When most people think of the county fair they think of horses, pigs and cows. And maybe a rabbit or two.
But Kitsap County’s fair has something to offer that no others do. Exotic birds.
Yes. That’s right, exotic birds. According to the members of the Olympic Bird Fanciers, the Kitsap County Fair is the only county fair in the country where visitors can see and learn about birds of all kinds. The group has had a display for the past 10 years.
“Being at the fair is our favorite event of the year,” said Sue Marshal, president of the club which is based in Port Orchard. “People stop by and share their fun stories about their birds. And they share their losses and sadness. You can’t find anything like it anywhere else in the country.”
The goal of the bird display is to educate others about birds, especially parrots.
“We talk about the care of the birds and address behavioral problems of their birds,” she said. “It’s all to enrich the lives of the bird owners and their birds.”
For example, one question in the past was about how to get a bird to take a shower. Another was what to do with a biting bird.
“We find out what the problem is and many times it comes down to an owner inadvertently rewarding bad behavior,” Marshal said. “We suggest ways to turn that around.”
In some cases, the members make connections with bird owners who need them to come to their houses to analyze the issues.
“We do that, too,” she said. “Sometimes people say ‘I’m at the end of my rope.’ We try to find a solution, but if it doesn’t work, we help to find another home for their bird.”
And that brings her to what else they do while at the fair.
“Sometimes we talk people out of getting a bird,” she said. “If it becomes clear that they don’t understand the commitment it takes to have a bird, then we tell them that they shouldn’t get a bird.”
Birds are like many other pets, Marshal said. They need attention. In fact, at times she hasn’t had and birds because she was so busy raising a family and working full time.
“I grew up with birds,” she said. “When I was 7 (years old) my best friend was a chicken named Pecky. I taught him to walk on a leash. When my husband, Paul, and I got married we had a parrot named Porky. But when I went back to work full time we rehomed him to another bird family and we were without a bird for 20 years.”
Now, however, they have three parrots, three dogs, two cats and a large tank-full of fish.
It was after her daughter grew up and left home that they had “empty nest syndrome” and began again with parrots. They have an African gray named Mungo, a cockatoo named Boo, and Esah, and blue and gold macaw. Like other members of the club, Marshal will bring her birds to the fair during the times she’s scheduled to man the booth.
“We have about 10 core members and about 25 total,” she said. “We take turns being at the fair. But one member takes his vacation and stays the entire time, and another parks her motorhome there throughout the fair.”
Originally when they began showing their birds, they had a small tiki hut with a cage, which was re-purposed from a parade float they’d had. Now the fair has given them their own building where birds are exhibited and where there’s plenty of room to display information and sit and talk to anyone who wants to know about exotic birds.
This year they will feature an example of the smallest and the largest parrots known to mankind. There’s the parrotlet which is about two and a half inches tall, and the Hyacinth macaw, which, from head to tip of the tail, is about three-feet long.
“We have hundreds and hundreds of people stop by during the course of the fair,” said Marshal. “Sometimes we will have a parrot there that is OK with strangers holding them. But not always.”
As for getting one of the parrots on display to say what you want them to, don’t count on that either.
“You can tell them the same thing over and over,” Marshal said. “But if they don’t find it interesting, they’re not going to learn it.”
Indeed. It’s the interesting words that most parrots will repeat.
“A parrot learns what they want to,” she said. “It’s the words that are said with force, or emotion or emphasis that they like — and whether they are rewarded for saying it.”
The club, which formed in 2003, meets once a month at 1:30 p.m. on the second Sunday of the month. They meet in Port Orchard at the Active Club. They are always looking for more members. They participate in the Seattle Parrot Expo and the Petpalooza in Bellevue, and they do other smaller local events throughout the year.
They also work to keep down the number of unwanted birds that end up living in bird sanctuaries, such as the macaw sanctuary in Carnation.
“We’re just a group of normal people who enjoy our birds and like to have friends,” Marshal said. “We like to interact with other bird lovers. We’re friends who share a common bond.”
To learn more, check out the Olympic Bird Fanciers Facebook page.
Did you know:
• Parrots, also known as psittacines, are birds of roughly 393 species in 92 genera and make up the order Psittaciformes. They are found in most tropical and subtropical regions.
• The most important components of most parrots’ diets are seeds, nuts, fruit, buds, and other plant material. A few species sometimes eat animals and carrion, while the lories and lorikeets are specialized for feeding on floral nectar and soft fruits. Almost all parrots nest in tree hollows (or nest boxes in captivity), and lay white eggs.
• Parrots, along with ravens, crows, jays, and magpies, are among the most intelligent birds, and the ability of some species to imitate human voices enhances their popularity as pets. Some parrots are intelligent and talk at the level of a 4 or 5 year-old human.
• With few exceptions, parrots are monogamous breeders who nest in cavities and hold no territories other than their nesting sites. Parrots and cockatoos form strong bonds and a pair remains close even during the non-breeding season, even if they join larger flocks.
* Studies of captive birds have given insight into which birds are the most intelligent. While parrots are able to mimic human speech, studies with the African grey parrots have shown that some are able to associate words with their meanings and form simple sentences. Along with crows, ravens, and jays, parrots are considered the most intelligent of birds. Not only have parrots demonstrated intelligence through scientific testing of their language-using ability, but some species of parrots, such as the kea, are also highly skilled at using tools and solving puzzles.