Animal lover though she was, Lorin Lindner was definitely not looking for a pet. Then came Sammy - a mischievous and extremely loud bright pink Moluccan cockatoo who had been abandoned. It was love at first sight. But Sammy needed a companion. Enter Mango, lover of humans ("Hewwo"), inveterate thief of precious objects. Realizing that there were many parrots in need of new homes, Dr. Lindner eventually founded a sanctuary for them.
Meanwhile, she began to meet homeless veterans on the streets of Los Angeles. Before long she was a full time advocate for these former service members, who were often suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Ultimately, Dr. Lindner created a program for them, too.
Eventually the two parts of her life came together when she founded Serenity Park, a unique sanctuary on the grounds of the Greater Los Angeles Veterans Administration Healthcare Center. She had noticed that the veterans she treated as a clinical psychologist and the parrots she had taken in as a rescuer quickly formed bonds. Men and women who had been silent in therapy would share their stories and their feelings more easily with animals.
Birds of a Feather is ultimately a love story between veterans and the birds they nurse back to health and between Dr. Lindner and her husband, a veteran with PTSD, who healed at Serenity Park. Full of remarkable people and colorful birds, this audiobook reminds us that we all have the power to make a difference.
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A Promise Is Made
A Robin Red breast in a Cage Puts all Heaven in a Rage — William Blake, "Auguries of Innocence"
On Christmas Eve in 1987, a bird's screams echoed through the canyons of the Beverly Hills neighborhood of Trousdale Estates. The sound was a high-pitched, warbling wail, like a woman in agony, and it went on for hours. In the bird's native land, 8,200 miles away, the cry would enable wild parrots to alert each other through dense rainforest to predators circling in the sky or crouching in the trees. In Trousdale Estates, a neighborhood full of multi-million-dollar homes carefully arranged on the hillsides, the sound reverberated through the otherwise peaceful and empty streets. This was the kind of place where celebrities and millionaires enjoyed the views of Los Angeles from their private pools, not where wild animals screamed for hours.
Neighbors called the police and animal rescue groups.
Animal Control contacted a friend of mine who worked with one of the animal rescue groups. She said she needed to find a foster home quickly, and she knew I loved birds.
"Do you think you can take in a parrot?" she asked. "If we don't move right away, Animal Control will take it. We need help tonight."
I was in the middle of studying for the Psychology Licensing Exam. Our professors warned us not to take on any additional responsibilities, and they told dire stories about low pass rates. This wasn't the time for weddings, pregnancies, or new jobs. It was Christmas Eve, though. Everyone else was going to take a break. I could help, I thought.
"I'll keep it until we can find it a good home," I said.
When we arrived that evening, Animal Control officers escorted us into the mansion. It was for sale, unfurnished, and our footsteps echoed through the empty rooms. The house spread out from an airy central atrium. The walls were painted a light peach, and tall potted palms decorated the space. In a cage at the center of the atrium was a single Moluccan cockatoo. Nearly two feet long, she had pink feathers, and when she raised her crest, it was a rich salmon color. Her colors complemented the cool pastels and whites of the home. The owners thought the bird's beauty would help them sell the house quickly.
For the bird, there was nothing beautiful about the space. There were no toys, no mirror or bell, nothing to stimulate and entertain her. No fruit or vegetables to pique her interest. No voices, bird or human, to comfort her. She was utterly alone. Her droppings had piled up like a pyramid to perch level.
Her cage had several locks, and she'd managed to open most of them. She couldn't get out, but I could see there was an intelligent mind trapped in that cage.
My heart quickened when I saw the seed bowl full of empty hulls. I examined her keel, the breastbone that typically gets fattened up in chickens, and saw the sharp bone protruding from her chest. She didn't have an ounce of fat. When Animal Control contacted the owners, they claimed they were sending their chauffeur about once a week to replenish her seed bowl. It is tragically easy to starve a parrot to death, because they eat only the insides of seeds, leaving the nutritionally valueless hulls behind. To the untrained eye, such as that of a chauffeur hired to drive a car, it can appear as though the seed bowl is still full when only empty hulls remain.
I'd seen people make this mistake before with parrots. One woman told me she had asked her children to feed her bird while she was away. She called daily to remind them to check his food. "Don't worry. His bowl is full!" the children told her. That bird died an appalling death, even with people to care for him. Now I was seeing another animal who had been abandoned and starved, even while surrounded by vast wealth.
I looked from her keel to her eyes. There was fear there; she didn't understand that we were there to help. There was also hope. Maybe, at last, someone had come to keep her company and rescue her. Mostly, though, I saw pain. I felt as if I were looking directly into a tortured soul. Those eyes seemed to be crying out to me.
I can't explain it. I felt an immediate bond with this bird. I knew then that this rescue was going to take more than a few hours.
"I promise," I said, "to find you a good home. I promise to make you happy."
But what makes a parrot happy? Far too few pet owners know the answer to that question. Owning a bird is seductive, but people often don't consider the difficulties of keeping an exotic animal. They want to care for and love a beautiful creature, but unless they understand the commitment involved, they can end up doing more harm than good.
I knew the damage humans could inflict, but still, I could relate to wanting a bird. I always enjoyed being in their presence, but I had vowed years ago not to be a part of the animal trade. Here, though, was an animal not in a pet shop but left alone in a house for sale, because she complemented the decor. Here was an animal who needed me.
And this parrot was not your average pet — not just because she had the intelligence to pick locks. Her pink feathers were the color I'd painted my bedroom as a child. I wasn't immune to the seduction of a parrot's beauty. She was tall with a broad chest. Her large black eyes were surrounded by circles of blue. And she was hungry and afraid.
I realized I needed to learn what it would take to do right by this bird. She had never asked to be brought to this hemisphere, this continent. She had not asked to be isolated in a human world. I promised her she would have a permanent home.
I took her in. I gave her a human name, Sammy, short for Salmon, in honor of her beautiful salmon-colored crest. I had to learn how to provide the care she needed. And what I discovered ended up helping many others, parrot and human alike. Though I had no way of knowing it at the time, Sammy would lead me to a career of helping veterans find their way to healing. She wouldn't be a distraction from my Psychology Licensing Exam; she would utterly change my views about my profession. And, perhaps most of all, Sammy would help me find my way to a life of love and service.
* * *
I wanted to understand where this bird had come from. I felt that if I knew her history, I'd know better how to care for her now. So I researched Sammy's roots. I wasn't there when Sammy was a baby, but I can imagine her early life because it's the story of millions of birds wrenched from their homes in the wild.
With a likely birth year of 1977, based on the date of her importation, Sammy was wild-caught as a fledgling in the Moluccas, a mountainous Indonesian archipelago made up of over a thousand islands. Most are covered with rainforest or plantations heavy with the scents of clove and nutmeg. The archipelago teems with abundant and often unique animal life: nocturnal marsupials, civets, wild pigs, and hundreds of species of birds, including the Moluccan cockatoo. While her parents guarded her and searched their island for food, little Sammy was sheltered in the safety of their nest, a hollow in a tree lined with leaves and sticks to cradle her. The nest was fifteen to a hundred feet from the ground, a snug and carefully constructed sanctuary.
On the day she was captured, Sammy awoke nestled next to her brother. She was just a baby. She felt warm, comfortable, and only half-awake. It was mostly dark in the nest, a space just large enough for the young birds and their parents to snuggle together. The light that filtered through the twigs and the small opening was tinged with green from the thick forest canopy. It was early, but the air was already moist and warm. The sounds of the rainforest were muffled by the nest, but she could still make out the chattering of the forest animals. Most of Sammy's feathers had come out of their hard sheaths, and she was soft and fuzzy. So was her brother.
Baby cockatoos in the wild generally do not leave their nests until they are about twelve weeks old, so this small space was the only world Sammy had ever known.
When she'd first opened her eyes, weeks ago, she'd seen her mother and father, and she'd felt immediate comfort and calm. This feeling is a result of imprinting, though Sammy didn't know that. She just knew she trusted this constant presence in her life: feeding her, grooming her, warming her when night came. She had grown in her parents' care from a tiny, featherless, sightless hatchling into a strong young bird.
Her brother lay by her side, her parents brought food, and when she awoke each morning to the chatter of her flock, her body felt a little stronger. Soon she'd step outside and spread her wings for the first time. She'd hop from branch to branch, watching and learning from her flock, stretching her boundaries until, with practice, she, too, would begin to fly. When she could keep up with the flock, her parents would wean her, and she'd fly for miles searching for nuts, roots, and fruit.
Her immediate family was part of a larger flock. The calls of her flockmates near the nest were familiar. Their sounds meant safety. Development threatens many of the natural areas in the islands, but Sammy didn't know about the changes going on around her. She was far from the ground and its worries.
This day, though, something was wrong. She was hungry, and her parents were gone. Her father hadn't come back from foraging. There was no one to chew up seeds of fruit and carefully feed them to her. Her mother, who had been near her every moment she'd been conscious, had left as well.
She heard a horrible screech near the nest, sharp and loud to begin with, then weakening to a wail. Sammy was accustomed to cries warning of predators in the air or on the ground. This sound was different, a shriek of pure pain followed by despair. It sounded like Sammy's older sister. Why was her sister screaming like that? What was happening? Sammy crept toward the back of the nest. An uncontrollable shaking spread through her body. She shuddered.
The noise Sammy heard was the sound of a flockmate being fastened to a tree. When hunters take parrots from the wild, the first step is often securing a fledgling to a tree branch, either with rope or, to make the cries even louder, with nails. The tiny bird's distress call can be heard for miles around, drawing in her flockmates. The hunters count on the flock gathering together in one place, making the parrots easier to capture.
Sammy heard a mad cacophony near the nest; whatever had caused the first outcry was not going away. When Moluccan cockatoos notice a flockmate in trouble, they rush to the sound. The flock gathers together to deter predators. Their best defense is as a group.
Hunters and poachers commonly cut down trees with nests, blighting the forest. Sammy felt a rumbling, and the nest, the entire tree, began to shake. She had never experienced anything like it. To her, the nest meant safety, comfort, family. It swayed only when the wind and rain shook the tree. How could it be moving like this, as if the entire earth were trembling? The air was filled with a thick, unnatural stench, and tendrils of black smoke from a big machine made their way into the nest. She huddled, tucked her head, and shut her eyes.
Then came the sickening fall. Time seemed to stop as she felt her home crash down. The boom shook the forest.
After the flock came to the rescue, hunters threw a net over the birds. If the parents are present — and they usually are, as Moluccan cockatoos commonly mate for life and raise offspring together — poachers capture them, too. Adult parrots can be quite fierce; their beaks can exert a force of five hundred pounds per square inch and they will fight sometimes to the death for their babies.
Sammy heard dozens of parrots screaming, but she couldn't tell them apart in the chaos. The nest had broken open in the fall, and the bright light, Sammy's first view of the open sky, blinded her. She tried to crawl under the nest. She cried for her parents, but no birds flew to her.
Something pulled her from her nest, a strong, foreign grip. Sammy thrashed and bit but couldn't free herself from the grasp. She tumbled into an enclosure. She couldn't see in the darkness. Her flockmates were all around her, packed tightly together. But there was no comfort here. Most of the birds screamed, but some were quiet. Some didn't move at all.
Where were her parents? Where were her brother and sister? Sammy shook and cried out. She felt something placed inside her beak and very soon afterward her body grew heavy, her eyes closed. Sammy lost consciousness and didn't feel anything else for a long time.
She was now part of the wild-bird trade.
* * *
Over 50 percent of birds caught in the wild will die during either their capture or transport to market. Importers care little about the lives lost, as long as their profits remain high. Dead birds are an acceptable cost of doing business.
As in many exchanges between the West and the developing world, wealthy countries benefit far more from the trade than poor ones. Local areas suffer deforestation and loss of native species. A small fraction of the money made from the trade goes to the locals; most ends up in the hands of westerners. Once the trees and wildlife are gone, the locals no longer have a source of income.
The captured birds are kept in tiny cages in the marketplaces of cities such as Ambon and Jakarta. Conditions vary, but it's not unusual for the birds to be left in unshaded boxes without food or water. The cages are rarely cleaned, leading to the spread of disease among birds already weakened by the rigors of capture and transport. Wildlife traders, often tied to the worldwide drug and weapons trades, purchase the birds in the market. Drugs, weapons, and wildlife are among the top criminal trades on the planet, and the skills and criminal networks needed for one type of illegal smuggling are easily employed in another. The crucial difference is that animals are living, unwilling participants.
To keep the birds quiet during shipment — typically to the United States and Europe — smugglers use drugs and/or restraints. Thankfully, bringing wild-caught birds into the United States became illegal in the 1980s and in Europe it became illegal in 2006, but, regrettably, that ban never entirely stopped this highly lucrative trade. Crammed into poorly ventilated suitcases or stuffed into pipes to keep them hidden, innumerable birds die during shipment. They succumb to heat, crowding, hunger, and lack of air. They also die from the vodka forced down their throats to keep them sedated or from the curare intended to keep them immobile.
An American, whom I will call Robert Barnes, was the most notorious exotic-animal trader during the time Sammy was imported to the United States. When he was not traversing the Southern Hemisphere furthering the bird trade, Robert Barnes lived in Los Angeles. He offered ten times a typical annual salary to indigenous people for the safe capture of native birds. To people struggling to feed their families, the money was probably inducement enough, but he also offered baseless promises of a fabulous future for these animals in America. Locals were aware of the effects of habitat loss and deforestation, and they often thought they'd be helping the birds by sending them away.
One great hope for the future of wild birds is that these very same poachers, those people who are trying to make a living to support their families, are now being taught how to use their skills to create an ecotourism industry in their native lands. Former poachers are now becoming experts on parrot behavior. Organizations like the Indonesian Parrot Project, Wild Planet Adventures, and the World Parrot Trust are helping local people build an economy based on protecting their native wildlife instead of capturing and selling it. Now, instead of climbing trees to poach parrot nests, native people are climbing them to build blinds and pulley systems to hoist tourists high into the tree canopy to see the species endemic to those areas. Maybe such a program could have saved Sammy.
When Robert Barnes was importing birds, a legal trade at the time, the next step after transport was entering a quarantine station. Today, quarantine still exists for those birds imported legally or seized during customs inspections. Of those parrots who survive both capture and transport, 25 percent die while in quarantine facilities. Quarantine is designed so that if an animal has a disease it will be detected during the thirty-day hold period. The animals are placed in relatively small, closed boxes. Unlike conventional cages, which at least allow in sound and air, these boxes are meant to completely cut off the parrots, and potential contagions, from the rest of the holding facility. The concern is the spread of disease within the facility and out into the general population; the comfort and safety of individual birds are secondary. Even food and water come in through special openings, not by hand, to prevent the escape of pathogens. These conditions mean the parrots receive no stimulation and certainly no comfort during the quarantine period. It's hardly a way for already weakened social animals to regain their health.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Birds of a Feather"
Copyright © 2018 Lorin Lindner.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
1 A Promise Is Made 9
2 Penance for Melody 25
3 Mango 45
4 Houseless, Not Homeless 55
5 New Directions 68
6 Finding Sanctuary 87
7 A Sailor's Story 114
8 A Sanctuary Opens at the VA 130
9 The Parrot Whisperer 144
10 Finding Forgiveness 157
11 Being Chosen 170
12 A Blessed Baby 179
13 Grand Opening 187
14 Building a Flock 197
15 Warriors and Wolves 207