Holliday’s Exotic Avian Rescue Team (HEART), based in Lowell, strives to rescue and rehome exotic birds. While the group officially formed in 2019, five years prior to this date Bobbi Holliday started helping birds in need. A resident of Lowell since 2013, she has been around birds all of her life, having macaws and cockatoos as a kid. Her father, John Minehart, inspired her love of birds as she watched the way he interacted with them and formed strong bonds with various birds. Rescuing birds has become a full time endeavor. Holliday and her husband Colt, who is a maintenance mechanic at Attwood, also have a daughter named Aurora.
The start of helping to rescue and rehome birds began with Congo, an African Grey that came into the Wildlife Center in Lowell. Congo was put into a foster home until Holliday was found. This started a relationship between the Wildlife Center and Holliday due to her expertise with birds. She has helped with calls the center received about parrots. Calls continued to increase and eventually Holliday officially started HEART. The Wildlife Center now refers calls about birds to HEART. Starting her own organization allowed Holliday to help more birds find permanent homes and educate those welcoming them into their home. Holliday has also partnered with Shellie Hochstetler, who runs Cockatoo Ranch in White Pigeon. Hochstetler specializes in cockatoos, with 40 of them currently residing in her home.
Clientele at HEART includes parrots, budgies (or parakeets), macaws, and cockatoos. At times there is a waiting list to be able to take in larger birds due to space constraints. “Cockatoos are one of the most rehomed and challenging birds to own.” says Holliday. Calls for help come from references from veterinary offices, word of mouth, and people searching for a bird rescue online.
Part of Holliday’s goal in helping birds involves working with people to help them understand how to care for a bird and overcome some potential challenges so the animal can stay in a home rather than being given up. Behavioral assistance and suggestions based on kind of bird and set up within a home can make a difference in someone being able to keep a bird versus needing to look for a new home.
Health issues with an owner of a bird or the feathered animal itself, behavioral issues with the bird, or death of the bird’s owner are the main reasons birds need to be rehomed according to Holliday. Many of the stated behavioral issues as reasons for rehoming birds are more related to not understanding a bird’s behavior in the first place. They don’t just sit in cages quietly and look pretty. They are intelligent. They want social interaction. They need space to move around. They can be vocal.
There are approximately 60 residents looking for a new home between the homes of Holliday and Hochstetler. They both run their portion of HEART from their homes as it’s easier to be around the birds in order to learn about their personalities. “Some birds like other animals, some do not, some birds end up not liking children, others have a male or female preference. It’s definitely easier to figure these things out with the birds in our home and part of our daily life.” says Holliday. Some of the birds in their care are not eligible for adoption due to health concerns or at request of their previous family. These birds will remain part of the rescue for the rest of their lives.
There are numerous things to consider when looking to adopt or buy a bird. They are loud – it’s how they communicate. Some species of birds give off a dusty, powdery dander people could be allergic to. They can appear destructive. Birds need a lot of toys and mental stimulation according to Holliday. Lack of appropriate stimulation can easily lead to screaming, feather picking, lunging or biting and more. A balanced diet is also necessary for birds. In addition to pellets or seeds, fresh fruit and vegetables are also required to be considered a complete diet. A special avian vet is also required to make sure a bird is getting the right care due to more complex bodies than that of a cat or a dog.
While feathered members of the family aren’t the same as furry ones, many of their emotional needs are the same. A bird, as with a cat or dog, looks at the humans and other animals it lives with as family. A bird wants to be around it’s flock just as a dog feels comfortable being part of a human pack. They don’t want to sit in their cages all of the time. They have their own body language as a means of communicating, which is often not noticed or misunderstood by bird inexperienced owners. “All in all they are a fun, wonderful member of your family if you have the time and devotion for them. They all have individual personalities. Some can talk, some never talk, some will dance, some will sing. More than likely one will find a way to steal your heart and make themselves a permanent part of your life.” says Holliday of birds.
The adoption process through HEART is easy, yet thorough. An adoption application should be filled out and a short video of main living areas is requested. These items help ensure that a home is “safe, clean and appropriate”. A subsequent step in the adoption process is at least two meetings with the bird an applicant is interested in. This helps HEART determine whether there is a good fit, or perhaps a different bird that may be a better match. It also gives the applicant the opportunity to see if he or she is a good personality match. Before the bird is allowed to officially head to a new home, Holliday and Hochstetler ensure the bird will reside in an appropriate sized cage. Holliday comments, “We believe the bird needs as much room as you can possibly give and afford. For instance, cockatoos and macaws need a minimum of 5-6ft tall by 3-4ft wide and deep. Most people don’t realize how wide their wing span is and they need to be able to stretch their wings if they are left in their cage for any period of time.”
HEART has adopted out nearly 100 birds and have rescued approximately 175. The organization will continue to help educate current bird owners and rehome those who need help. They take price in “helping one beak at a time”. Visit their website for more information, find the adoption application, and look for birds available for adoption. See their Facebook page for information about birds, stories they share, and more. Holliday’s Exotic Avian Rescue Team is a non-profit organization for anyone interested in making a monetary donation to their cause.
Photos courtesy of HEART and used with permission.