Marshall County resident Judi Beekley shares her home with 51 exotic birds from over five different species. Many she has had since they were hatched, and some have even been in her care for 35 years.
Beekley first obtained a couple of companion birds about 35 years ago, before deciding to start breeding to provide well-adjusted companion birds to good homes.
She said she originally started breeding sun conures, but the birds under her care have grown since then to include Amazons, African grey -parrots, Eclectus, macaws, and cockatoos.
She does not breed birds anymore, but she said she was very particular about who she sold the birds she raised to and made sure they were old enough to leave their mother before they left.
“I was a better breeder than I was a businesswoman,” she said.
She said she refused to sell to pet stores, as well as sell any birds before they were finished weaning.
One major reason she didn’t sell the birds before they were old enough was that she would pay for any medical issues that a bird had if it happened while it was in her care.
Many of her birds are long-lived, and some she originally bred decades ago. Although she said most of the birds were bred by her, some are rescues that can have lifespans up to 65 years old.
She said one of these rescues was a macaw named Tabasco, who recently passed away at the age of 35. Tabasco, she said, was her feature attraction when she used to take birds to entertain nursing home residents. She would go to anyone, she said, and would even tug on her leg when it was time to go.
Beekley said she has fostered a strong bond with many of her birds like Tabasco over the years but recalls that her interest in the animals first started when her father brought home a parakeet after her confirmation in fourth grade.
“She was my best friend,” she said. “I have always really liked birds.”
She said they are a lot of fun to have around. She enjoys how each of her birds has its own unique personality.
She also mentioned that some, particularly the African grey parrots, can be a bit mischievous.
“You have to watch what you say,” she said.
African greys have the ability to mimic what they hear, and Beekley said one day she, a friend, and her husband spent the day looking for a distressed cat they thought was trapped somewhere only to find that one of the birds was making the noise.
“Each personality is different,” she said. “They’re all funny and all want attention.”
She said she plans on keeping all of the birds that live with her now.
“For the most part they are so attached to me,” she said.
At this point, she said, most of the birds have grown up with her so it would be jarring for them to no longer be in her care.
“They need the care,” she said. “It gives me purpose. It’s a reason for me to get out of bed in the morning.”