Exotic birds will miss each other if forced to move from Hamilton aviary: volunteers

The OSPCA says the city has to fix its aviary. The city wants to close it. Volunteers are scrambling to keep it open.

Volunteers scramble to keep the aviary open and worry about how closing it would affect 'social' birds

"We don’t think these birds deserve for us to give up," says Caitlin Smyth, with Sydney. (Friends of the Aviary/Facebook)

Sydney is a Senegal grey parrot who will crawl onto your hand and lower his head so you can scratch it. Pretend your hand is a gun, say "pow!" and he'll pretend to fall dead.

Coco, a 50-year-old African grey parrot, is the elder statesman of the Hamilton Aviary. Then there's Flint, another parrot, who croaks "hey sexy" and "whatcha doin'?" King does the sound of a telephone.

We don't think these birds deserve for us to give up.- Caitlin Smyth, Aviary volunteer

The volunteers who care for them have one month to assemble a plan and find enough money to keep the aviary operating. If they can't, these birds and 61 others will be dispersed to other homes with "willing organizations and individuals."

The issue is the building that houses the aviary is too decrepit to fix, the city says.

Asking for more time 

The best solution, it says, is to close the aviary and "rehome" the birds. The Friends of the Aviary successfully begged Monday for a little more time to resolve in-fighting, assemble some donations and come up with a plan.

It will be a challenge, said volunteer Caitlin Smyth. But birds are social creatures, and they're better with their long-time human and feathered friends who understand what makes them happy

"These birds need consistency," she said. "They've been together for so long."

"We don't think these birds deserve for us to give up."

The city leases the aviary's home — a converted house in Churchill Park — from the Royal Botanical Gardens. The birds used to live at Dundurn Castle, but in 1992, moved to an old fire hall. When the fire hall was sold, they moved to 85 Oak Knoll Dr.

Deadline looms to fix problems 

In August, the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (OSPCA) gave the city until December to fix mice and lighting problems at the aviary. City council's public works committee voted Monday to make a decision a month from now.

Ron, a green-wing macaw, is another bird at the aviary. (Friends of the Aviary/Facebook)

It would cost $1.5 million to rebuild the aviary, the city says. Closing it will save $22,000 a year. The aviary is closed to the public, the city says, and hasn't accepted any new birds in a while.

There are other complications too. The aviary's former two-person board is fighting with the current six-member board, which was elected July 31.

Board in-fighting complicates operations

The old board doesn't acknowledge the new one, said Smyth, who's a member of the new board. The city keeps working with the old board, she said, thus invalidating the new directors. Sometimes, there's dispute over who can even enter the building.

Dwight came from the African Lion Safari because he was hard to handle, says volunteer Scott Crooker. Now he gives volunteers kisses. (Friends of the Aviary/Facebook)

Smyth believes this matter can be resolved — at least somewhat — over the next month. She also believes there are community resources, such as donated supplies and labour.

It's important to the birds, she said. And it's important to the human volunteers too.

Sherry Houston, for example, has volunteered with her son Ben for eight years. Ben is autistic, Houston said, and birds are his love.

Through his work at the aviary, Ben has grown more confident, Houston said. Now he volunteers with other animal organizations too.

"There's a lot of healing that's done," she said. "There's a lot of work done by the birds that no one really appreciates."