One Woman’s Battle to Save Endangered Birds

Michele Raffin2In 1996, Michele Raffin, author of The Birds of Pandemonium: Life Among the Exotic and the Endangered, opened a bird rescue center. Today, Pandemonium is one of the largest non-companion bird sanctuaries in the United States, providing lifelong care for more than 350 birds, representing 34 species, some of them critically endangered.

Talking from her bird-filled office in Los Altos, California, she introduces us to a two-inch-tall avian architect named Oscar and explains why birds prefer listening to Jingle Bells over Leonard Cohen, how you can break a parrot’s heart, and why birds have made her a better person.

Why the name, Pandemonium?

There’s the real reason, and then there’s the official reason. The official reason is that pandemonium is the flock name for parrots: a pandemonium of parrots.

But the real reason is that it’s really reflective of what life is like here. When you run an organization that has hundreds of birds in a suburban neighborhood, there’s always a lot going on. It’s raucous, and it’s a lot of life. So any of the more idyllic, sweet-sounding names that we considered, and that I’d have preferred, didn’t fit who we are.

So many of the birds you write about touch our hearts. I’m torn to have to ask you to tell us just one or two stories—but you must start off with Oscar.

Absolutely. Oscar was a gorgeous Lady Gouldian Finch, but he couldn’t fly. He could get off the ground for about an inch or two, but no matter how hard he tried, he really wasn’t able to fly like the other finches in his aviary.

I wasn’t really aware of what a problem that was for him until nighttime. He wanted to fly up to the roost with the other birds but wasn’t able to. So I decided I’d improvise a small perch for him, so he wouldn’t be on the ground at night.

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