Volumes on domestic birds, dog training, and gardening were stacked neatly by subject, revealing Diane Pinko’s interests as soon as we entered. Diane’s Bay Area home was warm, tidy with a few expected pieces of furniture and ceramic knick-knacks, but not cluttered. Two black Standard Poodles roamed from the living room to the back bedroom, passing by bird cages and standing perches. Like the birds we were there to meet, the dogs were both rescues, adopted by Diane.
I unpacked my camera, and Pam, the Development Director of Mickaboo Companion Bird Rescue, flipped to a new page in her notebook. Diane peeked over her glasses with a rosy smile, and offered us shortbread cookies and coffee. I happily accepted. This was our fourth shoot for the day, but not the last. A few minutes later, halfway into my coffee, she began to introduce us to her flock.
A Species Coordinator at Mickaboo Companion Bird Rescue, Diane specializes in finding homes for African Grey parrots and Canaries. If a potential adopter contacts Mickaboo for either of those bird species, they may end up meeting Diane and her birds. For our purposes in this shoot, a Blue Fronted Amazon named ‘Charlie’ made an appearance first, brought out of his cage to perch on a wooden dowel held by Diane. He was Diane’s first foster bird, one that she eventually adopted.
For the next hour, Diane reenacted some of her day-to-day caretaking routines for the camera. The photographs attached to this interview are from our visit with Diane, while the brief interview was completed via email after the shoot. Below are Diane Pinko’s written answers to my questions about being a foster parent for birds.
MW: How, and when, did you become involved with bird rescue, and with Mickaboo Companion Bird Rescue? How long have you been a foster home for birds?
Diane: “I had two budgies that I bought at pet stores. I got more and more interested in birds and wanted to learn more about other species. I did a lot of reading, but wanted some first-hand experience with various medium sized species before adopting. I thought, what better way to do that than by fostering for rescue? I took the Mickaboo Basic Bird Care class in October 2010, went through the approval process, and had my first foster bird in early December, 2010. This turned out to be Charlie, Blue Fronted Amazon. I never in a million years thought I’d get an Amazon, but there he was needing a home and there I was, newly approved and very eager to foster. I wound up falling in love with Charlie and adopted him.”
MW: How many birds do you foster, and what breeds do you care for? How many birds do you have that you’ve adopted?
Diane: “My personal birds are Peeps and JayJay, the budgies and Charlie, a Blue Fronted Amazon.
I have fostered various species including Amazon, Indian Ringneck, lovebird, cockatiel, canaries, and African Greys. I most frequently foster canaries and African Greys because I am the Adoption Coordinator for those species and take them in emergencies when the are no other options available. I try to limit myself to no more than three fosters at a time. That seems to be the max I can handle and still give the fosters, my own birds (and my two dogs) the time and care that they all need. I’m currently fostering Simon the cockatiel and Pharaoh, a Congo African Grey.”
MW: What’s the hardest obstacle you’ve encountered, or had to overcome with a foster bird?
Diane: “Feather damaging behavior has been common with the Greys I’ve fostered. It’s pretty common with that species. Greys are sensitive and prone to plucking. It’s a very difficult habit to break once it’s entrenched. Some of them have been plucking for years before coming into rescue. Sometimes it’s the reason given for their surrender. Adopters can be reluctant to choose a bird if it plucks.
Biting is a problem with the bigger parrots. That’s because the bites from the big guys are more serious and painful. The little guys can bite, too, but it’s not such a big deal with them.
I’ve had several sick canaries. Either they don’t tolerate the shelter very well or they were surrender because they were already sick.”
MW: What is your daily routine with the birds like?
Diane: “I’m fortunate to be retired, so I have the luxury of more time to spend with my birds and dogs.. I’m up early and start cleaning cages and fixing breakfast at about 7:00am. As I clean each cage, that bird gets to come out and have some interaction with me. After the cage is cleaned that bird goes back in the cage to have his/her breakfast. I go through the cages in a particular order: 1) healthy birds out of quarantine; 2) quarantine birds; 3) sick birds (if any).
I’m generally in and out during the late morning/early afternoon. Birds are in their cages during this time, but do get ambient attention and I’ll sit with this one or that one and talk for a bit.
During the late afternoon and early evening each bird gets direct attention at whatever level they can handle. For instance, Coco, a very tame Congo African Grey would come out and sit on the couch with me and get head scritches and treats and some trick training. Simon the cockatiel shoulder surfs while I sit at my computer or watch tv. While Belle, a Timneh African Grey who doesn’t like to be handled, might just hang out on her stand next to my computer table. I’ll take one of the birds in the shower with me. Or on a nice day I’ll put one of them in a small cage and take him out in the yard. Each bird gets his or her turn for attention. This all takes time and they have to share me. That’s why I limit myself to no more than three fosters at a time.
The Greys go to bed at 7:00pm. The other birds go to bed at 8:00pm.
The sick birds get the same routine except that I’m extra careful about their quarantine. They get handled last and I wash up afterward. In addition, they would get whatever meds they need.”
Special thanks to Diane Pinko at Mickaboo Companion Bird Rescue for welcoming us into her home, and for being a part of “For the Birds”.