“Chats” with Miss Vicki

Written By: B.D. Butler - Aug• 26•13

chatsI’ve been blogging and in the world of aviculture for a while now, and I am constantly learning.  Not only am I learning about my writing, but I am also learning about the people who are as I call the “movers and shakers” of the avian world.  

The past couple of years I have been working with Miss Vicki’s Parrot Village, after being referred to them by a few colleagues.  From the second of chatting with Vicki Knox LeClaire on Facebook and via email, I knew I adored this woman!  She is full of gumption and gusto and not to mention a sense of humor that cracks me up!  

I am not sure if you are have heard of Miss Vicki’s Parrot Village, or the woman behind it all… but you have now! I asked if she would like to do the next installment of “Chats” and she agreed! 

PE: What brought you to realize your love for birds?
VL: When I saw my Moluccan, Mulligan, for the very first time, he was sitting in the store-room of a breeder’s store in Lexington, SC.  He was naked and alone, and there was something in his inky black eyes that told me he fully understood this situation was not right and he deserved more.  I had never experienced that sort of connection with an animal before, and as a life-long animal lover, that was something I could not turn away from.
missvickiPE: What is it about birds that gave you the “bug”?
VL: As soon as I learned that trust could be earned from a parrot, I was bitten, both literally and figuratively.  The whole experience of taking in a bird that was fearful and aggressive and gradually building a trust with that bird was one of the greatest experiences of my life.  I have been hooked on birds ever since.
PE: What kind of birds have you owned through the years?
VL: Prior to learning of rescue, through my experience with Mulligan, I purchased two cockatiels from a pet store.  Tang remains with me to this day.  Rocko passed away in 2008 after suffering a stroke.  Since then, I have adopted birds that have come into The Village that I have made a connection with and are not adoptable by the general public.  I have three Moluccan Cockatoos, Mulligan, Persephone, and CocoaBean.  I also have a Goffin’s Cockatoo, Abigail, and a white-capped Pionus, Jack.  Persephone has no feet and her wings have been pinioned, so she needs a full-time parent who can let her roam out of her cage all day.  Abigail and Jack have a history of attacking people, so they would not do well in a home, but we get along beautifully, so I adopted them as my own. 
vickiPE: How many birds are currently at Miss Vicki’s?
VL: We have 63 birds here from Conures to Macaws.  This included my own birds.  Approximately 40 are adoptable.  We also have an indoor aviary 12 cockatiels that are retired breeders, but we have been able to adopt a few of them to great homes.
PE: What would you tell someone who said; “I think I want a parrot”.
VL: Visit a rescue first, then decide.  Then, if the decision is “Yes”, do a lot of research before ever bringing the bird into your home.  By visiting here or any other rescue, a person can not only hear what birds really sound like, but they can also see the worst-case scenarios of parrot ownership.  While the vast majority of our birds have been surrendered by loving families who could no longer care for them, we also have several that are here because of aggression, illness, plucking, mutilating, destruction, and/or noise.  They can also see how many birds are here because their owner passed away, which puts into perspective the idea that your children or family are not always going to take your bird(s) when you pass.  It is important to try to visualize a parrot in your home and in your life for the next few decades rather than think about how “fun” it is going to be to get a new animal.  As a home-based rescue, a person can see first-hand what living with parrots really means. Some will fall in love right away, some will be overwhelmed, some will change their mind, but all will be informed.
PE: What made you go from bird lover/owner to bird advocate and start your own 501 (c)3 org?
VL: I always knew I would be in the non-profit sector once my children were grown and I was able to start a career of my own.  I find great satisfaction in helping people, but I am passionate about helping animals.  When I started researching how to care for Mulligan, I learned of parrot rescue.  At that moment, I knew exactly what I wanted to do.  I spent the next several years learning everything I could about parrots, then I used my business schooling to turn The Village into a non-profit.  It just happened to be the perfect storm of timing, location, schooling, and Mulligan that got this going.  It still amazes me how it has all come together.
vicki.villagePE: If someone wanted to adopt a bird, how would they begin the process?
VL: With The Village, the first step is an application and an Open House.  We hold an Open House the first Saturday of each month from 12-4.  This allows the public in without constantly stressing the birds with frequent visitors.  It also allows people to come in with an open mind about different species to consider adopting.  Many times people think they want to adopt one species, but after visiting all of the birds, they find a completely different species of parrot that choose them.  It is wonderful when that happens.
PE: What tips could you give someone who is looking for a reputable rescue to adopt from?
VL: First and foremost, adopt from a rescue that takes the birds to an avian veterinarian and quarantines incoming birds.  There is no standard for rescues regarding acceptable vet care, but at the very least, each bird should be examined by avian veterinarian.  We do blood work, then we will add in cultures or Gram stains as deemed necessary by our vets.  Some rescues do more, some do less, but I find this to be the most important benefit we can give these parrots.  Their stay in rescue does not have to be in vain, and making sure they are as healthy as possible before rehoming them is the responsible thing to do.
 

PE: If someone wants to relinquish a bird, what things should they look for in choosing a rescue?
VL: I think it is important to know that the rescue you are considering is an actual registered business and not simply someone who “rescues” birds.  Also, steering clear of anyone who posts that they are looking for birds, like what you will find on Craigslist or in the classifieds of your newspaper.  No reputable rescue needs to go searching for birds; more come to them than they can handle.  Anyone searching for birds is likely a flipper, and should be avoided.  
Meeting with the rescue ahead of time is also a good idea.  You can get a feel for how the birds are cared for and the personality of the staff and volunteers.  Most rescues have Facebook pages, and this is a very good tool for researching, also.  You can usually figure out who has surrendered birds, and you can send them a message and ask them if they are happy with their decision.  
We follow the guidelines set by the Avian Welfare Coalition, and we use their shelter manual as a guideline for running the day-to-day care of the birds.  There are varying degrees by which these guidelines can be followed, but the list found on their link is a good start for anyone facing the surrender of their companion parrot.  http://www.avianwelfare.org/needhelp/placing.htm


PE: You have been such an inspirational member of the avian community and helped so many people and birds in countless ways, which are some of the members of the avian community that you look up to?

VL: Thank you very much for the kind words.  Being an inspiration to others is worth more than a salary, and I am fortunate to be able to do this.  I am almost afraid to say names out of fear of missing someone.  But, there would be no Village if it weren’t for the very first person I met here in Atlanta, Janelle Kovner.  She is the Vice-President of the Georgia Companion Bird Society, and we met via Facebook.  I was new to Atlanta, and just starting the Village, and she introduced me to everyone in the club.  That built the cornerstone, and we have expanded greatly from there.
I am inspired by anyone who makes sacrifices to help parrots.  Sometimes this sacrifice is time, sometimes it is money, sometimes it is grief and negativity that they experience while working within the rescue community, sometimes it is their very own bird.  I am inspired by every volunteer who comes here to help.  I am inspired by every person who comes to an Open House to learn about parrots.  I am inspired by everyone who has opened their hearts and homes to a parrot in need.  I am inspired by those who surrendered their parrot because they could no longer provide for them.  I am inspired by every person who has taught me something new.  That is a long list of people, and it grows by the day, but I could not do this without each and every one of them.
PE: What is your favorite part of the aviculture community and it’s members?
VL: My favorite part is the pure scope of knowledge available from all facets of aviculture.  Whether a person is in rescue, a breeder, a veterinarian, or even a new bird owner, they all have something to offer the rest of us who work with birds.  Everyone is so eager to share their knowledge and experiences, so the pool of valuable information is limitless.
PE: Tell me about your educational focus for future members of the aviculture community. 
VL: While our focus has been on educating adults who are adopting parrots, we are now working to include educating the young, as well.  If we can teach them about the plight of homeless parrots from a young age, they may become responsible parrot owners or never buy a parrot to begin with as adults.  By educating at a younger age, we can hopefully lower the need for rescue in the future.  While the return isn’t as fast as that of teaching an adult how to care for a parrot they have adopted, the return on investment is much greater if parrots are not put into homes in the first place based on impulse or uneducated purchase.  If I can see the return on that investment in my lifetime, I will die a very happy person.
vicki.magazinePE: What things do you think the current avicultural community needs to instill in future parrot owners?
VL: Parrots are wild animals, they need to be allowed to be wild animals, and just because they are beautiful and intelligent, does not mean they should be held in captivity and forced to be companions to humans.  But, if they are going to be held, then at the very least, everyone should be able to recognize quality parrot care vs. inhumane warehousing.  Most people recognize when a dog or a cat is being kept in substandard conditions, but most have no idea when they see a large parrot in a small cage in a room by him/herself with only seeds to eat that it is wrong.  When the public becomes educated then they will be able to change the laws.  That is the very least we should be able to provide such magnificent creatures.
PE: What are the top three things that you think a good rescue needs to succeed?
VL: 1.  As much as it pains me to think of it this way, a rescue must be designed and function as a business in order to succeed.  The focus is not money for personal gain as it is in a for-profit business, but if a rescue wants to be able to offer the absolute best for the parrots in its care and withstand the months of low donations, like the summer months, emergencies, large surrenders, etc. then they need to understand some level of business planning and execution.
2.  A rescue, in order to succeed,  must learn how to work with other groups.  That includes helping, sharing of information, sharing of resources, general goodwill, and respect. We don’t all do things the same way.  We all have our own strengths and weakness that we need to share, also, but there are too many birds in need of homes to expect individual groups to be able to handle the demand longterm.
3.  A rescue must have the ability to know its limits and be able to say “No”.  It is more difficult than I can ever express, but it is an absolute necessity for success.  This can be made easier and turn out best for the parrots if the rescue follows #2, also.  Instead of giving the bird’s family a flat-out “No”, the rescue can say “No, but let’s see who we can find to help you…”  It keeps birds in rescues where they can be evaluated, rehabilitated, and rehomed in a safe environment rather than bounced around from home to home.
PE: What are the top three things you think are most important for being a parrot owner?  
VL: 1.  The willingness to learn new things every day.  If a person has the mentality they are an expert, they are not open to new ideas and better ways of caring for their parrot.  No one is an expert.  All of us continue to learn.  The day we stop doing that for our parrots is the day we have to ask ourselves if we are worthy of them.
2.  Try to keep perfectionist tendencies to a minimum.  Again, parrots are wild animals, and they are going to exhibit wild behaviors by nature.  This means they will be messy, they will be loud, they will bite, they will poop on the floor, and they may even pluck their feathers.  Parrot owners who are the most successful do not let these things stress them out.  They learn to manage each trait rather than “fix” it, thereby allowing their bird to have the true feelings of love, acceptance, and understanding.
3. The ability to set aside money and plan.  Parrots are with their families for a very long period of time, and it is important for a parrot owner to be able to afford the care needed for that length of time as well as the ability to plan for the future of the bird(s) when they are no longer able to care for them.  Often times, birds are surrendered to a rescue because the owner does not have the money to pay for an emergency surgery or they end up in rescue because no plans were made upon the passing of the owner.  Saving and planning can make those transition much easier for family, friends, and the bird(s). That is another reason to choose a reputable rescue to adopt from.  They will help you with these things, unlike a store that simply sells birds.
vicki.villagePE: Tell us about a “day in the life” at Miss Vicki’s. 
VL: Our days are 12 hours long and usually start at 9am with the morning food and water.  We feed Chop or Volkmans cooked foods most mornings because this is when the birds are the hungriest and most likely to eat their fresh foods.  Yes, you sometimes have to be sneaky with picky parrots!  This can take around 2.5 hours.  Then, there is an attempt to sweep the floor from the previous day’s messes.  The fresh food stays out about 3 hours, then everything is collected and washed.  We feed only Harrison’s pellets, so those are given in the afternoon.  Water is changed again in the late afternoon.  During the hours that are not spent cleaning and feeding, a lot of playing is going on.  Birds that get along are let out in groups for 2-4 hours, then another group follows.  Every bird here that wants to be held is held each and every day.  That takes hours, and it is the toughest job you will every love!  We also spend time stick training birds in case of emergency, taking care of boarding birds, and having one-on-one visits with families who have attended an Open House and are ready to visit with their chosen bird.
Cages are cleaned on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.  Pressure washing takes place almost every day, and Thursday is vet day and mopping day.  We randomly weigh birds, do nails, and give showers almost every day, so it is a full schedule here. The birds go to bed at 9pm.  We use blackout curtains to keep them free from moonlight, so they get a very good night’s sleep.  The Goffin’s protest bedtime the most, but the Amazons are out like a light!  The evenings are spent placing orders, going over emails, returning phone calls, and organizing other projects.  I force myself to go to bed at midnight and wake up at 7am; I need my alone coffee time each morning in order to prepare for the day ahead! 
PE: Does your family help out, and what do they think of your work with parrots?
VL: My daughter, Madison, is 18 and is largely responsible for my initial interest in birds.  She has been with me every step of the way.  My son was already in college when the rescue started, so he is still trying to figure it all out.  I think he is proud of me for what I do, but I don’t see him becoming a parrot owner any time soon.  My husband works around the rescue because we had an agreement that I would give up my career to stay home with the kids while he climbed the corporate ladder.  He climbed, I stayed, and now he is being a man of his word.  I thank him for that!
vicki.2PE: Where would you like to see the world of aviculture in ten years?
VL: More than anything, I would like to see less conflict and more cooperation. I would also like more people to recognize there is an actual crisis taking place with parrots in captivity.  I want to see those in the avian community stand up against anyone who jeopardizes progress through negativity and stand up against anyone who thinks it is perfectly acceptable to continue to breed parrots.  All of us can learn from the knowledge base breeders possess through years of working with the species they breed, but they can also learn from those of us who have to tend to the birds they are responsible for breeding and selling.
A big thank you to Vicki for taking the time to sit down and participate in “Chats”!  Miss Vicki’s Parrot Village is also September’s Rescue of the Month, for more information, please click here!  
Copyright 2013 – Parrot Earth – “Chats” with Miss Vicki

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10 Comments

  1. Janet Hilton says:

    I have had the honor of meeting Miss Vicki and seeing her Village in action. Thanks for this interview, and keep up the good work…..BOTH of you!

  2. Paula says:

    What a spectacular interview, and what a joy to read! Kudos to Vicki for all she does; this just made my day. I enjoy her Facebook updates about the parrots she cares for, but this article explains a great deal and fills in the blanks, so to speak. Her opinions make such sense and she is a gem among parrot adoption/sanctuary organizations. Thanks for interviewing her.

  3. ellen says:

    hi vickie
    i just read your article and very impressed by it. i did avian rescue for about 15 years before i had to retire from rescue. a lot of my birds were neglected or special needs. i now have just one bird and she was my second blue and gold macaw- my featherless wonder – LOL – i miss what i used to do but she and i are like one now

  4. Kenneth says:

    Can you please get me in touch with this miss vicki i have a cockatoo that is in need of attention ….popcorn was handed down from grandmother that passed away …and she cant be cared for properly here

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