by Christopher Zeoli
When I was 18, my mother (Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo) was talked into taking in a Moluccan cockatoo by one of our family friends. She didn’t know too much about parrots. But she could see this one was a sweet girl that needed a home. My mother named her “Tashi,” which means “Auspicious” in Tibetan. Like all Moluccan cockatoos, Tashi would sometimes screech in a way that could make your eyeballs hurt. And she came complete with a pre-existing anxiety disorder, causing her to mutilate the feathers on the lower edges of her wings.
When a feather is shed or plucked out, it will be replaced by a newly developing feather. As the new feather is growing from the follicle, the central shaft or “quill” (which is hollow and empty in mature feathers) is full of blood. If that developing feather is crushed or mutilated, the quill is essentially an open channel from which the bird can “bleed out” and possibly die. The standard method for stopping the blood flow is to take a pair of pliers, and yank the remainder of the damaged feather out so that the feather follicle can close. As you can imagine, the parrot does not enjoy the procedure.
So my first experience with parrots looked like this: My mother restrains Tashi so she can’t bite us. Tashi is screeching at deafening, ear-piercing volumes. I’m pulling out the bloody, broken feathers with needle-nose pliers, and there’s blood everywhere. All the while I’m thinking to myself, “This is ghastly! Parrots are NOT for me!”
Being a responsible new parrot owner, Jetsunma did research to learn about parrots and how best to take care of them. Her thorough investigation helped to prepare her for the many challenges of parrot care. It also alerted her to the growing, yet typically ignored problem, of unwanted parrots. Jetsunma was horrified to discover how often unprepared parrot fanciers would buy a parrot, expecting a docile, personable animal, only to abandon it a few years later after experiencing the bird’s wild, unruly, destructive nature. While just scratching the surface of this unseen issue, she learned of dozens upon dozens of parrots being evicted from their homes because the owners had simply “had enough.”
Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo is not the kind of person that turns a blind eye towards suffering. She typically sacrifices her own comfort in an effort to alleviate the suffering of others. Whenever she would hear about a suffering or homeless parrot, she would want to take it in and feed it. This hands-on approach of compassionate activity is the purest expression of the Buddhist philosophy that we follow.
A few years later, this story finds us living in Sedona, Arizona. At this point, Jetsunma had approximately six parrots. They occupied one room on the downstairs level of her house, and I occupied another. Because I was living in her house rent-free, I was often enlisted as an obligatory laborer for taking care of the birds. At first, I felt fairly neutral about my parrot care obligations. But after a while, I began to enjoy them. I was getting to know the parrots. I felt like I was beginning to understand them, and they had come to trust me.
We later moved to another house in Sedona. This one had a separate two-car garage that we refurbished into our first aviary. Once it was set up, I sighed with relief and thought to myself, “This is great! Now our parrots have lots of space.” But Jetsunma was thinking, “This is great! Now we have the space to take in more suffering parrots!” And with that, the first version of Garuda Aviary was born.
In 2007, we brought the flock to Maryland. For many of us, moving to Maryland was a return home (I grew up here). At the time, Garuda Aviary’s flock consisted of 36 parrots, and just a handful of volunteers.
A lot has changed since then. Garuda’s flock now consists of approximately 50 parrots and over a dozen volunteers. But what has not changed is our guiding philosophy, originated from the compassionate activity of our founder, Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo: Garuda Aviary is a rescue and lifelong sanctuary for parrots that have been neglected, abused and abandoned. We are committed to educating the public about the huge commitment, responsibility and difficulty of keeping parrots as pets, and to addressing the tragic effects of the cruel and inhumane parrot trade.
Please join us
Currently, Garuda Aviary receives numerous requests every week from people wanting or needing to relinquish their parrots. To continue our mission, we need your help.
Garuda Aviary is a 501(c)3 non-profit parrot rescue and lifelong sanctuary. Your generous donations are tax deductible to the full extent allowed by law.
Check out our “Volunteer” page! If you have any further questions about volunteering, please let us know. Email: GarudaAviary@earthlink.net
18400 River rd. Poolesville, MD. 20837