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Last Updated: Friday, 8 August, 2003, 12:29 GMT 13:29 UK
The bird whisperer

by Brady Haran
BBC News Online, East Midlands

Steve Nichols and friend
Parrots seem to trust Steve Nichols
Steve Nichols has a way with birds.

The founder of the UK's National Parrot Sanctuary connects with them in a way few people can understand.

Strolling through the centre at Friskney, in Lincolnshire, he can individually name most of the 414 parrots under his care.

And like a horse whisperer who can "break" troublesome equines, Mr Nichols has the ability to bond with the worst behaved birds.

He says: "I have got a natural affinity with parrots... they actually relate to me."

FLYING HIGH
Parrot

"When a wild creature will jump off the tree and come walking over to you, and when it has been someone's bad pet, then I think I just feel so special."

The majority of birds at the sanctuary are "problem pets" which overwhelmed their owners.

Mr Nichols said increasing numbers of owners were finding their parrots too much to handle and were surrendering them to the sanctuary.

At the current rate, he expects the sanctuary's stock to go up to more than 1,000 birds within two years.

The influx can be put down to the rising number of parrots being imported into the UK and the fact that the animals get more difficult to manage as they get older.

ON THE MENU
Each year the sanctuary goes through:
Four tonnes of seed
Two tonnes of fruit
One tonne of nuts
600 cooked chickens
A few turkeys at Christmas
It is noise and aggression which usually drives most people to give up their birds.

When BBC News Online visited the sanctuary, one woman phoned Mr Nichols about giving away her bird after owning it for just nine days - despite paying 900 for it.

The bird had started attacking family members.

Mr Nichols says: "Most people just don't realise what they are getting themselves into when they buy parrots.... they are still wild animals and can be very difficult.

IMPERSONATORS
Parrot
Mr Nichols changes his mobile phone ring tone every couple of days to stop his parrots mimicking it
"It's not like dogs which are domesticated and have been living with humans for thousands of years."

In recent weeks, Mr Nichols has opened his sanctuary to paying customers, mainly in the hope of raising money for his expanding operation, which also includes a 24-hour helpline for worried owners.

"There are lots of charities around and parrots fall very low down the scale.

"As more birds come into the sanctuary the more it is going to cost.

"So we came up with the idea that if we show people what we do, and they contribute by paying to come in, hopefully we can secure the longevity of the parrots and the charity."




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Brady Haran
"It's not easy remembering the names of more than 400 birds"


Steve Nichols
Additional interview footage exclusive to News Online



SEE ALSO:
In Pictures: National Parrot Sanctuary
08 Aug 03  |  Photo Gallery
Popular parrot leaves perch
07 Mar 03  |  England
Parrot gives parishioners the bird
27 Nov 02  |  England
Parrots return after nine decades
20 Aug 02  |  Science/Nature
Rare parrots lay a record
20 Mar 02  |  Science/Nature


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