Photography by Joshua Curry
Tango cocks his great-feathered head to the right and squawks loudly, his huge red wings opening up behind him as his wingspan fills his cage with the color of ripe tomatoes. He is being fed by his caretaker, Ces Erdman, founder of the Cape Fear Parrot Sanctuary, who laughs at Tango s excitement, obvious in the quick, measured bobbing of his beak and ruffling of the feathers along his spine.
Tango is the typical parrot if asked to call one to mind: pinch of electric blue at the edge of his wings, a wisp of sunshine-yellow and garden-green tucked underneath. His face is stark white complete with alert, bright eyes. He appears entirely foreign among the open field of the Cape Fear Parrot Sanctuary, that has recently moved to a new home in Pink Hill, Duplin County. Tango s calls are loud and clear, as if he still believes he is in the jungle.
Tango is one of ten parrots Erdman takes his time feeding every afternoon at his homemade, personally kept and sunshine-lit sanctuary.
Parrots are just like flowers. They grow brighter with sunlight and proper treatment. They flourish, Erdman says.
Since October 2013 he has been running his bird paradise, adding it to the list of only five other parrot sanctuaries in the nation. Erdman spends an hour per day feeding, cleaning and giving water to each of them, and that s without the time it takes to socialize with them.
Parrots mate for life, so when they re pets, you become their mate, he explains. They look forward to seeing you. It s a more intimate kind of care than with other animals, because parrots can t just walk around. You have to hold them on your arm or shoulder and really spend time with them.
More than a lifelong commitment, parrots live for up to 90 years, and their vast array of personalities make them loveable but time consuming.
It is in the sunlight when all of the birds are most active, and when the tinier parakeets become talkative. Thirty-two parakeets have been surrendered to Erdman through families who cannot care for their parrots any longer, or pet stores unable to sell certain birds. In their large, custom-built aviary, Erdman says they are always chirping about something.
I like to drink my coffee and watch them in the morning. I keep thinking, What do you all have to talk about? You ve been together all day, and it makes me smile, Erdman says.
With each one appearing in different combinations of water-colored pastel hues of sky blue and lavender, tinted with butter yellow spots and bright green splotches, Erdman finds them enchanting to look at as they spread their wings and fly across the aviary.
When a new one is added, they all flock to him and talk to him. Tell him it s okay where he is now, I guess, because they always immediately become comfortable and meld into the group, Erdman says. By morning, he s part of the group.
There is a quiet pair of birds-of-a-different-feather that Erdman takes particular joy in caring for each day. Quaker, the Quaker parrot, and Frankie, the green cheeked conure, have become friends despite their species difference -- something that rarely happens among birds. They sit side by side in the sun; each with one foot bent in the air, resting steadily on the aviary s platform, a movement Erdman explains is only done when birds are at utter peace. Quaker is the more outgoing of the two; he flies to Erdman upon seeing him enter the aviary, resting his weight on his forearm, whistling politely. Frankie, shyer, hangs back.
Frankie will only approach me if Quaker has already moved to my shoulder, Erdman explains, Frankie would go anywhere Quaker would go.
At night the friends nestle closely together, sleeping with their green wings touching.
Night is a scary time for birds. They go from seeing anything to seeing nothing. They feel safer together, Erdman says.
With Erdman s consistent care, each bird is in a safe, happy environment -- finally able to enjoy the sun and enjoy a long-lasting home.
It s a lot of work but I know that they ve been moved around so much. It s worth it because I know they ve finally found a place they can call home, Erdman says.
Erdman s motivation is steadfast as he looks to build up his sanctuary with time and money.The goal now is to build larger aviaries so that the parrots can come and never have to leave again, Erdman says, People will soon be able to come in, bring their kids, and spend the day looking at the different birds in their big, new aviaries. There isn t anything like that out there.