Saturday, November 04, 2006

Saturday Parrots

It's official - Jam and I made the NaBloPoMo cut and we're on the list with about a BILLION other blogs - check them out!
I really have to go and study genetics and bathe, because I have a mere 2 1/2 hours to accomplish studying and bathing and probably vacuuming before my family and I head out to a huge craft show at the Boston World Trade Center. *pause to salivate over huge convention center full of crafts......* but since I did my weekly Saturday routine today, I wanted to share.

Every Saturday morning around 8:30 or so, I get my lazy rear out of bed and head over to the local parrot shelter. Ha ha, you thought you read that wrong, didn't you? Nope, it really IS a parrot shelter, and a great place too.

I read about Foster Parrots two years ago in the local newspaper. The article was published during "the dark time of unemployment;" my seasonal job with the state had ended and I hadn't been picked up in a different department, as promised, so I found myself NOT WORKING. For an overachiever who got a job a month and a half before graduating from college, this was a great travesty. I had applied to various retail locations, but hadn't even heard from them. I was slowly losing my mind at home. You really can only clean so many times. I was desperate for something to do, something that made me feel like I was making a positive contribution to society. I gave Foster Parrots a call the next morning, and they had me scheduled for volunteer training the day after that.

Foster Parrots is a somewhat dilapidated old house on a quiet side street. They don't advertise and aren't flashy, probably to avoid birds being dumped at their door, though it still happens. When I first walked inside the house, I was completely overwhelmed. There were birds everywhere. The door to my left led to a room full of macaws, blue-greens and scarlets, hanging from large branches that were chained to the ceiling. To my right was a room full of huge cages holding goffin's cockatoos, and a floor to ceiling cage for Lola and Amadeus, two green-wing macaws. Lola is sort of the FP mascot - she's really delicate and used to suffer from seizures. She has no tail and one eye and came to FP literally broken, her skull and wings and feet all fractured. The directors lovingly nursed her back to health, and now she lives safely at FP with foam padding the bottom of her cage in case she falls.

The director, Marc, gave me the house tour. He took me through the Goffin room and pointed out two adjoining rooms to the left. "Those are the problem birds. You might want to stay out of there." He opened a door in front of him. "These are the cockatoos, Moluccan and Umbrella, there's Peanut, Peaches, George, Kiva and Adam." As we made our way through that room, Peaches flew at my face and bit me on the eyelid. "Perfect" I thought "what am I getting myself into?" Next we walked through the breezeway, where there were more cockatoos, including two sulfur-cresteds and two cheeky Goffins. Finally, we made it to the barn. For someone who is not used to being around birds, the barn is completely overwhelming. There are free-flying birds everywhere, flying and hopping from branch to branch chained to the ceiling. There were several cages lining the wall for "special needs" birds, the birds that couldn't fly well on their own, or who might be bullied by bigger birds. There were also three aviaries, built from what looked to be former horse stalls, holding love birds, cockatiels, parakeets, and small conures. The upper barn held Amazons that were caged and free flighted, depending on how aggressive they were, though there were incredibly aggressive macaws that patrolled the branches near the stairwell to the upper barn. I could tell that I was going to be challenged...A lot. Just the birds themselves took some getting used to. There were ones that had been put under such stress in their former homes that they plucked out all their feathers and couldn't stop. There were ones that had suffered emotional and physical trauma. Ones missing toes or parts of beaks. Plus there were some that were just damn cranky! I soon realized that there were endearing things about each bird in the place - Tulip hates being pet, but loves to perch on your shoulder and give you kisses, Bali likes to nuzzle your neck, the lorys like to play catch with their toys. There were funny pairs too, like Jazzmin and Clucky. Cluckie is a little monk parakeet who saw Jazzmin, a huge amazon, and had to have him. They still hang around FP, with Clucky climbing all over Jazzmin to preen him, the huge bird sitting patiently for the little parrot.

Back then I went to Foster Parrots five days a week. I had nothing else to do. Even when I started working at Ann Taylor Loft (torture! but the discount was good) I went to Foster Parrots in the morning and ATL til 10 at night. It was a great schedule, but it would only last about 4 months, until I was hired at the cancer hospital in February 2005. I thought that might end my time at FP, but I soon found that I had grown attached to so many of those birds, even the ones that bit me so hard I bled or had bruises, that I couldn't just cut myself off from volunteering. That's how my Saturday routine evolved.

This morning I was the only volunteer who showed. It's kind of sucky that people bail without warning, but I'll admit, I kind of love working alone. Most volunteers come on the weekends, so I had been used to working alone when I was a weekday person, and when I made the switch to Saturdays, I didn't always like sharing duties with other people. Today I claimed the lower barn and went right to work, using my old system. Volunteering at FP has become MUCH easier since the transfer of some unadoptable birds to permanent sanctuaries, where they'll be free-flighted and very well-cared for for the rest of their lives. Though it was incredibly sad to see them go, it's comforting knowing that they're having a grand old time flying free, plus, like I said, there are a lot less birds to looks after, fewer cages to clean, and fewer food bowls to scrub.

Today I found working alone incredibly relaxing. A little ring-necked parakeet kept perching on my shoulder while I did my work, trying to steal bits of food from the dishes or the food bucket. I scrubbed some cages and put fresh paper down - nothing makes a bird cage look nicer than fresh newspaper. I swept and and scrubbed and restored order. Maybe I love it because it caters to my neurosis of needing to bring order to chaos, but it's a zen-like experience to finish up your work and step back and look at the sanctuary. When I finished today I saw dozens of happy birds eating or preening or sitting in the sun, a clean floor and clean countertops. Perfection! Well, perfection until the birds crap all over the floor, throw out the contents of their food dishes and rip up the newspaper on the bottom of their cage, that is.

I basically wrote this post so I could say that Foster Parrots is one of the best things that ever happened to me. I love it there, and never have I met a bunch of such dedicated people. The directors, Marc and Karen, have rescued hundreds if not thousands of birds. Over the past two years, I have seen even the most disturbed birds (Sydney Rose, for example, who was afraid of LIGHT from being locked in a closet 24/7) adopted out to wonderful and loving volunteers. They've started an ecotourism venture in Guyana, that will give back to the local community enough so that they won't have to export parrots to make money. Recently, Marc and Karen used their own money to save some exotics animals from canned hunt and trophy groups. The animals were leftovers from the Catskill Game Farm that was forced to close, and while the farm promised not to auction them to someone who would kill the animals, most people knew that canned/trophy hunters and taxidermists would be bidding. Together with other animal rights activists, they managed to save a huge group of those animals, with Foster Parrots saving 4 monkeys, 2 porcupines, a patagonian cavy and a lorikeet alone. They're just amazing. My own little devilish parakeets came from FP about a year ago, and they make me smile everyday. People tell me that with my schedule, I have to cut back on things, that I should cut back on volunteering there, but seriously, how could I? Everytime I walk in there, Peaches, the one who bit my face but has now bonded with me, lifts up his foot indicating that he wants to be picked up, and nestles his head under my armpit and says "Hi PEACH-CHEZZ" as I scratch his head and under his wings. How could I possibly pass up that kind of love?

1 comment:

Excalibur said...

This was a cool post to read. And it is wonderful what the people at Foster Parrots are doing (including volunteers like yourself).