REENFIELD — Amanda Redmon had taken in strays for as long as she could remember.
There always seemed to be a stray dog or cat in the neighborhood that needed a home. Time and again, Redmon opened hers.
When a friend asked for her help with a less common animal in need — a Quaker parrot named Jake — Redmon was a bit surprised but nonetheless up for the challenge.
“Why not?” she said she remembers thinking. “I’m not a bird person, but I’ll go.”
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That was four years and 10 birds ago. Now, calling Redmon a bird person would be a bit of an understatement.
Today, Redmon’s Greenfield home is a safe haven for birds of all shapes, sizes and backgrounds.
And it all started with a trip to visit one very unfriendly parrot.
Jake was in a cage that was too small for him, left in a dark corner and usually ignored. He was “a screamer,” prompting his owner to leave the cage covered and the bird without stimulation much of the time.
The bird’s frustration was evident by just looking at him; he had plucked out all his feathers.
Redmon was undeterred. She took the bird home and worked with him every day, serving as his first regular human contact.
“I took numerous bites,” she said. “It actually took me three months and over 300 Band-Aids to win over Jake.”
Or perhaps Jake won over Redmon.
Redmon began studying up on birds and their care; in time, she became something of an expert. Today, her living room houses huge cages, and neighborhood children frequently stop by to visit her “feather kids.”
Each bird comes with a story, many of them about owners who bought exotic birds despite having little understanding of their care and long-term needs. Too many first-time owners are drawn in by a colorful bird at a pet store and make an impulse purchase without doing the research.
“They think, ‘Hey, it’s just a bird,’” said Redmon’s husband, Matt.
Buyers often don’t know the extent of a bird’s needs, from socialization to dietary restrictions.
Perhaps most notably, buyers don’t always realize how long the birds can live. It’s a problem Redmon said she admits she will face as well; she expects the animals she has rescued to outlive her.
Some species of macaws, for example, have been recorded to live 100 years or longer.
So a person in their 30s who invests in a bird often will find themselves facing a difficult decision later when they have aged past their ability to care for such a high-maintenance pet.
Many times, those birds end up with people like Redmon, who, as a member of the Central Indiana Caged Bird Club, is part of a network of rescuers who take in and rehabilitate problem and abandoned birds.
Cindy Merrick, secretary/treasurer for the caged bird club, keeps a running list of bird owners willing to adopt new animals.
Merrick has come knocking on Redmon’s door more than once. In the past 16 years, she has placed more than 150 birds.
That list, she said, is invaluable.
“If I don’t have a list of people willing to adopt, where are these birds going to go?” she said. “It’s hard to find people.”
The Redmons work together to provide their birds a safe and healthy environment, and they’ve come to think of them as family.
There’s Pepper, a green-winged macaw, who was surrendered after he began biting his previous owner. Polly, a blue-crowned conure, came to Redmon after her owner was diagnosed with terminal cancer.
Mickey, like Jake who came before him, is a screamer, Redmon’s “pit bull with feathers,” whose last owner gave up and put him on Craigslist.
Taking care of the birds is a family effort, Redmon said, if for no reason than birds can be choosy about their handlers.
Rozz, a macaw whose original name was Rozalyn until Redmon learned at the bird’s first vet visit it was a male, wouldn’t let anyone handle him for the first year. To this day, he still doesn’t like adult women.
And an angry bird can be dangerous, Redmon said.
A macaw’s beak, for example, can exert 90 pounds of pressure per square inch when eating. That’s enough to snap a broomstick in half, Redmon said.
Lauren Null, Redmon’s younger sister, chips in to help whenever the self-proclaimed “bird lady” has to be away.
Getting accustomed to each animal’s personality was a process, she admits
“I used to be scared of them,” she said. “I’m not scared of them anymore. I love ’em.”
Eight of the 10 birds can talk, most coming up with phrases they learned from their previous owners; and they have plenty to say.
Ollie continually asks for kisses.
Pepper makes a fist with his claws and says, “Pound it,” angling for a fist bump. He talks more quietly at nighttime, mimicking a whisper.
Redmon’s mission is to do more than rescue birds; she also seeks to educate the public about the animals. The couple have spoken at area schools and during after-school programs and Scout meetings.
But perhaps the easiest means of exposure, though, is far less formal; they just take the birds wherever they go. On walks, to the gas station, to the grocery store — a colorful friend is usually in tow.
Casey’s General Store is a favorite stop, where the workers have come to prepare treats for their feathered visitors.
“I get a beverage, they get a doughnut,” Redmon said.
Matt Redmon works for Indiana Box, while Redmon stays home to take care of the birds. It’s practically a full-time job, socializing the animals and feeding them.
Redmon frequently sets aside an afternoon to pack dozens of plastic sandwich bags with chopped fresh fruits and vegetables, which are fed to the birds along with cooked foods and seed.
She also travels to Indianapolis to take her birds to see a traveling veterinarian.
Dr. Scott McDonald, who specializes in exotic birds, grew up in Indianapolis and is now based in Chicago. He makes his living traveling the Midwest — and also spends about two months a year in California — to provide veterinary care to bird owners including Redmon.
In the past 10 to 15 years, McDonald has watched bird sanctuaries spring up all over the place to accommodate the increasing number of displaced birds.
Many bird owners start out with the best intentions, McDonald said.
“The reality is, people’s lives change. Someone dies, they have a baby, they move to an apartment,” he said. “This is a big problem in the bird world; there are so many unwanted or secondhand birds.”
The Redmons don’t plan to let that happen to their animals. They have put into place plans for where their birds will go once they no longer can care for the flock.
Meanwhile, they’ll continue to treat the birds like family.
“They’re integrated in our everyday life,” Redmon said.
The couple are saving up to add a room to the house — for more birds that need a home, of course, Matt Redmon said.
“Figure somebody’s gotta do it, and I’ve always loved animals,” he said, glancing at his wife. “She got me to be a bird person.”
The Central Indiana Cage Bird Club is a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving the safety of exotic birds both in captivity and in the wild. The club also distributes information to bird owners about proper health care for the animals. To learn more or to get involved, visit centralindianacagebirdclub.com.