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Beak Squad helps parrot owners understand their birds

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« on: June 27, 2009, 05:45:50 pm »

Beak Squad helps parrot owners understand their birds
The Press-Enterprise
10:00 PM PDT on Wednesday, June 24, 2009

When Joni Shaffer's children grew up and moved out of the house, she found a new flock -- with vibrant feathers and a wide vocabulary.

"I needed them to refill my nest," said Shaffer, 49, of Menifee.

Shaffer owns four parrots and is the founder of the Beak Squad, a club for parrot owners.

Members meet once a month and exchange tips on everything from feeding to cleaning their birds. Each meeting features a guest speaker who shares his or her expertise.

Shaffer said she started the club to help people learn some of the things that took her years to discover.

She remembers going home with a cage, a bag of seeds and some toys when she got her first bird eight years ago.

"I said to myself, 'Now what?' I don't want other owners to feel as clueless as I was," she said.

Over the years, she has learned that parrots need a varied diet that includes seeds, nuts and fruits. She always keeps a plastic tub of salad for them in the fridge.

And she has learned that parrots need a lot of attention and entertainment, she said.

Owning a parrot is a lifelong commitment, Shaffer said. Some large birds live to be 60 years old in the wild and 80 to 100 years old in captivity, said Sean Halbert, founder of the Olive Branch Parrot Rescue Inc. in Redlands.

"They are the kind of animal you need to include in your will," Halbert said.

During a recent club meeting, members gathered on the back patio of Shaffer's home. Some let their birds perch on a stand; others had them on their arms or shoulders. Occasionally they gave the birds a peck on the beak or rubbed them on the head and under their wings.

They agreed that the birds are worth the time and effort they require.

Laura Gilliam, 40, of Temecula, found her citron cockatoo, Buttercup, on the Web site of a rescue group in Northern California. She read Buttercup's description and fell in love.

"It's a bit like online dating," Gilliam said. "Now I can't imagine a life without her."

The Beak Squad meets at 4 p.m. the third Sunday of each month.

Information: www.thebeaksquad.com

Reach Erica Shen at 951-763-3466, or eshen@PE.com
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