Gilroy Today 2009 09 Fall | Page 24

the birdman o f Gilroy

Female Eclectus ( above ) and male breeding partner ( far right .)

In the foothills of Gilroy there is a tranquil ranch with noisy occupants … big beautiful birds !

Back in the 1980 ’ s Al and Jane Howard were looking for a retirement home away from the congestion of the San Mateo area . Someone suggested Gilroy and after some research Gilroy was selected . Looking ahead Al wanted to be a gentleman farmer and raise something that might produce some income in retirement .
After attempting to raise English swans he switched to a family of birds know as Psittaciformes … or as most of us know them … parrots , macaws and cockatoos . Al now has many birds . They are very colorful . They are very loud . Strangers provoke piercing cries of alarm . But are they beautiful ! As for that retirement income , selling and trading barely covers expenses .
Housed in two barns , the birds are for the most part breeding pairs . Once the chicks are born they are turned over to a woman who hand feeds them , preparing them for life as a pet . Interestingly , large birds that are hand fed often they see their handler as a partner and do not breed . Al ’ s birds , on the other hand , are raised as breeding pairs with a minimum of human contact . Most are weary of human contact and some are downright aggressive . One large parrot , called Dragon Queen for good reason , is even aggressive to potential partners .
Another bird , a crested cockatiel called Fred , is very friendly and easily takes the honors as the favorite bird . He sometimes gets to roam the grounds exploring bushes and trees .
Raising breeding pairs is a sensitive and complicated task . Ample security is needed to keep out curious human and thieves . Additional security is needed to protect the birds from predatory animals . Precautions are taken to keep birds of prey , raccoons , possums , rats , dogs and cats away from these beautiful birds . Even with all the security the birds seems to be happy and thriving . And are they beautiful !
Some are very intelligent and pick up on things many of us would miss . One male Eclectus parrot picked up on Al ’ s greeting to his wife , Jane , and now does a random and sometimes confusing “ Hi Jane ” in Al ’ s low voice . He then mixes it up with a higher pitched “ Hi Al ” in Jane ’ s voice . Al and Jane are not always sure who is home !
One of the most unique