"Where a parrot should be a parrot"
As a bird lover and wildlife photographer, I was delighted to learn of Feathered Friends Forever, a licensed animal shelter and a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization located just east of Lake Country in Harlem. This sanctuary is a safe refuge for abused, neglected and unwanted parrots. At the sanctuary, they can be rehomed or reside permanently and be well cared for, loved, and safe. Feathered Friends Forever also works to advance avian welfare through its public education and awareness efforts. Since its founding twenty-two years ago, this wonderful sanctuary has found homes for over 1,000 birds.
The idea of this rescue came when owner, Ron, entered the Marines. At the time, he had a Green-Winged Macaw and Moluccan Cockatoo that none of his family or friends were willing to take. Ron was forced to find them both new homes and vowed that one day, he would help those who found themselves in similar situations. In 1997, he and Tammy founded Feathered Friends Forever with just five birds. Before long, they had eighty-five! Needing to expand, they eventually found their current 15-acre site.
Feathered Friends Forever rescues all types of birds, including macaws, cockatoos, parakeets, lorikeets and conures. Many are unwanted, abused or neglected and upon arrival, are immediately evaluated to determine if they can be adopted or not. An avian veterinarian is always on call, and in time, the veterinary clinic will be housed at the Sanctuary.
Longtime volunteer Larry was of great assistance and I got to meet his beautiful Goffin Cockatoo (also known as a Blushing Cockatoo) Gertie, who showed off her great array of tricks, including falling down and pretending to be dead.
During my time there, I walked the grounds, rode the golf cart with Larry, met and photographed the beautiful birds of all shapes and sizes, made new feathered friends, including permanent resident Shelby (Birdzilla), a beautiful, large Miligold Macaw. It was love at first sight -- I am now smitten with Shelby and she with me. Other birds included the “Odd Couple,” Hannah, a blue and gold macaw and Coca, a Sun Conure, who are best friends; Duke, a 60-year-old Greater Sulphur-crested Cockatoo; Lorena, a Yellow-Naped Amazon; Moto (Motorcycle Bird), a Meyer’s Parrot; Beaky, a Green Cheeked Conure and a Gold-capped Conure named Ray, just to name a few. There are also chickens and five beautiful roosters, one of which decided I would make a tasty treat, but instead, I made a hasty retreat!
I met Mr. T, a 19-year-old Sulcata Tortoise, also known as the African Spurred Tortoise. These tortoises inhabit the southern edge of the Sahara Desert. They are listed as vulnerable, and will eventually become endangered due to habitat loss, poaching and the ever-increasing pet trade. Mr. T weighs 65 pounds and will live over one hundred years and reach 160 pounds or more. Mr. T loves sweet potatoes and collard greens, with a particular passion for strawberries. I also visited the Reptile House, which at the time, housed two snakes, a tarantula and a big lizard, all privately owned and boarding. And volunteer Danielle is working on the Rainbow Bridge Memorial Garden for parrots that died. It will feature an arched entrance, flowers, serene pond and a sitting/meditation area.
Those who wish to adopt a bird will need to fill out an adoption form. All applications are reviewed thoroughly and the potential adopters are introduced to the parrots, evaluated and then readied for transport. No birds are shipped and there are no exceptions. At each adoption fair, they have averaged thirty-five birds into new and loving homes. Just because a bird is beautiful, talks, sings or looks pretty, isn’t a reason to take a bird, Adopters must be committed because parrots are a lot of work and require understanding, patience, love and great care.
The ultimate goal is to find new homes for the birds and to offer a permanent place to those who cannot be adopted. Many of the birds given to the facility have been abandoned, abused, neglected or just unwanted. Of course, the saddest are those who have been abused. Unfortunately, due to ignorance and breeding, many people have no idea what is involved in owning a parrot. Parrots have a very long life span and most will outlive their owners. As a general rule, the larger the bird, the longer the expected lifespan is. Budgies, or parakeets, have a lifespan of twelve years and the oldest pet macaw was reported to have lived 112 years. Many of the abused and neglected birds have a mistrust of humans and will never have the opportunity to experience the freedom they would find in the wild.
The parrot species numbers 333, and Feathered Friends Forever believes that a parrot should be a parrot. Parrots have been kept as cage birds since ancient times and are popular as they are amusing, intelligent, and can mimic sounds, including human speech. Each species has its own common traits, i.e. some are easier to tame, some talk more; but just like human beings, each bird is unique. Many of the birds at Feathered Friends Forever are on the endangered list due to habitat loss and the pet trade, despite bans on bird trading in both Europe and the USA.
Feathered Friends Forever contains twelve outdoor aviaries where these birds can live as they would in the wild - in a flock. Each of the newly designed aviaries contains an in-flight pond, misting system and infrared heaters. They may not have everything they would find in their natural wild habitat, but at Feathered Friends, they have the freedom to be birds.
The sanctuary’s dedication is not limited to birds. Feathered Friends Forever also maintains a Honeybee House with millions of honeybees, dedicated to research for their preservation; an onsite BioPond; an Educational Outreach Program; a Monarch Butterfly Habitat; and much more. Needless to say, volunteer opportunities abound.
In addition to visiting the birds and educational centers, many other activities are offered including birthday parties and mining for gold or other semi-precious metals.
Visit Feathered Friends Forever at 612 Byrd Drive, Harlem, GA 30814. For more information, visit the website, FeatheredFriendsForever.org, phone 706-556-2424, or email BirdRescueRon@aol.com.
The author offers special thanks to Danielle Johnson, Larry Johnson, Bob Courtwright, Maxine Rofrano and Ron Johnson for their assistance with this article.
Story & photos by Leigh Lofgren
Video by Katie Marie O'Neal