One of the joys of my life is taking care of other people’s birds. I was able to help out friends when one of them had an organ transplant and their lorikeet couldn’t be around him for a few months. I helped a breeder feed her baby birds while she took a trip to Hawaii, then a trip to a family reunion. And I have fostered a conure until her owner could take her back home. All of these experiences have been fun, educations, and a touch bittersweet when the birds went back to the owner.
But one experience has been the most work I have ever done and the most rewarding. A couple times each year, I have fed and watered a small zoo’s worth of exotic birds plus a shed full of show quality canaries. Of all the joys with birds, being able to stand in a 12-by-24-foot garden and watch finches, doves, and grass parakeets fly around is near the top of the list.
There are downsides. The first day I went to work there, I found two mangled young doves, clearly mauled by something that got into the aviary and killed and ate them. There are a total of 14 separate enclosures at this friend’s house, so it is not unusual to lose a bird occasionally. Then in the finch aviary, I found a young Lady Gouldian Finch had gotten stuck in a rather shallow water dish and drowned. Shortly after that, I noticed a beautiful red eared finch lying dead on the ground. No idea what caused that beautiful bird to die. My total for day one was four bodies.
Several of the birds, like the roul rouls and turacos, are fruit eaters. My first chore is to pull those fruit dishes, wash out the leftovers, and then water in and around all the enclosures. I have yet to master doing this without drenching myself. Luckily the weather was warm enough to get wet and keep working. Once all the bird baths, water dishes, and splash dishes are clean and refilled, then it’s time for the food.
A good-size plastic freezer bag of fruit is divided between the five fruit dishes. These are then returned to the various enclosures. Most have some sort of ant deterrents like a bowl of water or a dish of Sevin Dust under it. That’s the easy part. Next, I carry around buckets full of various containers with finch seed, canary seed, Lady Gouldian finch seed, cockatiel seed, small hookbill, large hookbill, duck pellets, dove seed, poultry crumble and lay mash, sunflower seeds, peanuts, Mazuri low iron pellets, and colorful dove pellets.
The second biggest problem I have there (the first being dealing with dead birds or letting one escape) is that the seeds are easily recognizable by the owner, so the jars are not labeled nor are the dishes. I have to guess which is which and which goes where. The jars are sometimes too big for my hands and don’t have lids. I spill seed now and then, which keeps me in good with the local wild birds.
I figured out that if I took care of the three cages of paired parrots, I didn’t need to carry around the sunflower seeds or peanuts after that. There is a cage with a pair of Congo African Grays, a cage with a pair of cockatoos, and another cage with a pair of CAGs. They are all happily retired from raising chicks and living a dream life.
Next, I take care of the chickens and ducks in two enclosures at one end of the layout. I love these chickens, they are very talkative and will chase the mice that I scare up when I clean their water. There’s a pair of pheasants in one of the cages, but they are very aloof. The girls love large hookbill, lay mash, and crumble. The ducks were getting a mud puddle to “swim” in so I brought in an extra good size bowl, not too deep but just right for these ducks, so they had clean water to start with and it lasted longer.
From there, I worked my way around the turacos and doves and cardinals, more turacos, more pheasants, and more doves, more doves, a red rump mutation male, cockatiels, button quail, more doves, roul rouls, finches, more doves, the big finch aviary, more doves and some grass parakeets, and a small cage of finches. Then it’s time for the Nene enclosure.
I’ve never had a problem with these Nene Hawaiian geese. They do challenge me, but I either have a hose in my hand and can shoo them away, or I have Romaine lettuce which they go after like kids after candy. The original breeding pair of turacos is in this enclosure, and they are super friendly. I love that the last chick I raised will come and take fruit from my fingers, but I can actually stand in the parents’ aviary. The male will land on my head in greeting, and take whatever fruit I offer him. This enclosure gets everything. So I keep it for last on my rounds. The problem with the friendly birds is that there’s a chance they might exit with me. So far, I have been good at preventing that.
During all this time, I am hearing the songs of the finches, the calls of the doves, the chirps of the cockatiels, the expressions of the parrots, and the loud calls of the turacos. It’s heaven, sweet and variable, never the same and never dull. But it’s not the best part.
In a side shed, protected from the elements by climate control and protected from mosquitoes by screens and doors, are canaries. Fifes, waterslagers, color bred, American singers, and those canaries with the funny haircuts. Beautiful to look at and even better to listen to. At this time of year, the boys are just starting to warm up and sing. Which is good because the birds are in close quarters yet and have to remain calm.
The birds get canary seed and egg food, a neat dish that is cooked up in huge batches to be frozen. I had to keep an eye on my supply and defrost as needed. They also get fresh carrots, which they love. The egg food is divided into regular and color added. The red canaries get the color food and the yellow canaries get the regular. And every other day they get fresh water. I did my best to clean dishes as I went because I lost two canaries over the course of my job and have no idea what happened to either of them.
I was at this job for 10 days. To stay sane, I had to do the food and water one day, then just the water the next. This plan was approved by the owner and his wife helped me when she returned early. In fact, I got to attend my Romance Writers of America meeting thanks to her help.
Overall, it’s a fun job, helps me keep active, and lets me experience many birds I would never be able to have on my own. I hope we find someone younger, however, whom I can train and supervise for the next vacation. Finding interested young people who are responsible is a goal we have struggled to achieve for years, but it really is the reason I sell my birds for low prices, especially when there are children involved. The next generation of aviculturists needs to be nurtured, or the keeping of birds may fizzle out.
Thanks for reading, please encourage the young people in your life to fall in love with birds. I’ll be back next Sunday.