Thursday, May 18, 2006

Animal farm comes alive

MOSSGIEL Park Primary School has hatched plans to teach students about the raising and caring of animals.The Endeavour Hills school has operated a small farm for some years to provide students with real life learning about animals.The farm has budgies, finches, canaries, cockatiels, 20 Isa brown point of lay pullets, two ewes and four baby lambs, two of which were born amid much excitement last Friday.School principal John Wall said prep students were learning about life cycles and animals this year and had been taking care of some baby chicks in their classroom.The students have had an incubator in their rooms over the past two weeks and have watched the chickens hatch from eggs and have been caring for their new feathered and fluffy friends since then.Mr Wall said the chickens shared many of their classroom activities and the children make daily observations about their size and growth rate, feeding requirements and the need for clean drinking water.But most of all Mr Wall said they had experienced the fun of learning from real life.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

These Retirees Flock Together In Snowbird Land

The Oasis Sanctuary is far from the largest retirement community in the Arizona desert, but it is certainly the noisiest.
Along with the morning sun each day, there climbs a riotous opera of screeches, shrieks and squawks along with the occasional wolf whistle, "What's up?" and "I love you."
Tucked in a remote river valley, separated from Tucson by an enormous mountain range, the sanctuary is a "life care facility" for nearly 450 parrots, cockatoos, macaws and other tropical birds.
With life spans that for some species can be 80 years or longer, many of the birds have outlived their human caretakers. Others reached the end of their productivity as commercial breeders. Most were deemed too ornery or skittish for adoption as pets and faced euthanasia.
"Nobody wants these older birds," said Sybil Erden, who founded the sanctuary in 1998, noting that a parrot can take months or years to recover from losing a companion. "People call and say, `We've had a bird for two months, and it just doesn't like us.' "
Erden's goal is definitely not to socialize birds for another try with people. "We're helping them learn to have bird friends," she said. "Some of them have a hard time understanding that they are birds."
Still, the enduring imprint of owners past, of decades spent in someone's living room or kitchen, was abundantly audible on a walk through the sanctuary grounds.
Billy, a yellow-naped Amazon, delivered the extended monologue that staff members call a "one-sided phone conversation."
"Hello," he said as a visitor approached and then continued with considered pauses between phrases: "Uh huh." "Yeah." "OK." "Then what happened?"
Erden opened the sanctuary in Phoenix but moved to this larger isolated location along the San Pedro River six years ago. It occupies an old pecan orchard, miles up a bumpy dirt road, through a rocky landscape of prickly pear cactus and thorny mesquites.
Sharing one aviary are some racing pigeons that had faced doom because they could no longer find their way home. The cherry-headed conure named Mingus and two other refugees from the feral flock made famous by the 2003 documentary "The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill" are also here.
Two well-trained dogs protect the birds from coyotes and bobcats.
The larger birds are usually paired in rows of large veranda-covered cages while some, mainly smaller species, inhabit two larger aviaries where they flock and fly, getting closer to their natural state. Erden hopes to build 10 more aviaries.
Many parrots are monogamous, bonding for life with another bird or, in homes, with a human. A priority is helping them find a new companion. Self-chosen, companions are not necessarily of the same sex or species.
The birds' mimicking skills are sometimes so acute that it is hard not to impute humanlike reasoning. As Erden approached Stinkerbelle, a Quaker parrot, the bird cried out, "No, no, no!" pecked Erden's finger and mockingly screamed, "Ha, ha, ha, ha!"
The last thing the sanctuary wants is to produce offspring. Sometimes the birds are seen having sex. But without appropriate nesting sites, they seldom lay eggs, and when they do, ceramic eggs are substituted until the parents lose interest.
Even as she works to expand and improve the sanctuary, whose $250,000-a-year operating budget is financed by donations, Erden worries about a potential flood of unwanted parrots as pet-owning baby boomers become infirm.
"We're getting more calls from people in their 60s and 70s," she said. "We don't see an end to the problem."