JOLIET – Hobbyist bird breeders Cindy McFadden and Kim Krol of Joliet were both introduced to the joys of raising birds through an invitation to attend a bird fair/sale at the Knights of Columbus #382 in Joliet.
In both cases, McFadden and Krol quickly acquired birds. Today, these neighbors own KCtoys, which sells handcrafted bird toys. They are also hobby breeders, which comes with a distinct advantage – pairing the right bird with the right owner.
“We won’t sell if we don’t believe it will be a good fit,” Krol said.
At a March 29 fair/sale – again at the Knights of Columbus – McFadden and Krol won’t have any of their hand-fed birds, but they will have a dozen of Krol’s finches and plenty of their signature toys.
In addition, McFadden and Krol will answer questions on the process of breeding, hand-feeding, raising and adopting companion birds.
The biggest advantage to owing a hand-fed bird, McFadden said, is that they make wonderful companion pets. They have had constant human contact starting as baby birds, before their eyes even open.
“Their first sight is us and they relate to us, which is a good thing. We become the surrogate mom, so to speak,” she said. “This way, as the babies get older, they love humans because that is all they know.”
It was really the toys that led the neighbors into bird breeding. McFadden has a 7-year-old lovebird named Mehoo and Krol has a 4-year-old conure named Fuzzy. McFadden’s husband Bob Childers also has a 6-year-old rescue cockatoo named Rocky.
When McFadden and Krol first obtained their birds, they needed toys to keep those birds amused.
But toys are expensive, so they decided to craft their own from beads, sticks, playing cards, treat cups and miniature fold-up boxes. They quickly learned the materials their birds enjoyed were cheaper in bulk, so decided to find some way to share the fun toys with other birds.
Soon, McFadden and Krol also wanted to share the joys of owning birds with others.
“The finches I raise have such a soothing little chirp, very calming. It’s similar to watching fish in a tank,” Krol said. “We don’t hand-feed the finches because they are so tiny and that would be tricky, and they’re not a bird that would come out and play with you. The birds Cindy hand-feeds, those are snuggly.”
Hand-feeding a baby bird requires the same commitment as feeding any baby. Some species eat every 15 minutes during the first days of life, so McFadden usually assumes dinner duty around the two-week mark, when the time between meals has stretched to three hours.
But feeding is more than getting food into the bird, she said. The commercial food for hand-fed birds must be mixed, heated – and then cooled – to just the right temperature.
“If the food is too cold, a lump will form in their throats and they could asphyxiate,” McFadden said.
The birds must also be petted and rubbed around the neck during the feeding and then cleaned up afterward, McFadden said. Feeding one bird takes about 20 minutes and up to 35 for several, she added.
“It’s a big responsibility,” McFadden said. “You have to do it because you love it.”
McFadden realized the value of backup, which she now has, during her first hand-feeding experience. Two days after she brought home parrotlets, she came down with pneumonia.
“No matter how sick I was, I had to get up and feed the babies or they would die,” McFadden said.
When the birds are four weeks old, McFadden adds crispy rice cereal – and then sunflower meats – to the feed so the birds can practice crunching. By now, the birds eat about once every four hours and McFadden waits until they cry for food before serving it up.
“Even when I no longer feed them with a syringe, I wait at least another week to make sure they are not losing weight before I adopt them out,” McFadden said.
One reason McFadden and Krol won’t have hand-fed birds at the March 29 bird fair/sale is that they only breed their birds two to three times a year. Krol said over-breeding leaches calcium from the birds’ bones and shortens their lifespans.
Krol keeps most of the cages and birds at her house, while McFadden cares for the hand-feds. McFadden even brings them to work with her at Burgo Pest Control in Joliet (which McFadden said she owns), where they hang out in homemade incubators.
“I even have a traveling incubator that I plug into my cigarette lighter,” McFadden said.
It’s all worth it when McFadden and Krol see their birds and new owners bond, like the child that adopted one of McFadden’s lovebirds.
“Watching the face of the child and how the bird interacted made me feel good,” McFadden said.
If you go
WHAT: Bird Fair/Sale
WHEN: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. March 29
WHERE: Knights of Columbus #382, 100 S. Infantry Drive, Joliet
ETC: Private breeders, cages, food, toys, supplies
COST: $3. Children under age 8 are free.