Caged pets her ‘great companions’

“C’mere,” says Chester, in a loud raspy voice, calling Lex to come play with him.
Leslie Bennett strokes Hajari, an African Grey parrot, at her Middleburgh home last week.
Leslie Bennett strokes Hajari, an African Grey parrot, at her Middleburgh home last week.

“C’mere,” says Chester, in a loud raspy voice, calling Lex to come play with him.

Lex, a Doberman, prances into the room, lowers his head and forepaws onto the carpet and engages in a bob-and-weave gentle foray with the green-wing macaw.

The 2-foot tall red-, green- and blue-feathered parrot thrusts its beak at the dog as Lex backs off.

“They love to play with each other,” Leslie Bennett said. “Sometimes they’ll tug on opposite ends of a toy.”

Hajari, an African grey parrot,

standing on a countertop, whistles for Bennett to come back to the kitchen.

“She’s jealous and wants attention,” Bennett said.

Indeed, apparently from the chorus of screeches, shrieks and squawks, so do the rest of the feathered friends Bennett keeps in 10 large cages complete with colorful plastic chains, ropes, branches for perches and musical toys to occupy the 16 exotic birds in her dining room.

Some of the birds are free to leave their cages and perch elsewhere.

Bennett, who began acquiring birds as pets about seven years ago, now has a virtual exotic aviary in her Middleburgh home that the birds share with her, her husband, Michael, son Zachary, 19, Dobermans Lex and Lily and Plaza the cat.

Here you’ll see a blue-headed pionus, monk “quaker” parakeet, parrolets, white-capped pionus, dusky-headed conure, sun conure, severe macaw, cockatiels and love birds. All are native to South America, Africa or Australia.

“Birds make great pets,” said Bennett. “They’re great companions, very personable and intelligent creatures. When I’m home alone, I sing and dance with them and they imitate me. Chester even sings opera arias with me.”

Some of her bird species have long life spans and are known to live beyond 70 years.

They’re easy to care for, she said. She cleans their cages daily, changes their water bottles and feeds them organic food pellets. She also cooks up a breakfast mash of whole grains, pastas, seeds, nuts and beans. The excess she freezes in containers. She also makes “bird bread,” cornmeal bread with vegetables and fruits.

The larger birds are fed assorted fruits throughout the day and nibble on food left over from family meals.

All get an annual health checkup from a veterinarian.

Chester and six others are “rescued” birds. Bennett is a member of the Capital District Cage Bird Club, an organization that provides bird enthusiasts with information about caring for birds as pets. The group also seeks homes for “rescued, abandoned and abused birds” and “for birds whose owners can no longer care for them.”

“Chester, who is now 11, was 9 years old when I got him,” said Bennett. “He already had five homes before coming here. When people take on a bird like this, they don’t have a clue what they are getting into. The birds are a longtime commitment.”

Perched in her cage, Sadie, a severe macaw also known as a chestnut-fronted macaw, shrieks continuously. She’s also a rescued bird.

“She came from a bad situation,” said Bennett. “I have just begun to be able to handle her.”

Harley, a quaker parakeet, is her most talkative bird. “He has a vocabulary of about 250 words. He recognizes people and calls them by name. He would often tell my son Zachary ‘go clean your room,’ and greets my husband when he comes home with ‘Hello Michael, hello Dad.’ ”

And, she said, whenever she takes out the broom to sweep, Harley will tell her “you’re a mess.”

Quaker parakeets are outlawed in many states because they’re viewed as pests in agricultural areas where they’ve established colonies after escaping from pet owners. The state of Connecticut has been killing the birds to eradicate their colonies.

While she loves all her birds, said Bennett, Hajari is her favorite. The African grey parrot, grey with red tail feathers, is perhaps “the smartest parrot known to man,” said Bennett.

Animal behaviorist Dr. Irene Pepperberg, in her research with the African grey, found that cognitively one of the birds she was working with was equivalent to a 5-year-old child, Bennett said. “He could reason, differentiate between objects, shapes, colors, numbers, and understand the concepts of same and different.”

Hajari has tremendous ability to mimic people and mechanical and electronic device sounds.

Offering the parrot a piece of banana, Bennett said Hajari loves to “cuddle with me at night, puts her head on my chest and falls asleep.”

And when it’s bedtime, Bennett covers all the cages, turns off the lights and the birds are silent until morning.

Categories: Schenectady County

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