Pilots N Paws Goes to the Birds

QUORK’S GREAT ADVENTURE, by Megan Burnham-Gerow, Phoenix Landing Transport Coordinator
In June, I was asked to take on the daunting job of Transport Coordinator, which I gladly did. Since I also work with Carolina’s border collie rescue, I thought I might try to tap into some of the dog transport network. What’s the worst they could do? Point, laugh and say no?

So I fired off an email to Debi Boies, the founder and director of Pilots N Paws (pilotsnpaws.org), a volunteer group made up of private and commercial pilots and animal rescue groups. All the pilots give their time, their planes and fuel to help get animals that need rides from fosters to their loving, new homes, or from shelters to foster homes. Debi was delighted that I asked, and gave me her blessing to post for a flight and see what happens.

With that in mind I posted a request for help with moving Quork, a scarlet macaw, from the Fayetteville, NC area to Asheville, NC. Since I thought most pilots would be a little concerned about how big he might be, I scoured the net to find a picture of a scarlet with a person. I also considered that seeing a picture would attract more attention, and it did! Within an hour, Jon, a pilot out of Greensboro, NC replied, offering to fly west with our beautiful macaw. He had flown dogs and cats, but wanted to take Quork since it would be such an adventure. Not only was Jon excited, but his family wanted to go as well! They loved the idea that they could spend the flight entertaining him.
Quork by plane2
After some initial setbacks and scrambling, we got all the details worked out. His foster family brought Quork to Nina, our Wilmington, NC coordinator, who would see that he got to Jon at the airport for his flight west. Poor Nina and Quork had quite the adventure just getting to the airport, but I’ll let her tell you about that next.
Quork by plane
Susan Steenstra was gracious enough to offer to meet Quork at the Asheville airport, and even brought Ms. Molly, her adopted blue and gold macaw as Quork’s welcoming committee. From what she told me, Molly was a huge hit all by herself, and when Quork arrived they wowed the crowd. Imagine walking into a waiting area to see 2 stunning macaws! Cameras clicked and flashes flashed, all centered on the birds!
Molly welcomes Quork to Asheville
This is the message I later received from Jon: “Quork was wonderful….not a peep out of him. He just sat there and looked out the window. I think he really enjoyed the flight, to be honest. I don’t know macaws, but that’s what it seemed like. He was a hit in the FBO (Family Boarding Office) at AVL (Asheville Regional Airport). Lots of people there and also young kids. People were taking pictures right and left….nice to see such an animal/bird make an impression. Sorry the flight was so long, ATC (Atlanta Tower Control) was vectoring us all over the place and when we got to AVL area, we were number “5” for landing….place was packed and weather was coming in. Thanks again for letting us help. This was a really unique trip.” It’s my fondest wish that all who met Quork will be inspired to consider adding a member of Phoenix Landing’s family to theirs.

Quork’s Excellent Adventure, Wilmington, NC to Jacksonville, NC, by Nina Roshon, Wilmington, NC Phoenix Landing Coordinator
Well, as Megan stated, there was an “incident” on the way to the airport that morning…

I was concerned about driving on Highway 17 due to fires and some heavy smoke; however, all reports for the last 48 hours said the smoke in that area had dissipated. And, since my alternate route was a lot longer drive time, I elected to take 17.

As soon as I got past Surf City the smoke became at first dense and then extremely severe. I had the windows open as I think birds enjoy the breeze on their feathers, but I quickly closed everything up and turned on the A/C. However, I could still smell smoke coming into the truck. And I remember one news report stating that if one can smell smoke then one is inhaling it as well.  I also remember reading one expert’s comments that almost no other kind of smoke is as hazardous as forest fire smoke; something to do with the size/number of particulate matter in it. The smoke was so dense that one could not have breathed outside the vehicle without a respirator. Something like out of Dante’s Inferno!

I was too far along on my drive to turn around and go back to Wilmington. I called my friend Wade in Jacksonville and he reported very little smoke there. So I knew I just had to get through maybe 15 miles or so and be in the clear. I told Wade, “let me get off the phone and do the only thing I can at this point which is to drive like a bat out of hell to get through this toxic smoke” – so I did! (actually, probably going 70-75 mph on a 55 mph 4 lane highway; almost no traffic on it at this time of day on a Sunday. I had a very strong suspicion that I would get stopped on this highly traveled road but felt I had no other option and that I would deal with that scenario when and if it happened.

Well, sure enough, after about 10 miles, I saw flashing lights and a State Trooper right behind me. I jumped out of the truck (which I knew would totally concern the officer) but I knew there was NO WAY I was going to open a window with Quork in the truck. As feared, he reached for his gun, and yelled at me to get back in the vehicle. I told him “NO, I am not, as I cannot open a window – this is a matter of life and death.” He then said that it was for my own safety so a passing car wouldn’t hit me. So I said, “I will just walk over on the other side of the truck.” He calmed down when he saw that I had no weapon (and obviously no where to hide one) and I explained that I had a bird in the car, that I knew I was speeding and I was sorry but that I had no other option due to the dense and toxic smoke; I explained where I was heading. He asked to see the bird (I guess he was thinking chicken or parakeet) and he totally flipped out when he saw Quork.  “I have always wanted to get a bird like that; is he available for adoption?”  I  told him “Yes”, here is a card,  quickly told him about the Phoenix Landing adoption program, and how to apply online as an adoption candidate. He said to continue on my trip but not to drive as fast.  So I got back in the truck and after a few miles the smoke cleared by 90%. At the airport the smoke was worse again – but not anything like what we had driven through.

When Quork arrived at The Landing in Asheville, our adoption center, he was offered a drenching shower to wash away any smoke residue. He enjoyed it immensely!
Quork shower
Many thanks to pilot Jon, Megan, Nina and Susan for such a successful flight for the spectacularly beautiful Quork. Quork was adopted in 2004, and he is now looking for his next new family! For more information about our adoption program, go to phoenixlanding.org/adoption.

In July, Pilots N Paws pilot Mary Beth Wicker kindly transported Maria the Senegal from Roanoke, VA to Onslow County, NC to reunite with her former foster, Wendy Autry.
Maria by air
It was a happy reunion after another successful flight. We are most grateful to the caring pilots, Jon and Mary Beth, who gave their time and resources to help Phoenix Landing parrots. For more about Maria’s flight, go to: http://pilotsnpaws.org/2011/07/maria-the-senegal-parrot/

Basia’s Story

Imagine what five months, or longer, in a small ferret cage constructed of chicken wire can do to a blue and gold macaw? In the case of Basia (pronounced Basha), the blue and gold macaw that Phoenix Landing recently took in, it’s a lot more, and a lot less, than you’d think. This inappropriate cage was the key to figuring out his persistent vomiting, but his isolation and mistreatment didn’t break his spirit.

Sarah, our West Virginia coordinator, was contacted by a family who owned a bird who was much loved by one of the family members, but, unfortunately, this person had died a number of months ago. The rest of the family wanted nothing to do with Basia the blue and gold macaw, and kept him alone in a room in a small cage for months. When Sarah understood how desperate the situation was for this bird, she immediately began looking for a solution. Without any open foster homes in West Virginia, she contacted Debbie and me, looking for homes in Virginia and Maryland. Fortunately, we had a home in Virginia that was eager to give Basia a new place to land.

Basia was transported by Maryland volunteer David, who fostered him for a few days, and picked up a large donated cage for him. He said he was immediately struck with how social Basia was. Left in a room by himself for months at a time, Basia wanted nothing more then to interact with people.

Laura and Jeff, a Phoenix Landing foster family, picked Basia up from David, and also remarked on how much he wanted to interact, especially with Laura. Very soon after coming home, Basia was spending time with the whole family and fitting right in. However, there was something wrong with him. He was vomiting.

Basia was taken in for a well bird exam and a Complete Blood Count (CBC). Phoenix Landing pays for most birds to have this important medical baseline. Basia’s white blood cell count was elevated at 40,000, which is twice the upper limit of what’s considered healthy for a macaw (20,000 may be acceptable to indicate stress during a vet visit). Basia went on a 10-day course of antibiotics, and though he bit some syringes in half, he took his meds pretty well.

Unfortunately, the vomiting and weight loss continued.

Laura and Jeff, like all of our wonderful foster families, are patient and compassionate. They took Basia back to the vet after the first round of antibiotics was almost complete. Because the symptoms persisted, Dr. Richards at Pender Exotics did a crop wash to test for the presence of fungus or bacteria. Both were found, though, there was a bit of good news: Basia’s white blood cell count on the second blood draw had dropped to 20,000.

Dr. Richards suggested an Aspergillosis test, because Basia had a slight cough, and because he had come from a filthy environment. Dr. Richards also suggested different antibiotics to treat the bacterial and fungal infections, as well as adding apple cider vinegar to Basia’s water.

Laura and I were talking about Basia’s treatment s few days before the results of the Aspergillosis test came back. Basia was still vomiting, and we were stumped. We talked through everything that he had been tested for, and everything he’d been treated for.

All of a sudden it popped into my head: What about heavy metal toxicity?

I had recently had one of my birds tested for this, and I knew that vomiting could be related. The more we talked about where Basia came from, and especially his cage, the more it made sense. Basia could have ingested a piece of the galvanized chicken wire on the cage he was in for months. Laura brought up this possibility with Dr. Richards, who suggested an X-ray, combined with a blood draw to test for elevated zinc and lead levels. Fortunately, Pender Exotics does not anesthetize a bird to do an X-ray, which is something I always worry about in treatment.

A few days later, after Basia’s appointment I talked to Dr. Richards. The Aspergillosis test had come back negative, and the X-ray hadn’t revealed anything either. She saw no foreign bodies, and no apparent pieces of metal in Basia, but we’d have to wait for the test results to come back to confirm that heavy metal toxicity was not the problem. I worried that we might never find the reason for Basia’s persistent vomiting, and he would continue to suffer. Though thankfully, on last weigh-in, Basia had actually gained a little.

A few days later, we had our answer.

Basia’s zine levels were more than twice the normal limit for a bird. What a relief that we’d finally found the cause for his symptoms, and that it was something that could be treated. The treatment is chelation therapy, continued monitoring and retesting to confirm that the zinc is finally removed from his body. While Basia isn’t healed, we now know why he’s sick, and what to do about it.

I wanted to share Basia’s story for a number of reasons. His story is by no means typical, but it isn’t unique either. Most birds do not come to Phoenix Landing with extensive medical problems, but some do. It took the hard work and dedication of many folks (Sarah, David, Jeff, Laura, Debbie, myself, Dr. Richards and the staff of Pender) to get this bird on the right track and to save his life. It also took a lot of money! Phoenix Landing has paid over $500 in vet bills so far for Basia’s treatment. This amount will certainly double, if not triple, by the time we’re done.

We’re happy to help Basia to get well, but helping parrots takes time and money. If you can donate to us to help with vet costs, wonderful. If you’re a federal employee, don’t forget about us when you complete your CFC contribution (our number is 31469). And, above all, keep learning about good parrot care, and how to keep your bird healthy. If Basia had been housed in a safe cage, it is likely none of this would have happened.

Basia, a blue and gold macaw

A Tale of Two Birds

It all began for me on February 11, 2010, with an email from Phoenix Landing, telling me of 26 birds several volunteers had picked up from the Catawba County Animal Shelter in North Carolina.  They were what were “left over” from 142 that had been confiscated by Animal Control on December 16th, 2009. These two dozen plus birds had quite literally reached their last day, for if it had not been for the Herculean efforts of Teri Rand, Lannie Ellison and other Phoenix Landing volunteers, these innocent creatures might have faced euthanasia.

The majority of the group were Amazons, and on the spot I volunteered to foster a pair of Lilac Crowns that were on the list.  I was told that they still needed to be cleared medically. Of course, common sense, right? No problem, I just wanted to help, I’d be ready when they were. I packed a big box of toys and shipped them down for all the birds to share.

Then the photos came in. Have you fallen in love from a photo? Well here’s the one that did me in.

This little bird had not yet been named, so I suggested Winnie, and everyone agreed.  I couldn’t get this little face out of my mind, and asked if once cleared to move, could she come to live with me too? Yes, and she had a cage mate who had been named Eeyore, would I take that one as well? Could I really handle 4 new Amazons? Ooops, misunderstanding, Eeyore was one of the Lilacs, the other Lilac, Darlene was living with a Blue Front, Kittredge.  So, deep breath, I’d take Winnie & her friend Eeyore to foster,  just the 2. More toys and food heading south.

Then the sad news.  Of the original 142, a few of the birds had died soon after going to the shelter.  A stressful environment like that can really test a bird’s immune system, but there was some concern for disease as well.   However, once the birds came to Phoenix Landing under the care of Teri & Lannie, they began to thrive!   Focusing on medical care, quality nutrition, and lots of physical and mental enrichment, the birds rallied in body and spirit day by day.   However, given their checkered and negligent background, the search for foster homes with no other parrots began.  Phoenix Landing wanted to insure that other birds were not put at risk until we could insure that the shelter birds were in proven good health.  This meant that Winnie & Eeyore could not come to live with me.   Well that kind of a home, a parrot-less home in search of a parrot, is very hard to find.

In addition to the their medical workups, the birds were also tested for the Bornavirus, thought by some to be a cause of PDD, a disease that has no sure cure.  Several of the shelter birds tested positive for Bornavirus.  Now I must diverge from the story in Hickory for a moment, to let you know a little about my experience with Bornavirus & PDD.  A couple of years ago, our macaw, Trixie, was exposed, second-hand, to PDD, which of course threw me into a panic.  I went frantically searching for everything I could find out about PDD, which honestly wasn’t much at the time, but it was thought to have a fairly short incubation period.  The best thing I could do for Trixie was to boost her immune system, because PDD seems to primarily strike birds who’s health is otherwise compromised.  Time goes by and Trixie is still just fine!

Then I was fostering Jesse, and with her initial intake blood work, my vet regularly runs a test for Bornavirus, as part of a research study her office is doing.  Jesse came back positive. Well, what did that mean exactly? Bornavirus is thought by some to be an indicator for PDD, in that to date all birds diagnosed with PDD are also positive for Bornavirus.  But that does not mean that all Bornavirus positive birds will get PDD.  Current estimates are that 40% of ALL parrots have Bornavirus, but less than 20% of those will ever show any symptoms of PDD, which can now be treated with anti-inflammatory drugs.  PDD has been found to be inflammation in the bird’s brain that causes loss of vision, digestive malfunction and other neurological disorders, so it should no longer be considered a fatal disease. But how do birds get Bornavirus? Still not sure, but there are several cases of pairs of birds (mates) with one being treated for active PDD, and it’s mate still tests negative for Bornavirus, so some acclaimed avian vets believe that birds with Bornavirus are actually born with it.  So I had Trixie and our Amazon, Ariel tested too. Ariel is negative, but Trixie is positive. So regardless of how the virus is transmitted, it’s in my home (and if you have more than 1 bird, probably in yours too).

Now back to Winnie & Eeyore, when I was told that they both tested positive for Bornavirus, for me it was a “been there, done that”, moment, no big deal, I could just do for them what I had done for Jesse and was still doing for Trixie, which means a diet high in immune system support, and anti- inflammatory foods.

After a couple of months of ever improving health, Ann (Founder of Phoenix Landing)  decided that the Catawba shelter birds could be fostered or adopted in homes that also had other parrots.  But, if I took Winnie & Eeyore, it was for adoption, not to foster. My husband and I discussed this, and agreed, that these two little girls had been through enough, and yes we would make the commitment together to do what was necessary to incorporate them into our family.

But I had one condition, Eeyore’s name needed to be changed, for that was not a name for a little bird who always looks like she’s smiling. She was renamed Ella. So preparations began to bring Winnie & Ella, the ‘WE’ girls as they came to be called, home.

I was already scheduled to teach a class in Asheville on April 15, so I made plans to go down a little early and let the girls get to know me, then bring them home with me at the end of the weekend. My friend Beth offered to make the drive down with me, so we packed my car full of baskets and toys and toys making supplies for the group, and drove 8 ½ hours south.

When Beth and I arrived  at the facility in Hickory what we saw truly amazed us.  It was a bright and cheerful room, with floor to ceiling windows, birds playing in cages with lots of well chewed toys, chattering back  to each other, even “peek-a-boo’s”  bouncing back and forth across the room. All but one, the shy Darlene, happily (and gently) took treats from us, total strangers. Their feathers glowed and eyes sparkled. Sandy, the Double Yellow Headed Amazon, even accepted a  scratch from Beth.

Beth & Sandy

These were happy engaged birds! Not what we were expecting for birds who had been so recently rescued for a truly horrid situation, and to think how close these precious creatures had come to death, nearly brought us to tears.

Over the past few weeks Winnie & Ella have settled into our home very well, craving as much attention as Matt & I can give them, verbally interacting with Ariel & Trixie, and growing more self confident daily. They passed their vet check with flying colors, Dr Ho was amazed at how healthy these girls are, especially considering their background.

I have absolutely not the tiniest doubt that adding them to our family was the right choice to make! The joy they have for life completely overflows out of the windows of our home!

WinniePICT0061 (2) - CopyEllaPICT0050

House Fire in Maryland Displaces 40+ Birds

Earlier in April, there was a fire in a historic three-story apartment building in Emmitsburg, MD.  All the families were displaced.  One of the residents was a small breeder.  Luckily, they were able to get all 3 cages of birds out of the fire.  There were a lot of cockatiels and finches.  Since the owner was displaced and didn’t have anywhere to live, the owner relinquished the birds to a local animal shelter.  Like most shelters, they didn’t have the resources to care for all the birds and turned to Phoenix Landing for help.

I received word mid-afternoon on Thursday, April 8th that they would like us to help with most of the birds.  I started e-mailing my Maryland foster volunteers and within hours I had homes for most of the birds.  On Friday, April 9th, my son Tyler and I made the trip to the shelter to pick up the birds.  There was one large flight cage with a nest box in it still.  Inside the nest box were two baby cockatiels.  They were so cute!! Volunteers at the shelter did a great job separating the male and female cockatiels into 2 cages.  I picked up a total of 23 finches and 22 cockatiels including the 2 babies.

Picking up the birds

By Friday evening, all the finches were in their new foster homes and most the cockatiels were too.  By Saturday, all birds were in their new foster homes thanks to the wonderful volunteers that took them in and for those that transported them.  Thank You Maryland and Virginia volunteers!!  You guys ROCK!

Rescued finches

Rescued cockatiels

If you are interested in fostering or adopting either some finches or cockatiels, please let us know.  The cockatiels really seem friendly and with a little work, I think will make great pets.

If you would like to help in other ways, our wish list for these birds are:

  • Finch and cockatiels seed
  • Harrison’s mesh or fine pellets
  • Small perches and toys and
  • Appropriate sized cages

Items and checks can be sent via the Postal Service to:

Phoenix Landing
PO Box 1233
Asheville, NC 28802

Donations can also be made via our PayPal link at phoenixlanding.org

The Little Ones Matter Too!

Let no one think that Phoenix Landing cares any less for the welfare of the smallest birds.  The little ones have every bit as much personality as the larger birds; and their need for enrichment, food and health are just as important. In addition, parakeets, cockatiels and lovebirds have long lives too (15-25 years is no small number)!

Meet Louise, Huey and Dewey, Bourkes parakeets. They are part of the group that recently came from the Catawba County NC shelter, which were confiscated due to a horrendous hoarding situation.

Bourkes Parakeets Louise Huey Dewey

And we named this little cockatiel Raindrop. She is the only cockatiel in the Catawba shelter group that came to us, although we understand there were quite a few cockatiels in the larger group initially. Perhaps she has been separated from her friends? She may be a bit sad and lonely now, but we are determined to give her a future life filled with health and fulfilling social activities!

Cockatiel Raindrop
To date, Phoenix Landing has re-homed 359 parakeets, 125 lovebirds, and 330 cockatiels — 51% of the birds that we have had the pleasure to help so far. In addition, Phoenix Landing assists many shelters as our capabilities allow. Over the last 8 years, we have 229 re-homed birds from shelters (13.5%). Birds end up at shelters for many reasons, however, the ones from Catawba certainly represent one of the worst possible reasons….