For the love of parrots

Parrots are Nicolle Devlin’s companions, her houseguests, her foster children, and her cause. She’s a parrot rehabilitator.

“Right now, I have six,” she said. “Three are mine, three are for adoption.

“And I have an African grey waiting to come in, too.”

“This is a small group,” said her husband, Tom Devlin. “The smallest it’s been in a while.”

And that’s not the entire guest population of the Ridgefielders’ Midrocks Road home.

“Six birds, one dog, one snake, three geckos, and one tarantula,” said Nicolle, who’s lived in town for 21 years.

“We have the feathers upstairs, we have the dog in the middle level, and then downstairs in the basement we have the reptiles.”

Human-wise, the Devlins are four: Tom, Nicolle, and sons Patrick, 22, who’s at Purdue, and Ryan, 19, who’s at Auburn.

The basement reptiles are, technically, Ryan’s.

“He’s studying to be an exotic vet,” his mother said.

The birds — enjoying them, taking care of them, finding homes for them — have become a big part of Nicolle’s life.

“I have fostered and helped find homes for over 60 parrots,” she said. “I started fostering about four years ago.”

She also works — at St. Stephen’s Nursery School.

“This is just what I do as a volunteer,” she said.

Out of the cage

She tries to help the parrots enjoy life.

“When I’m home, they’re out, they’re out of their cages,” she said. “I have Java trees that they hang out on. There’s toys for them, There’s food. They just hang out. They can be part of the family. I don’t believe birds should be locked up in cages.”

She relates to the birds, and they relate to her.

A little Quaker parrot, or monk parakeet, is a bit shy — but sociable.

“She won’t come down the stairs. She calls at the top of the stairs. She wants me to come get her so she can eat with me, have breakfast, or just hang out on the Java tree,” Devlin said.

“They’re very, very smart.”

How it came to be

Devlin became involved with parrots six years ago after attending a bird rescue adoption event in Wilton with her son.

“The two of us ended up volunteering there. And, fast forwarding a few years, Wilton Parrot Rescue went under. But I stayed friends with Jeanne Gilligan, who runs Helping Wing Parrot Rescue in New Jersey. They have over 200 parrots.”

Some types of parrots are illegal to own in New Jersey, and Devlin helps Jeanne and John Gilligan by finding Connecticut homes for the birds.

“It’s very complicated, the world of parrots,” she said.

She also takes in birds for Samantha Pitera’s Connecticut Parrot Rescue in Stratford.  

“I foster for both of the rescues,” Devlin said.

There’s a network. Volunteers respond to problems.

“There was a bird hoarding in Weston,” she said. “All those birds were taken, They were taken to an exotic bird rescue in Rhode Island. Some of us for Connecticut Parrot Rescue went to Rhode Island and helped clean cages, and took some of the birds back with us to help find homes for.”

‘Speed dating’

Adoption is a process.

“When you go to a rescue, depending on whether you’re interested in a small bird, a large bird — it’s kind of like speed dating. You’re introduced to several birds, and see how they react to you. Hopefully there’s one that’s interested in you.”

She urges people considering getting birds to “do their homework” to start.

“A lot of people buy parrots and have no idea what they’re getting into. It’s not like owning a cat or a dog. They tend to pick one person that they bond to, and nine out of 10 times, everyone else is the enemy.

“In the right hands they can be fantastic pets. In the wrong hands it can be a disaster — they  live forever. I have an amazon, she’s 40 years old. She outlived her owner,” Devlin said.

“Think about it. Where were you 40 years ago? Your life has changed. So lot of them are given up.

“And then I have a poor cockatoo. Its owner died and it’s been in mourning since. It’s been about a year that he’s here, and he has mutilated his wings, that he cannot fly, and he does not make a sound — which is very unusual for a bird, not to scream, or make a sound.

“There’s a lot of sad stories,” she said.

But with knowledgeable adopters, it can be very rewarding for the birds, Nicolle said.

“A little one loved my husband and I, she’d come down from her cage and sit on the couch, and she would put her head down for us to scratch her head. When I’d go down the basement steps doing laundry, she’d follow me down just so I could hold her.

“And I have babies — they’re not babies anymore … I finished hand-feeding four of them and two have gotten adopted, but two still need homes.

“There’s a lot of birds that need homes,” she said.

“I don’t want to get on the breeders’ cases, but there should be some control. What do you do with a bird that’s going to live 40 or 50 years? You think, ‘Well, I’ll leave it to my kids.’ But what if it doesn’t like your kids?”

Two-way street

People who want to adopt a bird through the rescue networks may go to websites: Helpingwing.org or Ctparrotrescue.org.

“You fill out an application and you kind of tell us what your experience is, what you’re looking for, and then we take it from there.”

Selection is a two-way street.

“You come and meet the birds we have, see if there‘s a connection. You come several times. And then we look for a connection. And then we also offer an education as to what parrots need in terms of diet, exercise, enrichment.

“And then we’ll do a home visit, and then the adoption goes through — the bird is yours.”

“Basically we want to make sure that it’s a good fit, and once the bird gets home, it’s a good fit for the bird, the bird is happy, and you’re happy, so we don’t have birds returned to us, because that happens, too.

“In a happy home where they’re socially stimulated and fed a healthy diet, they’re very entertaining. They’re very smart. They bond to you. They’re fascinating, some of them can talk.

“I’ve fostered an amazon and she could sing Old McDonald Had a Farm.”

Flight

Parrots kept in houses may flutter about a bit, but they can’t sustain flight.

“Fly? No, no,” Devlin said. “We’ve made them captive birds. We actually trim their flight feathers, which is like trimming your fingernails, it does grow back.”

She provides good care for parrots that have already been made captive, but there are philosophical issues.

“At the end of the day, they’re really wild animals. They’re not domesticated like cats and dogs are,” she said.

“I do love them. I think that they should be free. They should be outdoors. I don’t think they should be in cages.

“This is my life,” she said. “This is what I love doing.”