FORT WALTON BEACH — Over 160 exotic birds were rescued recently from a home where the owner had passed away, leaving them flying loose without food or water for several days.
The Fort Walton Beach Police Department notified the Panhandle Animal Welfare Society of the “extreme hoarding situation” on the evening of June 17, said Michelle Thorson, community development and public relations officer for PAWS.
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“They asked if we had protective gear to keep our team members safe, but they did let us know that there was a variety of birds that were in need of rescue,” Thorson said. “It was over 160 birds, and over 100 of them were free flight. So they weren’t in cages.”
After sending an animal control officer out to assess the situation, PAWS reached out to the Alaqua Animal Refuge in Freeport for help. The staff at the refuge immediately began preparing to intake the animals.
Alaqua is in the process of moving into its new 100-acre facility on State Road 20, and founder and president Laurie Hood said the move created a perfect opportunity to house the birds.
“We had just cleared out what we call our puppy condos, which are large rooms with wire sides and concrete bottoms, so they were perfect to move these birds into because they’re able to fly and they’re able to have the room to evaluate them properly,” she said.
The birds that were still in cages were retrieved later that day. Staff then worked to capture the more than 100 birds that were loose in the home.
“With the hoarding situation, it was a little bit of a challenge because there was a lot of materials that we were having to go over, and just making sure that our team was safe,” Thorson said. “But we were able to rescue every single bird that was in that area.”
The birds removed from the home included parakeets, cockatiels, love birds, a cockatoo and an Amazon parrot. A few baby parakeets were also rescued from inside the walls, where Thorson said some of the birds were nesting.
Some were still healthy when they were found. However, others were in much worse condition because of the days they had spent without care. Some birds had lost feathers and were experiencing weight issues. A few also had injuries such as missing feet.
“The person who was deceased, it’s my understanding that they were deceased for quite some time. So it was difficult and their status was unfortunate,” Thorson said. “They needed food, they needed water and they were in desperate need of that care. So it wasn’t ideal by any means.”
Following the rescue, the birds were taken to Alaqua, where they were evaluated and placed in quarantine to undergo medical treatment. Once they are cleared, they will be available for adoption.
“We like to quarantine for at least two weeks because it gives you time to see if anything is going to break or show itself that we didn’t originally see in the first examination,” Hood said. “After about two weeks we should have a good handle on how many would be able to be up for adoption.”
Hood said some of the larger birds were severely underweight and are being monitored so that they can reach a healthy weight before finding new homes.
A cockatoo named Bandit and an Amazon parrot named Tiki were already showing signs of improvement Wednesday morning after they were weighed as a part of their ongoing wellness checks.
“They’re doing pretty well. We have not lost any of the birds,” Hood said. “One did pass away when it first arrived here; it was pretty sick. They’re in various stages of health. Some seem to be pretty healthy. Some seem to need some ongoing medical care.”
The last rescue to this scale was when Alaqua took in about 80 large birds that were removed from an unhealthy situation alongside 400 other animals in Jackson County.
Most animal control facilities operate at near full capacity, and although providing individualized care for over 160 birds is “quite an undertaking,” Hood said it was important to help out.
Animal hoarding can be extremely harmful for both people and animals. People are encouraged to reach out for help before the situation worsens.
“I just think sometimes people get in over their head and they don’t realize it and they don’t reach out for help,” Hood said. “These animals need the care that they deserve to thrive, and it wasn’t very fair the conditions they were having to survive in.”
Anyone interested in adopting any of the birds can request an adoption application at firstname.lastname@example.org. Those unable to adopt can also help out by making monetary donations or volunteering their time. To find out more, visit https://alaqua.org/.