When Robert Arrow’s beloved African Grey parrot, Frankie, was killed by his dogs in a tragic accident on the 17th of September 2017, he was left devastated.
His daughter, Kerry-Lee, had come across a Facebook post about Brainy Birds in Edenvale and suggested that they visit the rescue sanctuary. She thought that if he spent time with the rescued birds then it might give him a chance to heal.
Birds of every shape and colour
On Thursday the 21st of September, they arrived at the Brainy Birds sanctuary bright and early. It was a hive of activity with people carrying cages, grabbing food and buckets of water and, of course, a host of birds of every shape and colour singing and screaming hello.
Dee Hendrickx, the founder of Brainy Birds, greeted them warmly and gave a tour of the facility, telling stories about some of the birds while they moved from section to section.
The sanctuary is a self-sustaining NPO that grows its own vegetables and herbs, recycles everything and relies on donations to buy food and pay for hospital bills, all in the hope that the rehabilitated birds will be rehomed.
Rescue never sleeps
With almost 200 birds at the sanctuary, father and daughter were overwhelmed and humbled by what goes on behind the scenes of rescue. Birds that have been neglected, abused or abandoned are lovingly carried out each morning to their different perches in the garden, while volunteers go from cage to cage changing food and water bowls and cleaning out cages. This is done every morning and afternoon, rain or shine.
In between that, food is sifted to be reused and all waste goes back into the garden as compost. Fresh fruit and vegetables are cut up to make the most gorgeous-looking “chop” for the birds. Sick birds are tended to and other birds get a song and dance in. Some volunteers are busy organising events to raise funds and Dee is always on standby to rush to the aid of an emergency. Rescue never sleeps.
Allowing the birds to fly
During a morning coffee break, Robert asked more about the aviary that Brainy Birds wanted to build. Having been in the engineering industry for over 50 years and being the owner of Brewbev, a specialised engineering company based in Alrode South, he was interested in what they had in mind. Dee told him her plans and how she wanted to build it and explained that they were slowly raising funds for this project.
Not only would the aviary alleviate a lot of time, it would allow the birds to fly. Robert whipped out a pen and paper, made a few sketches and said there and then that he would build the aviary for them.
And that was the start of the four-month Frankie Free-Flight Aviary project, a massive 16 metres by 9 metres aviary with a 3.3-metre-high flight area and 3.65-metre-high living area, designed, manufactured and donated to the Brainy Birds Rescue Facility by Brewbev.
The incredible aviary was ready for occupation in January 2018.
Trials and tribulations
Robert did encounter a few difficulties during the course of the project. Sourcing the correct materials that were “bird friendly” at competitive prices was challenging. Travelling to and from the facility to his workshop was hectic during the festive season build-up. Being fair-skinned and of retirement age presented their own difficulties working in the sun during a heatwave. There were bad storms during the four months that weren’t too problematic… until the lightning came.
When it took longer than he had anticipated, it was frustrating. His wife was often left on her own while he toiled at the facility; he felt bad every time he got home and she asked if it was finished and he knew there was still a lot to be done. His son asked him the same, often pointing out that they had a business to run and that the aviary was not bringing in any money.
Working for the birds
But, despite these challenges, there were many rewarding moments. As the aviary began to take shape, many people commented on how great it was, which spurred him on. Working under the trees with the birds in the background created a very serene and peaceful environment. Robert finds it hard to describe the sense of fulfilment he got – one would have to experience it to understand.
Dee also hand-picked a beautiful African Grey for him named Gracey, which is slowly filling the void left behind by Frankie.
But by far the most rewarding part was the moment when the completed aviary welcomed its first resident – a one-legged Macaw named Zina. For the last four months Zina had been confined to a cage. Although she can’t fly, the magnificent bird spent a good few hours clambering around the aviary in excitement.
This is what the aviary is all about: allowing these beautiful creatures to be rehabilitated in a loving and natural environment.
Awesome birds need an awesome home
When asked why he did it, Robert says the decision to build the aviary came quite easily – he believes that parrots are absolutely awesome birds, especially his favourite, the African Grey, but they get a raw deal from some of the humans they come into contact with and he feels very sorry for them.
At Brainy Birds there is a dedicated bunch of ordinary people putting in extraordinarily hard work and love into rehabilitating these abused birds. He wanted to try and make it an easier task for them and provide a wonderful place for the parrots to live. Dee Hendrickx is a “Bird Nut” and Robert calls her the The Parrot Whisperer.
When he and his daughter had visited the sanctuary a year earlier, she’d answered all of his questions with so much patience and knowledge in between attending to all the birds’ needs and he wanted to give something back.
He could see Dee was determined to get the aviary she wanted for her birds. She had plans drawn by hand and limited resources – he thought the least he could do was build the aviary for them as he had the resources and skills that were needed.
Would he do it again? Yes, he would love to. In fact, he’s already started designing the next one, which will be twice the size of the first.
Robert would like to thank the following people in helping him to complete the project: his wife, Lynda, for being so patient and understanding; all the staff at Brewbev; brothers Steven and Louis Spanellis for donating the tiles; Frikkie Radyn for tiling; Design Pot for donating the signs; and Steelmesh for supplying the mesh at a very good price.
About Brainy Birds
Brainy Birds is a non-profit organisation which provides a safe, loving environment for the recovery, conservation and lifelong care of over 170 companion Parrots. Dee Hendrickx started the sanctuary from her home over seven years ago after rescuing a few neglected, abandoned parrots. Brainy Birds is dedicated to the well-being of all companion parrots and aims to provide a happy place for these magnificent animals, with the hope of rehoming many into loving, well-equipped homes.
For more information about Brainy Birds – Parrot Training and Rescue Facility, contact Dee Hendrickx on 079 426 5572, email firstname.lastname@example.org, visit www.brainybirds.co.za and follow them on Facebook @BrainyBirds and Instagram at “brainybirdsza”.