All posts by Christopher Zeoli

Director of Garuda Aviary

understanding skin mutilation

Skin chewing, or skin mutilation is a commonly occurring problem amongst the various species of Cockatoo. It can happen with other species of parrot. But it is most often seen as a persistent problem in Cockatoo. Much like feather plucking, the phenomenon is widely misunderstood. Most people, including people with zero parrot experience, have it set in their mind that skin chewing is caused by stress, anxiety and/or depression. So, when a cockatoo mutilates its own skin, the owner will often inundate the bird with antianxiety medications and supplements to no avail. Because these medications do not address the root cause, no improvement is seen.
As we covered in our post about feather plucking; ‘Unraveling the Truth of Feather Plucking‘, feather plucking is not caused by stress, anxiety or depression. The same is true for skin mutilation. Stress, anxiety and depression can exacerbate the tendency to pluck feathers or mutilate skin. So, to most parrot owners, it appears stress, anxiety and depression are causing the tendency. But they are not the initial cause. Making proper diagnosis even more problematic, likely causes for skin chewing vary from one Cockatoo species to the next.
In every case I have heard of, the initial cause of skin mutilation is purely physical. In the case of Moluccan Cockatoo, the most common cause for skin mutilation is an inflamed spinal nerve.
In their natural setting, all cockatoo have a highly demanding, athletic, survival-oriented lifestyle. This gives their bodies a strong muscular core. In a domestic setting, they do not develop such an athletic body. Without strong muscular spinal support, and the slouching that often happens in cages, moluccan cockatoo often suffer from age-related upper spinal compression. This vertebral distortion often irritates and inflames a spinal nerve that emerges from the thorax at the top of the sternum. This is why Moluccan Cockatoo often mutilate skin on their upper keel. An avian specialist aware of this phenomenon will start the bird on gabapentin, which reduces nerve inflammation. If the inflamed nerve assumption is correct, immediate improvement is seen. If that improvement isn’t enough to stop the bird from mutilating skin, The specialist may opt for a rhizotomy to kill the inflamed nerve. But this surgical procedure can be hit-or-miss.
For Umbrella Cockatoo that chew the skin on their keel, an inflamed spinal nerve is also the most likely cause.
But there are a variety of other reasons why any parrot species might mutilate its skin. An Eclectus was brought into our specialist’s office that was mutilating the the skin around where its liver is located. Routine bloodwork revealed that the bird had a diseased liver. One of our Macaw mutilated the skin on the back of its neck. The cause was an infected cluster of feather cysts. One of our Goffin’s Cockatoo had a known hip injury. At one point, that bird mutilated a couple of its toes in response to hip pain.
In essentially every case of skin mutilation one might encounter, the original cause is purely physical. Therefore, one’s response to their parrot chewing its skin must begin with a thorough examination and bloodwork preformed by an avian specialist.
But a question remains; why do we most often experience prolonged and chronic skin mutilation with the various species of Cockatoo? Why are they disproportionately affected?
The answer is found in the stereotypic behaviors of Cockatoo. These behaviors are commonly characterized as the “negative” behaviors that most Cockatoo exhibit; obsessive/compulsive tendencies, elevated fear based aggression, naturally elevated prey anxiety, etc. Cockatoo are pertinacious in their natural habitats. Their obstinate or even obsessive nature serves them well in the wild. Most species of Cockatoo come from very demanding environments that a lackadaisical animal would not survive.
But in a domestic setting, a Cockatoo’s relentless, obsessive tendencies often lead to problems of a chronic, neurotic nature.
For hypothetical example, if a Cockatoo develops a physical issue that causes skin mutilation, and that initial issue is successfully treated, the Cockatoo may still continue to mutilate its skin because the behavior has become habitual. Furthermore, if the undesirable behavior provokes a consistent response from the owner (good or bad), then the Cockatoo has even greater incentive to continue the behavior. The parrot has now trained the owner to respond on command.
This is why I say parrots are so much better at training people then people are at training parrots.
Stopping Cockatoo skin mutilation then becomes twofold; treating the initial physical problem, and defusing the subsequent obsessive behavioral habituation. The longer the initial physical problem progresses, the more ingrained the unwanted behavior becomes.
So, if your parrot begins to chew its skin (especially if it’s a Cockatoo), do not assume it is a response to anxiety or stress. Have your parrot thoroughly examined by an avian specialist to find the physical cause. The sooner you find the initial physical problem, the less ingrained the resulting unwanted behavior will become.

Animal rescue is essential

The introduction of the COVID-19 virus into our society has shifted our perspective on life. We are at a time when we are more focused on securing the resources necessary to keep ourselves and our loved ones healthy, safe and happy. But it is important that we do not loose sight of those that need us. Due to increased layoffs and shutdowns, the number of animals being abandoned has increased. At a time like this, animal rescue becomes even more vital. When an animal is abandoned, its life is essentially over. But animal rescue and sanctuaries give that deserving creature a second chance at life.

Click here to make a recurring or one-time donation to Garuda Aviary using PayPal

Click here to make a recurring or one-time donation to Garuda Aviary using PayPal Giving Fund, with no fees!

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.

Garuda Aviary
18400 River rd. Poolesville, MD. 20837
E-mail:    GarudaAviary@earthlink.net

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Unraveling the Truth of Feather Plucking

Greetings, friends!
Here at Garuda Aviary, we rescue parrots from adverse, even desperate conditions. So unsurprisingly, we see a lot of parrots exhibiting plumage destructive behavior, also known as “feather plucking”.
Feather plucking is probably the most common affliction faced by parrots in a domestic setting. So common is this problem. But also, so misunderstood. When visitors to our aviary see that some of our rescued parrots have mutilated plumage, they often ask what terrible trauma they’ve endured to cause this unsightly behavior. That is when I have to blow their minds with the truth; stress and anxiety do not cause feather plucking.
Now I know all of you “parrot people” are screaming heresy! But it’s true. Anxiety, stress and depression in parrots is not the cause of feather plucking. While anxiety, stress and depression can exacerbate feather plucking, they do not cause feather plucking. How do I know this? Observation. When you get to know a great many parrots, you eventually see some surprising patterns. Most of the parrots you will encounter in domestic settings are the product of domestic breeding. But around 15% of them have been captured from their natural wild habitats. “Wild caught” parrots brought into the U.S. after 1983 were illegally smuggled in. These parrots have endured a cruel and terrifying journey that so many parrots do not survive. If stress and anxiety cause parrots to pluck out their feathers, then the wild caught birds should look horrible. But they don’t. Their plumage is usually perfect and beautiful. They are often crippled by fear and dysfunctional with aggression. But they maintain their plumage beautifully. Stranger still, the parrots that do all of the feather plucking are the domestic-bred parrots. Parrots that are a product of domestic breeding often have sheltered, uneventful lives. Generally, the worst problem they face is boredom and a lack of stimulation.
Now, I know some of you are thinking “That’s it! Boredom causes feather plucking!” No… that’s not it either. But I’m glad you’re paying attention.
So, to recap; parrots born from domestic breeding, typically cared for with uneventful lives, are the ones that pluck out their feathers and destroy their plumage. Meanwhile, “wild caught” parrots, having been profoundly emotionally damaged by being violently stolen from their natural habitat, maintain beautiful plumage. That is one of the surprising patterns you see when you get to know a great many parrots. And it is the exact opposite of what you would expect to find if you believed that stress and anxiety cause feather plucking.

So why is it like that? To find out, I went looking for any new information on feather plucking. What I found was an emerging theory in avian science circles regarding “chickhood learning”.
The theory postulates that parrots teach their offspring vital skills in the first year or two of life before the fledgling leaves the nest. One of these skills is plumage management. And this lesson probably dovetails with anxiety management.
When a parrot chick starts to grow feathers, those feathers start as pointy little quills. The uneducated chick may want to pull those quills out because they are uncomfortable (similar to a human infant during teething). The parents, sensing the chick’s discomfort, stops the chick from pulling the quills out and instead demonstrates plumage management by grooming the chick. This ritual is probably soothing and comforting for the chick. Later in life whenever the adult offspring grooms itself, it experiences an “endorphin recall” wherein pleasant chickhood memories trigger calming endorphins.
In domestic parrot breeding, chicks rarely get to meet their parents. Usually the fertilized egg is removed from the parent’s care and placed in an incubator. The chick is hand raised and sold as soon as possible. These parrots never get the benefit of learning from their parents. So, they must figure out how to manage their plumage without instructions. At first, this seems to work. But once the parrot gets into its adult years, the problems start to emerge. As the domestic-bred parrot experiences the tiniest bit of commonplace anxiety, it starts grooming obsessively. Without the endorphin recall, this preening does not have the same calming benefit that it would for a parrot raised naturally. So, the domestic-bred parrot preens and preens, searching for relief that never comes. Until… they accidentally pull out a feather that wasn’t ready to be shed. Pulling out a growing feather is slightly painful. That pain triggers endorphins. Then in a very short time, the parrot learns that it can consistently manage its natural anxiety with the endorphins that follow plucking a feather out. This is the bird essentially self-medicating with the endorphins that follow pain. And then you have a self-taught behavior that looks exactly like trichotillomania in people. Trichotillomania is also a healthy grooming habit gone awry, where over-grooming becomes an obsessive/compulsive coping mechanism for anxiety.
Now maybe you’re thinking, “Hey, didn’t he just say anxiety is causing the feather plucking?”. No, I did not. What I’m saying is that feather plucking is symptomatic of a more fundamental problem. Stress and anxiety aren’t the root of the problem. A lack of chick-hood learning is the root of the problem. Stress and anxiety are triggering a presentation of the underlying problem.
Please note; we are assuming for this topic that all of our hypothetical parrots are otherwise perfectly healthy. So if a domestic-bred parrot begins to pluck out its feathers and an avian specialist veterinarian says it has no health issues causing the plucking (such as pathology or parasites), then we can assume the plucking is caused by the phenomenon I described. This phenomenon is not rare outside of the parrot-keeping world. For example, dogs and cats that were weaned too early or improperly have been known to present symptoms of obsessive/compulsive disfunction. What I have described is the parrot version of that.
Can feather plucking behavior be cured?
I honestly don’t think so. You can’t effectively replace information that needed to be learned at a formative time. So, if your parrot begins non-pathological feather plucking, please don’t get anxious about it. If you do, the bird will pick up on your anxiety, and become anxious itself. And please do not try to stop it from preening. That would only interrupt necessary hygiene. Just love your bird, and accept it for who it is, not how it looks.

Animal rescue is essential
The introduction of the COVID-19 virus into our society has shifted our perspective on life. We are at a time when we are more focused on securing the resources necessary to keep ourselves and our loved ones healthy, safe and happy. But it is important that we do not loose sight of those that need us. Due to increased layoffs and shutdowns, the number of animals being abandoned has increased. At a time like this, animal rescue becomes even more vital. When an animal is abandoned, its life is essentially over. But animal rescue and sanctuaries give that deserving creature a second chance at life.

Click here to make a recurring or one-time donation to Garuda Aviary using PayPal

Click here to make a recurring or one-time donation to Garuda Aviary using PayPal Giving Fund, with no fees!

2019 Holiday Perspective

Greetings and Happy Holiday wishes from all of us, here at Garuda Aviary!

Welcome to another End of Year Perspective! But before I go on to describe how Garuda Aviary has advanced education¹ and awareness regarding parrot care² and advocacy, we want to help you celebrate the holidays!

Looking for no-fail gift ideas? Looking for an eco-conscious present that won’t end up in a landfill? Well look no further!! Garuda Aviary has got your back! Parrot Sponsorship Certificates make great gifts! Supporting a parrot through our Sponsorship Program is the ideal way to care for a deserving parrot. And the best part is, you don’t have to do the dirty work! That’s our job! When you sponsor a member of our flock, you receive via email a printable certificate with pictures of that parrot and details of your sponsorship.

Sponsorship Certificates make great gifts!
What’s better than showing someone you care with a truly meaningful gift? Your gift recipient can receive via email a Sponsorship Certificate in their name! It’s the most eco-friendly gift ever!

Click here to give Parrot Sponsorship as a gift!

A Parrot Sponsorship Certificate from Garuda Aviary is a gift that you can feel great about, because they come from your favorite champions of parrot welfare. We work tirelessly to care for parrots that otherwise had no hope. But that is simply not enough for us. We consistently raise the bar with parrot advocacy and public education. Earlier this year, our Director, Christopher Zeoli, was invited to speak at the University of Maryland’s Animal & Avian Sciences Dept. in College Park¹. There, the undergrads and he discussed unique parrot pathologies and the viability of parrots as pets.
Garuda Aviary’s public education continues with our ‘Diet Talk’ series². These posts convey specialist-level information geared towards teaching parrot owners how to have the healthiest, most harmonious relationships with their parrots.
And in the warm weather, our visitor area is open, our flock enjoys our flight cage, and parrot education is free and readily available to the public.

Sounds too good to be true? Well, almost. We can’t do all of this alone. We need your help to continue to benefit parrots. Your donation makes this all possible. Please consider making a one-time or recurring monthly donation. And then after making a donation, smile, knowing that you are absolutely making a difference. That the money spent was well worth it because it relieved suffering and made nurturing care possible.

Click here to donate using PayPal Giving Fund

PayPal Giving Fund is a nonprofit charity support service that allows you to donate without paying any extra fees! So, every cent you donate goes straight to supporting rescued parrots!

Happy Holidays from all of us at Garuda Aviary!

²Diet Talk (Yes, Again!) 4/19/2018
²Diet Talk- The Next Level 12/5/2019

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.

Diet Talk- The Next Level

In our previous post regarding diet, “Diet Talk (Yes, Again!),” we discussed what impact diet has upon a parrot’s demeanor. We observed how an abundance of calories from “fruit season” foods in a parrot’s natural habitat causes mating season behavior, such as heightened aggression, elevated anxiety, obsession, etc. “Mating season behavior” is also one way to categorize most of the behavior that tends to get a parrot evicted from a human home.

Previously, I made my case against feeding your parrot too much fruit sugar. The folly of giving your parrot too much fruit is much the same as feeding a child too much candy. They are hyper. They cannot control themselves. They cannot focus their attention. They can become combative or overly emotional. This is true for parrots and children with inflated glucose levels. And fruit doesn’t really have many valuable nutrients anymore. Vegetables are far better and should be used to replace fruit in a parrot’s diet.

But there’s more to this picture than just blood sugar levels. For a more refined understanding of the influence diet has upon a parrot’s demeanor, one must understand the dynamics of phytoestrogen.
Phytoestrogen occurs in plants, and is chemically similar to estrogen produced by animals. Similar enough to promote estrus in animals, including humans. Foods with high levels of phytoestrogen are known to be estrogenic, (promoting estrus). You’ve probably heard of soy-based supplements used as treatment for low estrogen levels. This helps because soy has tons of phytoestrogen.

Excessive phytoestrogen in a pet parrot’s diet is the most common cause of negative behavioral issues; aggression, anxiety, obsessive/compulsive behavior, etc. And, of course, chronic egg laying.

My case against most fruit in a parrot’s diet is twofold. I’ve already mentioned the undesirable effects of excessive sugar. But most fruits also contain significant levels of phytoestrogen. This combination makes fruit a double-whammy for causing bad behavior. And you shouldn’t assume that a parrot cannot be stimulated and entertained by raw vegetable cuisine. Our birds absolutely love cauliflower, green beans, broccoli, and jalapeno. Yes, jalapeno! Parrots don’t have the taste receptors that make peppers seem hot. Yes, there are many highly entertaining vegetables.

Chronic egg laying is a common problem with pet parrots. Not all female parrots lay eggs. But many female parrots in a domestic setting will lay eggs all year round. I’ve heard quite a few parrot owners say their parrots lay anywhere from 6 to over 12 eggs a year. That is totally unnatural! Most types of parrots in their natural habitat will have a window of time each year for the females to go into estrus and bear young. The rest of the year, they do not lay eggs.

When I started researching estrogenic foods, it dawned on me why pet parrots lay so many eggs. The 3 foods most consumed by pet parrots are estrogenic! Sunflower seeds, walnuts and almonds all have elevated levels of phytoestrogen. These 3 foods are the 3 most common staple foods fed to parrots in the home. After that, the food most frequently fed to pet parrots is fruit. Which means nearly every food in a typical pet parrot’s diet is estrogenic. As a result, these birds spend virtually their entire adult lives with their mating season physiology turned on. This is a problem not only for the owner who must endure the parrot’s worst behavior, but also for the parrot that cannot pacify its own relentless
impulses.

While this may all sound a bit complicated, fixing the problem is not complicated at all. And you don’t have to remove every source of phytoestrogen in your bird’s diet. You can gradually dial down the phytoestrogen until you get the results you want. A moderate amount of phytoestrogen in the diet is okay, and can have a hormone stabilizing effect. The problem we’re addressing today is excessive phytoestrogen in the diet.

First, you must identify the biggest sources of phytoestrogen and remove them. Fruit was always my first target. The singular, most important step in this process is to remove most of the fruit from your parrot’s diet. You will never get the behavior you want from your bird until you greatly reduce its fruit intake.

Do not feed your parrot soy, unless your avian specialist specifically told you to (but I can’t imagine that actually happening). As I mentioned, soy has lots of phytoestrogen. And you can’t completely avoid soy because it is used as a cheap source of protein in pellets. So you don’t want to add any additional soy to their diet.

If your parrot’s diet includes flaxseed, sesame seed, yam, bean sprouts, alfalfa sprouts or wheat germ, I would just go ahead and remove them. They may be relatively nutritious, but not enough to justify their high levels of phytoestrogen.

Removing most fruit and the foods I just mentioned is the first and easiest step. You can gradually do that over the course of 3 months. Most parrot owners will see significant improvement just from that. But if your bird is more sensitive to phytoestrogen, (most chronic egg layers are) then you should move on to step 2; reducing sunflower seed, almond and walnut.

I highly recommend reducing sunflower seed, almond and walnut in any case because they have significant levels of phytoestrogen. But remember, they are sources of protein. So if you remove them, you must replace them with another source of protein. The appropriate replacement is a bean and grain mix. When you mix beans and grains, you get all the amino acids necessary to constitute a complete protein.

Your bean and grain mix does not require exotic ingredients. These are easy to find items. Lima beans, red beans, lentils, quinoa, whole brown rice, whole unprocessed wheat grain, whole barley, whole oats, for example. Sometimes we use a whole grain pasta as the grain. My Amazons eat quinoa and black lentils like it was candy.

Yes, beans and grains have phytoestrogen. But not as much as the seed and nuts that they are replacing. When you replace seed and nuts with beans and grains, you are definitely reducing phytoestrogen.

Here at Garuda Aviary, we feed our flock a mix that is 2/3 vegetable & 1/3 bean/grain 5 days a week. But on Mondays and Thursdays, they get a mix of 50% sunflower seed, 50% ZooPreem Natural, and a couple of almonds &/or walnuts on top.
This diet precludes estrus. This is the anti-breeder diet. Our flock of 53 parrots has not layed an egg in 6 years. This is without Lupron or any other prescription hormone reduction medication. And our flock’s bloodwork results are typically fantastic (via our avian specialist veterinarian).

We have accepted parrots with terrible reputations, displaying insane behavior. After 2 months on our diet, they are calmer and more lucid. They can engage in thoughtful interaction. This vital part of their rehabilitation happens easily and naturally, simply because the excessive phytoestrogen was removed from their diet.

Now let’s say that you’ve done everything I’ve described thus far, but haven’t seen the results I’ve told you to expect. You’ve removed fruit in favor of vegetables, and reduced seed & nuts to replace them with beans and grains. But somehow, your parrot is still laying eggs and acting like a monster. First, if that bird was still laying eggs, I’d say go to the vet for bloodwork. The answer should be there. But if the bloodwork comes back clean, then your parrot is simply very sensitive to phytoestrogen. In which case, I would recommend our aviary diet that I just described. You can also look for the beans and grains that are higher in phytoestrogen, and avoid them. Lentils, mung beans and black eyed peas (for example), could be avoided.

A few things to consider:

The diet I’m describing is suited for over 95% of popular parrot breeds. However, there are a few breeds that require a unique and specific diet due to the conditions of their evolution.
Lorikeet, for example, are specialized fruit eaters that require fruit in their diet. They even have a tongue that is uniquely modified for fruit consumption.
Hyacinth Macaw are another example. In their natural habitat, the fat and protein rich palm nuts from oil palm are their staple food. As a result, Hyacinth require a lot more tree nut in their domestic diet.
So if you have a parrot with unique breed-specific dietary requirements, you should find a reputable source for information regarding that breed’s special needs. Otherwise, the low-phytoestrogen diet that I described in this post is ideal for most parrot breeds.

Also, I am not a veterinarian. I have nearly 30yrs of experience in caring for large numbers of parrots. In that time, I have had countless conversations with every caliber of veterinarian and avian specialist spanning every conceivable topic relating to parrot care. Every day, I see 53 rescued parrots whose quality of life was profoundly improved by (amongst other factors), a low-phytoestrogen diet. If it works for us, I’m sure it will work for you too.

Christopher Zeoli
Director
Garuda Aviary

 

Donate Today, Fee Free!

Now with PayPal Giving Fund, you can donate to Garuda Aviary without paying any fees! And every penny of your donation goes directly to giving a parrot a second chance at life.

CLICK HERE to Donate to Garuda Aviary Using PayPal GivingFund

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.

Sponsor a Rescued Parrot

Supporting a parrot through our Sponsorship Program is the ideal way to care for a deserving parrot. And the best part is, you don’t have to do the dirty work! That’s our job!When you sponsor a member of our flock, you receive via email a printable certificate with pictures of that parrot and details of your sponsorship.

Sponsorship Certificates make great gifts! What’s better than showing someone you care without giving them something that’s just going to end up in a landfill anyway? Your gift recipient can receive via email a Sponsorship Certificate in their name! It’s the most eco-friendly gift ever!

How to sponsor a parrot;
First, pick which parrot you want to sponsor from this page on our website: Our Flock (click here to go there now).

Second, send us an email at GarudaAviary@earthlink.net telling us which parrot you want to sponsor, and for how long. We will reply to confirm the details of your sponsorship.

 

Sponsorship Rates (per month)

Small Parrot
Conure: $30
Goffin’s Cockatoo: $30
Medium-small Parrot
Amazon: $40
African Gray: $40
Medium-large Parrot
Umbrella Cockatoo: $50
Sulphur Crested Cockatoo: $50
Large Parrot
Macaw: $60
Moluccan Cockatoo: $60

 

 

 

Garuda Aviary
18400 River rd. Poolesville, MD. 20837
E-mail:    GarudaAviary@earthlink.net

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An End of Year Perspective

We often think of parrots as pets. But technically speaking, they are undomesticated. Not enough selective breeding has occurred to cause significant changes. A parrot that was hatched as a result of domestic breeding is essentially identical to a parrot hatched in its natural environment. Ergo, there is no such thing as a domesticated parrot.
But because they are intelligent and inclined to live in social groups, they can appear tame. And they can imitate human speech, a feature that further inflates their popularity.

In 1983, the import of wild parrots into the United States was banned. So, domestic parrot breeders stepped up their production to supply the growing demand for parrots as pets. What that increase in domestic parrot breeding created was an inundation of parrots that are predisposed to obsessive/compulsive disorders, plumage mutilation, skin mutilation, and a variety of other neurotic behaviors.

So, you have undomesticated wild prey, that are intelligent and socially engaging. People fulfill their exotic fancy by purchasing them in vast numbers, only to bring them home and find out they bite, they scream… and they develop emotional and psychological pathologies that are easily as profound as that which humans suffer from.

As a result, Garuda Aviary receives an average of 3 to 4 requests a month from people who feel the need to abandon their parrots.
Many of those requests are for parrots that are more appropriately adoptable to another private owner. Garuda Aviary specializes in parrots that are not adoptable. We offer lifelong sanctuary for parrots that have no future. Parrots that have special physical, psychological or emotional needs. From hyper-aggressive Cockatoos to health-compromised Macaws, we care for parrots that require a dedicated facility with a knowledgeable, compassionate staff.

An Update on Last Year’s Inductees

Odin & Frigga

Odin can be quite a handful. While his mate, Frigga, is an innocent and timid girl. Odin challenges all authority and tries to dominate the scene. He’s been a real headache for the other Macaws. But they’ve shown him a unified front. I’m confident that with their guidance, Odin and Frigga will settle in.

 

Mr. Huff

 

Mr. Huff seemed to know he was home when he arrived. He clearly enjoys all that life at Garuda Aviary has to offer. And the other Moluccans have been generally accepting of him. Huff is well on his way to becoming a fully fledged member of the Moluccan sub-flock.

 

Havoc

Havoc is exactly what we would expect, given the breed and history. Violent aggression is typical for Medium Sulphur Crested Cockatoo. And when they are captured and smuggled from their natural habitat as Havoc was, the trauma makes their violent aggression much worse. Which is why this bird had received a veterinary recommendation for euthanasia.
Imagine. That would have been the sum and total of Havoc’s life; violently captured and smuggled from the wild, rejected from one home to the next because she is terrified and reacts in the only way she knows how, with fear aggression. Finally she finds herself being sold at a flea market like unwanted rubbish, and then euthanized. How pitiful. The freedom of a majestic life savagely curtailed to unsuccessfully satisfy the exotic whimsy of a misinformed public.
Thank goodness she showed up on Garuda Aviary’s radar! We have a lot of experience with traumatic emotional problems like Havoc’s. And we won’t be offended by her fear-based aggression. The more she bonds with her new flock, the less compelled to behave that way she will be. From flying with her new compadres, to chewing up a steady supply of homemade toys, Havoc will find purpose and belonging in an environment that is especially suited to her needs.

Looking Forward

While it may seem quiet in the winter from the outside, there is still a lot going on inside of Garuda Aviary’s climate-controlled facility. This winter will see the construction of the new twin Macaw habitats. Keep an eye on our Instagram account for pics of that project, along with many other wonderful photos.
Also, Garuda Aviary will be featured on Atlas Obscura/WAMU, (D.C.’s NPR affiliate) their new series called “Hidden City,”. Stay tuned to our Facebook and Twitter feeds for updates on when in December that show will broadcast.

It’s Always the Season for Giving

When most people hear about animals that have been discarded, mistreated and abandoned, they feel sympathy and pity. Most wish they themselves could rescue the animal and bring it comfort. But very few people are equipped to provide a good life for the types of animals I’ve been reporting on. Very few people are in a position to physically help. That is why non-profit rescues and sanctuaries like ours are so important. Garuda Aviary is a specialized facility. We know exactly what to expect from highly demanding animals like these. And we are equipped to meet their needs. Here, they can form bonds with parrots of their own kind. We have the space for them to fly around, socialize and play. If they want to vocalize at the top of their lungs, they are welcome to. We wear earplugs. Parrots, in general, are fairly destructive. Cockatoos are particularly destructive. That’s fine too. We make parrot-safe toys for them to destroy. We provide a diet customized to a parrot’s unique biology. And when the need arises, we have access to highly experienced, specialized veterinary care.
Without Garuda Aviary, intelligent, sensitive animals like Havoc, Mr. HufflePuff, Odin and Frigga (plus the majority of our flock) would have continued to suffer, become more and more marginalized, and eventually euthanized.
But you can’t realistically smile, turn away and act like these problems are covered permanently. It doesn’t work that way. There will always be parrots in need. And we cannot tackle the issue alone. We must work together to effectively make a difference. Garuda Aviary can provide the hands-on care that most can’t. That’s what we do. But we need your support to fuel the operation.
Monetary donations are obviously the most effective way to help. Now I know when we think about making donations, we feel a little pang of anxiety in our wallets and pocketbooks. Most folks aren’t rolling in money and don’t feel like they have much to give. But it is still possible to make a difference without breaking the bank. Usually, facilities like Garuda Aviary aren’t funded by a small number of people making large donations. It’s better when a very large number of people are making small, regularly scheduled donations. We all have numerous automatic charges made to our bank accounts and credit cards every month that pay for our online music and movie streaming. Modest recurring payments for services and nonessential utilities that make our lives run more smoothly. If everybody who ever saw an animal in need and wanted to help took a few minutes to set up even a modest recurring donation to a non-profit organization that rescued and cared for those animals, then they really could smile, knowing that they were absolutely making a difference. That the money spent was well worth it because it relieved some suffering or made some nurturing care possible.

Donate Today, Fee Free!

Now with PayPal Giving Fund, you can donate to Garuda Aviary without paying any fees! And every penny of your donation goes directly to giving a parrot like Havoc a second chance at life.

CLICK HERE to Donate to Garuda Aviary Using PayPal GivingFund

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.

Diet Talk (Yes, Again!)

At least once a week, Garuda Aviary is asked to take in another parrot. Usually the requests comes from people that are at their wit’s end with their parrots terrible behavior. The highlights of the undesirable behavior are typical; ear piercing vocalizations, a neurotic need for attention, obsession, etc… And when the owner tries to pacify the parrot by giving it what it wants, the behavior seems to get worse. And the owner may even get bitten in the process, leaving them to wonder, “Well, what in blazes do you want then!?!”
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Garuda Aviary’s first calling is to help parrots that have been so profoundly damaged by prolonged exposure to inhumane conditions that they cannot be placed in private homes, or parrots possessed of extreme behavioral disorders, like hyper-aggression. So when I’m being asked by a frustrated parrot owner to take in their feathered companion, I’m eager to help them get to the root of the problem so the owner will keep that bird, and it doesn’t become another statistic in the massive “unwanted parrot” problem. And in my personal experience, the root of the problem can frequently be found in the parrot’s diet.
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Technically speaking, parrots are undomesticated. That means they are no different from their counterparts in the wild. So one must first understand what a parrot’s diet is without the interference of humans. Any parrot’s natural habitat will have a season when the region’s flora produces bountiful food resources such as fruit, seed, and nuts. That region’s animal life, including parrots, will gorge themselves on these resources to stock up as many calories as they can claim. When this happens, a parrot’s drive to mate becomes much stronger. The parrot’s body is responding to the instinct to bear young when resources are plentiful. For the remainder of the year when fruit, seed and nuts are not available, a parrot will have to rely on the region’s vegetable plant life for sustenance. As food resources become less abundant, a parrot’s body knows that bearing young and keeping them fed will be too difficult. As a result, the parrot’s desire to mate decreases.
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So when a parrot’s diet is too rich in fruit sugars and the oils from seeds and nuts, it’s drive to mate is intensely elevated. These abundant, fast burning calories trick a parrot’s body into believing that it is mating season. The problem is that this hypothetical parrot is not in its natural habitat, fulfilling it’s instinctual needs. It’s in somebody’s home, screaming his head off and focusing all of its surplus neurotic energy on its poor beleaguered owner.
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I will share with you some dietary guidelines that will seem obvious once you understand what a profound impact high-calorie foods, (especially those containing sugars) have on a parrot’s demeanor. But you would be surprised how many parrot owners possess this knowledge, but seem to avoid using it. Why, you may ask? Usually it’s because we make the same mistake with our pet’s diet that we make with our own; we determine cuisine based upon emotional desire, not knowledge and logic. And we often seek to soothe emotional discomfort with food gratification. This is a short-term solution for people, and an utterly futile solution for parrots. The other reason knowledgeable parrot owners avoid feeding their parrots correctly is because it does require some extra work.
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Ultimately, their diet should be mostly vegetable and pellets. A little bit of fruit is ok. But remember, a parrot in its natural habitat won’t see any fruit for half of the year. The presence of fruit means it’s mating season. Put simply; sugars cause mating behavior, (which is usually bad behavior).
We will also talk about beans and grains as a source of protein that is nutritionally superior to seeds and nuts.
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I understand that it can be challenging to provide a variety of fresh veggies on a daily basis, but fresh would be much better then frozen or cooked. Frozen always has extra sodium and cooked has lost many of it’s nutrients.
Raw veggies are the cobblestones on the road to a happy, healthy parrot. Raw broccoli, (for example) has N-acetyl-Cysteine. That’s an amino acid used to treat people afflicted with trichotillomania, which is the human version of feather plucking.
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The problem with fresh vegetables is that they wither and spoil too soon. When someone owns one or two parrots, they don’t want to buy a bunch of lovely vegetables for them, only to throw most of it away in a few days. But there is a solution. As plant material decays, it emits a gas called ethylene. As more ethylene gas accumulates, it causes plant material to ripen and decay faster. Ethylene gas collects in your refrigerator and causes the vegetables inside to decay more quickly. But there is a solution. Now you can find products online or in your grocery store that neutralize ethylene gas. You can buy food storage bags and containers that are made to neutralize ethylene gas. Garuda Aviary’s refrigerator contains only vegetables and a little fruit. So we buy ethylene gas filters, which are packets of a crystallized material that absorbs ethylene gas. Having two or three of those packets in our refrigerator keeps our vegetables in great shape for an entire week. Products that absorb and neutralize ethylene gas make it much easier to store vegetables for longer durations. Make sure to follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for best results.
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Recommended veggies; cauliflower, broccoli (crown and stem), yellow squash, zucchini, carrots, radishes, celery, green beans.
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Beans; Add kidney beans, lima beans, lentils for protein. Beans should be served al dente, not mushy.
NO soybeans. They are estrogenic, (promoting or producing estrus). It is difficult to completely eliminate soybeans from a parrot’s diet because they are usually an ingredient in pellets. So we don’t want to increase soybean intake by offering fresh or whole soybeans.
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I generally recommend the reduction of seed and nuts in a parrot’s diet. But if a parrot’s behavior is really bad, I may recommend eliminating seeds and nuts from their diet altogether. Either way, you need to make sure that the bird is still getting sufficient protein. When beans and whole grains are consumed together, they combine to create a complete protein. Adding whole grain brown rice, oats, barley, quinoa, etc. to the beans that I mentioned above offers a source of protein that is nutritionally superior to seeds and nuts. And it is better to depend upon the bean & grain mix for protein because seeds and nuts intensify the mating instinct.
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So as you see, feeding your parrot in a way that improves its disposition is not terribly complicated. It just requires a little extra work and a bit of planning. And the underlying philosophy is simple; feeding a parrot all of the seed, nuts and fruit that it wants in an attempt to make it happy is short-sighted. The gratification  derived from these treats is short-lived. As soon as the treat is gone, so is the fleeting feeling of pleasure it caused. And what the parrot is left with, the long-term result, is elevated anxiety. The result of feeding a parrot a balanced diet is a parrot that is calmer and more emotionally stable… and a relieved owner.
by Christopher Zeoli
Director
Garuda Aviary

Making a Difference

I’d like to introduce you to four new members of our flock. Compared to parrots you see on popular entertainment media, these guys might appear a little rough around the edges. When they look at me, however, I see the eyes of children. Abused children. They are aware they have no control over their environment. Their eyes say, “I am ultimately defenseless. Please don’t abuse me.”

To which I say, “You needn’t worry any longer. You are safe here. That is why this place exists.”

Of course they don’t understand the exact meanings of my words. But they do feel my manner to be non-threatening. And that’s a start. Otherwise, it will take months, if not years, to earn their trust.

But that’s ok. Parrots are long-lived. So we’ve got the time.

The first three birds have been riding together on the same roller coaster of uncertainty for the last couple of years. A bonded pair of Blue & Gold Macaws and a Moluccan Cockatoo, (from a different owner) all found themselves at the same “sanctuary” in Pennsylvania. The reason I implied derision with quotation marks is because one of the macaws was attacked by a dog during its stay, something that shouldn’t happen in a reputable sanctuary.

A veterinary clinic in Pennsylvania contacted us, inquiring as to if we could take in a bonded (mated) pair of macaws. They explained that the male had been brought into the clinic over a year ago after being mauled by a dog. At first, it appeared this bird was missing the skin on the side of its head. But after extensive surgeries, the veterinary staff was able to reconstruct the mutilated skin. And despite severe damage to the eye, they managed to save it. Unfortunately, the function of that eye was greatly reduced.

To properly address this level of damage, treatment would not be on an outpatient basis. The male macaw would be in for a short stay. At this point, the sanctuary owner asked if the female could stay at the clinic to be with her mate. He also asked if they could stay for a couple of months, along with a Moluccan Cockatoo. For reasons unclear, he needed to find temporary boarding for these three parrots.

A year later, the sanctuary owner confesses that he absolutely cannot take these three birds back.

The veterinary staff did an amazing job treating the attacked male macaw. And they did the best they could caring for the three birds. But a veterinary clinic is not the place for lifetime care. They knew these parrots would need the enriched quality of life that can only be found at a reputable sanctuary.

To summarize; three very large, very intelligent parrots are abandoned by private owners to a “sanctuary” irresponsible enough to allow a nearly fatal dog attack. They are then abandoned again by that sanctuary to an unwitting veterinary clinic, after having been left to languish for a year. At that point in the story I said, “Alright. I’ve heard enough. This is ridiculous. They can live here.”

Odin and Frigga

Odin (showing damaged side)

Frigga

 

The veterinary clinic had no names on record for the macaws or the Moluccan. And the staff knew better than to name them, lest they invoke the curse that either the birds never leave, or the staff becomes emotionally attached to them. I, however, can name them. They aren’t supposed to leave here, (because we are a lifetime sanctuary). And we do tend to get emotionally attached to them. So when I saw the male macaw’s damaged eye, I assured him I would pick a name that makes it ok. Even cool. After a bit of contemplation, (largely on my favorite mythology, Shakespearean literature, Marvel Comics or other tales of intrigue and high adventure), I decided the Nick Fury character had done a lot to improve the potential coolness of individuals missing an eye. But he didn’t have a dynamic counterpart, a companion he would do anything for. The logical conclusion then, was Odin and Frigga.

Mr. HufflePuff

“Huff”

The veterinary staff in PA disregarded the curse and named the Moluccan Mr. HufflePuff, mainly because he puffs up and hisses when he feels vulnerable.

Havoc

Havoc

This Medium Sulphur Crested Cockatoo comes to us unrelated to the three previous inductees. A kind woman happened upon this handsome individual, for sale in a flea market. For the sake of reference, a parrot at a flea market is essentially at the end of their rope. Usually they’ve been juggled through so many homes and turned away from all of them. The woman that found him at the flea market purchased him, (without knowing anything about parrots) and hoped to find him a suitable home. She did manage to find him two different homes. Both returned him, complaining about violent aggression from the bird. At that point, her veterinarian’s suggestion was euthanasia. Fortunately, one more brave soul decided to give it a try before that final and extreme measure. In the nine months that followed, this man sustained numerous painful, blood-drawing bites. Most of these bites were on his hands and arm. But one time, our handsome Sulphur Crest flew up and bit this guy roughly one inch under his eye. Frankly, it’s hard to blame anyone for not wanting that in their home.

When this fellow reached out to me for help, he already knew the type of metal band around the bird’s ankle indicated that it was stolen from its natural environment, rather than having been bred by a domestic breeder. What he was unaware of, but not surprised by, was that what he had was one of the most violently aggressive breeds of parrot. I described for him the painful realities of keeping a Sulphur Crest, as I did in my post The Wild Cockatoo Heart. In my opinion, these birds don’t belong in homes. They belong in specialized facilities, when not in their natural habitat.

When most people hear about animals that have been discarded, mistreated and abandoned, they feel sympathy and pity. Most wish they themselves could rescue the animal and bring it comfort. But very few people are equipped to provide a good life for the types of animals I’ve been reporting on. Very few people are in a position to physically help. That is why non-profit rescues and sanctuaries like ours are so important. Garuda Aviary is a specialized facility. We know exactly what to expect from highly demanding animals like these. And we are equipped to meet their needs. Here, they can form bonds with parrots of their own kind. We have the space for them to fly around, socialize and play. If they want to vocalize at the top of their lungs, they are welcome to. We wear earplugs. Parrots, in general, are fairly destructive. Cockatoos are particularly destructive. That’s fine too. We make parrot-safe toys for them to destroy. We provide a diet customized to a parrot’s unique biology. And when the need arises, we have access to highly experienced, specialized veterinary care.

Without Garuda Aviary, intelligent, sensitive animals like Havoc, Mr. HufflePuff, Odin and Frigga (plus the majority of our flock) would have continued to suffer, become more and more marginalized, and eventually euthanized.

But you can’t realistically smile, turn away and act like these problems are covered permanently. It doesn’t work that way. There will always be parrots in need. And we cannot tackle the issue alone. We must work together to effectively make a difference. Garuda Aviary can provide the hands-on care that most can’t. That’s what we do. But we need your support to fuel the operation.

Many ways to make a difference.

Monetary donations are obviously the most effective way to help. Now I know when we think about making donations, we feel a little pang of anxiety in our wallets and pocketbooks. Most folks aren’t rolling in money and don’t feel like they have much to give. But it is still possible to make a difference without breaking the bank. Usually, facilities like Garuda Aviary aren’t funded by a small number of people making large donations. It’s better when a very large number of people are making small, regularly scheduled donations. We all have numerous automatic charges made to our bank accounts and credit cards every month that pay for our online music and movie streaming. Modest recurring payments for services and nonessential utilities that make our lives run more smoothly. If everybody who ever saw an animal in need and wanted to help took a few minutes to set up even a modest recurring donation to a non-profit organization that rescued and cared for those animals, then they really could smile, knowing that they were absolutely making a difference. That the money spent was well worth it because it relieved some suffering or made some nurturing care possible.

Charity Support Services

Charity support services are ideal for this kind of giving. You can donate without paying fees through PayPal Giving Fund. Another service is eBay for Charity. They can help you use your purchases to raise funds for non-profit charities.

In-kind Donations

Garuda Aviary gladly accepts new or unopened packages of:

  • Raw sunflower seed (in the shell)
  • Raw almonds, walnuts and mixed nuts (in the shell)
  • ZooPreem pellets (M/L FruitBlend flavor is preferred)
  • Paper towels
  • 39 gallon lawn/leaf garbage bags
  • Simple Green
  • Odoban

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Garuda Aviary’s primary purpose is to give quality of life to parrots that otherwise have no future. We have facility and expertise devoted to this mission. What we need is you. With your support, Garuda Aviary will always be there to make a difference.

Christopher Zeoli
Director
Garuda Aviary

 

Normalizing Compassionate Activity

When I see someone go out of their way to alleviate the suffering of others, it gives me hope. In a time when humans can so easily and so recklessly inflict profound damage upon the natural world, it can be easy to lose hope. As a species we can be blithely destructive, consuming untold resources just to appease our desire for comfort or amusement. The balance for this, (and undoubtedly the only thing that could stay our inevitable self-annihilation) is compassion. So when I see someone make the comfort of others a bigger priority then their own comfort, I think maybe, just maybe, we as a people can develop a sense of compassion that is greater than our destructive nature.

As our civilization evolves and our destructive potential increases, you can also see the balancing effect of compassion evolve in parallel. In earlier phases of our culture’s development, you may not see people committed to feeding or clothing the poor, or advocating for the rights of animals. Now you see these things. They have become more normal. Of course, large trends or societal shifts toward compassionate activity don’t just pop up out of nowhere fully formed. They start small with one person or a small group, and gradually gain momentum. People see the work of these pioneers in compassion and think to themselves, “That’s great work for a worthy cause. I wonder how I can help”.  Eventually these like-minded observers incorporate compassionate activity into their own lives.

Now, I’d like to introduce you to a couple of new friends of mine. They are very proactive with the kinds of compassionate activity that I find inspirational.

Rev. Dr. LoraKim Joyner is a Unitarian Universalist minister, wildlife veterinarian, and certified trainer in Nonviolent Communication. Her experience includes 30 years working in Latin American with marginalized people and endangered wildlife and nearly 20 years working in Unitarian Universalist ministry. And she is Co-Director of One Earth Conservation, which is dedicated to creating a better world by empowering the people saving the planet.

 

Rev. Dr. LoraKim Joyner and Christopher Zeoli

In Rev. Joyner’s own words; “I have worked in avian conservation in Latin America for nearly thirty years as a wildlife veterinarian. The beauty and the power of the people and parrots there draws me to be in solidarity with them and to witness and share their struggle. To be a better partner in promoting the health of individual beings and biotic communities, I became an ordained Unitarian Universalist minister, a Certified Trainer in Nonviolent Communication, and a member of the two-year Unitarian Universalist Entrepreneurial Program. These skills and experiences aid me in promoting the health of humans, for without the flourishing of people, the parrots do not stand a chance, and without the flourishing of life on earth, we humans will live narrower and less vibrant lives.”

Leigh Scott

Leigh Scott is a member of the Unitarian Universalist Animal Ministry, which is a group of concerned Unitarian Universalists and UU friends who desire to grow and express their faith as compassion towards all beings. Drawing on UU principles and sources, traditions, and congregational life to deepen awareness of the interdependence of life. And supporting one another in not just learning how caring for all beings is a moral and religious issue, but also engaging in concrete actions that bring about change on the individual, family, congregational, community, and societal level.

Rev. Dr. LoraKim Joyner, Leigh Scott and a small group of likeminded individuals recently visited Garuda Aviary looking to make a connection and thereby widen the network of compassionate activists. As you can imagine, we had a lot to talk about. And we agree on a great many things. Like the preciousness of all life. And the vital interdependency of every living thing on our planet. One species cannot be negatively affected or driven toward extinction without similar negative affects to other species in its ecosystem. Essentially, if one suffers, all suffer.

Discussing compassionate activity

At this point in the development of our civilization, humans have the means, and possibly the will to destroy every delicate ecosystem on our planet without any regard to the consequences. The only part of the human spirit that has any chance of restraining our selfishly destructive nature is compassion. It is the element of balance.

Now you have seen us, my friends and I. You have witnessed our activity. So what will you do? Will you remain a bystander? Or will you incorporate compassionate activity into your life, becoming part of the balancing element that nurtures the world rather than devours it.

What will you do?

I hope you will join us.

Christopher Zeoli
Director
Garuda Aviary

Renovations, Evolutions

The new structure occupies roughly 30% of the high-dander room.

During the winter, Garuda Aviary completed Phase 1 of the construction of our African Grey and Goffins Cockatoo habitats. Phase 1 includes the completion of the basic structure and the “private suites” for the twin habitats.
Phase 2 for these habitats is the completion of the “common areas’.

So you may wonder, why build a specialized structure with private suites and common areas? Why not just keep parrots in conventional, single occupancy cages?
The answer is that in nature, parrots form and live in highly interactive flocks. That interactivity is what helps a parrot deal with any situation. A parrot that doesn’t have a coherent social structure supporting it is far more prone to anxiety and depression. That is the reason for the common areas in the new habitats. These are areas where the occupants can socialize with other parrots of their own kind.

Each private suite is 4 feet tall, 3 feet wide and 2 feet deep.

The reason for the private suites is to facilitate safe integration. When a new parrot is introduced to a pre-existing flock, that flock may not welcome the newcomer right away. They may not hurt the newbie, but they may hoard resources away from him or her. Resource hoarding is the most common method for rejecting an outsider.

Our protocol for integrating a new parrot into the existing flock looks something like this;
The new bird is placed in it’s private suite, which is equipped with feeding bays, perches, toys, etc. After a week or two to settle into the new suite, integration can start. For gradually increasing supervised intervals, the newbie can venture out of his or her suite, enter the common area and begin to socialize. When it’s time to eat, the new bird is returned to it’s suite. This ensures that resources are not being hoarded away from  him or her.

Emily is settling in nicely.

 

In time, the flock will accept the new one. Eventually they will all eat together amicably in the common area.
This protocol, (plus the vigilant supervision we provide) ensures that a new parrot can be integrated into the flock without risk.

 

 

 

 

Jumpy is getting to know his new neighbors.

Split-level private suites

 

Hurry up and finish the common areas, Christopher! We’re ready to mix it up with our new neighbors!

Very soon the common areas will be the hubs of activity in these habitats. There will be updates and more pictures. Watch this space!

Christopher Zeoli
Director
Garuda Aviary