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Going on a wing and a prayer

A Plant City aviary shelters more than 1,700 exotic birds, mostly from owners who couldn't take care of them. But it needs help to stay open.

By JONNELLE MARTE
Published August 11, 2006


There's a place hiding in Plant City where exotic birds can just be birds.

They have plenty of shade and food, and enough space to sing their hearts out without upsetting any neighbors.

It's the Faunalink Foundation, which shelters and feeds more than 1,700 exotic birds that have been seized by the government or donated by pet owners who can't care for them anymore.

Phyllis Martin, a longtime bird lover, built the aviary in 1997 when the government asked the International Threatened Species Foundation, an organization aimed at maintaining a population of exotic birds, to take care of 800 confiscated birds that were sick with salmonella.

Martin took in the birds and built 846 cages for them. Today, she houses about 99 different bird species whose native countries dot the globe from Cuba to Australia.

Almost every wingspan reveals a tiny rainbow of red, blue, green and yellow. Some birds are dark, some have bright bellies and others concentrate all of their color in their beaks.

Martin has the more common parrots like macaws and cockatoos; she also has rare birds such as the slender-billed corella, a white and orange cockatoo from Australia.

Some of the birds can be resold if they are tame enough and their former owners don't mind, but most of the birds at the sanctuary are not pet quality, Martin said.

She breeds some birds to be sold as pets, but those sales don't bring in enough money to keep the center open.

It runs mainly on donations, which come from bird clubs and friends who are just as passionate about the winged creatures as she is.

"Private aviculture has kept a lot of birds from going extinct," said Jean Pattison, a breeder who dyed her hair to imitate an African gray parrot: black on the sides, gray on the top and a red tail at the bottom.

Her shirt also portrayed the bird she said captured her soul years ago.

Today, most of the birds at the sanctuary come from owners who couldn't take care of them anymore. Some of them are on loan from the zoo for breeding. Others are donated because their owners are leaving for military service or are moving someplace where birds are not allowed.

Some birds still get regular visits from their old owners, Martin said.

"The majority of people don't want to give them up," she said.

Martin said she needs help to keep the sanctuary open. In 2004 and 2005, the center's expenses were $28,000 more than its income, according to Martin and financial records.

Two part-time workers help Martin feed the birds, a task she did by herself for a long time. Most of the food she uses is donated, but she needs volunteers and supplies.

She said she needs a field and brush mower to clear the grass around the aviaries, a microwave oven for heating food for baby birds and a walk-in cooler for storing produce.

More than anything, she wants young people to get involved.

"I think, 'What is going to happen when I die and get too old?' " she said.

Jonnelle Marte can be reached at 310-1145 or jmarte@sptimes.com

TO LEARN MORE

For information, call Phyllis Martin at 813 650-0929.

[Last modified August 10, 2006, 08:57:30]


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