my misconceptions about birds," she said. "They're more than something you put in a corner and show to your friends. ... The relationship is way more intense than you would get with a cat or a dog. They recognize you. They call out to you. They listen to you. They understand you."

Soon after that, she got involved with the local bird rescue group and after buying a house, more birds came into her life. Some she adopted; others she purchased. The birds all have different personalities.

For play, she turns to Scrunchie, a blue front Amazon. For conversation, it's Spock, an African gray.

"He'll sit there and listen to every word I say, and I know he understands," she said.

Most of the birds talk, saying things like, "Good morning" early in the day, and "Good night" in the evening. They know "good bye" and "hello" and "peekaboo," a game they enjoy playing.

Scrunchie, the blue front Amazon who once lived with people in a house by a lake, always greets her when she comes home, saying "Did you catch any fish?"

Larsen believes that such birds should not be domesticated, that they belong in the wild. But once they are habituated to people, it's almost impossible to return them to their native habitats, she said.

While fewer birds are captured in the wild now, a proliferation of breeders churn them out for purchase by people who don't always understand what they're getting into.

That's why groups like hers have become part of the avian landscape, Larsen said. Occasionally they get birds that are on endangered species lists and try to move them into conservation breeding programs, she said.

Currently, the rescue group has 40 people providing foster homes for birds that can be adopted, but they won't let just anyone take one of their parrots.

Adoption is a lengthy process that includes a class, several in-home visits with the bird in foster care, site visits at the prospective owner's home and the approval of the Exotic Bird Rescue board and the foster care provider. After the adoption there is a probationary period that can last up to six months.

"After that, they're tied to us for life," she said, with a contract that allows the group to take the bird back if it isn't well-cared for or the relationship doesn't work out.

"Lots of people don't understand how much work it is," she said.

Larsen herself spends between 40 and 60 hours a week, either taking care of her birds or working on issues related to the rescue group. Her fiance, an automobile mechanic, is supportive of her passion, helping out especially with the group's senior and disabled companion program.

She'd like to see more members, more people providing foster care, and financial support from the broader community.

Sydney's not the only bird with medical needs. Larsen is also caring for a Sammy, a sun conure with a fungal infection in need of about $300 worth of blood work and cultures.

The group's main income comes from its $20 annual membership fee. They currently have about 100 members, Larsen said. The money goes to provide food, cages, toys and medical attention for the birds in their care.

Some area vets already provide free and reduced-cost services to the group, Larsen said.

"We need the help because we have such a small membership and the number of birds needing a place to go has tripled," she said.

1 comment:

Polly said...

you all need to sign up with PayPal to accept donations from around the world! & then let everyone out there know about your organization. it's all in the advertising. don't say you can't afford it! you just got free publicity from this blog & i am putting you on my blog & in my email. keep up the good work!