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Onalee I.

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Review for Florida Exotic Bird Sanctuary Inc, Hudson, FL, USA

Rating: 5 stars  

I’ve had my Blue and Gold Macaw, ‘Perikeen’, for eighteen years – nearly his entire life has been spent with me and my husband. He doesn’t care for strangers, he doesn’t like change in his routines and we enjoy his company (most of the time) and love him (all of the time). Certainly no one could accuse us of abusing him – he had three cages: one in the house where he spent his nights eating dinner and snacks with us, watching TV, doing dishes (he loved helping with the dishes!) and playing games; another was outside in a covered porch where he could see us as we came and went all day – since we work from home, he always had someone talking to him, interacting with him all day long; the last one was a large cage hanging from a tree where he could see all around him, see the sky and the ground, see the other birds and wildlife in the area, as well as see us anytime we were outside.

He pretty much had the “Life of Riley” – he’d get treats throughout the day, had interaction with us almost constantly and had more toys to play with than most children, but still we worried that he wasn’t happy. He would have screaming fits daily – just scream and scream and scream and nothing would satisfy him during those times. He would also bite us without provocation – just ‘cause he felt like it or was in a bad mood, perhaps out of frustration or boredom. I guess if I lived in a cage, or even three cages, I’d probably feel like biting someone, too.

My husband and I had discussed placing him into a sanctuary in the past – wondering if he would be happier there with the other birds, out in a large flight cage where even he, the klutziest bird known to man, might be able to fly (and land) like a real bird. But, other than do a little research online, I never pursued it – until this year. As happens with most changes in life, this one was brought on by changes in our circumstances, so, the decision was made – Perikeen would be getting a new home.

So, back to the computer I went looking up parrot sanctuaries and one that caught my attention was the Florida Exotic Bird Sanctuary. One reason I focused on this organization was that it was close to where I lived, so the idea of visiting Perikeen while he was there was feasible, but the most important reason they drew my attention was the obvious love and caring they exude for the birds in their care which is evident in the pictures, videos and the words of their Mission Statement.

After emailing and talking to Patricia Norton a few times, a day was set up when I could come visit the sanctuary before bringing our baby there. The thirty minute drive to the sanctuary was filled with tears and apprehension. I didn’t know what to expect, I didn’t want to make a mistake – this was my bird’s life, his future – I didn’t want to be wrong about where I placed him. I wanted him to have a long and happy life – not one lived in a small cage in a dark room somewhere with a breeder making more pet parrots or with anyone that didn’t understand his moods, who might get upset with him if he bit them or screamed at the top of his lungs for an hour straight.

“Anxious” and “emotional” didn’t begin to describe my feelings when I arrived at FEBS that afternoon. When I opened my door and stepped out of the car, I was greeted with the screeching, calling and talking of what sounded like hundreds of birds of all descriptions – it was truly amazing that this parrot ‘oasis’ exists here amongst other homes in rural Pasco County. And the neighbors complain to us about Perikeen’s screaming! Ha!

It was early spring and the temperatures were still cool – Pat had a lot of parrots in cages in the big double garage of her house. As I walked through the aisles of birds in the garage I noticed a few things:

• First, clean – all the cages were kept clean, there weren’t bird droppings or bad smells coming from the garage, despite the number of birds in there at the time.
• Second, food and water – every bird had ample food and clean water in their cage – it was obvious that they weren’t skimpy with the rations and kept the water cleaned daily.
• Third, happy – all the birds seemed perfectly happy – they talked, each with their own favorite word or phrase as you walked through, some wanted to be touched and petted – they weren’t afraid, they weren’t frightened of people.

After meeting Pat, she explained that the garage was where all the birds start out so she and her fellow bird lovers can get a feel for the bird, for their personality and to make sure they have adjusted well, are eating right and that the change has not gotten them sick. She showed me how they were kept warm in the winter and cool in the summer and how she was aware of which birds got along and which ones didn’t and arranged them accordingly. She told me the birds were left for a while in their own, familiar cages, with their own, familiar toys and food to make the transition easier.

Then, she took me on a tour of the outside cages and flights and told me stories about many of the birds, calling them by name as we went. She explained the process of transitioning the birds from the garage and getting them used to the flight cage, getting them used to being around other birds and used to the openness of it before actually releasing them (in groups so one bird doesn’t get beat up by the others) into the flight cage. The more she talked, the more impressed I was with her knowledge and her feelings for the birds – it was apparent that the sense I’d gotten of caring from the web site truly mirrored the woman running this sanctuary. I was still emotional, I couldn’t stop tears from glistening in my eyes at the thought of turning my baby over to someone else, but I felt certain that, if anyone could make my sometimes schizophrenic, klutzy, overfed, hilarious, lovable, screaming, hambone of a baby into a real bird, it would be Pat.

Finally, the day came to bring Perikeen to the sanctuary. I’d had two weeks to dwell on it, worry about it, cry over it and finally come to grips with it – Perikeen hadn’t. So, into the carrier he went – not willingly mind you, but after a few scratches and bites, he went in. His cage, toys and food went in the back of the truck and down the road we went. The trip was again filled with tears and me telling him how sorry I was that I had to do this and how much I loved him and I promised to visit him at his new home. We sang his favorite songs and I said all his favorite words and phrases as we drove to his new home. I prayed that I was doing the right thing – I hoped he would forgive me.

At the sanctuary, I expected Perikeen to be trembling and nervous – he hates change and hasn’t even SEEN another parrot in the last 18 years, but, to my shock and amazement, he seemed curious and happy. We got his cage set up and he settled in it, talking animatedly to me, Pat and Magic – her amazing helper. Magic showed me the scars, scrapes and bites on his arms from the birds and laughed – “love bites” he called them – amazing. For his part, Perikeen didn’t offer to bite anyone (although Pat didn’t give him much of a chance – she’s no dummy!); he looked around at the other birds and asked everyone “how are ya doin’?” as he bobbed his head up and down while his pupils contracted and expanded with excitement usually reserved for sugary treats.

When I finally got in my car to leave, I yelled “Bye!” to him out the window and he told me “Bye! B-Bye!” over and over as I drove out the gate. I cried all the way home, but at the same time I was really hopeful that he’d be happy there. His initial reaction wasn’t what I had expected – he wasn’t scared, he wasn’t trembling – he seemed joyful and curious. The time that Magic and Pat spent with him, with us, gave me confidence that, if anything did happen – if he wasn’t adjusting, they would know it and tell me and I could come and get him and bring him back home.

For the next few days I got emails from Pat telling me that he was doing well – he was eating, he was talking . . . he was doing fine. I didn’t go back to see him, I was afraid that if I did that it would somehow disrupt this period of adjustment for him, but Pat keep me in the loop on his progress and assured me that he was doing fine. Over time, she moved him from his cage in the garage to one of the smaller cages in the flight pen, then one day she emailed to say that she’d let him out into the large flight. I was amazed – it had only been a little over a month. She said he was well suited to it because he wasn’t timid – timid birds took longer, but Perikeen was perfect – he was doing really well.

I waited a while longer before going to visit him – I wanted him to be comfortable in the flight pen before I went there to see him; again afraid that I might disrupt his progress, which sounded amazing. Finally, a day came and I took that drive again – this time there were no tears, only hopeful anticipation and perhaps a little apprehension. Would he even remember me? It sounded like he’d come so far – changed so much, I wondered if he’d remember me at all. It would be ok if he didn’t, as long as he was happy, but it would also be sad . . . like one of your children moving out on their own – it’s both a happy and a sad occasion.

Pat walked with me to the flight pen and we entered together. There were several B&G’s in there and I wondered how in the world I’d be able to tell which one he was – they all looked pretty much the same. We eliminated a few that Pat knew for sure weren’t him and that left only a couple of possibilities. I walked towards the first one and called his name, but that one scurried up the wire of the tall cage and away from me. “I hope that wasn’t him!” I thought before turning to the other one who was perched at the highest point of the cage on the opposite wall. As I turned around and called his name again, that one started bobbing his head up and down and I knew – that was my baby! Then he asked, “How are ya’ doin’?!” and there was no doubt left. My baby, my klutz of a bird that had never been off the ground more than six feet, was up at the top of a twenty foot cage looking down at me! How cool is that!?

I walked over and placed my hand against the wire and called him and he climbed all the way down to get on my hand as if we’d never been apart. As I rained kisses down on his head he half whispered-half hissed, “kisses, kisses, kisses . .” to me. Perikeen and I sat and ‘talked’ for nearly an hour in the flight cage. I sat down, he perched calmly on my leg and I pulled out one of his favorites – cucumber. To my surprise, he didn’t want it – he wanted to play the old game: You give it to me and I throw it down and make you pick it up and we do that for as long as the human is dumb enough to keep doing it . . .  As we sat there playing the ‘toss down – pick up’ game, two other Blue and Golds flew down and landed on my shoulders! Oh my goodness! THEY wanted the cucumber, even if Perikeen didn’t! So, I gave them each a piece and we all four sat there enjoying each other’s company for a good while.

The entire time I was there with him, Perikeen never once offered to bite me, never once screamed, didn’t mind the other macaws there with us, wasn’t scared, wasn’t intimidated – he was happy. It was like he was welcoming me to his new home – showing me around, introducing me to his new friends. He had lost some weight, he had gained muscle – he looked good, healthy and strong and he acted like this was where he belonged. At that moment I knew I had done the right thing – I probably should have done it sooner, for his sake, but it was one of the hardest and scariest things I’ve ever done in my life. Sometimes we need some larger force to push us to overcome our fears, to do the scary thing – that’s what happened to me. Looking back, I wish I’d had the courage to do the right thing for HIM sooner, even if it was painful for a while (isn’t change always painful?) the payoff was more than worth it.

When the time came to leave, I took Perikeen and kissed him goodbye, told him I loved him and tossed him up into the air. He flew across the cage and landed on the opposite side of the enclosure – it was the first time I’d seen him actually fly in all of his eighteen years. He was a real bird, now – finally – and my heart expanded with the joy of it. Knowing that, even though it wasn’t the life he was made for – flying free, foraging and living in the jungles of South America, it was so much closer to that life than he’d ever been before – closer than I would have ever been able to get him without the FEBS and their wonderful, knowledgeable and caring staff.

I didn’t need his forgiveness, after all . . . except, perhaps, for not allowing him this freedom sooner.

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