Noah Horton, assistant director
For most of my life, I was a self-proclaimed cat person. Don’t get me wrong: I love dogs — I’ve always just sided with felines. Maybe it’s their subtle personality quirks, or the way they make you work for the relationship, or the way they fall asleep for 19 hours a day and let you stack things on top of them and take photos. Whatever the reason, that has always been a part of my identity. That is, until last week.
You see, for the first two weeks of the year, I was with our Rescue U team in Indian Trail, NC, renovating a bird sanctuary. Carolina Waterfowl Rescue takes in tame and wild birds, gives them a safe and cage-free place to live, and works to find loving homes for the adoptable birds. The only bird rescue in the state, CWR adopts out about 1,800 birds a year and houses around 200 at any given time. The birds include ducks, geese, swans, turkeys, chickens, pigeons, herons, peacocks and cockatiels. Suffice it to say, it was a big change of pace from our usual Rescue U renovations of shelters that house mainly dogs and cats.
My Experience with the Birds of CWR
When I first saw one of CWR’s many yards, full of swimming, quacking and waddling ducks of all kinds, I thought, “Look, a bunch of ducks.” Sure, I could tell the difference between the mallards and the Muschovys and the domestic Pekin ducks, but within those groups, they all seemed to be clones of one another. This is what I see as the biggest challenge for bird advocates: To an outsider, individual birds’ appearances don’t make them as easy to connect with as dogs or cats. But like I said, one of the reasons I’m a cat guy is I like that I have to work for the relationship. And I could tell from watching the regular CWR volunteers interact with the birds that there was plenty of relationship to be had!
Mr. “T” the Turkey
Mr. “T” the turkey is one of the flashiest birds on the 11-acre property. A domestic breed of turkey, he imprinted on humans immediately after he hatched, and feels more comfortable around humans than other birds. He is constantly puffed up in a full-feathered display, walking around trying to impress all the volunteers and any other people on the property. He walks up to you and prances back and forth as if to say, “Aren’t I pretty?” You can tell by the way he cuddles you that he appreciates a good pet to let him know you saw him. And you can tell by the way he reacts to different people that he recognizes them and has favorites. He really had a thing for Liz Baker, executive director of the GreaterGood Foundation (which fully funded the renovation through The Animal Rescue Site), and would make his neck extra long any time she was around to show how big and tough he could be for her. Because Mr. “T” is imprinted on humans, he requires a lot of attention and is not adoptable. Instead, CWR uses him for educational purposes, bringing him to local schools and adoption events.
Rupert Huneycutt the Duck
My personal favorite was Mr. Rupert Huneycutt the duck, another permanent resident. He followed the volunteers into the main shelter building every day for lunch, waddling and chatting us up with a “quack, quack, quack” the whole time. When you walk up to Rupert, he tilts his head down and to the side, so he can look at your face. This is something I never knew a bird would do, but the staff at CWR assure me birds can remember the faces of many people, and after years of no contact, will remember people they especially liked. I actually witnessed a woman who volunteered at CWR a few years ago come to visit during the renovation. I was told Mr. Fuzzy the Canada Goose had really liked her when she was a volunteer. Sure enough, when Mr. Fuzzy saw her he quickly ran to her for a pet and to say hi. I like to think Mr. Rupert liked me, and after about a week he would allow me to hold and pet him, and gave me plenty of love nibbles.
The Love Story of the Black Swans
The emotional capacity of the birds is amazing. A lonely or under-stimulated bird will refuse to eat or will self-mutilate (pull his feathers out). But birds also exhibit this behavior when those they love are in trouble. There is a beautiful mated pair of black swans at CWR (swans mate for life) whose story exemplifies this. The male swan had lost his previous mate before coming to the rescue and was extremely sad. The volunteers at CWR worked hard to make sure he ate. One night, an injured female black swan was brought in. The male, in the yard, heard her cries in the main shelter building and sat outside the wall closest to the female for weeks until she was brought outside. She slept in the kennel next to him, and he would scoot close to her and talk to her all night. After another couple of weeks, they began their courtship dance (a mating ritual performed in the water where the two swans perform intricate neck and wing movements), and they are now inseparable.
By the time I left the CWR, I could recognize the birds for who they were — individuals with distinct personalities who care for each other and the humans who look after them. Most of the permanent residents of the rescue, including Mr. “T” the Turkey, Marm a Lade the Rooser, Rupert the duck and Pringles the Grey Goose, have such big personalities, they have their own Facebook pages, which I encourage everyone to take some time to visit.
Bitten By the Bird ‘Bug’
After my two weeks at CWR, birds have a big place in my heart. As CWR director Jennifer Gordon told me: “It’s kind of a bug you get. Once you start working with the birds, it’s hard to stop.” Birds connect with you the same way any pet does — you just have to learn to see the signs; it’s like learning a new language. You have to dig a little to get to the connection (like cats), but once you’re there, it’s incredibly satisfying. Birds, as prey animals, have to make a conscious decision to let you get close to them, which makes your relationship special.
The number of dedicated volunteers who work with the birds at CWR every week is a testament to the power of the birds’ personalities. CWR is a 100% volunteer-supported organization, which means that 100% of donations go directly to the care of the birds who live there. To learn more about volunteering or donating to CWR, visit them online.
As for me, I’m still a cat guy, but now I can say with confidence that I’m also a bird guy. And I really miss Rupert the duck.