Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Problematic parrots find love

POOLESVILLE, Md. (AP) — It's a love story that involves regurgitation, compulsive feather-plucking and Montgomery County Buddhists.

The lovebirds are Jack and Red. The two parrots have serious behavior issues. But ... "They are so in love," said Christopher Zeoli as he watched the two birds from different species climb on top of their metal cage.

The birds live in a small building next to the Kunzang Palyul Choling Buddhist temple in Poolesville, in Montgomery County. There, the 35-year-old Zeoli takes care of birds that are too aggressive, too frightened or too erratic to be pets, following a commandment to help all living beings.

With the right help, peace comes even to self-mutilating parrots. "They're bonded for life at this point," Zeoli said. "I couldn't dare separate them."

Since the 1980s, the temple has been housed in a white-columned mansion on a rural stretch of River Road. Several hundred members practice Buddhism in the Tibetan tradition.

The idea of aiding tropical birds came about 15 years ago. The temple's founder, a Brooklyn native whose name is now Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo, adopted a Moluccan cockatoo from a friend who couldn't abide its screaming.

Other owners sought her out, with birds that bit, scratched or screamed. The animals can make difficult pets, tropical bird experts say: The birds call loudly enough to bother neighbors, and they have trouble adjusting to the solitude of a darkened cage.

"It's like buying a tiger cub," said Mira Tweti, the author of the book "Of Parrots and People." ''They are never domesticated. They are wild animals."

The temple's Garuda Aviary is named for a bird in Tibetan mythology. It houses about 35 birds in 6-foot-tall cages. The birds include African gray parrots, their Western Hemisphere cousins called macaws, and cockatoos from Australia and the Pacific Islands.

These are the hardest cases, birds too unwound to be adopted by anybody else. "Really messed up," said Claire Waggoner, a volunteer who manages the aviary's $45,000 operating budget — all provided by donations.


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