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Metropolis / So SoCal

Lost Birds Have a Cozy Nest in Cyberspace

November 24, 2002|MICHAEL T. JARVIS

It's hard to get parrot rescuers to speak on the record. Take the unnerving vehicular incident reported by one driver. "People were honking at me and yelling, 'There's a parrot on your grille!' " says the Sherman Oaks woman. "When I pulled over, it was a parrot! He had attached himself to my grille! I couldn't get him out and I didn't know what to do, so I drove a couple of blocks to my veterinarian." As it transpired, the bird was not roadkill. Reluctant to divulge her name due to the potential swag value of parrots, which can be thousands, the relieved driver posted a notice on www.birdhotline.com, an international lost-and-found site that logs a hefty influx of postings from Southern California. "I've gotten the weirdest calls," she says.

Steve and Sandy Kaufman have heard thousands of similar stories since creating the Bird Hotline in 1999 on, um, a lark to reunite wayward avians with their owners. "We've been helping a lot of people in Southern California, which is pretty big, and you have a climate where people leave their doors open," says Kaufman, a former Orange County resident now living in Sedona, Ariz. "Sixteen years ago we lost a cockatiel," he says. "It was part of the family."

The hotline averages more than a dozen new listings a day, many from Southern Californians who've lost parrots or budgies. "The darn thing exploded on us," says Kaufman, who says the lost-and-found listings connect an average of one bird with its owner per week. The site's bird-finding tips also yield results, he says. (Essential: alert your postal carrier.) "We have 'em in Kuwait, France, Spain, [but] mostly English-speaking countries," he says. One unusual posting came from a woman in Sweden. "The bird was waddling and rubbing its bottom," he recalls. "I told her to get to a vet because if you [were trying to lay an egg], you'd waddle." With timely medical intervention, the bird survived. "Thank you from halfway around the world," the Swede wrote.

Those happy endings are the big payback. The couple, who currently own a "very smart" sun conure, are hardly feathering their nests with the Web site. "There's no money in this for us," Kaufman says. "This is the Internet at its best."

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