Kai Bansner

The trip I most enjoy looking back on last year was the closest to home and the cheapest. Pooh and I did an all night drive to reach the Oasis Sanctuary before the sun got too hot. The Oasis is out in the high desert on a little dirt road and I had been there a few times to visit during the day, which is good, but nothing like being a volunteer.

At night, when the birds are sleeping and the caretakers have gone home, the Oasis is like a lonely western film set. It”s just you, the guard dogs, and the stars outside. The air is warm and smells good. If that gets old, there”s access to internet and cutesy bird DVDs lying around, and a few Dirty Harry movies. But I preferred sleeping early; there would be more shooting stars the following night.

In the morning, it”s crazy. At seven you punch the time clock and start checking in on 650 birds. This became my favorite part of the day. Slowly I got to know many of the birds, and the morning check-in was like going to a party where everyone is glad to see you.

My experience with parrots was limited to a decade with a Moluccan cockatoo. He prepared me for tasks at the Oasis such as cleaning cages, and washing bird bowls, and gave me a healthy respect for the bird bite. But, I knew little about other types of parrots and initially, many frightened me. Walking into an aviary with excited flighted birds would get my adrenalin going the way camping out does when lions are sighted.

There are a couple of aviaries where you”re guaranteed some bird affection. I was always thinking up reasons to visit the Cockatiel or Lori aviaries. But over the course of feeding and cleaning rotations, more and more birds became friendly. For example, I”d be putting fresh newspaper in a cage in the Pumpkin trailer one day, and a Pionus I didn”t know would land on my shoulder. I”d ask aloud, “Who”s this? Are you okay there?” And someone would say, “That”s Romy, he”s sweet.”

These little encounters are so much fun, and I looked forward to them daily. It was especially gratifying when a mysterious, potentially scary parrot, would become friendly.

While being a volunteer at the Oasis I worried about just two things: getting hurt or causing harm. Neither thing happened, for which the staff deserves most of the credit. They were very attentive and have a lot of good protocols in place for doing things.

Entering an aviary now I just figure most of the birds probably want to play or cuddle, but nobody”s quite sure yet.