As you ascend the front steps of this attached house, you can hear them calling from within. The sound is neither of barking dogs nor rambunctious children – in this case the clamor is emanating from parrots. Maspeth Bird Haven is a not-for-profit two-person venture, run by the husband and wife team of Gayle & Barry Schwartz out of their Ridgewood Plateau home.
In January 2004, the couple visited a neighborhood pet store during a pre-nuptial shopping excursion. They had discussed getting a pet, but at that point hadn’t decided which type of animal to adopt. While perusing the available selection at the store, they made their choice. Gayle returned home that day with two periwinkle-colored parakeets. The couple’s interest in the hook-billed creatures blossomed from there.
Barry works as a geologist for the NYC Department of Design and Construction, and Gayle works as an administrative assistant. In September, they moved out of an unfriendly co-op apartment building and into their new one-family house, which provides a lot more room for their feathered friends. In their spare time, Barry and Gayle read up on parrot care and over the past two years, have added considerably to their avian family. They now have several birds of their own, and take in other people’s parrots to be cared for and adopted out to others. Barry recently became a certified avian specialist and a NYS Department of Environmental Conservation “class 1” wildlife rehabilitator. With this license, he may rescue injured wild birds (although he is required to transfer them to the care of someone with a “class 2” license for rehabilitation).
Barry explains, “Many people don’t understand the responsibility that comes along with owning a parrot. It can be overwhelming, and if you can’t spend the time that is required to socialize the bird, then you shouldn’t own one. Unfortunately, most pet stores don’t adequately prepare people for parrot ownership; they are just looking to make money off of the birds.”
Gayle states, “We have had people who have brought their birds to us for a number of reasons. Some of them can’t take the noise that they make; some have experienced a change in lifestyle, such as having had a baby or adopted a new pet. Sometimes, it’s not an active choice; some parrot species may live up to 80 years or more and we may find ourselves taking care of ones that outlived one or more of their owners.”
All that Gayle and Barry ask before taking in a parrot is for the owner to have the bird checked out by a vet, or to donate funds to the Haven for that purpose. However, before a bird is sent home with a new owner, the applicant is carefully screened to make sure that they will be able to meet specific criteria, including previous parrot ownership experience and availability of adequate time to spend with the bird.
Several companies that sell birdseed, pellets and treats donate products to Maspeth Bird Haven and that keeps them well stocked with supplies. This is crucial, as each breed of parrot requires a different type of food, the cost of which tends to add up quickly. MBH has been awarded grants by pet-friendly organizations and in 2005 received a monetary donation from Maspeth Federal Savings.
Maspeth Bird Haven works with the Mayor’s Alliance for New York City’s Animals, ASPCA, Animal Care and Control and the Avian Welfare Coalition. The office of Queens Borough President Helen Marshall has also expressed interest in their cause.
During their short existence, Maspeth Bird Haven has adopted out close to 50 parrots, ranging the spectrum of species from Budgerigar parakeets to Cockatoos. Gayle and Barry will soon appear in a film by Steve Baldwin documenting the wild Quaker parrots of Brooklyn.
To learn more about Maspeth Bird Haven, Inc., write to P.O. Box 780344, Maspeth, NY 11378 or visit their website.