The 30 plus years I've been involved with birds has been a magical, wonderful, and educational journey that I'm so thankful I've gotten the opportunity to experience! It all started when I was 8 yrs old with a grey cockatiel, Link, at a local pet store. He was "free with cage" since some people considered him a bit rough around the edges. For me, it was love at first sight. I adored him from the word go!
At 10 years old I received Tiki, a 3 month old baby blue and gold macaw. Note: ** I have lived through having a large macaw as a child first hand. I would NOT - in any way, shape, or form recommend a large parrot as a pet for children or teenagers, as emotional support animals, or for autistic children. This is an unfair responsibility for such young or sensitive individuals and a completely unfair expectation for the parrot. **
At the age of 12 I began volunteering at Parrot Jungle and Gardens in Florida. There I learned about the amazing variety of parrots in the world and basic training skills from volunteering in the 'baby bird training cage'. It also allowed me to see first hand that parrots flourished when in the flock environment and cohabitated in large aviaries together. Most importantly I got my first exposure to the fact that even with bonded mates the parrots were still eager to interact with people and continued to be handleable. This was a very different line of thought to what was taught back then - "if you keep birds together they will bond and hate you." Some of this thinking continues to linger today at the detriment of the birds housed in solitude.
Two years later I transitioned to The National Aviary in Pittsburgh, PA. I can't say enough about this organization. It was here that a deep appreciation, affection, and passion for all bird life, for research and knowledge, and for optimal housing was gained. If the National Aviary couldn't house something well - they didn't do it. Their standards of care and commitment to education has stayed with me throughout my life. I volunteered every week at the aviary for four years. For this dedication and service, I was awarded the Carnegie Centennial Award in 1998 which hangs in the Carnegie Science center in Pittsburgh, P.A.
In 1999 I started working as a bird trainer in the Wild Wings Free Flight bird show at Sea World in Ohio. This was such a fun time of my life! It provided a totally different perspective and taught me how to train lots of different free flight and other behaviors to parrots, raptors, cranes, storks, hornbills, condors, pelicans, cassowaries and so much more! I always worked through my days off because work was just so damn cool! We got paid to play with dozens of incredible animals. For a kid just out of high school, it didn't get much better than that! Plus we got the chance to work with the other trainers and animals at the park. In this environment it really illuminated the fact that the parrots that we worked with were just as 'wild' as the eagle or flamingo or whale and responded to the same training methods. They are truly captive wildlife. This was an amazingly fun experience that I am so grateful I could do!
When I started my freshman year at College majoring in psychology and biology, Sea World had closed for the winter. I needed a new job. I was also having problems with living on campus when my Blue and Gold macaw, who I left at home with my mom, started plucking her feathers. I was devastated and nearly quit school. As fate would have it I ran into Kim Leslie-Noble, Director of Northcoast Bird Adoption and Rehabilitation Center, who needed a helper to care for and rehab her personal and rescue birds. It was more perfect than I could imagine. I got paid to play with parrots all day! It was 10 minutes from my school and Tiki got to live in the bird room. I only worked part time, but since Tiki was there I spent hours at the rescue 7 days a week. At Northcoast I was exposed to an enormous variety of behavior issues exhibited by a diverse range of species: from biting conures to screaming macaws to mutilating cockatoos. drawing heavily from my psychology classes, training background, and general avian knowledge I began teaching behavior consults with potential adopters and becoming very involved in parrot rescue. It was here I fell in love with my magnificent, wild caught, male Umbrella cockatoo, Pele, whom I adopted in 2000. He was aggressive and dangerous to other birds. After attacking and killing several of his mates, he landed in rescue. He was instantly captivating to me. He was imported as an adult through California in 1980 and displays and vocalizes just like his family back in the wild. He is the poster child for remembering that these gorgeous animals are not pets, but intelligent, sensitive, wild animals that deserve our respect and the freedom of choice, fresh air and sunshine, and their natural born right to fly! He still takes my breath away over 20 years later. My heart!
I moved to Florida to finish my degree at the University of South Florida. Here I got a job at an avian bird clinic working for a former president of the AAV and fantastic person, Dr. Susan Toper. I learned so much about the basics of avian medicine and vet care, proper restraint techniques, emergency first aid, and so much more. It's also where I learned that I absolutely did not want to be a vet! Being around all of those sick and injured birds was heartbreaking. But learning how to administer meds, deal with shock, clean wounds, pull a broken blood feather, and the basics of avian care has served me well over the years. I wouldn't want to do it again - but I'm sure glad that I did.
In 2003 I got the unbelievable opportunity to complete my Psychology degree senior thesis at Amigos de las Aves in Costa Rica for 4 weeks. It was my first exposure to wild parrots - in the wild - I was hooked. It was love at first flap!! I worked both at the facility in Alajuela caring for the breeder birds, feeding babies, and recording data, and also at the release site in Tiskita. The jungle felt like home and seeing the birds fly free felt like heaven. his is also where my love for Great Green or Buffons Macaws (Ara ambigua) was born. These birds are critically endangered and this organization continues to support the Great Greens as well as native scarlet macaws in their reintroduction program.
In the jungles of Costa Rica I got an eye opening up close and personal look at two things that were severely lacking from education in American aviculture - how much energy and space birds need and how incredibly social they are. Most Americans grow up seeing single parrots who are housed alone in a cage so small it barely fits their wingspans. This is what 'normal' looks like for us. The immersion into what normal is for wild parrots was both astounding and overwhelming. The idea of keeping a bird alone in a little cage in the house suddenly felt horribly inadequate. Knowing that my cockatoo was wild caught made things worse, as he lived this life I was seeing and was currently living in a 3x3 cage in my spare bedroom. I took a very, very, serious look at how I was keeping my birds. I made the decision to change things right then and there.
As soon as I got back home from Costa Rica I got a second job at a night club to earn extra money. On a college students budget it was an ambitious goal, but several months later I bought my first outdoor aviary from Corners Limited for $2000. it was worth every penny.
In 2005 I found the perfect bird and added my Goffins cockatoo, Halo, to the flock. He was another untamed, wild caught, mate killer that was imported in 1978 as an adult. He is a goffins cockatoo through and through! He's silly and playful. Full of never ending energy. Bold and Cantankerous. And overflowing with trouble and mischief.
To accomodate this ball of ceaseless activity I built a second octagon aviary and then connected them with a 6' wide hallway so they could fly between them.
After living in a small cage in a basement, being outside and flying was fantastic. The cockatoos flourished in this new environment! The more we put in the aviary the more the birds were quiet, calm, and content. The nervous behaviors, repetitive behaviors, and screaming hyper moments disappeared. The boys were no longer surviving in captivity - they were thriving!
In 2006 I was able to visit Australia for a couple of years. That was an incredible journey in my life. Seeing dozens of different parrot species up close and personal in the wild taught me so much about parrot body language, habits, and 'normal' daily activities and behavior. It allowed me to look at my pets behaviors in a new light and gain perspective about their daily routines, energy output, and activities. Parrots are truly amazing creatures. The one thing that stood out more than anything was how incredibly social they were. The flocks constantly interacted, played, vocalized, and bickered with one another. The sheer numbers of some of the flocks was daunting - seeing at least 100 parrots together on more than a dozen occasions. The species also freely mingled with one another. Multiple species of cockatoo were often at the same feeding locations and there were even interactions between rosellas, port lincoln parrots, palm cockatoos, eclectus etc. The black cockatoos, red tail black cockatoos more specifically, were my absolute favorites! And they will always hold a special place in my heart - and on the logo for Natural Inspirations Parrot Cages.
I can't imagine a time in my life when I will be able to talk or think about the 3 months I spent in Tambopata Peru without smiling from ear to ear. Pure Magic. In September of 2009 I was so fortunate to be able to volunteer at the Tambopata Research Center. This was the fulfillment of a lifelong dream after reading about the clay licks in National Geographic in the early 1990's. The people and birds of Peru will always have a very special place in my heart! And what I saw there was spectacular!! I also learned so much -say goodbye to height dominance, birds mating for life, and 10-12 hours of uninterrupted sleep. Spending 10-15 hours a day watching hundreds of wild parrots interacting in their natural habitats is as close to heaven as I think it gets. It's amazing to see their aerial acrobatics and hear the huge array of natural vocalizations the different species have in their repertoire. If you ever think your birds cage is "too big" take a trip to experience them in the wild. It will change that thinking in a heartbeat...or should I say wingbeat! When you see a conure fly across the entire horizon in just a few seconds - you begin to really respect what space and freedom of movement look like in terms of captive housing and enclosure size.
After these travels, these glimpses into the lives of our captive pets, Natural Inspirations Parrot Cages was started in 2010 with the goal of raising the current standard of aviculture. To spread the word about how active, playful, and social parrots truly are when given the opportunity. To give parrots in captivity a better quality of life by encouraging owners to provide larger indoor housing, outdoor spaces, and parrot companionship for their pets. This is why you do not find smaller cages for sale on our website. Accommodating wild animals in our homes is quite the challenge, but I believe we are up for it when provided with the correct education! If you'd like to visit the website click the button below.
My next adventure was stateside. In February 2012 I was thrilled to be invited to spend a month volunteering at one of the largest rescue organizations in the United States - The Gabriel Foundation in Denver, Colorado. I was even able to bring Tiki! During my stay I began to fully understand the perplexing dichotomy of parrot rescue. The joy of helping parrots, providing sanctuary, and matching resident animals with new homes. This optimism paired with the sobering reality of so many parrots that need help and the sadness of those birds who have travelled such a difficult road in captivity that now require sanctuary, The skewed ratio of big eyed cockatoo boys to the number of loving homes seeking these dusty, noisy, parrots. Visiting the Gabriel Foundation is definitely a bucket list item for bird lovers. It fosters a deep understanding of the unwanted parrot problem in the US and gives you an amazing opportunity to see lots of different species of birds. TGF is a model of excellence for non profit parrot rescue centers.
By far the most priceless part of the trip was spending time with Julie Murad. The amount of knowledge and experience this woman possesses coupled with the patience of a saint and an educated, balanced perspective makes Julie one amazing person. My favorite memories of TGF were the evenings spent on the couch playing with birds (and a crazy female eclectus under the furniture) while listening to Julie. She patiently answered questions and we discussed and debated every topic surrounding parrots. Julie Murad is a treasure to the world of aviculture and The Gabriel Foundation a sanctuary for unwanted, neglected, and abused parrots. The Gabriel Foundation had a great influence on me, but one of the biggest things laid upon my heart was the overwhelming numbers of male cockatoos were in need of homes and how happy they were in the huge outdoor aviary together. Thus, when three non producing ex-breeder male Rose Breasted cockatoos came to join the flock - I built the new outdoor cockatoo aviary, affectionately dubbed "The Behaviary" over the course of 2 years.
2013 found me back in Australia's Iron Range National Park for the month of October spending the days watching and filming predominately Palm Cockatoos and Eclectus parrots. Although I was lucky enough to spend time with other parrots during my visit including Sulphur Crested Cockatoos, Red Tail Black Cockatoos, King Parrots, Rose Breasted Cockatoos, and cute little Fig Parrots. The other wildlife was fantastic too! Spiders, Green Pythons, Frogmouths, Sea Turtles, Sea Eagles, Bush Turkeys and so much more. I also enjoyed hanging out at the zoo with the critters there. Although I've spent years watching wild parrots, I can't help but keep coming back to spend more time with them. Wild parrots are incredibly inspiring...probably why my company in named Natural Inspirations!
2014 Was a year I will always cherish. It is the year I fell in love with the gentle soul of my female Greenwing Macaw, Flower. She was for adoption at a parrot rescue after being pulled from living in an unclean basement with free ranging / breeding eclectus parrots. At 4 years old she had not stepped up and perched only on metal cage tops, and was destroying her wing and chest feathers. Illinois Parrot Rescue was there to help her, and when our paths crossed I knew she was not only adored by me, but more importantly, dare I say most importantly, she was a perfect match for my Blue and Gold macaw Tiki. Both were large macaws. Both females. Both shared the same gentle, kind, shy dispositions. Both were raised around other birds and were non aggressive to other macaws. I took her home and Flower was officially adopted and now spends her days supervising from the hanging play gym, keeping Tiki company, and learning to chew, climb, play, eat healthy, trust, and love.
And in perfect timing as the universe seems to always provide - when I got this special macaw with a large variety of behavior problems, phobias, and training needs, I also completed Susan Friedman's 2 month train the trainers LLA behavior modification class. One of the most fascinating learning opportunities of my education. Susan - you are the best!
2015 was a huge step forward in the dream to really create change in aviculture with the acquisition of the Ohio and Pennsylvania Bird fairs - OHPA! You can visit the website for our bird fair dates and locations at www.ohpabirdfair.com and hope to see you at one of our events! Proudly, the fairs boast a strong focus on education. nd nutrition Q&A to help bird owners with everything from the challenging tasks of diet conversion, how to sprout, toxic foods, and chop diet prep to the fun things like new recipes. There are educational banners and laminated articles through out the fair as well to encourage learning opportunities during the day. The fairs are also a great place to meet other bird lovers and have lunch at the kitchen - where all food proceeds go directly to support our featured local parrot rescue organization. So come hungry - both for food and knowledge!!
In 2016 Dr. Scott McDonald, DVM and I collaborated on a year long project to accurately record, measure, and present the data of all the parrot wingspans commonly available in US aviculture. The goal of the paper was to help people choose appropriate sized enclosures for their birds by having the actual information on what size they needed to accommodate the large beautiful wingspans of our birds, but also keeping in mind that we're housing not only the physical animal but also their energy, their curiosity, their playfulness, and their full range of motion. The information that was currently on the internet ranged from inconsistent to downright incorrect. So we set out to change that and provide accurate real wingspan data! All birds were anesthetized during measure to ensure accurate data collection. It was an incredible opportunity to engage in one of my greatest joys - research!
The summer of 2017 brought me over to Tenerife, Spain. A small Spanish island off the coast of Africa that holds one of the largest collections of parrots in the world - Loro Parque! This exquisite zoo in the Canary Islands is also home to dolphins, orcas, gorillas, penguins and a host of other endangered species. What makes Loro Parque so exquisite is their focus on education and appropriate housing and enrichment of their animals. There is meticulous care in how animals are raised and the way in which they are presented to the public. Loro Parque was a refreshing reminder that progressive and positive solutions exist for captive housing. It also was awe inspiring seeing the amazing variety of parrot species on display as well as some birds I've never been fortunate to see in real life. Among many other birds, I was absolutely giddy to see a Blue Eyed Cockatoo, Lears Macaw, and a Pesquet's parrot!! I can't wait to go back and spend more time there!
In 2018 we hosted a Bird Tricks master class with Dave and jaimeleigh. It was incredibly fun! If you ever have a chance to attend one I would highly recommend it. Jaime is so much fun and had me laughing the whole way through. They are both gifted trainers as well.
Over the past 15 years I have given dozen of speeches, classes, behavior consults, podcasts, and have published several articles in magazines. Every day we try to make the world a better place for parrots through education and leading by example to raise the standard of aviculture. Be the change that you want to see!
In 2021 I served for a year as the Pennsylvania state coordinator for the American Federation of Aviculture. They put on a fantastic educational conference that moves to a different city each year. If it happens to be within an acceptable distance for you to attend, I'd highly recommend it!
In 2022 I was awarded such a special honor from such an outstanding organization. The Long Island Parrot Society in New York appointed me an honorary lifetime member for my contributions to aviculture. I'm humbled by their kindness and contribution to parrots and education.
In 2023, Wingspan officially opened as a non profit parrot sanctuary. $15,000 to $20,000 of the proceeds from Natural Inspirations Parrot Cages gets donated to the care of parrots in our programs annually.