Victoria Crown Pigeon

Victoria Crown Pigeon

When Michele Raffin rescued an injured bird 18 years ago, she never imagined how that act would change her life. She soon answered a newspaper ad to take in a pet dove, became a volunteer at local bird shelter and then a certified aviculturist. Eventually, she opened her home to a variety of endangered and exotic species, some of which had been illegally captured in the wild. By trial and error — and with help from a few willing experts — she went from fostering birds in need of a home to breeding them in captivity. Now she runs one of the nation’s largest bird sanctuaries. Diane talks with Michele Raffin about her journey from naive bird rescuer to accomplished breeder and conservationist.

Guests

  • Michele Raffin Founder, Pandemonium Aviaries. It's a breeding facility for avian species facing extinction due to destruction of their natural habitats.

Transcript

  • 11:06:53

    MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. The act of saving an injured dove nearly 20 years ago put Michele Raffin on a path from naïve bird rescuer to accomplished breeder and conservationist. In a new book, she describes how that journey resulted in a backyard aviary that houses more than 350 exotic birds, representing 40 species. For this month's environmental outlook, Michele Raffin joins me in the studio to talk about her new book, "The Birds of Pandemonium."

  • 11:07:32

    MS. DIANE REHMI hope you bird lovers will join us as well. Give us a call at 800-433-8850. Send an email to drshow@wamu.org. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. And just so you know, at our website, drshow.org, you can see some glorious pictures of these remarkable birds. Michele Raffin, it's good to see you.

  • 11:08:02

    MS. MICHELE RAFFINDiane, I'm delighted to be here and love your show.

  • 11:08:04

    REHMAnd, you know, I'm looking here where you say in your book that you've always had such a strong connection with animals of all sorts. You've had dogs. You've probably had baby chicks that your child brought home. But it wasn't the baby chicks that started you on your path, was it?

  • 11:08:32

    RAFFINNo. It actually was a very accidental encounter with a hurt bird by the side of the road. I knew nothing about birds. I had no special affinity for birds. But it does bother me to see something, whether it's a human or an animal, that's in need and have nobody helping them.

  • 11:08:50

    REHMAnd you saw this injured bird on the road. What did you do?

  • 11:08:57

    RAFFINWell, I had heard about it. And so I went to look for it. And when I found the bird, she clearly couldn't fly or even walk. So I picked her up gently and I found an avian vet and that's where I took her.

  • 11:09:14

    REHMAnd was the vet able to help her?

  • 11:09:19

    RAFFINWell, you know, I had assumed, because the bird was by the side of a highway, that she had been hit by a car.

  • 11:09:24

    REHMRight.

  • 11:09:25

    RAFFINIt turned out she had been dropped by a hawk. And probably the hawk had been on its way to feed this bird to the hawk's babies. But of course I knew nothing about that at the time. And the vet tried. She worked on the bird for four days. But on the fifth day, she called me and told me that unfortunately the bird had died.

  • 11:09:44

    REHMAw. So that could have been the end of your avian career.

  • 11:09:53

    RAFFINIt certainly could have been.

  • 11:09:55

    REHMCould it?

  • 11:09:56

    RAFFINBut I think things have -- life has conspired to put me on this path. And what happened that particular morning was that I found myself with tears in my eyes, even though it wasn't my bird, per se. I had grown fond of this bird and impressed with the fact that she seemed to recognize me when I went to visit her at the vet's office. And so I started to cry. But I had small children at the time, and they were sitting, eating their breakfasts. I didn't want them to see mom with tears in her eyes. So I hid behind our local newspaper. And I opened it, just at random, to a page, and there was an ad that said, "Desperately need a home for a white dove."

  • 11:10:39

    REHMAh. Coincidence.

  • 11:10:42

    RAFFINWell, kismet.

  • 11:10:43

    REHMFate?

  • 11:10:44

    RAFFINYes.

  • 11:10:44

    REHMWhatever.

  • 11:10:45

    RAFFINYes.

  • 11:10:46

    REHMBut, you know, here you were, a venture capitalist, thinking you were going to return to that work. And instead, this sent you off in a whole new direction. So you see this ad for a white dove that needs a home. What do you do? What do you say to your husband?

  • 11:11:15

    RAFFINWell, my husband wasn't home at that moment.

  • 11:11:17

    REHMAt that moment. Ah, too bad for him.

  • 11:11:21

    RAFFINAnd I figured, well, what's one little white dove?

  • 11:11:25

    REHMRight.

  • 11:11:25

    RAFFINWe already had chickens and we had a chicken coop. And we had dogs. In fact, I think at that time we had five dogs. And so I went -- I called the woman who had put the ad in and woke her up. And she perked up as soon as she heard that I was interested in her dove. And I had all kinds of excuses why I couldn't come over right away -- I needed to stop off at the supermarket for milk. And she said, I live next to the supermarket. I've got to take my kids to school. Ah, you know, I'll be around. So to make a long story short, I ended up with six doves.

  • 11:11:58

    REHMSix doves.

  • 11:11:59

    RAFFINYes.

  • 11:11:59

    REHMWell, now, wait a minute. Was this woman breeding doves?

  • 11:12:06

    RAFFINActually, she was starting a business to release doves at weddings. And unbeknownst to her, and certainly to me at the time, if you release a regular white pigeon, the chances of that pigeon surviving in the wild are very slim. They don't know how to find food, they get hit by cars, they get, you know, picked up by hawks. And when she discovered that, she already had a large number of these birds, and decided that she needed homing pigeons. Because homing pigeons, if they're released, have a chance of actually getting back to the place that they were released from. So she wanted to get rid of as many doves as she could, so she would have the real estate for the homing pigeons.

  • 11:12:47

    REHMOh, I see.

  • 11:12:49

    RAFFINLittle did I know that I -- she wanted me to take dozens. And I felt I'd done a good job compromising at six. But, of course, my husband at the time didn't think that. He was like, "Six? What were you thinking?" The bottom line was, I guess, I just got caught up in the moment and wasn't thinking.

  • 11:13:06

    REHMYou know, almost the same thing happened with my dog, Maxie. I opened the newspaper, there was an ad. My husband said, "Where are you going?" "I'm going to look at this little dog. Oh, I'm just going to look," I said, but came home with Maxie. I think it happens. You fall in love.

  • 11:13:29

    RAFFINYou do. And I also think that some of the most wonderful experiences, whether it's people or adventures, just are presented to us. And sometimes we're lucky enough to seize the moment. Sometimes we don't have that ability to do it. But by and far, I've found that those moments that I have given in to what seems like a crazy but actually very good idea have been one of the most wonderful times in my life.

  • 11:13:57

    REHMWell, explain to me what kind of housing you had to create for those six doves.

  • 11:14:06

    RAFFINThe housing that we had already was a chicken coop. And I thought the doves were small and there was a lot of room for the chickens, it would be no problem to house them together.

  • 11:14:16

    REHMTogether?

  • 11:14:17

    RAFFINTogether. I since found out it's not a good idea.

  • 11:14:20

    REHMNot a good idea.

  • 11:14:22

    RAFFINNot a good idea.

  • 11:14:23

    REHMHow did the chickens react?

  • 11:14:25

    RAFFINThe chickens were fine in the beginning. But I think it -- I mean, it definitely was a bad idea. And it certainly is a bad idea to get any animal, without researching beforehand what it is that they need. It's really irresponsible to not understand the housing and the vet care required and the food required. And so I made a big mistake. And I made several mistakes in the beginning. And that was one of them, is housing them with the chickens.

  • 11:14:51

    REHMAnd what happened between the chickens and the doves?

  • 11:14:55

    RAFFINWell, they were -- the doves were banded. They were banded with matching bands. It turns out that many bird keepers will identify pairs of birds by banding them with the same-colored band. The females are banded with bands on the left. The males are banded with bands on the right. And there's an old-time bird keepers saying, which I probably shouldn't say on radio because it's so old-fashioned. But it's, men are banded on the right because men are always right. And that's what they do. So I didn't know this. I didn't understand anything about the bands.

  • 11:15:30

    RAFFINBut five of the birds were banded in similar colors and there was a sixth that wasn't. And a few days after I got them, I found that sixth bird dead. She had always been different from the others. I'd put a birdbath in there and she hadn't jumped in an just bathed merrily like the others. And she seemed lethargic. And I don't know if she was sick, but she wasn't happy. And I found her one morning on the ground. And the chickens had pecked at her. I don't know if they caused her death or if they had just taken advantage of the fact that she had died.

  • 11:16:03

    REHMI see. Now, tell me this. Having gotten these six doves, would you -- considering what you know now, and maybe you did -- take them immediately to your vet?

  • 11:16:24

    RAFFINI didn't. And that was part of my ignorance. In fact, the birds did have a cough, which turned out later to be very difficult to treat. I didn't know very much about birds. I thought that they were beautiful ornaments in the garden and they looked self-sufficient. They didn't seem to notice me. And, of course, now I know that that's so different from what I think is the truth in the bird world, which is that they are very observant. And in fact I think there are more birds watching people than there are people watching birds. I don't know what you'd call them. I mean we call them. I mean, we call the people birders. But I mean I think birds are very interested in us and very aware of us.

  • 11:17:07

    REHMWell, I must say, considering the photographs of the birds in this book, it would seem you've gone from beautiful but simple white doves to rather fascinating birds like the Victoria crowned pigeon.

  • 11:17:31

    RAFFINThe Victoria crowned pigeons are among the most magnificent birds in the world. They are in many senses the modern-day dodo bird, because the dodo was the world's largest pigeon. And now the crowned pigeons are the world's largest pigeons. And there are a lot of other similarities. The dodo was on only one island, Mauritius. And the crowned pigeons are only on the island of New Guinea. They -- the dodo was driven to extinction in just 80 years. And it was a combination of hunting and introduced predators, but also the fact that the forests were cut down for palm oil plantations. And that is exactly what's happening in New Guinea. So in a very real sense, we have a modern day dodo. And unfortunately, very little is being done to save it.

  • 11:18:17

    REHMMichele Raffin, her new book, with a gorgeous bird on the front. What's that bird?

  • 11:18:27

    RAFFINThat is a bird that is a (word?) turaco and his name is Amadeus.

  • 11:18:31

    REHMAmadeus. "The Birds of Pandemonium: Life Among The Exotic & The Endangered." Short break. We'll be right back.

  • 11:20:01

    REHMAnd if you've just joined us, Michele Raffin is my guest. She has a beautiful new book. It's titled "The Birds of Pandemonium: Life Among the Exotic & the Endangered." What is this pandemonium?

  • 11:20:23

    RAFFINWell, I can tell you our official name but then I can also tell you the real name. So the official name is that pandemonium is the proper flock name for parrots. It's a pandemonium of parrots. But in fact we got the name before we knew it was the flock name for parrots and before we had any parrots.

  • 11:20:43

    RAFFINIt was -- I had actually chosen another name for the sanctuary. I wanted to call it paz y amor peace and love in Spanish. And when I told my family they laughed uproariously. Because when you have as many animals as we do, there's a lot of amor but there's not so much paz. So I left in a huff and said, you know, well then if you don't like that name, you choose one. And pandemonium was the unanimous choice.

  • 11:21:08

    REHMPandemonium. How marvelous. Tell me about the neighborhood in which your now sanctuary for these rare birds exist.

  • 11:21:20

    RAFFINSo I live in the Santa Cruz mountains in the foothills. It's a suburban neighborhood and there are a lot of neighbors. And luckily we have wonderful neighbors because they have taken up our cause and support us. I would say 80 percent of our neighbors actually give us financial donations. And half of our board of directors is made up of neighbors. So the neighbors understand the importance of the work that we do. And they've been very supportive and wonderful.

  • 11:21:49

    REHMHow did you go from bringing the six doves home to creating this incredible bird sanctuary?

  • 11:22:02

    RAFFINWell, it happened step by...

  • 11:22:04

    REHMStep.

  • 11:22:04

    RAFFIN...step.

  • 11:22:06

    REHMOne step at a time.

  • 11:22:08

    RAFFINI think it started with my knowing that I had to get information about how to care for these birds. And so I found out about a breeder through the American Dove Association who lived a couple of hours away. And I was very fortunate that he answered the phone when I called and also very fortunate that after a conversation he invited me to visit. And I was -- I combined it with delivering one of our children to a camp. And so my husband was with me. And that was fortunate because when he saw these beautiful birds, he was as captured as I was by these breeders' birds.

  • 11:22:45

    RAFFINAnd we left from that first visit with gifts. And the gifts were injured birds or birds with, you know, only one leg or birds that couldn't fly. And unbeknownst to me that was the beginning of this amazing journey. Many of these birds years later turned out to be very important genetic materials. They became very rare and in some cases very endangered in the wild.

  • 11:23:08

    REHMSo in fact what you began with were injured birds.

  • 11:23:15

    RAFFINYes.

  • 11:23:15

    REHMYou moved from that again step by step to this sanctuary for rare birds. So lots of steps in between.

  • 11:23:28

    RAFFINYes. And we functioned as a rescue for about a decade. Most of the birds that came were birds from breeders who were discarding them. And that was due to the fact that there had been a change in the bird world due to the Wild Bird Act of 1992 where before that we were importing hundreds of thousands of birds from the wild to be our pets. And after the bird act we were importing fewer than 3,000. Overwhelmingly a very good move.

  • 11:23:57

    RAFFINBut it had an impact on the bird-breeding world. Because they could no longer get replacement birds from the wild, they started breeding at two ends of the spectrum, either the very large money birds like the cockatoos or the McCaw's or the mass-produced birds like the budgies and the finches. And they got rid of a lot that was in the middle. And so unbeknownst to me, a lot of the birds that were given to me were very exotic birds that later became the basis for our nonprofit and as breeders.

  • 11:24:28

    RAFFINBut for ten years I functioned just as a rescue and took also birds from humane societies. At one time I had 79 species, which is a lot of different birds to care for and feed. But overwhelmingly a wonderful experience because the birds -- and I think birds are like other animals in that they understand when you're trying to help them. And their -- in some ways their gratitude is shown by their allowing you to enter their world and showing you who they are.

  • 11:24:59

    REHMGive me an example of what you're speaking of.

  • 11:25:03

    RAFFINWell, in "The Birds of Pandemonium" I chose one story to talk about, amongst many, many, were a finch that couldn't fly. His name was Oscar. He desperately wanted to join the rest of his flock because finches are flock birds. And at night they flock as high up as they possibly can. It's, I think, engrained for safety reasons But he couldn't fly. I mean, he could get up an inch and that was as tall as he could get up. And showed me how to build him a ladder.

  • 11:25:31

    RAFFINI had gone up to put a little perch and he jumped on that perch right away. And I -- the next spot he wanted the next perch. And so he was the architect and I was merely his helper. And by the end of the second day of building he had a ladder straight up to where he wanted to perch. And so what he taught me was that if you listen carefully and you watch, birds will tell you what they need. And that was really a privilege, to this day really a joy.

  • 11:26:00

    REHMTell me about the infrastructure you've had to create to house these exotic creatures.

  • 11:26:09

    RAFFINWell, the aviaries have happened step by step as well without a great plan. And really I built in response to the birds' needs. So if I had taken in a bird that wasn't getting along with other birds or seemed to be overwhelmed or had different food needs, I would need to find other space for it. And so I would build an aviary. So we have a number of aviaries in my backyard and they're beautiful.

  • 11:26:38

    RAFFINAnd what's most beautiful about them is the birds inside have the right type of housing -- or they've got the best kind of housing that I can provide for them. It's not the wild. And of course I would love more land. I would love land somewhere else where I could give them even bigger quarters and more spacious, you know, living arrangements. But for now they all fly and they all are in appropriate groups. In some cases the aviaries have mixed species in them such as the last aviary, which was -- we've had a lot of last aviaries.

  • 11:27:15

    RAFFINEvery time I build an aviary, I tell my husband, this is the last aviary. And I'd put up a sign, a permanent sign. And then I'd have to change the name to the next to the last aviary. And I promise it's the last aviary. And finally he said, just make a moveable sign. So I did. And then that even got confusing because I kept moving the sign. So I retired the last aviary number and sign at number nine.

  • 11:27:39

    REHMAt number nine. So the total of birds being houses in these nine aviaries is...

  • 11:27:48

    RAFFINWell, actually we have more than nine aviaries because the last aviary was not the last aviary.

  • 11:27:53

    REHMOh, I see. I see.

  • 11:27:56

    RAFFINWe have 34 big aviaries and the number of species in the last aviary -- the last aviary's quite large. It's about 20' tall and 20 by 30 feet inside. And so we have East African Crown Cranes there. And the aviary tends to be -- the birds in there tend to sift themselves out by vertical space. So the African birds are at the bottom and the Indian birds tend to take the mid-story. And then the Australian birds like to hang out on top.

  • 11:28:25

    REHMTell me what the purpose is of breeding these rare birds?

  • 11:28:32

    RAFFINWe only breed specific species. We've chosen six and we've chosen these six species -- they are primarily from New Guinea and because it's very hard to do conservation on site in New Guinea. It's always preferable, if you're going to be breeding rare birds, to do it on site. You want to do it in the country of origin in their homelands. You can do that in most places in the world but you can't do it in New Guinea for a variety of reasons.

  • 11:28:59

    REHMSuch as...

  • 11:29:00

    RAFFINThere are no land rights so there's no way to protect, or you can't build a sanctuary and actually protect its borders. And there's a lot of hunting. There's a lot of danger for the conservationists. There's a lot of diseases like (word?) fever and malaria. There's travel warfare. There -- it's a very poor country and people are focused on their own subsistence. And in environments like that it can be difficult to protect the animals.

  • 11:29:27

    RAFFINSo we're breeding these six species with the thought that the birds that we're using as breeders are birds that either they or their parents or different parents were brought in from the wild. We have birds here in the United States that are going extinct in their home countries. So why not take advantage of these very important species. Instead of keeping them as our pets why not keep them as a reservoir of potential birds that could be returned to the wild? And this is true not only of birds, you know. At pandemonium we hope to be a model for other species as well.

  • 11:30:06

    RAFFINYou know, my dream would be at some point that the United States would be an exporter of wildlife. After all those years of taking wildlife out of the wild, wouldn't it be wonderful if we could be the country that returns animals to the wild?

  • 11:30:21

    REHMWell, at some point the breeding must find capacity space. And so what happens then? Are you transporting some of these species to other aviaries around the country, perhaps zoos or even are some being purchased by individual owners?

  • 11:30:50

    RAFFINThat's a very good question. And so our next step really is to find other places to put some of our flocks because we are very close to capacity. And we have some of the largest flocks of these exotic birds in the world. It's really not safe to keep so many in one place. The -- we have birds from zoos. We have birds from the Avicultural Society of America. We have birds from breeders because we've developed expertise in these particular species.

  • 11:31:20

    REHMHow many people are working with you now?

  • 11:31:24

    RAFFINWe have 63 volunteers.

  • 11:31:27

    REHMAll volunteers?

  • 11:31:29

    RAFFINWe have one paid staff member and that's not me.

  • 11:31:30

    REHMWow. That's not you.

  • 11:31:32

    RAFFINNo.

  • 11:31:33

    REHMYou consider yourself one of the volunteers.

  • 11:31:36

    RAFFINI am definitely a volunteer, a hard-working one.

  • 11:31:39

    REHMYeah. How much does it cost to maintain these aviaries?

  • 11:31:45

    RAFFINIt's very expensive. It really -- it's -- you know, our budget is in the six figures. And we're always fundraising. We're always short of cash. Our money goes to the birds first. And our philosophy is we're bird centric. So whenever there are limited resources, the birds get them. And about 90 percent of our money goes towards the birds. So it's an expensive proposition.

  • 11:32:08

    RAFFINThey all require very specialized diets, heat in the winter time because they're tropical birds. They require misting systems because they come from rainforests. And for a long time we didn't have breeding success. We tried all kinds of changes in terms of diet and minerals and light and music. It was just trying to put them in the spirit of romance and it turned out that humidity was the main ingredient that they needed...

  • 11:32:34

    REHMHumidity.

  • 11:32:35

    RAFFINHumidity, yes.

  • 11:32:37

    REHMAnd how long did it take you to discover that?

  • 11:32:41

    RAFFINFar too long. We had -- in the green-naped pheasant pigeons we had 14 failures before we had our first live birth. And now that we have it down we're having several. In fact, we're on second generation breeding.

  • 11:32:55

    REHMMichele Raffin. Her new book titled "The Birds of Pandemonium: Life Among the Exotic and the Endangered." All right. We're going to open the phones, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to drshow@wamu.org. To Scott in, is it Heber Springs, Ark., Scott?

  • 11:33:29

    SCOTTYes, it is.

  • 11:33:30

    REHMGood. Go right ahead, sir.

  • 11:33:33

    SCOTTWell, thank you for taking my call.

  • 11:33:35

    REHMSure.

  • 11:33:35

    SCOTTMy wife, a number of years ago, took on a blue-crowned Guatemalan that was severely abused. And then after that -- and she rehabilitated that bird. After that she got a harlequin, a McCaw that was hatched with its leg inverted. And she was able to rehabilitate that bird so that it could perch. And then he survived.

  • 11:34:04

    SCOTTFrom all of that she had learned how to take care of birds and subsequently in our townhome, not Heber Springs, a different location, a developer took over some wetlands and decimated a slight egret populations breeding grounds. And through that she was able to, with the community, rehabilitate birds that were almost destroyed because of that development. And I think that anybody can learn how to take care of birds if they're just conscientious.

  • 11:34:41

    RAFFINHi, Scott. Well, first of all, thank you so much to your wife. And it sounds like you stood right by her, so thank you to you too. What I have found, and I'm not sure this is for everyone, that I learned through my failures. And that's very costly. It's costly to the birds and it's costly to the person doing it. so I'm not sure that I agree with you that anybody can learn how to care for these birds or rescue them. I think that it's very hard. And I think that it's important work. And there's very little written about it to give guidance so again, kudos to your wife and to you. Thank you so much for helping birds.

  • 11:35:20

    REHMNow when you say you don't think that just anyone can do it, number one, it takes a great deal of resources. Number two, it may be costly, as you've said, in terms of the birds. Who do you think is sort of psychologically and emotionally qualified to do this kind of bird rehabilitation?

  • 11:35:54

    RAFFINWell, Diane, I think there -- you know, most cities and in some towns as well, have rescue organizations already set up for wildlife rehabilitation. Wildlife itself is just so specialized. I mean, it's so stressful for these animals to be in human contact, that just the mere handling of them in the hopes of trying to help them can actually do a lot of damage.

  • 11:36:18

    RAFFINWhen I'm told about wildlife that needs help, I don't do it. I refer people who are calling me to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator. It really is a very specialized job. It really requires a lot of training and a lot of focus and frankly, a lot of hardship because these people work around the clock often. They have to give up a lot of their personal lives. And so if you talk about the psychological and emotional makeup, I think it's someone who's mission-driven enough so that they get enough joy from helping what sometimes can be around-the-clock grueling tasks, that they're willing to give up other areas of their life.

  • 11:37:05

    REHMHow long or how much training do you think it does take to teach a volunteer how best to work, to rehabilitate birds?

  • 11:37:20

    RAFFINYou know, I don't know the answer to that. I know that Rita McMahon at the Wild Bird Fund in New York conducts classes all the time for her volunteers.

  • 11:37:31

    REHMAll right. And we'll take a short break here. When we come back, more of your calls. Stay with us.

  • 11:40:01

    REHMAnd for this month's "Environmental Outlook," we are talking about the new book titled, "The Birds of Pandemonium." It's Michele Raffin's, really, dedication to her exotic and endangered birds. It's filled with photographs of, really, some of the most gorgeous birds I've ever laid eyes on. But now, here's an email from Bob, who says, should parrots like African Gray Parrots be pets?

  • 11:40:45

    RAFFINBob, that's a really interesting and really complex question. Because it opens up the whole question about whether birds, in general, should be our pets. And there are many ways to look at that. African Grays, since that's the particular parrot that you mention, are incredibly smart. I think most parrots are smart, but African Grays are smart in a very unusual way, in that they can pick up language, our language, and they can talk to us. You can have conversations. And it's clear when I talk, we have two African Grays, that they talk with meaning.

  • 11:41:22

    RAFFINThey're not parroting. I mean, sometimes they parrot, which is interesting in itself, but they actually will make up language. They actually can talk to you, and in some senses, have been shown to have the intelligence of a three-year-old child.

  • 11:41:37

    REHMCan you give me an example of the kind of conversation you might have?

  • 11:41:42

    RAFFINWell, I can give you an example of a name. For example, we got a bird from a humane society, that it had gone from a humane society to a rescue group, and had been in a temporary home. And we didn't know the bird's name. No one knew the bird's name. But there was a little girl in that home named Mia. And the bird started calling herself, the bird, Mia Bird. And to me, that's quite clever.

  • 11:42:03

    REHMYeah. Quite clever.

  • 11:42:06

    RAFFINAnd so her name is Mia Bird. We have another one named Oscar. It's a she. And this is a...

  • 11:42:12

    REHMHow did Oscar get named Oscar?

  • 11:42:12

    RAFFINOscar's a she? Well, Oscar got -- came with the name Oscar. We don't change the names when they arrive.

  • 11:42:18

    REHMOh, I see.

  • 11:42:19

    RAFFINAnd I didn't realize that when I talk to the birds, I often will say, boo-boo. I was totally unaware of it, and one day, Oscar started calling herself Oscar boo-boo. And I realized that I would say, hey Oscar boo-boo. So it's -- but back to the question of birds in general as pets. I think that there are different ways of looking at whether or not it's a good idea. First of all, it's a terrible idea unless you are really prepared to give life-long, and in many cases, this means 60, 80 years long. It means putting birds in your will, if you're not old enough to stay alive as long as they will.

  • 11:43:00

    RAFFINIt means caring for a three-year-old for the rest of your life. And that can be daunting. And by caring for it, it's not just putting a bird in a cage. It means bathing that bird and having that bird out and socializing the bird. And actually being its flock, and that is a huge responsibility.

  • 11:43:20

    REHMI mean, are you talking, even in that way, about what I would think of, are domesticated canaries?

  • 11:43:33

    RAFFINIt's, I, I, you know, I think that, although canaries are a more domesticated than a lot of birds, birds are different than the animals that we're more familiar with, like dogs and cats. With a dog or a cat, a domesticated animal, you can expect that animal to conform to what you need. You can expect that animal to go to the bathroom or you tell it to eat when you want to give it food, to sleep where you put it. Birds retain the wild in them. And in order to have a relationship with a bird, even a canary, you have to become the type of person that your bird expects.

  • 11:44:11

    RAFFINIt is a relationship based on mutual respect. And decision-making made on the part of the bird, as well as you.

  • 11:44:18

    REHMLike?

  • 11:44:18

    RAFFINLike there are times that people will have birds, like African Grays, where one person has purchased the bird, and the bird decides it likes the spouse that doesn't like the bird at all. I get several calls of saying, I buy him toys, I buy him food, I clean the cage, and he likes my wife. There's very little you can do about it. So, in a perfect world, birds would be out in the wild. They would not be our pets. In a perfect world, we would understand how wonderful they are and protect their habitat. In a perfect world, we wouldn't have to intervene to save them.

  • 11:44:53

    RAFFINBut, in fact, the fact that we do breed birds, parrots in particular, in this country, have given us enormous knowledge of how to do it. And should these birds disappear in the wild, and should we save parts of the wild, or reforest parts of the wild, we, because we do breed birds as pets, would have knowledge to breed stock again to return to the wild.

  • 11:45:17

    REHMNow, here's an email from Chris. If you reintroduce second and third generation birds back to their home countries, are they then not invasive species with potentially new diseases?

  • 11:45:39

    RAFFINThat's an excellent question and definitely one that reintroduction has to address. It's the -- there is disease potential both ways. There are diseases in the wild that these birds can get, and these birds can transport diseases to the wild. We have entered into a joint project with the Academy of Sciences in California to test the Victoria Crowned Pigeons in captivity, and they test them in New Guinea. And UCSF has developed a bio-chip that basically will do the analysis. So, reintroduction is really complicated, and at Pandemonium, it's totally outside our expertise. Our mission is really to save the genetic material to save the birds in a way that protects their culture.

  • 11:46:26

    RAFFINTo breed responsibly, that means with genetic diversity and with enough numbers and with the right conditions. And our -- we hope to go out of business at some point, when it's safe to return these birds, by actually turning them over to other organizations that have expertise in reintroduction. It is truly a discipline unto itself, and one in which we don't have the expertise at this point.

  • 11:46:49

    REHMAll right. To Rick in Tampa, Florida. Hi, you're on the air.

  • 11:46:55

    RICKGood morning, Diane. I always hear -- listen to your show. I have -- we have an issue. We found a small cardinal, really, just a baby cardinal a few months ago. We nursed him back to life and, you know, he slept with us like for two months. But now, we don't know -- we are in a predicament whether or not to let him go. Because we don't feel that it has the skills to survive. So any advice would be greatly appreciated.

  • 11:47:10

    RAFFINThat's another tough one, because you're not allowed to have wildlife as pets. It's against the law. So, you run the risk of, you know, doing something that you really shouldn't be doing. At the same time, you have a bird that is acclimated to people and won't recognize potential problems. It probably can't feed itself. So, I can't really give you advice, except to say it's -- it was a good thing that you did, by helping this bird. And at the same time, I understand that it will be a problem in what to do in terms of release.

  • 11:47:55

    RAFFINIt is possible that when birds of its own kind, of its flock, come around, that the draw of joining its like feathered friends, and birds do stick, you know, they stick together. And so I would suggest that if you do -- if other birds are visiting your neighborhood, your backyard, to take your bird out and hope that nature takes its course and the bird understands enough to join up with others. And birds are capable of learning and they do learn from each other. So, it's not impossible to release it.

  • 11:48:27

    REHMLet's hope so. Here's an email from Linda. She's in Stewartstown, Pennsylvania. As a child, she says, in the UK, keeping Budgies or parakeets, I was told that if they escaped, which they often did, they wouldn't last a day because of cold and predators. Now, the last few weeks, a green Budgie has come to our theater every afternoon and mingled with the wild birds. How is it managing to survive?

  • 11:49:09

    RAFFINI don't know.

  • 11:49:10

    REHMMaybe simple adaptation.

  • 11:49:13

    RAFFINYes. And, you know, our birds, we house all of our birds outside. And we find that, as long as they can stay for the seasons, that they tend to do fine, even the tropical birds. Because they grow the feathers, the down underneath that they need to insulate themselves. So birds that you think of tropical birds, or birds that are typically pets and kept indoors, would really have no chance at all if released, say, in the dead of winter. But sometimes, if they're released with enough time so that their bodies can acclimate and keep themselves warm and if they're lucky enough to find feeders from nice people like you that are feeding the birds, which is wonderful, then they can be okay.

  • 11:49:56

    REHMAll right. To Cassopolis, Michigan. Becky, you're on the air.

  • 11:50:03

    BECKYHi ladies.

  • 11:50:03

    REHMHi.

  • 11:50:05

    BECKYIt's so good to be on. I'm so excited. And I love your show, Diane.

  • 11:50:08

    REHMThanks.

  • 11:50:08

    BECKYAnd I was listening to your -- sorry. I was listening to your comment about being ready for animals before you get home. And bring them home. And we have a small farm. I've got chickens and I've got horses and I've had two geese, although I had to have them adopted out, because they turned pretty aggressive and nobody could get in the yard, or myself, without getting bit. So that was a whole -- another scenario that I wasn't quite sure that I knew that they were that aggressive eventually. So, those are the only animals that I've had to, you know, I have adopted out that I've gotten so far.

  • 11:50:45

    BECKYBut I'm waiting to get three female Alpacas, which are exotic, of course, for this area. And I can't wait to get them. And, you know, I've done the research to know what to expect and went to some other farms. So I think I'm ready for them, but, you know, I just, I've never had them, so it could be really fun and wild, or they say they're pretty calm, so I hope they're just going to be kind of calm and laid back and get along with everybody.

  • 11:51:14

    REHMYou'll find out soon enough.

  • 11:51:18

    RAFFINI think observation is a really important thing when we're introducing new animals. Also, checking with other people that have Alpacas would be a really good idea. You know, there's just a lot of tips that other folks, who've had the animals, can pass along, and in my experience, people are usually really nice and sharing and helping. So I would, I would, and if there's an Alpaca organization, even a national one, it might be a good idea getting in contact with them and just finding out, yeah, which of your neighbors have Alpacas?

  • 11:51:48

    RAFFINI've met Alpacas. They're wonderful animals. Congratulations. I think you'll really enjoy them.

  • 11:51:53

    REHMMichele, I'm sure a lot of people are wondering about your children. How old are they now?

  • 11:52:02

    RAFFINMy children are in their 20s.

  • 11:52:04

    REHMSo, they're no longer there with you in the home?

  • 11:52:08

    RAFFINThey have flown the coup.

  • 11:52:10

    REHMThey have flown the coup. So it's just you and your husband now, continuing to manage this group?

  • 11:52:19

    RAFFINYeah, I pretty much manage it by myself.

  • 11:52:22

    REHMYou do?

  • 11:52:22

    RAFFINYes.

  • 11:52:22

    REHMBy yourself?

  • 11:52:23

    RAFFINYes.

  • 11:52:24

    REHMAnd, all right, and are you still operating mainly or exclusively with contributions from others?

  • 11:52:35

    RAFFINWe are totally contribution based, and that's one of the pleasures, actually. In knowing that there's a community of people that support the kind of work that we do.

  • 11:52:45

    REHMHow do you think the work has affected you? How has it changed you? How has it helped form the person you are now, as opposed to the one you were before?

  • 11:53:01

    RAFFINOh my gosh. I don't have enough time to get into that. I think, if I had to choose one thing, it's that I really believe in the abundance of the universe. And I believe that my job is merely to do the work in the right way and to be the right kind of person. And that whatever is needed to save the birds in my care will be provided. I used to go out and try to make opportunities. And now, I just sit home and wait for the solutions to come to me. It's a wonderful way to just believe that everything's going to be fine, as long as the work I do is the right work and held in the right spirit.

  • 11:53:45

    REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Did the work with the birds affect your marriage in positive or negative ways?

  • 11:54:01

    RAFFINWell, I, I am no longer with my husband. But it had nothing to do with birds. It had to do with something totally different, and we're still very friends, very good friends. He's still on our board of directors and is a huge supporter and is a great guy.

  • 11:54:13

    REHMAnd the birds, at one point, do you think you will wish to turn elsewhere?

  • 11:54:21

    RAFFINI think it's important for my organization that we have a successor in place, that we're well funded enough so that the work goes on, separate from me and separate from my home. And that's what I'm hoping for at this point. We're looking for an endowment so that the birds' future is secure. The species' future is secure. I will always be involved with Pandemonium in one way or another. But I think for the safety and security and the longevity of the species under my care, it's really important that our organization be financially and fiscally sound.

  • 11:54:57

    REHMCrystal, who's on the line from Cary, North Carolina, wanted to ask your opinion on breeding birds for the pet industry.

  • 11:55:09

    RAFFINThat's a very complicated question and very difficult for me to answer. I think there are responsible breeders. I have close friends that are breeders. I think, for the most part, it's a very difficult, expensive, time consuming and something that should not be taken lightly. I think that breeders, if they're responsible, will also take back birds that don't work out in their homes. And it's my belief, and I've been preaching to the breeding world that at least 10 percent of breeders' resources should be dedicated just for conservation purposes.

  • 11:55:43

    RAFFINBreeding birds that they do not sell, that they keep, and they keep just for the benefit of bird species. And that's difficult for many of them to do, but I think really important.

  • 11:55:52

    REHMAnd finally, from Kayla in Orlando. She finds your work truly inspiring. She has experience with wildlife refuge and rehab work, as well as veterinary work. She lives in Florida. What can she do to help birds or other exotic animals affected by hunting habitat loss and the pet trade?

  • 11:56:22

    RAFFINThere are lots of wonderful groups doing work, especially in Florida. I happen to know of a group that's trying to save the Florida sparrow. I think it's important to band with others. One individual can have some significance in changing the world, but it certainly is a lot more fun and I think more fruitful if you can find other like-minded people to take on the important questions and problems that you've surfaced.

  • 11:56:49

    REHMAnd just to let Rick know, Barbara emailed that there is a bird sanctuary, to which, perhaps, you could take the injured cardinal. There is a wild bird sanctuary in Pinellas County to which you could bring that bird. Michele Raffin, thank you for your work and this beautiful book. Congratulations.

  • 11:57:21

    RAFFINDiane, thank you so much. It's been my pleasure.

  • 11:57:23

    REHM"The Birds of Pandemonium." That's the title of Michele Raffin's book. Thank you all for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.

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