"I'm scared."There's a lot of screeching noises coming from one of several large sheds just ahead; the racket is enough to scare a grown-up, much less a 3-year-old boy whose experiences with birds are so far limited to the sparrows he finds in his back yard, and the seagulls he chases on the beach."Protect me," Sean Fitzgerald of Wall, says, quietly, extending his hand, as he nevertheless starts up the rickety wooden steps."I want to go home now," says his twin brother, Dylan, as the birds sense someone approaching, and start screeching even louder. But Sean goes in anyway, and the two little boys stand as close as they possibly can to each other, and survey what's inside, without making a sound.Not that they would have been heard if they had.What they see are birds, parrots in particular, of every shape, color, size and sound, from parakeets to parrotlets, from cockatiels to cockatoos and from macaws to lovebirds. Some of them have been here, at the Arcadia Bird Sanctuary and Educational Center, for years, and others for just a matter of months; all of them are here because their owners could no longer take care of them, says Terri Jones, who runs the sanctuary."There will always be reasons why people give up their birds," says Jones, who lives on the three acres of the estate where the Freehold Township-based sanctuary for birds is situated. "You don't know what the future holds."Lifestyle changes, like new babies, divorce and natural and unnatural death, are some of the reasons owners give up their feathered pets. Others cite medical reasons, like allergies, or a sick family member, and even puberty, "when a bird's personality really changes," says Jones.Some owners didn't relinquish their birds soon enough, severely neglecting or abusing them instead. And then there are the owners who simply got "tired of their screaming," Jones says.But for all their differences, there's one thing all the birds have in common: They're survivors.There's Oscar, an Eclectus, who was left in a basement and essentially lived in the dark for most of his life. "He's been with us for three years and he still has major trust issues," says Jones.And then there's Nordie, an umbrella cockatoo whose owner fed him water only once a day, so he learned to regurgitate it to have some for later. It took eight months to break him of that habit, recalls Jones. He needed to know his food was going to stay.Angel lost her owner on 9/11. But except for every once in a while, when the Moluccan cockatoo starts screaming, you'd never know it, says Jones. During those times, Jones will take her out of her cage and hold her for awhile. "She just wants to be cuddled," Jones says.Alfie, on the other hand, was "deeply depressed" for 18 months when his owner passed away from Alzheimer's disease."They just don't act like birds," Jones explains when asked how she knew the yellow collared macaw was in mourning. "He just hung back and let you know he didn't want to be bothered."And then one day he simply came over to her at feeding time as if to say: "I'm ready to get back into the world."But the world might not be ready for him. Of the 70 or so birds currently living at the sanctuary, many of them will reside here indefinitely, says Jones, who is solely responsible for the sanctuary.The avian rescue, a nonprofit organization that relies entirely on donations, is primarily a shelter, says Jones, who has been officially taking birds in since January of last year, when she got 501 C status, so that all donations are tax deductible. While she does foster and adopt out some birds, her "primary function is sanctuary; if we adopt out that's great, but I'm in no hurry." Besides, her birds are "better off here than where they came from," she says.And one thing is certain: If they were allowed out on their own, they wouldn't survive, she says.She uses the donations she does receive for food and veterinary care for her birds. She could charge money for her services, but doesn't because "the education should be available to everybody, not just those who can afford it."But she does have a wish list: She is trying to raise $200,000 for a building to shelter the birds, and is looking for someone to donate that amount. So far, no one has expressed any interest, she says.But she keeps on doing what she's doing, traveling around the tri-state area to raise awareness about birds, so that one day they might not need such a sanctuary."Part of our work is to educate youngsters about birds, so they won't end up here," Jones says.She and her granddaughter, Caitlyn Jones, also of Freehold, often visit preschools and give presentations on bird health and safety."I made my first presentation to my preschool class when I was 3," says Caitlyn, who is now "7 going on 40," says her grandmother. Caitlyn nonchalantly carries Cuddles, a parakeet, on her finger, and holds him toward Dylan and Sean, but not without a warning."He thinks your nails are like seeds, and he likes to chew them, she says." The boys inch closer to the parakeet, thinking about testing her. Caitlyn continues to explain the parakeet's peccadilloes to her "students" — another of which is "pooping" on her head. Both boys look expectantly at her head, as if hoping for an encore performance.The more people know about birds, the better off their birds will be, says Jones. People need information to make intelligent choices: about what kind of bird to choose, about how to keep the bird and how to treat it.Besides education the sanctuary sponsors a "Young Aviculturalist Society" that is open to children between the ages of 6 and 18."Children are the future of aviculture," says Jones.For more information, call the sanctuary at (732) 995-8562.
BY CHERYL MILLER
Another possibility would be for groups of bird lovers to collectively donate money for housing