B.C. Exotic Bird Society members are in fine feather

Humour and passion fuel tireless drive to rescue birds and educate public about properly caring for them

From left: The B.C. Exotic Bird Society’s Brittany Schlenker

SURREY — At first blush, Dave Ellis seems like a normal enough guy. He works for a high-end office furniture distributor in Vancouver, lives in a Guildford townhouse with his wife Monica and plays a mean game of eight ball.

But there’s something about Ellis that makes him distinctly unique. Drop by his home and you’ll instantly see just how unique he is.

Ellis, you see, is a bird fanatic. And we’re not talking barn swallows and chickadees either. We’re talking domesticated, exotic birds – the kind that live indoors.

And at Ellis’s home, there are a lot of birds. Drop by some afternoon, as I did last Sunday, and you’re surrounded by them.

Some Indian ringnecks over there, a cockatiel, an Amazon, a massive Macaw, assorted cockatoos, a few lovebirds – one of which likes flying around and landing on your hand. Or your head.

His place is loud. When they’re not chirping, they’re talking or whistling or, occasionally, screeching.

And it’s lively. Ellis gives his birds free reign, and they take advantage.

But it’s not just the birds. It’s the bird accoutrements – the enormous cages, the toys, the ample food dishes. The guy really knows how to care for his feathered friends, and that’s why his living room is more aviary than conversation pit.

It is, in fact, a prime example of the perfect bird home. Parrots and their ilk are sociable and people-loving. They like to play, to mimic, to roam. They are, in many ways, like children, and they need much of what you’d give a small child.

This, and more, is the message Ellis wants to get out. That owning a bird is so much more involved than many think it will be. That they’re not just decorative items for a yuppie pad. That they are sentient creatures with needs. That they have a diet that goes far beyond mere seeds.

Ellis is vice president of the B.C. Exotic Bird Society, an organization formed in 1951.

“A bunch of bird enthusiasts got together and formed their own society,” he says. “To be a member back in ’51, I think it was 10 cents to join.”

Today, the 50-plus-member BCEBS turf stretches from Vancouver to Hope, but is centred primarily in Surrey, where at least half the members reside.

The organization has recently re-thought its purpose.

“We’re mainly a rescue now,” says Ellis. “We’ll take in birds that are no longer wanted by families. Maybe their demographics have changed, or they no longer feel a bird is needed in their lifestyle.

“And there are medical reasons too. People who suffer from asthma don’t do well with cockatiels and African greys – birds that have a high dander. Even if someone’s gotten sick and the bird is put on the back burner.”

Brittany Schlenker is the club’s adoption manager. She sits across from Ellis, having a great old time with her pair of outrageously wacky Goffin cockatoos, Mya and Liam.

Schlenker’s love affair with birds began when she “ran a pet store in Guildford and started training a budgie. And the budgie would ride a bunny around the store. And then I trained a cockatiel, and then I decided I really wanted a parrot.”

Schlenker now owns eight conures, two cockatoos, and a tiny parrot called a parrotlet. She talks about exotic bird sanctuaries such as the ones you’ll find at Coombs on Vancouver Island and Peachland in the interior. The BCEBS, she says, is a completely different concept.

“Most of these sanctuaries don’t adopt out once a bird has come into them. Sanctuaries are a last resort kind of thing where if you absolutely can’t find a place for a bird to go.

“I’d say our ultimate goal is to try and make rescues not needed anymore. We don’t really want birds to come into rescues. We want people to know what they’re doing before they get a bird. That’s mainly what our shows are for – to educate people what birds are like, that they have mood swings, that they’re basically children.”

Indeed, the BCEBS “shows” are great places to get a feel for exotic birds. The club recently put in an appearance at the Surrey Museum during its Easter event. It’ll do the same at the Cloverdale Rodeo, and later in the year at Ladner’s Pet Expo and at the Vancouver Pet Lover Show at Tradex in Abbotsford.

“We do the shows to introduce ourselves and to educate the public,” says Ellis. “If somebody’s looking for a bird as a pet, are they doing it for the right reasons? We’ll discuss how pet stores work, how adoptions work versus buying a bird from a breeder.”

The charitable non-profit BCEBS, says Schlenker, will never turn away a bird, and will never ask questions. Members will keep those birds or pass them on to family members, or adopt them out.

“The average parrot will go through seven homes in its lifetime,” she says, a hint of sadness in her voice.

On the table in front of me, Chico the lovebird has methodically shredded a newspaper page – not the Now, thankfully – into a series of perfectly uniform strips. And now, Mya the cockatoo has perched on my finger and is persuading me into a game of synchronized head bobs.

Everyone laughs.

For more info, contact the B.C. Exotic Bird Society at bcexoticbirdsociety.org.

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