Home tweet home: Birds rule the roost at 'Hollywood Heights Zoo'

News-DemocratAugust 25, 2013 

You hear the Laughlins' birds before you see them.

They call loudly from inside the Caseyville home where Cindy and husband Stuart live with about 60 exotic birds.

Their living room is lined with large, metal cages. So is the dining room. Colorful macaws and sulphur-crested cockatoos perch on rope, keeping an eye on Cindy. She's at the kitchen stove whipping up breakfast in a large skillet.

The birds must be hungry because they all seem to be calling at once.

"We sometimes wear earmuffs," said Cindy. "It gets a little rowdy here. I cook breakfast for them every morning. Scrambled eggs with veggies. Fresh fruit and veggies on the side. Try it -- it's pretty good."

Wiry Stuart, a painter for Boeing, moves from room to room, cleaning bird cages, feeding birds. They eat well.

"A case of corn a week," said Cindy. "A case of grapes. Two bunches of beets. Two cases of sugar snap peas. Two pounds of carrots. Fresh green beans. You name it, we get it. Fresh cherries when they're in season. Peaches. It's expensive. Our food bill is outrageous."

Cindy likes birds but she never imagined they would, well, take over the first floor. The Laughlins acquire many through word-of-mouth. Somebody has he can't keep. Can she take it?

"We have always found room for them," said Cindy, a friendly, matter-of-fact woman who gave up her cashier job at Schnucks to care for birds and other creatures.

"We have had a one-footed goose given to us," she said, "several chickens, a rabbit and a couple of dogs."

Her collection started about 25 years ago with Charlie, the Amazon parrot.

"We still have her."

The birds are noisy. Their care is time-consuming, and sometimes, exhausting. But Cindy never tires of watching them interact.

"It's almost like a field study inside a house," she said "They talk. We make songs up. They make songs up for me. They sing. They do a lot of imitating. They tell me exactly how horrible I sing. That's OK. I keep my sense of humor."

She doesn't mind nicknames either.

"Kids come by. They call it the Hollywood Heights Zoo. Most think it's really nice."

So does she.

"There's a peace of mind that comes with it," she said. "We have done something no one else is going to do."

Are the birds ever quiet? "That's the biggest question we get. How do you sleep? They get quiet at night, after dark. Usually, we have a lull in the afternoon. Then, they start yelling for supper. After dark, they start shutting down. If they get too rowdy, we turn off the lights for a few minutes. We call it a black out."

What's fun about them? "Watching them interact. It's kind of like being in the United Nations watching all the different countries. Sometimes, they squabble. Sometimes, they get along. I find them fascinating. They sometimes gather by age, not by breed. When they go to mate, breeds didn't find each other interesting. They went and found one of a different species closer to their age. Then, of course, they produce a hybrid. The red and gold ones produced the orange," she said of three birds in the dining room. "He hatched out in April. He's a big boy."

"Or girl," said her husband.

"They have personalities just like people. Some are more personable. Some are stand-offish. Some talk extremely well. Some don't say a word. Some are lovers. They will lay their head on your shoulder. One of the little (African) grays will ask, 'Are you OK?' Others are beautiful, but don't want to be touched. 'Just stand around and admire me.'"

Do you name all of them? "Sometimes, they come with a name. Bear, we changed to Nato because she's a military macaw. That's Miss Cutter right there. The boy out there, his name is Jag. The green one over here, his name is Cadence."

Do you have a favorite? "No, I love them all. I have an umbrella cockatoo in there I love less. He was given to us. He has a lot of issues. ... I have threatened to send him back -- if I can find the people."

Have you been bitten? "If you get in the middle of a fight, you have to be careful. Watch their body language. (A bite) feels like when someone takes a pair of pliers and nails your finger real hard. You are going to know it."

Any bird surprises? "We used to leave Raspberry (a Malecon cockatoo) out. He would open the refrigerator, run around and open cages. We went out to dinner one time. He got into the kitchen cabinets, opened up all the spices and dumped them out."

Do you ever get away from them? "Upstairs, we have a bedroom and TV. We hear them less up there. It's quieter up there. They can raise the roof sometimes. ... It's been over 20 years since we had a vacation."

Any advice for people considering buying a tropical bird? "Spend a little time with them. Think about this. They live a long time, 60 or 70 years. Charlie (her first bird) should be about 50 now.

Bacall, a military macaw, would be old, too," said Stuart. "She's probably pushing 60, if not more."

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