When an Anchorage man died recently, he left behind an in-home aviary with an estimated 300 cockatiels, according to a local bird club that has been scrambling to find new homes for them.
“There’s just so many birds,” said Chelsea Farner, the adopt-a-bird director with the Alaska Bird Club, an all-volunteer organization.
Farner said she first heard about the situation when a member of the man’s family left her a voicemail about needing help finding new homes for birds. She had no idea the magnitude of the request until she called back and asked how many.
“The woman said, ‘There’s about 300,’” Farner said. “That was not what I was expecting. I thought she was going to say three or four.”
The bird club is often asked to help find new homes for birds an owner can’t take care of anymore, Farner said. But the maximum anyone had encountered at once was 12.
“This is the biggest number anyone at the bird club has been involved with,” she said. “By far.”
Not much is publicly known about the mystery owner of the 300 cockatiels. The family wants to keep the identity of the deceased owner private, Farner said.
“It’s a very sensitive situation,” she said.
It appears the cockatiels lived in a specially constructed aviary room in the man’s house, with branches and nesting boxes.
“He clearly took a lot of pride in these birds,” Farner said.
The birds seem to be healthy.
“The birds’ feathers seem shiny and nice. They have nice perches, to fly around and be free,” Farner said. “The nesting boxes are away and separate from the perches.”
Still, 300 birds is a lot.
“I don’t condone having that many birds,” Farner said. “It’s not meant for the typical person. But it seems like the way he did it was the right way.”
Farner and Amber Morris, president of the bird club, got permission to visit the man’s house on Monday night. They discovered a bunch of baby cockatiels, which they decided to hand feed.
They decided to return with dish towels and nets to capture the adult cockatiels. They anticipate making more than a few trips to move the birds out of the man’s house.
“It’s going to be a gradual process,” Morris said.
The next challenge will be to find the birds new homes.
For now, the plan is to take groups of the birds to two Petco locations, where they will be offered for adoption. Other birds will be taken to Anchorage Animal Care and Control, where they will be eligible for adoption after a period of quarantine time, Morris said.
The two will be posting on the Alaska Bird Club’s Facebook page about adoption opportunities, Farner said.
Prospective new owners should be aware that it’s not clear whether the owner handled the birds much, so they may not be “hand tamed,” or used to being held by people, she said.
“We think he may have just been enjoying them, watching them fly around,” she said.
Cockatiels are among the most popular birds to be kept as pets. Native to Australia, they are known for a distinct mohawk-like head crest. In captivity, a cockatiel can live 20 years or more.
It’s not unusual for the city’s animal control authorities to end up with a large menagerie of animals someone can’t care for anymore, said Laura Atwood, a spokeswoman for Anchorage Animal Care and Control. Usually, it’s cats.
“We’ll get a call for an animal welfare check and find out somebody had 30 or 40 cats,” Atwood said.
Large numbers of exotic animals have also ended up with Animal Care and Control -- a few years ago, someone dropped off 22 bearded dragons -- but this situation is unique.
Never before has Atwood heard of an apparently devoted animal owner dying and leaving hundreds of animals.
“Nothing even close,” she said.
It’s not illegal to have 300 cockatiels in Anchorage.
In fact, it’s not illegal to have any number of birds in a private home in Anchorage -- as long as they are being cared for in a humane manner, said Atwood.
The city’s animal licensing laws allow a household to keep up to four dogs, cats, rabbits, ferrets or horses, or a combination of up to seven of those animals, without a special permit.
But birds, reptiles and other kinds of legal small pets aren’t on that list, Atwood said.
“A person could have as many as they could care for,” she said.