Tuesday, August 12, 2003

Birds of a feather -- and some without -- find haven in Everson

Mollywood Avian Sanctuary co-founder Betsy Lott plays with Blue, a 15 year old Orange Winged Amazon from California. Lott said every hook-billed bird is on one of the lists for endangered species, even parakeets.

Christina Hallock
Lynden Tribune reporter

Volunteer Troy Huartson, 14, plays with one of the sanctuary's "signature" birds, a pink moluccan parrot. Owner Betsy Lott said parrots really enjoy being with other parrots and dislike being alone.

Sanctuary's oldest bird is a 52-year-old retired breeder. Betsy Lott gently reaches into an oversized white cage for Beeba, a light pink moluccan parrot that has plucked off more than half of her own feathers. As Beeba sits on Lott's arm, a moluccan in the next cage begins squawking like crazy. "That's Romeo," Lott said. "He's the only fully-feathered bird who loves Beeba." Lott places Beeba in with Romeo and he immediately begins fluffing his feathers for the female visitor. "He's just looking for trouble," Lott smiles knowingly.

Such is the day-to-day life at the Lott home for Betsy and her husband, Nate, and their brood of nearly 200 cockatoos, parrots, parakeets, lovebirds and other hook-billed wordy birdies. The couple operates the Mollywood Avian Sanctuary in Everson and tends to the physical, emotional and social needs of the birds, most of which have been rescued from breeders and abusive homes. "People buy these birds and don't know the commitment they take," Lott said. "A parakeet can live 10 to 20 years. A macaw can live for more than 60 years."

The Lotts' unplanned parrot-hood came about 10 years ago in late October while living near San Jose. When neighbors across the street were going to let their two parakeets go free, the Lotts spoke up and became "parents" for the first time. About two years later, they purchased a young parrot through a newspaper ad. A few months later, they saw a macaw at a feed store and took it home.

The bird-loving couple began reading about taking care of the exotic creatures. Over the next several years, they inadvertently got involved with parrot rescue, going from owning 12 birds in 1996 to 92 birds by January 2001. "I had planned on early retirement," Nate Lott laughed. "But this has really changed my world view. It's time to do something good."

In October, the Lotts moved their flock of 131 to a roomier, affordable home in Everson so Betsy could stay at home and care for them. The Northwest climate is good for the birds, and there are very few parrot rescue programs in this region. "There are 60 million exotic birds out there for only 7.1 million homes," Lott said. "A market cannot sustain that."

Although a 1992 import ban keeps exotic birds from coming into the United States, ongoing breeding and the longevity of some breeds still creates a glut on the market. Some birds are simply without homes or find themselves with a frustrated owner who didn't expect the expense or time these birds require.

Morgan is a moluccan rescued from an owner who wanted to put the bird to sleep to not have to pay for a veterinary bill. He was also beaten with sticks. "Morgan eats breakfast with me every day," said Del Rita Dussell, the sanctuary's "number one" volunteer and Betsy's mother, who lives with the Lotts. "I'm grandma bird."

Dussell is also grandma bird to poor Sara, a moluccan who was purchased to be an "ornament" at a bed and breakfast, Lott said. "They found out that she was loud and messy, so they put her in the basement," Lott said. "She was alone by herself, so she plucked all her feathers off. When she was done with that, she ate her toe off." A new employee to the establishment found Sara and turned her over to the Lotts. That's the way many of these colorful creatures come, without feathers or toes and feeling insecure.

At one point, the Lotts tried to find adoptive homes for the hook-bills, but all the large birds they adopted out came back, no matter how much the Lotts educated families about their care, Lott said. For now, the Lotts simply enjoy the mix of personalities that make up such a large family, even Fred, who is nicknamed "Professor Pottymouth." He was owned by an older man who was developing Alzheimers and cursed frequently.

Another parrot who came to the Lotts because of a couple's divorce repeats the squawk "I pay the bills" and once caused Nate's parents to question if the Lotts were having marital problems. As Budda, "Daddy's Girl," hops upstairs looking for Nate, eight other "children" take their turns on perches in the living room and kitchen squawking to their delight -- and the Lotts don't even seem to mind.

"Everyone speaks their own language very well," Lott said.

Volunteers, donors keep Mollywood flying
Christina Hallock
Lynden Tribune reporter

Donors can sponsor a bird to help keep the Everson safe haven running. Nearly 200 hook-billed species of birds are cared for in the Lotts' Everson home in two garages and throughout their living quarters.

Each large bird stays in its own oversized cage and enjoys plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, pellet food and toys. Smaller birds congregate in an outside aviary. But it takes the commitment of volunteers and donors to keep the operation going smoothly.

"Even a parakeet costs $100 for a checkup at the vet," Betsy Lott said. "We spend about $15-20,000 a year on vet bills alone."
She said that, even after discounting, the daily fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables for the birds cost about $900 a month. Pellets and small seed cost about $700. Buying cages is what really strains the budget, Lott said.

The bigger birds are brought out of their cages daily by the Lotts and volunteers and are held or given the opportunity to fly a bit. They are rolled outside in their cages on sunny days and sprayed with a light mist of water for a bath. "Some people say we're warehousing our birds, but this is not our plan for them," Lott said.

Aside from the day-to-day expense, the Lotts are trying to raise funds to build a large two-story indoor/outdoor aviary where the birds can fly freely with one another. "These are flock animals by hardwire," Lott said.

She hopes to eventually open the non-profit sanctuary as an education center where visitors can observe the birds.

There is still a large need for volunteers and donors at the sanctuary. Lott said she needs an office manager to help organize and apply for grants. Volunteers can also learn how to make time-consuming parrot toys, clean cages, cut up the daily produce or just visit with the birds.

Kathie Huartson of Lynden and her 14-year-old son, Troy, have been volunteering regularly since December. They change paper on the bottom of cages, fill food bowls and play with the birds. "I thought it would be a good learning experience for us with our birds," Kathie said. "And this way, we can help take care of the birds without really owning them. "It's kind of a bonding thing for us," she said, pointing to her son.

There is also a need for people with electrical, welding and plumbing skills to assist with the large aviary. Materials like fir and maple wood, weld wire, the root balls of birch and alder trees, square tubing and chain link fencing are needed. "Even PVC can be helpful," Lott said.

Over the long term, Lott said, she hopes the sanctuary will run itself, with a steady list of volunteers and small admission fees helping to pay for upkeep. "We just want the birds to be happy, to just let them be birds," Lott said.

For more information on how to help, call Mollywood Avian Sanctuary at 966-7490 or visit www.mollywood.net.

Copyright © 2003 Lynden Tribune. All rights reserved.
P.O. Box 153, 113 N. 6th Street, Lynden, WA 98264 USA
phone: 360-354-4444
FAX: 360-354-4445

Reprinted from Lynden Tribune - Tuesday, August 12, 2003


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