Some are inspired to get one as a pet, believing they will make a fun and interesting addition to their lives.
They buy one with great intentions, with plans to teach it to talk or train it to do tricks. For most, unfortunately, reality hits home in a short time.
"People don’t realize the level of commitment they make when they get one of these birds," explains Christy Hensrude. "They are very noisy, messy and destructive, and they can be incredibly possessive creatures. They also can live up to 80 years."
Hensrude should know. She has about 100 of these birds on her property. They reside at Zazu’s House, a macaw sanctuary Christy and her husband Scott established five years ago. It’s an impressive facility, consisting of several buildings or aviaries, totaling 6,000 square feet in size.
There’s a zoo-like outdoor aviary, which has a special needs facility attached to it for birds that are especially vulnerable. And then there’s a main indoor heated arena with a dozen actual trees for perching.
The roots for Zazu’s House can be traced back over 10 years ago when the Hensrudes, who have five kids, went to a pet store to get a turtle for one of their sons.
They left with two macaws, Howard and Zazu. Howard turned out to be a female after DNA testing.
"Scott wanted the birds to be free to be birds and didn’t want them to be caged, so he made a room for them of their own with walls of glass so they could see outside," says Christy. Howard and Zazu flourished in their new home.
Meanwhile, the couple helped bring smaller birds to The Farm, a ministry in Snohomish with a children’s petting zoo and aviary.Then, in early 2006, Christy was asked to take some larger birds from a rescue organization that was closing its doors.
"I prayed on it," she explains. "And then I spoke with Scott about it to see if he was ok with it. He was."
And the rest, as we say, is history. People began to find Zazu’s House primarily via word of mouth, through vets, other sanctuaries and pet stores.
In 2008, it became a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing a permanent refuge for macaws.
"We’re not a breeding facility," emphasizes Christy. "We do not sell birds, nor do we purchase them. Our mission is simply to provide a safe and interesting environment for the birds that come to us. We want them to have a place where they can be themselves and live cage free with opportunities to fly and socially interact with other birds, while receiving plenty of loving attention."
She adds, "They are never expected to entertain or perform on command. We constantly talk to them, but we don’t train them at all. They’re not our pets. They need companionship, but we want them to find that with other birds preferably."
Christy explains that each of the birds is a unique being. Their personalities, she notes, are as varied as their plumage.
There’s Molly, a spitfire, who Christy likens to a pit bull and sweet and loving Tequilla, who was found in a tree in Kirkland.
"We got a call about her because no one could get her out of the tree," says Christy. "I went over there with a friend and we got her down by using some food. No one claimed her, even after we put notices up everywhere."
Then there’s T-Bird, a very regal and kingly macaw, who has a preference for men.
As for Zazu and his pal Howard, they’re still around. Zazu, according to Christy, is a real goofball. "He’s not the sharpest marble in the bunch," she adds. "But, he’s a real clown. And he and Howard remain best buddies."
Francine, one of the newer members of the bunch, is currently residing in the Hensrude’s home getting special care along with a handful of others, some who mutilate themselves by biting off their feathers.
Self-mutilation, Christy explains, often occurs when a bird is stressed or ill. The birds gets seed mix, fresh veggies and fruit and a variety of treats each day.
They enjoy all kinds of food, including chicken, eggs, peanut butter, hummus, banana bread and even pasta and steak. All of them are hand-fed the veggies and fruit in order for Christy and her all-volunteer staff to get an up-close view of how the birds are faring.Sometimes, the birds bite and show aggression towards people or other birds. When this happens, they are caged for a brief time out.
"They bite for a variety of reasons," comments Christy. "They can feel threatened, stressed, jealous or just want the attention. These creatures are like two year olds in that they demand attention and will do things to get a reaction."
She notes that the birds crave stimulation and emphasizes the importance of periodically changing their foods and toys so that they don’t get bored. They also love music, which is piped in to the aviaries. Whether it’s soft rock or classical, they will often sing and dance to it, bobbing their bodies up and down on the perches.
The cost to house, feed and care for each bird is estimated at $3 to $4 per day.
Multiply that by 100 and then calculate the expenses for a year. The number is eye-popping.
Previous owners of the birds sometimes make donations or volunteer their time in the aviaries. And friends and followers occasionally bring food, treats and toys for the birds. But, the needs are great and in the current economic situation, donations have been down considerably, making conditions tighter than usual.
"Right now, we’re trying to raise money to build another aviary, a 6,000-square-foot one, to accommodate more birds," says Christy. "With this size building, we can take up to 200 more birds." She adds, "I get calls every day from people who want me to take a bird off their hands. We are the biggest facility around here with the least amount of birds. Other sanctuaries have 400 to 500 birds."
Initially, the Hensrudes didn’t want the community to know about their operation because they were concerned about the safety of the birds. Now that they feel the birds are safe, they want the public to know what they’re doing, and to increase awareness of the needs of these alluring, yet grossly misunderstood creatures.
Christy comments, "When people decide they no longer want these birds for whatever reason, we have a responsibility, a duty, to take care of them. We need to treat them in the manner they deserve and assure them quality of life for the remainder of their years. Our hope is that we can help reduce the large number of parrots left in distressful situations."
For more information about Zazu’s House or to make a donation, visit www.zazushouse.com or call (425) 478-9766.