Bird Rescue and Adoption

By Sean Corcoran

(Listen to an audio version of this story).

Two years ago, a West Harwich couple decided to open their home to unwanted parrots and cage birds of all breeds and species. The center became the only bird rescue on Cape Cod. But keeping such a large flock has taken its toll.

Three weeks ago, Sterling and Laurie Farrenkopf made a final retreat to the basement, giving their bedroom up to the birds.

Sterling Farrenkopf: "Then this room is my old bedroom. . . Hi guys! Come here.. . ."

(sound of birds)

The Farrenkopf's run the All Cape Parrot Rescue and Adoption Center in West Harwich.

Since the rescue opened in March of 2003, the couple has taken in hundreds of birds ) nearly eighty in the first five months. And almost all came from Cape Cod.

Sterling Farrenkopf: "It was overwhelming. In August and September of this last year, we were full, we had 78 birds. We could not take anymore. . .I turned away 48 birds in those two months. . .it's hard because you to turn them away because you don't know where they are going. . . "

The couple's initial thought was to keep about twenty parrots in a room Sterling had built in the garage. But eventually the birds migrated to other parts of the house. Today, large, white cockatoos and several other parrot species occupy the living room. The parakeets and smaller birds are in the basement office. The largest birds are the Maccaws. They come in vivid blues, yellows and greens and look like they belong on a pirate's shoulder. These parrots live in an upstairs bedroom where there are no cages, just perches.

Sterling Farrenkopf: "We have lights set up on timers in here, full spectrum lights, and so about a half-hour before dark it gets dark naturally. We don't use lights at night in the house at all, so that it is somewhat closer to what nature would be"

Today about 65 birds live at the shelter. Most came from owners who couldn't handle them. Almost all were neglected, though rarely on purpose. The owners just didn't have the time, understanding or ability, Sterling says, to care for the animals properly.

Sterling Farrenkopf: "Do you know how many birds came here and I said, where are their toys? And they say, I stopped buying them because all they did was chew them up. And I have to be nice to these people"

Other birds were abused. Two of the largest parrots were blinded at birth with soldering guns to prevent them from flying straight and escaping.

Sterling Farrenkopf: "Hi Rega and Roscoe! These two were very badly abused, not by the owners, but both of these birds their owners died. . .He threw shoes at the cage. . .This poor bird here was in five different homes in four months, so she did so much damage she pulled all her feathers out."

This past February, Sterling and Laurie discovered the difficulties of raising wild animals in a suburban setting. Laurie had fed the parrots some grapes volunteers had bought at a nearby supermarket.

Sterling Farrenkopf: "She took them out of the refrigerator, washed them in the sink, cut them in half and fed them the grapes. My daughter ate a few of the grapes, and within a half-hour, 45 minutes one of the birds got sick. We got him out of the cage and tried to force water, opened the door, got him fresh air, and within 3 minutes of that he was gone."

When Sterling and Laurie went to check on the other birds, three were already dead and two were acting sick.

Sterling Farrenkopf: "Then it was every 3 minutes until 9 birds were gone . . . Some of them hadn't even eaten the whole grapes, they'd only taken small bites of it"

A veterinary pathologist determined the birds died from a phosphate overdose, most likely from pesticides stored in the grapes' skins.

Sterling Farrenkopf: "The grapes came from Chile. . ."

Volunteers haven't been back because they think they blame them, which they don't.

Sterling Farrenkopf: "We still have the grapes in the freezer; we'd love to find out what type of pesticide it was"

Among the dead was Lita, a 51-year-old Greater Sulphur Cockatoo; Marmalade, a Mollucan Cockatoo; and Marcy, a noble Macaw and the first bird the couple ever rescued. In the aftermath, Sterling and Laurie considered closing the shelter.

Sterling Farrenkopf: "It just ripped our heart apart because you just get so close to them so quickly and so easily. . .You wonder if your heart can take it. The first two days after they were gone I got up and did their cages like they were there"

Sterling requires anyone wishing to adopt a large bird to volunteer at the shelter a day or two a week for three to six months. He says people that don't have that amount of time clearly don't have the time to properly care for these birds. Even with the requirement, between 20 and 25% of the adopted birds are returned.

Sterling Farrenkopf: "The happiest day of my life will be when I can say Hey, No Birds Need Me. . . I can shut down. Not that I don't want to help them, but that just meant no birds needed help. And my thing is, if someone came up here from South America and took a bald eagle. . . how long before the United States took those birds back? Not very long"

Some of the larger birds at the All Cape Parrot Rescue and Adoption center can live for more than 60 years, which is one reason why they can be so difficult to place. With more and more birds being given up on Cape Cod each day, the rescue's board of directors is seeking to build a bird sanctuary somewhere on Cape Cod where unwanted and unmanageable birds could be placed in the future.

Broadcast July 14, 2005
Re-broadcast February 8, 2007

Sean Corcoran reports for the Cape and Islands NPR Stations.

All Cape Parrot Rescue and Adoption
3 North Road
West Harwich , MA 02671
Phone: 508-430-0677
Hours: 7 AM to 9PM

Other stories in the Taking Care series.