Don’t ever call Barney a bird-brain. The white, Moluccan cockatoo may look like he’s stuck in a steel cage with no hope of getting out, but the tropical bird has figured out how to loosen the screw at the bottom of his cage.
He does so by grasping the screw with his beak and moving it until it loosens, allowing him to escape the bars and spread his wings, at least for a little while.
One day, he did that seven times.
In the cage he now occupies, there’s a locking screw to make sure there’s no funny business.
“He just wanted to be out of his cage,” said Rachel Wong, one of the volunteers with the Greyhaven Exotic Bird Sanctuary.
The sanctuary has come to the rescue of 584 birds from the World Parrot Refuge in Coombs, on Vancouver Island, in June of this year after refuge founder, Wendy Huntbatch, died in February without a succession plan.
Now, it’s got 130 of those birds at a house in east Maple Ridge, from where it’s trying to find each one a loving home.
Already, Greyhaven has found those for 150 birds across the country.
“It takes time and a lot of patience,” Wong said of the traits required to adopt birds.
Many of them live for decades, so becoming a parrot owner is a long commitment.
Inside the spacious two-storey house that the sanctuary rents for $3,000 a month, every room is filled with cages, housing colourful, exotic and noisy birds.
Weekly feed costs alone are more than $500.
Forty macaws, 60 cockatoos and about 30 Amazons are found in the upstairs and main floor, in bedrooms and what used to be a spacious living room.
One of the bedrooms, is full of smaller, quieter and older Amazons who make gentle, clucking noises.
“They tend to stare and they observe so that when you’re in here, you have 40 pairs of eyes staring at you,” Wong said.
In another room, basically a medical ward, are ailing birds. In one cage, is a smaller, white pair that only speak French.
Some of the birds are in cages by themselves and some are in pairs. Some have colours around their necks, like a dog who just came from the vet, to keep them from pecking out their own feathers – a sign of stress.
“This is what it happens when birds are excited,” said Wong.
“They can be louder than those in the wild.”
As she speaks, ear-splitting shrieks fill the air from the largest of the parrots, the macaws.
“It takes time for them to get used to you.”
While the sanctuary is trying to find homes for as many birds as possible, not just anyone can take home a feathered, forever friend.
The Delta-based sanctuary will send out someone to inspect a home to make sure it’s suitable. And experienced bird owners are likely the most suited for adopting a loud, big macaw.
“They are so gentle,” said Wong.
“At the same time, though, they can take your finger off.”
Those feathers are now starting to grow back. When Piscopo takes Mango out of her cage, the bird responds by clucking and chattering quietly, telling her some kind of a story.
Wong points out that in the World Parrot Refuge, the birds were in communal cages and had to fight for their food.
And as conditions deteriorated this summer, they even had to fight off rats who would come into their cages at night to steal their supper.
As a result, many birds have become traumatized. Separation from their owners can have the same effect.
“We’re looking for the final home. We don’t want them bounced around anymore,” Wong said.
Greyhaven’s house needs cash, as well as volunteers, about five people in the morning to feed and water the birds and clean their cages, and another three in the afternoon. It’s also looking for a grocery store to supply waste food to augment the feed supply.
Although there currently are 130 birds in the house, another 60 could be arriving after the lease runs out in the Nanaimo facility. However, once all the birds have been found homes, the sanctuary plans to close the house.
One of the volunteers said the house really needs volunteers who can pick up the bird poop.
“It’s about scooping the poop. There’s not enough people who want to get on their knees and scoop the poop.”