On Oct. 1 the unofficial Encinitas Exotic Bird Social Club gathered on the patio adjacent to the Champagne Bakery in the West Village Shopping Center for their monthly get together.
Cockatoos and a variety of parrots including eclectus, conures, amazons and macaws have flocked to these events for years.
The tradition started in the 1990s by Barbara Bailey and her friends Jeanne Bennett, Janis Uriarte, Wanda Belcher, Mary Elliot and Leslie Gunn. In those days they’d meet on the patio of Marie Callenders before it became Bentley’s.
“Sometimes we would meet regularly, sometimes it was a pick-up thing, depending on how busy our schedules were,” remembers Gunn who eventually moved out of the area.
The club was resurrected two years ago when Robin Hermann was visiting Staples with her umbrella cockatoo, Benji, and was approached by one of the former members. Soon, the two got together and the group began to grow via word of mouth.
Over the summer, they had their largest gathering with about 25 birds and their owners.
“Birds are more intelligent than dogs and they have more interactive personalities,” Hermann said. “It’s a good way to meet people.”
Hermann became fast friends with Le and Rick Baker who joined the group about the same time.
“We have found that birds need a play date and that they can learn very fast by participating in these events,” explained Rick Baker. “We’ve seen birds break bad habits and lose phobias simply by being around other birds, and bird owners, and just having fun.”
Among the bird enthusiasts at last week’s lunch was sisters, Hanna Faulstitch, 9, and April, 11. They brought their green cheek conure, Antonio.
“I like coming to the bird lunches a lot because I can see other birds,” Hanna said.
April adds, “I enjoy playing with birds I never met before.”
One of the newer members credited with the surge in growth of the organization is Lauren Haggerty, a former vet tech who is active in bird rescue and education today. In addition to her two parrots, she fosters and provides medical rehabilitation to several more birds.
She doesn’t mind the work.
“In the bird world we tell people it’s 90 percent work and 10 percent fun,” Haggerty said. “To us, it’s not work because it becomes a passion.”
Haggerty and Hermann are also involved as volunteers at San Diego Botanic Gardens.
“We started doing outreach at major events with the idea of the getting visitors interested in birds,” Hermann explained. “Now our birds are a marketing tool to generate memberships.”
Alyse Johnson came to the bird club last week after meeting Michael Ross and his cockatoo, Louis, who are familiar faces at the Carlsbad Outlet Center.
When she mentioned that she was having behavioral problems with her own cockatoo, Ziggy, Ross recommended the bird lunch.
Johnson invited her son, Brian Bruno, to join her. He brought Ozzy, his nine-year-old African grey.
Before losing his job as an electronics technician during the recession, Bruno said he’d take Ozzy to work.
“She’d hang out in the break room, and they even had a name tag for her,” he remembers.
Today Bruno and Ozzy are making new friends at the bird club, both with other bird owners — and bystanders.
“A man sitting at another table said seeing the birds made him sad because he had a cockatoo 25 years ago,” Bruno said. “It wasn’t long before he joined us and had one sitting on his shoulder.”
Haggerty and Gretchen Hauser and their birds will be at the 29th Annual Fall Plant Sale at San Diego Botanic Gardens Oct. 15 and Oct.16.
For more information about the event, or the monthly bird lunch, contact Lauren Haggarty at email@example.com.