The feathered find a friend in Wykowski
John Gaines/The Hawk Eye
Tony is a Goffin cockatoo.
John Gaines/The Hawk Eye
A variety of toys for the birds are homemade by Ann Wykowski.
John Gaines/The Hawk Eye
Brennan is a blue and gold macaw. KEOKUK - Ann Wykowski opens a small door in the side of a cast-iron cage taller than she is and places a bowl into a holder inside the cage. The bowl is full of brightly colored pellets that smell like Froot Loops cereal.
A blue and gold macaw, the type of parrot made famous for perching on the shoulders of pirates on the silver screen, screeches its appreciation and begins gorging itself on the pellets.
As the rural Keokuk woman watches the bird eat, she explains a little about avian behavior.
"A bird throwing up is the sincerest form of flattery. It means they love you," Wykowski said. "They're hoping you eat it."
While a date vomiting on your shoes may not be socially acceptable in human circles, in the bird world it's the equivalent of being offered a dozen roses and a box of chocolates.
As the founder of Southeast Iowa Parrot Rescue, Wykowski has had plenty of feathered suitors offer her a partially digested feast. Nestled just off of Airport Road on 270th Avenue, the parrot rescue currently offers sanctuary to 39 exotic birds, including parakeets, cockatiels, lovebirds, macaws and African greys.
After dogs and cats, birds are the third largest category of animals kept by humans. Like their furry comrades, birds who belong to unscrupulous owners often are subject to neglect and abuse.
Inspired by the Letts-based Iowa Parrot Rescue, Wykowski officially opened her own rescue June 4, 2008. She is working on getting 501(c)(3) status for the organization.
Initially, she kept the birds in a sun room on the back side of her family's home. But this spring she was able to open an aviary, a 12-foot-by-32-foot prefabricated building. She has named the aviary after Eugenia Wykowski, who died in April 2009.
The aviary, which looks like a long shed with windows, sits in Wykowski's front yard and is flanked by dozens of empty cages. The squawks and cries of dozens of birds fills the air with sound.
Despite her affinity for colorful feathered creatures, Wykowski insists she is no bird-brain.
"I'm not bird crazy. I'm not," Wykowski said with a quick laugh. To prove it she points out that her family also has 15 cats, most of which simply showed up at their doorstep.
She simply enjoys caring for birds, who through no fault of their own have been abused and neglected. It seems a fitting calling for a retired registered nurse who spent the previous 30 years of her life providing care for others.
A little background: Wykowski's love affair with birds started small and grew with time - literally, symbolically and emotionally.
Wykowski and her husband, Paul, got their first bird, a parakeet, in 1985, soon after being married. The couple, who lived in the Houston, Texas, area at the time, soon graduated to cockatiels and then bigger birds.
In 1996, they got their first big bird, a lilac-crowned Amazon parrot, and Wykowski was hooked.
Six months later, she had an opportunity to rescue her first bird, a female red macaw. The macaw had been illegally brought to the United States from Mexico and had five previous owners.
She kept that red macaw until 2000, when she traded it for a 4-month-old military macaw, more of a green bird. That bird, who she named Astreaux, remains one of only two birds she considers her personal pet.
A job brought Wykowski, her husband and their two children, Deion, 16, and Serena, 17, to Keokuk.
Paul had lost his job with Dow Chemical as part of a massive layoff. After a little searching, he found a position with Roquette America Inc. He moved to Keokuk in the early fall of 2005, and the rest of the family followed a month later. What should have been an uneventful trip turned into a near disaster.
Wykowski remembers driving a trailer from Texas filled with two macaws, three hamsters, a gerbil and three cats. The trip was going fine until the truck's fuel pump went out near Troy, Mo., two hours from their final destination. The November temperatures were quickly dropping to dangerously low levels for the animals.
"There was no way we could leave our animals in that trailer or truck in those temperatures," Wykowski said.
After a little begging and cajoling, a local motel offered to allow all the animals to stay in a room. But it turns out they didn't need the room after all. Paul left a warm bed to meet his wife, tow the trailer the rest of the way to Keokuk and save the day.
Easing into the rescue
Wykowski was simply looking for another bird when she came across the Iowa Parrot Rescue.
While surfing the Internet, she found the Iowa Parrot Rescue and a ruby red macaw that doesn't normally occur without the help of a little hybrid breeding.
The bird was considered unadoptable because of its mean disposition. But something clicked between Wykowski and the bird.
"I looked at him and he looked at me, and we fell in love," Wykowski said.
A couple months later, Wykowski adopted another macaw from the parrot rescue that had been considered unadoptable.
Then Michael Hutchison visited Wykowski's home and saw her sun room. He immediately suggested she start her own parrot rescue, and the sun room would be perfect for it. She brushed the suggestion off at first, but the idea stuck with her.
Soon she began buying cages on eBay, the Internet auction website, and Southeast Iowa Parrot Rescue was born.
Wykowski continues to expand and improve her rescue. She is working on a large outdoor cage almost as big as her current aviary. It will one day house macaws during summer months. She also is considering taking a college correspondence class on parrot behavioral psychology offered through the University of Utah.
All of her birds go to Fort Madison veterinarian Martin Hentzel, who has extensive experience with birds.
Wykowski does not pay for the birds she welcomes into the rescue, nor does she broker the sale of birds or cages. The parrot rescue does adopt out birds, although a few caveats apply.
People interested in adopting a bird first must complete an application, be interviewed and pay an adoption fee, which varies depending on the bird. The adoption fee helps support operations, as well as shows applicants are serious and can afford to care for the bird.
The adoption fee remains far below the market price for such birds, who can fetch from $1,200 to $10,000, depending on the breed.
Wykowski prefers not to place birds with smokers and will not knowingly place any bird in a breeding situation, since there already are too many birds in need of good homes, she said.
Currently, the parrot rescue has two parakeets, 16 cockatiels and two macaws up for adoption. Wykowski tries to keep in touch with all those who adopt the big birds.
It's all about the birds
While birds are the third most common animal kept by humans, they are much less visible than cats or dogs. Most people don't take their parrots for a walk.
Because of the high value of large birds, many owners don't broadcast the fact they have one, fearing it could be stolen.
While they are common pets, Wykowski emphasizes parrots are not domesticated.
"These are wild animals that live with people," she said.
For that reason, Wykowski says parrots don't belong in households with small children nor with people who cannot properly care for them.
Just like cats, dogs and people, birds can be subject to abuse.
On Wykowski's kitchen table, living in a large wire dog kennel, is a 9-year-old blind African grey parrot named Tiny.
Tiny, who uses his beak to tap his way around his cage like a blind person with a cane, lost his sight when a former owner became angry and threw him against a wall.
And then there is Rockie, a 3-year-old sulfur-crested cockatoo. Rockie was stolen from a Petco when he was only a few months old, then found a year and a half later and returned to Petco. He was later sold to a couple, who had a baby less than a year later.
With the baby, the couple just didn't have enough time to care for the bird.
When Wykowski picked up Rockie, he had no toys, insufficient lighting, was covered in down rather than full feathers and was bleeding from sores under his wings.
A few months after being in Wykowski's care Rockie's plumage had filled out and he seems to be a happy, healthy bird.
Parrots are flock animals and need interaction and companionship to be happy. The birds' need for companionship is both their greatest asset and drawback, because often they will bond to a single family member and be mean to everyone else, Wykowski said.
Also, parrots are intelligent animals needing toys to keep them busy, Wykowski said
Stories like those of Tiny's and Rockie's are common, she says.
While there seems to be no end to the feathered critters in need of a caring place to roost, as long as the Southeast Iowa Parrot Rescue remains in operation, they will have Wykowski's friendly shoulder to perch on For information about surrendering or adopting birds, sponsoring SEIPR, giving donations or arranging presentations, contact Wykowski at 319-670-0067. .
Ann Wykowski talks to Cody, a blue and gold macaw, at her South East Iowa Parrot Rescue Center on Thursday at her home in Keokuk.
KEOKUK Even parrots occasionally need a friendly shoulder to lean or perch on and a place to lay their head.
For many abused, neglected and unwanted birds, that place is the South East Iowa Parrot Rescue, founded by Ann Wykowski of Keokuk. T
he parrot rescue is inviting the public to a grand opening of a new aviary named after Eugenia Wykowski, who died in April 2009. The open house will be from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Friday at 3554 270th Ave. (also known as Middle Road), north of Keokuk. The event is free to the public.
The aviary is a 12-foot-by-32-foot prefabricated building in the Wykowski's front yard. The building has large doors on the back, and on the front, a porch soon will be outfitted with heavy-duty mesh.
Inspired by Letts-based Iowa Parrot Rescue, Wykowski opened the Keokuk bird rescue June 4, 2008.
A non-profit organization, the Keokuk rescue hosts about 35 birds, including parakeets, cockatiels, lovebirds, macaws and African greys.
Behind dogs and cats, birds are the third largest category of domesticated animals. Like their furry comrades, birds who belong to unscrupulous owners often are subject to neglect and abuse.
"I think people need to see what is going on with these animals. I think a lot of people are not aware there are a problem with birds," Wykowski said.
Just last week, Wykowski drove to Arkansas to pick up a blind African grey parrot.
"He is blind because his owner got upset and threw him against the wall," Wykowski said. "I find that to be a problem,"
Wykowski does not pay for the birds she welcomes into the rescue, nor does she broker the sale of birds or cages. The parrot rescue does adopt out birds, although a few caveats apply. People interested in adopting a bird first must complete an application, be interviewed and pay a small adoption fee.
Wykowski said birds rarely are placed with smokers and are never shipped.
Neither are birds intentionally placed in breeding situations, as there already are too many unwanted and neglected, she said.
The parrot rescue is accepting donations of money or supplies, including Zupreem pellet food, vinyl gloves, rubbing alcohol, pet carriers, stainless steel bowls, paper towels, Mazuri pellet food, paper towels, bottled bird seed and trash bags.
For more information visit http://seipr.angelfire.com, e-mail KeokukBirds@msn.com or call (319) 670-0067.
By Celia Malm/Gate City Correspondent Published: Thursday, August 7, 2008 2:42 PM CDT
She's been a fan of the birds for a long time and got her first macaw (the biggest species of parrot) in 1996.
But it wasn't until after she adopted two macaws from Iowa Parrot Rescue in Letts that she started considering the possibility of opening a rescue center herself.
In 2006, while browsing online for parrot sites, Ann Wykowski stumbled across the Web site of Iowa Parrot Rescue and fell in love with a blue and gold parrot named Boba Fett (known as Bob). Bob had been given up because he started attacking his owner and her children.
The woman had owned Bob for 11 years, but when she got married, the parrot ended up bonding with her husband and wouldn't tolerate anyone else.
Mike Hutchinson of Iowa Parrot Rescue thought Bob would be happiest with a single male owner, but Wykowski wanted to meet him anyway.
Bob took to her and her family instantly. The moment she walked in the door, Bob said, I love you. When her husband got the same greeting, Mike Hutchison agreed that Bob had a new family.
Wykowski adopted a second parrot, Pirate, from Iowa Parrot Rescue also. He took to her in a similar fashion.
At that point, Hutchison encouraged her to consider opening a shelter of her own.
Wykowski's family had moved to Keokuk from Texas in 2005. Their new home turned out to have a spacious sunroom that was excellent for birds, in part because it has a separate heating and ventilation system from the rest of the house. This allows Wykowski to keep new or ill birds completely quarantined from the rest of the flock.
It was the perfect location for her shelter. South East Iowa Parrot Rescue officially opened on June 3. Wykowski's daughter, Serena, works with her in caring for the birds.
Several local businesses have assisted the shelter. Tri-State Sheet Metal has repaired bird cages at no charge, and Fastenal recently donated metal parts for making bird toys.
Sherry Kay of Keokuk Pet Center has been especially helpful in numerous ways, said Wykowski. The sales of a new, special selection of bird toys, soon to be available at the store, will go to benefit the rescue operation.
Sponsors are still needed, and donations to South East Iowa Parrot Rescue are always appreciated. One current need is for a small freezer for storing bird seed. Seed should be frozen before use, said Wykowski, in order to kill parasites that could sicken the birds.
Wykowski also would like to enlist the help of local teachers. Parrots are easily bored and always need more toys, and Wykowski can provide supplies for a craft project for students to create bird toys in the classroom. Wykowski also can bring her parrots into the classroom for a presentation on these birds, many of which are now endangered in the wild.
In addition to the large, colorful birds most people think of as parrots, smaller species like cockatiels and budgerigars (commonly called parakeets) also are classed as parrots. All can find shelter at SEIPR if their owners can no longer care for them or manage them.
SEIPR has 15 birds, eight of which are available for adoption. These include four juvenile cockatiels, a bonded pair of adult cockatiels, and a bonded pair of adult parakeets.
To adopt a rescued bird, Wykowski recommends looking first at the Web site: seipr.angelfire.com.
A bird is a commitment,she said. This is especially true with macaws, which can live to be 80 years old.
Parrots are more challenging pets than cats or dogs. They have the intelligence of a 2- or 3-year-old child and need constant social and mental stimulation.
Parrots can learn to speak, but it can take time and effort to teach them.
Rescued birds are sometimes stressed-out birds, due to the circumstances that brought them to the shelter. Parrots who are overly stressed or bored will sometimes self-mutilate by plucking themselves bare, leaving them looking a little ragged.
Wykowski emphasized that owners should never forget that parrots are not really domesticated animals. They remain wild, even if bred for generations in captivity.
Potential owners can fill out an adoption form, available on the Web site, and Wykowski will meet with them by appointment. Placement of rescued parrots is usually not a quick process, since a good match between bird and owner is necessary.
Wykowski urges beginning bird owners to start with the smaller species, such as parakeets. She won't place large birds with inexperienced owners.
Like most rescue operations, SEIPR does not ship birds and usually does not place them with smokers or owners who intend to breed birds.
In spite of all the challenges that come with parrots - and especially with running the rescue operation - Wykowski loves her birds.
I adore hearing them sing in the morning, she said.
For information about surrendering or adopting birds, sponsoring SEIPR, giving donations or arranging presentations, contact Wykowski at 319-670-0067.