Monday, January 31, 2005

Parrot Nanny has a job that's for the birds

She calls herself the Parrot Nanny, but Gayle Reece is not just looking to pamper birds. What the fixture of the East Bay bird community really wants to do is educate owners.

"It's more working with the people than it is working with the birds," she said. "How you react and behave around the bird is what gets the bird to react and behave around you."

In her years working at Feathered Follies, a Lafayette shop for avian aficionados, and as an editor at Alameda-based Companion Parrot Quarterly, Reece saw scores of people purchase parrots for the novelty and then grow weary. While the exotically colored talking birds can be enchanting, she said, they can also be messy, noisy and moody.

"They'll take it home and then they find out how complex it is," she said.

Reece's goal for Parrot Nanny is to help people overcome the rocky early stages of parrot ownership -- or companionship, as she prefers to call it -- and develop a rewarding relationship. To get there, she conducts home visits, "parrot/human conflict resolution," "extreme cage makeovers," some boarding when human companions go on vacation, and some "spa" services like nail and wing trimming.

Parrot Nanny is a unique business in the area, said Jeanni Landry, manager of Feathered Follies.

"It's like an untapped market," she said. "People are always wanting to know why their bird is acting the way it is or why they can't socialize it."

For Reece, Parrot Nanny is the culmination of years of immersion in the culture of birds and their human admirers. The Lafayette native has had parrots ever since she was a child, but for much of her adult life it was merely a hobby as she worked for Bell Atlantic and Mailboxes Etc.

Then when Laurie Baker founded Feathered Follies, Reece became the store's first manager. She often advised customers on just the sorts of issues that would later form the basis for Parrot Nanny.

Diane Lees of San Ramon was referred to Reece by Feathered Follies after she sought advice on training her family's African gray parrot, Daisy.

"She was very helpful in giving us information that would help the parrot thrive," Lees said. "Information that's not necessarily in the books."

Since opening the business earlier this month, Reece has seen about 10 clients, traveling as far as Santa Rosa. She has begun to draw referrals from veterinarians as well as the bird shop, and she hopes that doctors will be a channel for future business.

Reece's base price is $30 per hour plus travel expenses. Services like grooming and bird sitting are extra.

Meanwhile, she is exploring other innovative services like something she calls "peace of mind placement." It is a mechanism by which she would get to know a bird and agree to take responsibility for it in the event of an owner's death, something she said can be traumatic both for the bird itself and whoever inherits it.

At her Lafayette home this week, Reece played with Lucy, a gregarious Scarlet Macaw that is one of her seven parrots.

"Hi," Lucy said, bobbing up and down and craning her neck toward a visitor.

"This is her excited look," Reece said as the bird flapped its wings and crawled up her shoulder.

Talking about the future of Parrot Nanny, Reece expressed hope the business could one day be a force for change in the pet world, but then she laughed off the statement as "way too profound."

She said, "I just want to keep parrots in their homes."

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