THE BIRDS OF PANDEMONIUM: Life Among the Exotic and the Endangered by Michele Raffin, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2014. Also available through Onondaga County Public Library System.
What a joy to read this book! The photos of the birds are fascinating and put me in awe of the variety of creation. Raffin tells her bird stories with humor and pathos. She became addicted to bird rescue and conservation after attempting to rescue an injured bird along the side of the road. She cared for common birds and exotic birds, often by trial and error since many breeders won’t share their secrets and many vets don’t specialize in this area. Currently, she concentrates on breeding birds who are in danger of extinction and has formed an organization to help her in this life or death calling.
Raffin has great respect and compassion for birds. She learned that a bird can often tell you what s/he needs if you pay attention. Example: a quail was intended to be some human’s dinner but – by chance – ended up at Raffin’s sanctuary instead. “Sweetie” couldn’t fly so Raffin put a perch on the cage so he could hop up off the floor. By hopping on the first perch and staring with determination at another level in the cage, Sweetie told Raffin where he wanted each perch until a ladder was constructed bringing him to the level he desired.
And don’t miss the story of Harli and Peeki, a loving lorikeet couple. It was only when a necropsy was performed on one of them that Raffin realized the female she had adopted as company for her male lorikeet was also a male.
Caring for and breeding endangered birds requires almost total dedication as it is so time-consuming. This was sometimes difficult for Raffin’s husband and three children. Her husband was greeted with “Asshole!” by one of the parrots whenever he came into sight. But one of her sons formed a strong bond with Amigo, a parrot. Parrots often bite, and Raffin was Amigo’s target in spite of her dedication to his needs, but Amigo never threatened the boy he decided was his special friend.
Birds can be very sensitive to human needs. Without any training, Amadeus, a turoco, gently and quietly approached Chad, an autistic visitor to the sanctuary. Unlike his usual raucous greeting to visitors, Amadeus was quiet. He even nestled in Chad’s lap, something he never did with anyone else.
This doesn’t mean Raffin would turn Amadeus into a service bird. The needs of the birds came first, and being in forced service to humans is not providing the maximum life for birds.
Our birds are gorgeous. But that’s not why I’ve fallen for them so hard and so deeply. I’ve learned that their behavior is far more fascinating than their plumage. What birds know has upended everything I thought I understood about the natural world and our place in it. Birds mourn, they sacrifice, they engage in wicked tricks. They name their babies. They invent, they plot, they cope, and, as you’ll see, some of them know devilishly well how to manipulate unsuspecting humans. Beset by the forces of nature and the follies of man, they parry with marvelous wit and resilience. They can teach us volumes about the interrelationships of humans and animals.
Book review by Linda A. DeStefano
Translation of review into Spanish by Rob English
Linda is President of People for Animal Rights, P.O. Box 15358, Syracuse, NY 13215-0358, LDESTEFANO3@twcny.rr.com, (315)488-PURR(7877) between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m., peopleforanimalrightsofcny.org