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This Charity is For the Birds

Photo courtesy of Feathered Friends Forever.

Pepper, an African Grey, and Fiona, an Eclectus Parrot, are two of the spokesbirds at Feathered Friends Forever.

Bob Courtwright hopes his New Year’s wish will come true. He wants to find 1400 devoted homes for his birds. Bob works at Feathered Friends Forever, one of the largest nonprofit bird shelters in the United States.

Based in Harlem, GA, Feathered Friends Forever is home to rescued birds of all shapes, colors, and sizes. It's a no-kill licensed animal shelter that provides a forever home to parrots and other birds. “Feathered Friends' mission is to find loving adoptive homes for every possible feathered companion in our care,” says Bob.

This past September marked the organization's 16th year in operation. All of the staff members are volunteers who work around the clock 365 days of the year. “Our funding comes from private donations,” says Bob.

Ron Johnson, founder and CEO of Feathered Friends Forever, gives and gets a kiss from KayTee.  (Photo courtesty of Feathered Friends Forever.)

Ron Johnson, founder and CEO of Feathered Friends Forever, gives and gets a kiss from KayTee. (Photo courtesty of Feathered Friends Forever.)

Ron Johnson, a former veteran, is the founder and CEO. Ron, Bob, and a number of volunteers work to educate thousands of people on parrot care and the care of other rescued birds. They host talks about birds and bird care on site and at schools and community centers. Oscar and Stumpy are spokesbirds at Feathered Friends; they do tricks and entertain visitors and potential adopters while Bob, Ron, and the other volunteers share their knowledge of bird care. You can see them at Feathered Friends’ Facebook page.

A Long Life

One of the main reasons birds wind up at the rescue is that they outlive their owners. Parrots, for example, can live up to 95 years or longer. Cockatoos and African Greys can reach 50 years of age or older. Small birds, like finches and canaries, live up to 15 years. “The general rule is the bigger the bird, the longer it will live—if the conditions are right,” says Bob.

Growing in Popularity

While cats and dogs are the most popular pets, birds are growing in popularity. According to the American Pet Products Association, 6.9 million U.S. households own a bird. “I was raised with dogs,” Bob says. “Dogs and cats have been domesticated for thousands of years. Birds won’t replace cats or dogs in popularity, but more people are getting birds as pets.” Bob believes that’s because “once people get to know birds, they realize that birds offer more intellectually than a dog or a cat; you can talk to a bird and get an answer. If you talk to your cat, you get a look and then he will go get something to eat.”

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Obviously a bird lover, Bob doesn’t want people to buy birds. "Some of the birds we rescue are just second-generation wild," he notes. "That’s sad.” Bob wants you to adopt, not buy from a pet store.Just like puppies in puppy mills, many birds are kept in cages that stacked on top and alongside of each other. Sometimes the conditions are so bad that the birds will chew on each others’ talons through the cages. That is how Stumpy got his name. “Our rescue is on 10 acres, and there are other bird rescues too,” Bob points out. “Buying from a pet shop or breeder is wrong on so many levels.”

No Baby Birds

Because of their size, birds are not spayed or neutered. To keep the population down, Bob and the other volunteers check all of the cages for eggs. “One cockatiel can lay five eggs,” explains Bob. “So the volunteers and I take the eggs and shake them. We replace them with plastic eggs. The females will sit on them, and then realize that they are duds. I can’t justify bringing in more birds when there are so many that need good homes.”

Bob Courtwright with Annabelle, an Umbrella Cockatoo. (Photo by Erin Garrett.)

Bob Courtwright with Annabelle, an Umbrella Cockatoo. (Photo by Erin Garrett.)

Adopting from Feathered Friends Forever

After reading the adoption rules on the site, which is filled with helpful information, you can fill out the application. Once your application is approved, you will be invited down for a visit. “We have to make sure the birds bond with you,” says Bob.

He also wants to make sure that everyone in your household is present. They have turned people down for a number of reasons. “We wish that we had only six birds instead of 1400,” he says. “We have another 400 birds willed to us. We have to make sure that we find a perfect match. We are open to adopting out to families, but not to families with very young children. We have to make sure the bird and the child will both be safe.”

When you visit, you will get an education on bird care from Bob, Ron, and the other volunteers. “We tell people that there is a nice bed and breakfast down the road from us,” he says. “They can come and visit with our birds, and then come back the next day to see if they and the birds click.”

Operating Costs

Feathered Friends Forever welcomes volunteers and donations.

Michele C. Hollow has deep love of birds. However, she lives with cats, and prefers to see birds in the wild. She agrees with Bob that if you want a bird (or cat or dog) the only option is to adopt. She also writes the animal advocacy blog Pet News and Views.

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