People who own pet birds will tell you a pet bird is the greatest thing, and more than one is twice the fun.
They will also tell you to think long and hard before buying or adopting a bird.
"Birds are amazing, wonderful, intelligent creatures and a pain in the butt," Shirley Rentzel said.
Shirley and her husband, Dean, own Rentzel's Bird Farm, 2241 Craley Road, Lower Windsor Township. Both are certified avian specialists who have been in the business for 24 years.
Birds are intelligent, many with the mental capacity of a 2- or 3-year-old child. They can be entertaining, playful and affectionate, but they need to be part of the family.
"They demand your attention. You have to work with them. They aren't like dogs, who are pretty easy to please and happy to see you," Rentzel said. "A bird will look at you as if to say 'What you done for me lately?,' or 'Oh, did you bring me something?',"
Birds need toys to occupy their time, but it may take a few days for them to really decide they like the latest one. Some people rotate the toys to keep the bird from becoming bored with them, she said.
Rentzel has eight big birds and 40 smaller birds and sells baby birds from independent breeders. She hand-feeds the babies several times a day, with the first feeding at 4:30 a.m. and the last one at 11 p.m.
Birds eat a lot of the same things people eat, including fruits, vegetables and lean cooked meat such as chicken, as well as seeds and nuts.
If you are looking for a "first-time" bird, Rentzel would recommend a cockatiel.
"They are really inexpensive, pretty maintenance free, basically easy to care for and happy little campers. Bigger birds need a lot more one-on-one attention," she said.
A word of warning: Birds can be habit forming. "Most of our customers have more than one bird," Rentzel said.
"Birds are amazing creatures but they are not for everyone. Most of our customers say bird people walk to the beat of a different drummer," she said.
Why they love their birds
KATIE HORNE'S first pet bird was Bailey Bird, an American Parakeet.
Horn was looking for a pet, and friends suggested she consider a bird. One trip to Rentzel's Bird Farm was all it took.
"Shirley suggested a small bird, an American parakeet. Bailey Bird weighed only one ounce, needed only a small cage," she said.
What Bailey Bird lacked in weight, he made up for in talent and personality.
"He had a 400-word vocabulary. I talked to him and he greeted me when I came home. He would say 'Did you have a nice day? Would you like something to eat?' He stayed with a friend when I went on vacation, and when I came home he said 'Did you miss the Bailey Bird?,' as though he knew I had been away," Horn said.
Bailey Bird was 11 years old when he died in March, and Horn finds it difficult to talk about him. She posted a video of his antics on You Tube, at youtu.be/atE-mMJo4_A.
Horn's latest feathered friend is an American Parakeet named Zeke.
"I put him on my shoulder and talk to him and at three months he was talking and already, at six months, he has a vocabulary of 20 words," Horn said. "He talks himself to sleep, like kids do. He puts his head under his wing and talks until he falls asleep."
Like most bird owners, Horn finds that Zeke is unhappy with her when she goes away but he gets over it quickly, she said.
Horn would recommend a parakeet as a pet, adding that it is important to choose one that was hand-fed as a baby and avoid buying one from a cage filled with "bunches of birds."
"All birds are different and before you buy one be sure to do your research and learn what is available. Some are one-person birds, but a parakeet likes everyone and the companionship is unbelievable," she said.
A small bird such as a parakeet is great company for an older person who is looking for a pet that does not require a lot of work, she said.
Birds are sensitive to toxins, especially those in the air they breathe. Things that smell strong to humans can often kill birds, she said.
"Don't burn scented candles or scented oils and don't use Clorox and other strong or scented cleaners or hairspray," Horn said.
FOR RANDY GROVE, president of the York Area Pet Bird Club, the interest in pet birds began with his grandparents.
"When I was a small child, my mother's parents always has pet birds in their home. They had cockatiels, parakeets or a canary in their home, so when I got much older and was out on my own I got my first two cockatiels," Grove said.
When Grove moved to San Diego he found a new home for the birds, but seven years later he moved back home and bought a much younger cockatiel that was hand-fed and easy to handle and be around, he said.
"That started a chain reaction for me. I wanted to breed cockatiels and hand-feed them, too, so I went to Rentzel's Bird Farm and they showed me what and how to hand-feed and the times of each feeding. That went great, but I had to give it up because of my health problems," Grove said.
Grove now has Harold and Harry, two African Congo Gray Parrots, rescued from people who no longer wanted to care for them.
Harold is really a female and the more talkative of the two. It took more than a year for Harry to accept Grove, but he is now very playful and no longer tries to bite, Grove said.
"People think birds are something you show off and will talk whenever you want them to, but birds do have a mind of their own," Grove said. "As for my two, the experts say they are as smart as a 4-year-old, but I think that it goes beyond that age. Birds are very fast learners when it come to picking up things to say. Birds are very social beings. They love to be out of their cages and around people, love to be held and loved and to be spoken to."
Grove said it is important to have birds' wings clipped, primarily their flight feathers. "If a window or door is open they can fly out and, if that happens, they are very hard to capture," he said.
CHET FUHRMAN of Columbia, Lancaster County, took in his first pet bird about 25 years ago and, in time, his flock grew to more than a dozen birds.
"Somebody at work gave me a little Zebra Finch. I took him home, put him in an old canary cage and soon got him a girlfriend," Fuhrman said. "I found some books, read up on finches and a lot about birds as pets. I was hooked."
Next came a Cinders, a female cockatiel, who became his "constant companion," and a year later, after much research, an African Grey parrot named Casey Jones. The name seemed appropriate, considering that Fuhrman's other hobby is model railroading and the white edges on the new bird's gray feathers were a reminder of the gray-and-white striped coveralls worn by old railroad workers.
Scooter, a Patagonian Conure, soon also became part of the family.
"These three birds seemed to enjoy learning tricks and demonstrating them. By the time I retired in 1993, we had a few more birds and by 1994, I was in the bird show business. I would do an hour bird show, talk about how the birds live in the wild and demonstrate their tricks," Fuhrman said.
They did shows in York and Lancaster counties and in Baltimore, Philadelphia, Harrisburg and Lewistown; made appearances on WGAL; and eventually did a show for the Minnesota Companion Bird Club in Minneapolis, he said.
Dara is a 15-year-old Senegal Parrot whose left foot and right leg were deformed when her parents sat on her when she was only a couple days old, Fuhrman said.
"She can fly, but is very noisy and doesn't have the grace of most birds," he said. "Dara is a beautiful, very affectionate bird, who gets along just fine. In Swahili, Dara means exquisite or fine. I've had her for 11 years."
Sierra, a Greenwing Macaw, joined the family in 1998.
"Sierra keeps me on my toes," he said.In recent years, Fuhrman found new homes for some of his birds and his current flock numbers three - Casey Jones, 22; Sierra, 14; and Dara, 15.
They eat fruits and vegetables, pellets, seeds and nuts.
Birds should have their wings clipped and their toenails trimmed regularly, and should visit the vet for an annual checkup, Fuhrman said.
Birds are prey in the wild and will try to defend themselves if they feel threatened or if they are punished for misbehaving.
They have the intelligence of a 5-year-old child and the emotions of a 2-year-old, Furhman said. "You must teach them to trust you and understand how they work. Do your homework. Do your research."
CHET FURHMAN shared the following story about Casey Jones, his Congo African Grey parrot, and their trip to Minneapolis to do a show for the Minnesota Companion Bird Club.
Fuhrman had checked two bags and proceeded to the security area with four carry-on bags, including Casey in his cage and all the things Casey would need for the trip.
He removed Casey Jones from his carrier, which went through the X-ray machine, walked through the metal detector and found a "very large guard standing there with his right hand just above his very large gun," Fuhrman said. "He said 'I need you to open this bag for me.' I smiled because I knew there was some weird-looking stuff in that bag," Fuhrman said.
That included Casey's concrete perch, which is about 1½ inches long and 9 inches in diameter with washers and a wing nut on one end. "Sometimes that looked like a pipe bomb in the x-ray machine," he said. "Now we realized we were surrounded by five armed guards."
Furhman quickly explained that it was Casey's favorite perch and could help keep his toenails trimmed, and that they wanted to make Casey as comfortable as possible on the trip.
His wife, Joyce, had been holding Casey and "the whole world was watching, when a female guard asked 'Does he talk? What kind of tricks does he do?,' and we put on a show right there," Fuhrman said.
The couple then put everything back in the bag and "laughed all the way to the waiting area. We never get bored when we have Casey Jones around. My little ham travels very well," he said.
Join the club
THE YORK AREA PET BIRD CLUB meets the third Tuesday of each month at Adams Electric Co-op., 200 Trinity Road, West Manchester Township.
Membership is open to anyone who owns or has an interest in parrots or birds in general. Dues are pro-rated according to the month you join.
Special events such as bus trips and national guest speakers are planned for the year.
Because of meeting-room rules, birds are no longer permitted at the meetings.
STANLEY'S PARROT FOUNDATION, a local bird rescue, is a good place to start if you're interested in rescuing a pet bird.
The rescue is operated by Sharon and Mike McGuire.
Beware of heat
HEATSTROKE OCCURS when a bird cannot cool himself down and lose body heat. A bird with heatstroke will hold its wings out, pant and have trouble keeping its balance.
WHAT TO DO: Mist the bird with cool water, take him to a cool area, put his feet in a shallow pan of cool water.
PREVENT HEATSTROKE: Make sure birds have shade and clean drinking water. Check on them often.
TO PREVENT SHOCK: Keep the bird calm and take him to the vet. Keep him cool by misting, running a fan and/or air conditioner or placing his feet in pan of cool water. Provide shade and water.
Source: BirdTalk magazine
JOHANNA HANLON, CVT practice manager/head nurse at Ani-Care Animal Hospital, 2740 S Queen Street, York Township, writes: "Birds, like all pets, should be examined at least once a year by a vet trained and experienced in the species, in addition to visits at the absolute first sign of a health concern. "Birds hide disease very well. Often, when a bird owner notices a problem it is already an emergency."
Hanlon said captive birds should have an appropriate-sized cage for their particular species; must be kept in a warm, well-ventilated part of the home away from the kitchen; should have exposure to UV light whether it's supervised outside time or via a special light bulb; and should be fed a high-end pellet diet, which can be supplemented by healthy food they would be exposed to in their native environment, such as fruit and nuts.
Fresh, clean water should be provided at all times, and some species enjoy misting or showers.
Birds are very intelligent, especially large parrots, and need enrichment for their psychological well-being. They should be provided with toys that encourage natural behaviors.
Their beaks, wings, and nails should be maintained according to the lifestyle they are provided by their owners.
Birds have very sensitive respiratory tracts and should not be exposed to smoke or mold. They should not be kept near the kitchen, especially if using Teflon-coated pans. The fumes from such pans can be toxic to birds.
Birds explore the world with their mouths, so it is essential that nothing in their environment is toxic. They love to chew on things like wood and love shiny objects, so beware of your picture frames, moldings, electrical cords and sparkly jewelry, Hanlon wrote.
Birds require regular training to maintain their ability to be handled and to nurture the bird-human bond. They can be somewhat destructive with their toys and perches, which will need to be replaced regularly.
It is important to find an avian-savvy vet; not all animal hospitals work with birds, Hanlon added.
Find out more at www.anicareanimalhospital.com.