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Farmer's Market

Pecks of love

Breeder Linda Luckey cares for 150 birds and sells a few. She also educates other owners because she knows enough to write a book.

By JAY CRIDLIN
Published February 13, 2004

SEFFNER - Valentine's Day is Saturday. Please don't remind Linda Luckey.

"You're talking about my worst nightmare," Luckey said, a houseful of birds squawking behind her.

As a lovebird breeder, Luckey views Valentine's Day like a rabbit breeder views Easter - as a holiday in which her animals are purchased and given as gifts, then forgotten.

"A lot of your lovebirds on Valentine's Day are impulse purchases," she said. "I don't like to sell birds under those circumstances."

Luckey has 150 birds at her Seffner home aviary, including about 25 breeding pairs of lovebirds, the multicolored, parakeet-like birds often sold as pets.

Through her business, Lovebirds Plus Aviary, Luckey has sold to bird enthusiasts and breeders for more than a decade. But after noticing how few of her customers researched lovebirds before making a purchase, she has shifted her focus to educating prospective bird owners on the responsibility that comes with buying a bird.

Her Web site contains tips, articles and quizzes dealing with the breed, and the site's online discussion board has attracted thousands of queries from bird owners across the country. She and a handful of partner breeders try to respond to every question, with one goal in mind: protect the lovebird.

"If you go out and buy a bird, learn to take care of it," said Luckey, 55. "If you want to know how to breed them, we'll talk about it."

Luckey grew up on a farm in New Jersey surrounded by ducks, chickens and one parakeet. She became a regular at local bird shows, and when she moved to the Tampa Bay area in 1990, she bought a pair of fluffy yellow Lutino peach-faced lovebirds.

She rescued other birds, including a military macaw whose beak had turned white after two years of poking it through a pet store cage. But as time passed, it became clear that lovebirds were her favorites - and it became harder to sell them.

"I'm not your average breeder," she said. "There's an emotional attachment."

Luckey now sells about 20 birds a year - less than half of her business in the early 1990s - and then almost exclusively to other experienced breeders. She does sell to the public, but only if she feels the buyers know their birds.

Her prices range from about $35 for common lovebirds to nearly $500 for rarer species; a young breeding pair might run about $100.

It's possible for breeders to make decent money, she said, but hers is not a very profitable business. Most of what she earns by selling birds goes back into seeds and supplies - and that's on top of what she spends on her pet birds.

Among the birds she cares for are six pair of endangered Abyssinian lovebirds, a breed rarely seen in captivity. To her knowledge, she's the only Florida breeder.

Abyssinians were once banned from import into the United States, but a few years ago, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service granted the Bird Club of America permission to form a circle of breeders known as the Abyssinian Lovebird Partnership. Luckey and a handful of other breeders around the nation now focus on getting the rare birds to propagate.

Luckey has already overseen the hatching of several new Abyssinians. Every few months, she exchanges some of her Abyssinians with another American breeders' to increase the bloodline.

"Maybe someday they'll be out for pet trade," she said. "Right now, there aren't enough of them."

At the moment, she's writing a book about lovebirds with another breeder in Wisconsin. Luckey would love to expand her educational efforts at bird shows and on the Internet, but she believes she'll never give up breeding.

It can take up to three hours each day to feed the birds and clean their cages, and the daytime noise in her house - from the lovebirds' squeaking to the talking blue-fronted Amazon parrot - is considerable.

"You have to love birds to do it," she said, a lovebird nibbling on her earlobe.

- Jay Cridlin can be reached at 661-2442 or cridlin@sptimes.com

[Last modified February 12, 2004, 12:52:02]

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