This story first appeared in the May 2015 issue of Ottawa Magazine.
By MOIRA FARR
April, an African grey parrot, stares at you expectantly from the forearm of Judy Tennant, head trainer at the Rainforest Aviary in Smiths Falls, Ontario. You may now reward April with a juicy piece of green grape for greeting you in civil fashion. April is one of the exotic birds that now live at this sanctuary, founded in 2008 and open to the public for the past three years. The din, from birds perched along a jungle-like network of sturdy ropes above you, is impressive.
Thinking of buying a parrot? Don’t. Not until you’ve visited this aviary and said hello to any of the parrots, cockatoos, macaws, and other exotic bird species that live there now that their owners have realized they were not equipped to care for the birds. After dogs and cats, exotic birds are the most often purchased pet. “We have 27 living here now,” says Tennant. “We could have hundreds.”
Check the website for the aviary’s visiting hours, or make an appointment. Participate in bird training, rehabilitation, and socialization under the guidance of experts and volunteers. Feed the parrots grapes for good behaviour, or have the kids don a rain slicker and sou’wester and step into a steamy shower with friendly avian residents like Molly, a black-headed caique that loves to preen. In summer, families can picnic on the grounds of the Gallipeau Centre, the aviary’s current home, and take parrots for walks in a “bird buggy.” Good for the spirits of both birds and human visitors.
Meet Sammy, a 60-year-old cockatoo and Tikki, a macaw wearing a bright red sweater (before her rescue, she plucked off all her chest feathers, a stress reaction). Some parrots are party animals. You can arrange for a trainer to attend your event, bringing along birds that enjoy interacting with strangers. Let them groom you — for them, glasses, earrings, and buttons are “wind drag” they’d kindly try to remove. Bonus: “If you get pooped on, you get a prize,” says Tennant.
Tennant’s mission is to rescue and rehabilitate these birds, educate the public, advocate for the well-being and survival of parrot species in the wild, and teach those wishing to adopt a bird how to provide the best home possible. She’s seeking corporate sponsorship to build a genuine rainforest-simulating aviary that will provide a home for the alarming numbers of birds in need. The aviary would also offer a space for humans to enjoy the company of these fascinating animals and gain a better understanding of what they need to live a good life.