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Must love birds: Fargo woman opens home to injured, orphaned birds

Mary Grinde's north Fargo home is rarely placid. But then, with a dozen birds living there, it isn't likely to be. The birds don't just stay in one of eight cages arrayed around the living room and kitchen. When Grinde's awake, the birds - most o...

Mary Grinde's north Fargo home is rarely placid.

But then, with a dozen birds living there, it isn't likely to be.

The birds don't just stay in one of eight cages arrayed around the living room and kitchen. When Grinde's awake, the birds - most of whom have their wings clipped - roam free through the living room and kitchen. Some are on perches, others walk the floor. The only time any is caged during the day is if it misbehaves; the standard punishment is a brief time-out.

Some are more demanding of Grinde's attention than others. One insists it be allowed to perch on her shoulder. Some insist on others' attention as well; Jack, an Indian ring-necked parakeet, about twice the size of the normal pet-store variety, perches on a visitor's shoulder for most of a half-hour. Jack even deftly steals chewing gum out of the visitor's mouth.

Grinde, 68, has been taking in injured wild and orphaned domestic birds for several years. She's become so adept at it that Fargo's Animal Health Clinic refers her to people that have caught wild birds or can no longer keep a pet.


"Mary's been a longtime client, so we know her well," says Dr. Kevin Dill of Animal Health Clinic. "She has been very interested in birds for a very long time and she's got a very good knowledge base as far as their general care."

She got her first bird, a parakeet she hand-fed, at 10. After that escaped, "I never really wanted another bird," she says.

But she and her late husband, Roger, spotted a gorgeous, green, yellow-naped Amazon parrot named Hombre on a Labor Day weekend 28 years ago at a Twin Cities pet shop. Hombre climbed up on her shoulder and removed her glasses; it was love at first squawk.

Fifteen years later, she bought a snow-white umbrella cockatoo, Q-tip.

Q-tip was joined two years ago by Moe, another umbrella cockatoo she has taken care of for somebody else.

The cockatoos are hard to distinguish now, but it wasn't always so. Before Moe joined Grinde's little aviary, his previous owner had kept him caged. Because of that, Moe became anxious and picked off nearly all his feathers and the tips of his wings and tail.

Grinde has nursed Moe back to health and his few remaining missing feathers aren't even noticeable to the untrained eye.

About six or seven years ago, neighbors who knew of her fondness for birds began bringing over wild birds that had fallen out of trees or become injured. When that started to happen more, she approached the Fargo-Moorhead Humane Society about taking in injured and unwanted birds. The timing was perfect; the Humane Society was looking for someone to do just that.


She's taken care of as many as 20 birds at one time. During one stretch last year, Grinde hand-fed 15 baby birds.

"I guess I just feel sorry for (the birds)," she says. "They're a live thing. If I can't save them, at least I make them comfortable."

A bookkeeper for Bud's Amoco in Moorhead, she works out of an office in her home so she's able to keep a set bird-care routine.

She's up at 6 a.m. daily, washing out water bowls, changing water and putting clean paper in the bottom of the cages. She gives two or three cages a thorough cleaning every day.

Then it's breakfast time. The birds get small treats of string cheese and peanut butter toast (some prefer it plain, while Hombre likes his with honey). Then they get a mix of fruits and vegetables, "depending every week what's the best in the grocery store," she says.

Breakfast winds up with small treats of banana bread, which she sheepishly says isn't homemade. "Don't tell them," she says with a chuckle. "I buy it."

They also sometimes get some Lucky Charms. Q-tip eats all the marshmallows first.

She feeds them smaller, healthy meals later in the day. Baby birds are hand-fed special formula from an eye dropper. Moe, the cockatoo, steals bits of food from the other birds and hides it for later.


Later in the evening, every day, she scrubs the floors in her house. She's no animal hoarder; her place is immaculate. When a bird leaves droppings on the floor, she's there seconds later with a tissue.

If it sounds like a lot of work it is. "If anybody takes care of them, I have to make a whole list," Grinde says.

Nor does the work go on only during the day. Q-tip sleeps in Grinde's bed and actually is toilet trained. He wakes her up at night so she can hold him over the toilet.

Dill says the constant work is necessary because "I don't think it would be unreasonable to say that (birds) are difficult to take care of. They're not like dogs or cats. They're more like little people."

Birds are extremely social and highly intelligent, he says.

"They are able to interact at a level that goes beyond what a normal pet relationship is going to be like," he says. "They're much more able to show clear emotions, anger and happiness and those kinds of things. ... It's not a pet that you can simply stick in a cage."

People generally don't realize that, he says. The average lifespan of a captive parakeet is three years, but they can live five times that if well cared for.

Once Grinde nurses wild birds back to health she gradually releases them. They'll come back to her home for awhile, but most stop doing that within a couple of months.


Domestic birds sometimes are adopted out, but Grinde is very picky about the homes they go to. She keeps more than she lets go.

She estimates she spends several thousand dollars a year on the birds, $100 to $150 a month of that on bird seed alone. But, she doesn't ask anyone for money. The work is an expense, and labor, of love.

"It's just what I do," she says with a shrug. "There's always somebody to tell me hello, to tell me goodbye. I always have the last word. I put them in the cage."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Tom Pantera at (701) 241-5541

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