Mariposa Life

Debbie Croft: It's loving, cuddly -- and it's a cockatoo?

Debbie Croft

Killer, short for Kilauea, is named after a volcano in the Hawaiian islands. Grabbing the bars of his cage with his feet and then his beak, this Moluccan cockatoo made its way to the other side, to get a better view of the humans who had come to visit.

Curious, the bird began pacing slowly, back and forth, hoping for some attention. But the visitors kept talking.

He tilted his head. Then paced some more. He hung upside down, swinging slightly, like a child who was trying to be patient, but didn't appreciate being ignored.

Other birds in the aviary also vied for attention, with ear-splitting calls.

"Hello! Hello!"

Finally the cage door opened, and Killer hopped onto his owner's hand. He stepped across to another hand and walked up the arm to the shoulder, where he sat contentedly. With a gorgeous crested head and an undercoat of salmon pink plumage beneath feathers of snowy white, these creatures can become bonded to their owners, just as any other household pet. Generally Moluccans are aggressive and loud, but with consistent training, their strong, sensitive personalities can be tamed, making them great companions.

In Bryce Evans' aviaries, Killer is only one of the many beautiful and sometimes raucous birds he enjoys raising.

It started more than 20 years ago when a friend went on vacation and Evans watched the friend's bird. After that he bought a bird for himself: a goffin cockatoo. Then he bought a mate. It wasn't long before he brought home another bird, and another and another.

On his property in Mariposa County he raises 40 to 50 birds at any given time. One or two stay in his living room, but most are kept in large caged areas in an outdoor aviary. A separate smaller building is for new or diseased birds to be quarantined in.

When pairs mate, eggs are incubated. After hatching, he hand-feeds the chicks, with a special formula in a demitasse spoon. After a week or two, he takes the young birds to a friend in Fresno who continues feeding until they're weaned; afterward they return home to Evans.

Posty is 18 years old, a white umbrella cockatoo with a tinge of yellow underneath. Her mate, Melbourne, and her parents also live with Evans.

Rudy is a double yellow-headed Amazon parrot. She was hatched with a broken leg that has since healed. At nine months old her vocabulary now consists of about 50 words.

Beautiful, friendly and cuddly are some of the adjectives used to describe these creatures. Bird-owners recognize their intelligence and sociability, and are devoted to their pets, known as winged rainbows.

When asked why he raises birds, Evans replied, "Why do you have a dog or cat?"

Parrots want to be as much a part of the family as any four-legged pet does. And their antics can provide hours of entertainment.

His scarlet macaws, Nacho (the male) and Salsa (the female), keep each other company. These are bright red with orange, green and blue feathers in descending order.

African grays, lesser sulfur crested cockatoos, Senegals and green wing macaws are a few of the other birds Evans keeps company with. He says there are over 300 varieties of parrots.

His 25-year-old Australian rosella and a Lady Amherst Pheasant are covered with gorgeous feathers in crimson, blue, green, orange and white. The pheasant's tail and head are striking, with black and white stripes.

These birds vary in size, from several inches up to three feet long. Their diet consists of beans that have been soaked and cooked, nuts, seeds, berries, and fruit. In the wild they also eat flowers and insects.

For anyone interested in learning more, on the first Saturday of each month a bird mart is held at the Fresno district fairgrounds where breeders share information, and where birds and supplies can be purchased.

Always a gentleman, Evans is soft-spoken and a man of few words -- one who seems content to let his birds do the talking.

Debbie Croft writes about life in the foothill communities. She can be reached at composed@tds.net.

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