VILLA PARK – Rambo, a blue and gold macaw, sports a flash of emerald atop his head, bright golden cheeks and bold black-and-white markings around his eyes.
But he’s plucked his entire body clean of feathers.
“That’s the worst case we’ve had,” said Rick Duffy, a volunteer at the Greater Chicago Bird Rescue and Adoption in charge of nutrition and monitoring the birds for possible sickness.
Duffy, who also is a board member of the Greater Chicago Cage Bird Club, explained when Rambo was brought to the Villa Park shelter a few months ago, his nails had grown completely around his toes so he could not perch. Instead he clutched onto the slim edge of his food bowl with the tips of his nails.
Since Rambo arrived, he’s doing much better, but after repeatedly plucking his feathers out, a habit birds can develop when stressed or neglected (or sometimes other less clear reasons), his body will stay naked for the rest of his long life.
“They have the same lifespan as people,” said Diana Federl, the club treasurer, explaining that large birds like macaws can live anywhere from 60 to 100 years, similar to humans.
For this reason, some of the birds that end up at the shelter were well taken care of and beloved for many years, but their owners may have died or fallen ill in old age.
Duffy said other birds are surrendered by pet owners who no longer have time for their birds or who have even grown tired of caring for them. That doesn’t bother Duffy, though. He’d much rather people admit they no longer want a bird and bring it to the shelter than begin to neglect it or sell it to someone without proper knowledge of how to care for it.
“We’re not like a pet store,” said Alice Blayney, the club’s president, who also is co-chairs adoptions at the shelter with Federl.
Blayney explained the shelter insists adopters meet the birds in person. Then, in most cases, the birds don’t leave the same day. Instead, a home check is conducted to ensure potential adopters have been truthful about their home, other pets and knowledge of the type of bird they want to adopt.
“Birds pick their owners,” Federl said.
While pet stores are motivated to make a sale, Duffy said he and his counterparts want to find the birds good homes so they don’t end up back at the shelter or worse.
“People give them to us on the basis that we will make judgment calls on where they will go,” Federl said, adding they do turn people down when they don’t believe they would be a good fit.
The shelter was started by members of the club in 1938 after they saw a need to take in cage birds who lost their homes. At first it was a foster program, where members would care for birds at their homes until they were adopted.
Eventually the number of rescued birds grew so large, the shelter needed a larger location.
Today the storefront at 204 S. Villa Ave. has been home to the shelter for a little more than a year. Federl estimates, the shelter takes in about 400 birds and adopts out almost as many each year. On average, she said, there are between 60 and 90 birds in the shelter at any given time.
“We’ve got a very wide spectrum of birds,” Duffy said.
In addition to large birds like macaws and cockatoos, the shelter is home to many smaller birds like cockatiels and tiny parakeets as well.
Last year, the shelter took in more than 300 birds at once that were seized from an animal hoarder in Aurora.
“There’s really a need to do this,” Federl said.
In addition to a handful of core volunteers, Blayney said the nonprofit shelter relies completely on volunteers from inside and outside the club to help care for the dozens of birds. They have many children volunteers on the weekends, but the shelter is always in need of volunteers as well as monetary donations to cover facility and bird care costs.
While the shelter is strict on adoption criteria, they invite everyone to visit the birds. They’ve hosted Boy Scout troops, day care groups and those with special needs. Volunteers at the shelter are always looking for more opportunities to share their love and knowledge of birds even with those who don’t have time to volunteer.
“Everyone’s welcome to come in,” Federl said. “They’re welcome to just come and look.”
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WHAT: Greater Chicago Bird Rescue and Adoption takes in cage birds and finds them new homes
WHERE: 204 S. Villa Ave.
WHEN: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. Closed Monday and Thursday
INFO: www.gccbc.org, 630-640-4924 or firstname.lastname@example.org