From the Mouths of Fosters: Love of fostering –by Joan Weinzierl
Ah, bird love. Gary and I recently marked our first year as an MDPR foster family, and I’ve been thinking about how this bird love thing starts. In the past year we’ve lived with and learned from a Timneh African Grey, 3 Amazons (a blue-fronted, a double yellow-headed and a yellow-shouldered) and a male Goffins cockatoo that we THOUGHT might strike up a friendship with our female…until his friendly overtures were met with a nasty toe bite. (You took it like a gentleman, Raja!) The face that every foster bird burrows into your heart makes it hard to say goodbye, but it’s SO satisfying to watch a healthy, well-adjusted bird eagerly go home with a family that’s looking forward to being with him for life.
For me, the bird love started with a lovely little white parakeet named Snowball when I was 6 years old. I wore gloves when he stepped up to me because his talons scratched, but I was fascinated with his tiny strength, his sweet voice, and his wings. That sound of wings always, always makes me smile.
I stuck with parakeets until I left Illinois, and had a few birdless years as I bounced around Colorado looking for my own ‘forever home.’ Denver felt permanent enough to look for a roommate, and I found the perfect one – a cockatiel named Phoenix, my last pet store bird. Phoenix had a terrible fear of hands, and he tolerated no touching, petting, stepping up or holding for 6 months. Then, one Thanksgiving morning, he abruptly decided I’d passed probation and became a thoroughly affectionate and happily social bird for years with me and almost everyone else he met. The sound of Phoenix flying through the house to land on my shoulder when I came home was the perfect end to the day, and the tiny warmth of his breath on my cheek as he slept on my chest was the definition of sweetness.
After Phoenix passed, a friend asked if I’d adopt another cockatiel from her relative. Then, a coworker was looking for a new home for his Goffins cockatoo. A habit was forming – becoming family to birds whose previous families simply couldn’t stay with them any longer.
Finding that perfect match isn’t easy or quick. And when a bird may live 20, 30, 40 years after adoption, it shouldn’t be a quick decision. So where does that creature go while waiting for his next family? That’s where fostering comes in: being a home where adoption-ready birds in good physical health can continue to have normal interaction with a family in a home environment, eating good food, playing with safe toys and maintaining social skills until his new family finds him at an MDPR adoption event. The fosterling learns to adapt to different groups of people, and the foster family learns about new species and characters in the weeks/months their fosterling spends with them.
Being a foster mom is finding the leather tags on all your jeans have been nipped out with the skill of a seamstress, and the shoulder of your favorite robe looks like Swiss cheese. It means dancing to K.C and the Sunshine Band with an overly-energetic cockatoo and snuggling with an Amazon whose human companion for decades has passed away and left him lonely. It means giving a timid bird distance and finding after a few weeks that when he’s frightened he runs (yes, runs) to you for protection and comfort. And it means learning that a creature a fraction of your size can come to trust you so deeply that she will fall asleep in the crook of your neck, making tiny sounds as she dozes.
It kinda means you fall in love over and over and over, and let each love go for the most wonderful of reasons. And seeing the smiles on the faces of that new family, and the first tentative steps of your fosterling into his new flock, really does make those goodbyes worthwhile.