Ron Johnson provides refuge for more than 200 birds at his Appling home.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
To some they might look the same - loud, giant splashes of color on their wings. But for Ron and Tammy Johnson, each of their birds has a story to tell.
There's Willie, who was owned by a neurosurgeon who didn't have time to take care of him anymore. There's a homing pigeon who landed and stayed. There's Coco Bird, a red-front macaw, and Romeo, a green-winged macaw Johnson got as an egg from a breeder who wasn't convinced it would hatch.
There's Birdly, a Catalina macaw who's affectionately known as a "big baby" but came to the Johnsons after biting its owner. And Gina, who put 54 stitches in her owner's face. After all, Johnson said, there's more than 900 pounds of pressure in that beak.
Gina, Coco Bird and the others are among the vivid menagerie that is Ron Johnson's Feathered Friends Forever - a refuge for unwanted, abused, maimed and crippled tropical parrots.
"We're like a dog shelter, but for birds," Johnson said.
Johnson began rescuing birds two years ago. And what started with two birds, has now grown to 200.
"Long time ago I had to give up a couple of birds, and you know how you make a childhood promise to make it up to them?" Johnson said.
Their mission takes 1,200 pounds of feed a month, some of the larger birds costing $3 a day to feed. Johnson relies on private donations to keep the sanctuary going. But beyond the expense, there is the labor involved.
"It's a 24-7 job," he said.
The whole neighborhood is involved in the birds' care, including Johnson's wife Tammy and stepson Matthew, 18; and neighbor Sharon Horne and her mother, Dorris Klose, who donated 4.82 acres for the reserve on Misty Road in Appling.
"It takes more than a team," said Johnson, who has the birds on a twice-daily feeding schedule.
Ninety-nine percent of the birds at Feathered Friends Forever are not adoptable, he said. The previous owner makes the decision whether they want to the Johnsons to find a new home for the bird after any behavior problems have been corrected.
Just as with many other animals, parrots, he said, become homeless mostly because their owners have not carefully considered what's involved.
"They are not educated when they buy them," Johnson said. "The think, 'Isn't he pretty?' or, 'I want a bird that talks.' Then they realize they have anywhere from a 40- to a 100-year commitment."
From tiny finches to Macaws, the birds the Johnson house are just as varied as the problems that come with them.
"We have one here that attacked a 5-year-old's face, one who ripped a lady's husband's face open, some that are blind, self-mutilators, one that has had 91 operations for ripping herself apart, one cockatoo who bit her owner every day and finally put 21 stitches in her, so she found it a new home. We get them naked. We've had several who have had broken bones. A lot of them are not tame-able, some are from retired breeders - a hodgepodge."
Johnson, who works in the millworks department at Home Depot and is known at work as The Bird Man, recently finished building an outdoor flight for the birds.
Their outdoor flight, which was finished a month ago, has feeding sections, a rainforest and waterfalls. Johnson said his goal is to build five more of the flights, which cost about $5,000 each.
"Our ideas and our goals are to build all these flights so these guys can fly like they are supposed to," Johnson said. "We can't put them back in the wild, so we try to provide the biggest area within reason. Ideally we would like a football stadium screened on top with no seats."
The Johnsons, who often play host to school and scout groups, are planning an open house May 24, 25 and 26. Tickets are $10 each and include the price of barbecue.
"We're trying to get people to come out and realize there is a need for these birds to be taken care of, just as there is dogs and cats," Johnson said. "Tropical birds are only second to dogs and cats in being given away, but nobody thinks of birds as needing a place to go."
For more information, point your browser to featheredfriendsforever.org.
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