A refuge in Appling for tropical birds? Doris Klose could see the potential.
Five years ago, Klose donated five acres off White Oak Road for Feathered Friends Forever Rescue and Refuge to create the sanctuary.
Ms. Doris, she brings her chair out here by the full-flight aviary. She just sits for hours and watches the birds fly, said Ron Johnson, the founder of Feathered Friends. The first day we built the flights, she sat here and watched each bird as it flew in, and tears ran down her cheeks.
The idea for Feathered Friends came to Johnson 30 years ago, he said, when he had to give up two macaws because he was in the military and was being transferred. He said he made a promise that one day he would take care of neglected birds.
He and his wife, Tammy, opened their bird refuge on Misty Road in Appling five years ago. It houses 237 tropical birds, from finches, budgies and lovebirds to cockatiels, cockatoos and macaws. Mr. Johnson said he receives a new bird every three days, on average.
He said he spends $3,600 each month for feed and supplies, and it takes 512 hours each day to water and feed the birds and 18 hours weekly to clean their cages.
A homing pigeon makes its home at Feathered Friends.
Photo by Lynn Davidson
Johnson said most of the birds the refuge receives are suffering from a lack of attention, often being impulse buys by people who soon grow tired of them.
Owners dont realize the time and emotional needs of a bird, he said. In reaction to the lack of care, the birds will bite, scream constantly or resort to self-mutilation.
A macaw has 1,200 pounds of beak pressure, so it can definitely take a chunk out of your hand or face if it gets a mind to, Johnson said. Oscar (a cockatoo) here shreds a two-by-four each week into splinters. Some unknowing pet owner will come home and find the leg of their prize antique table splintered; and they suddenly realize theres more to owning a bird than they bargained for.
The facility has two full-flight aviaries one has 21 birds, and the other houses seven. Most of the birds at the rescue are kept in the Johnsons home or in the bird room, a closed-in back porch with portable heaters and fans. Almost all of the cages are left open so the birds can fly at will.
Birds are made to fly, not to be caged. How would you like someone to lock you in your room for 30 or more years, never talk to you or touch you and only slide a tray under your door with food in it? Johnson said. Well, thats what people do with birds, and the birds dont respond to it any different than we would.
Johnson has a way of bringing out each birds personality, and he said that is how the birds are named.
Kewee, a cockatoo, loves to be held. She reaches out her claw to anyone who passes by in hopes that they will offer an arm or a hand as a perch.
She attracts attention to herself by repeating her name loudly when anyone is in hearing distance. The problem is that Kewee cannot pronounce the K sound, so she ends up saying wee-wee, wee-wee.
Caesar, a blue-fronted amazon, knows he rules the roost from his dowel-shaped throne by the kitchen window. Caesar has the vocabulary of a sailor, Mr. Johnson said. He knows that if potential adopters are not offended by Caesar, they probably can handle any bird.
Cheeks is a lovebird that came to Mr. Johnson with a bare rump where his tail feathers should be. The feathers have not grown back, but Mr. Johnson is not giving up hope.
For Christmas dinner, the Johnsons cooked ham, mashed potatoes and peas for the birds. Each bird also received a box of raisins.
All of the birds tore into their boxes for the sweet treat, except Oscar.
Oscar is meticulous, Johnson said. He refused to tear his box. He pulled open the top and reached in and pulled out the raisins one at a time.
Johnson said he knows which birds are adaptable for living in a new home and which ones will be permanent residents of the refuge.
People dont realize there are 40 million parrots in America and they usually dont last in a home longer than two years, even though their life expectancy is 70 years, he said. Nobody advocates for the welfare of the parrots.
Johnson never turns a bird away. He pays the bills through his full-time job at The Home Depot and by donations, mostly from outside the state.
Many birds are up for adoption, or for sponsorship.
Just because we have them does not mean they are not sociable, Mr. Johnson said. Every night at 10, I can hear Oscar outside yelling, Oscar wants his night-night kiss, and he repeats it until I go out there and give him his kiss.
Johnson said adopting a bird is different from adopting a dog or cat. Prospective owners are required to fill out an application, be willing to go through a background check and a house check and are required to spend three days in the refuge with the bird before they adopt it, he said.
Visitors and volunteers are welcome at the refuge any day to help feed the birds, play with them or help clean up. Volunteers also are needed to rake or cut grass in the flight aviaries and to help complete the construction of the new garden center and additional bird flights, Johnson said.
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