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A Trusted Friend in a Complicated World

Why Does This Woman Have 362 Exotic, Endangered Birds Living In Her Backyard?

Sure, Michele Raffin has 35 aviaries to clean and many, many beaks to feed. But she does have help, and she gets plenty in return. Perk No. 1: Her days kick off with a crazy macaw-parrot dance party.

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Michael Kern

How Michele Raffin’s life went to the birds

In 1996, Michele Raffin, a Silicon Valley executive turned stay-at-home mom to three sons, wouldn’t have been able to name the birds to be spotted in the backyard of her home in Los Altos, CA. But today, she can do so with ease—even though that yard is home to more than 360 birds from 34 species. Her journey began when she tried to rescue a wounded dove on the roadside; that led to more bird rescues and then to her founding of Pandemonium Aviaries, a nonprofit bird sanctuary.

Raffin is pictured here with Shana (on her shoulder) and Tico (in front). A macaw, Tico is “our best dancer, as bold and tempestuous as a flamenco artist,” writes Raffin in her new book The Birds of Pandemonium. Here, meet more of her most fascinating feathery friends.



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Michael Kern

Amigo, red-headed Amazon parrot

A former pet, Amigo had been dropped at Raffin’s veterinarian’s office for treatment and was never claimed by his owner. One day, Raffin was there with her son Nick, then 12, who wandered off … and returned with Amigo perched on his shoulder. Upon seeing Nick, Amigo had said “hello! hello!”, picked the lock on his cage, and jumped onto the boy. The vet and Michele were nervous because the parrot had a bad temper with a particularly nasty bite, but when Amigo yelled out “I love you!” to Nick, Michele was won over. Amigo slept under Nick’s bed and the two developed a solid bond. These beautiful bird photos will ignite awe.

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Michael Kern

Shana, yellow-naped Amazon parrot

Shana was abandoned by her owners after living with them for more than 20 years, and as a result, was very traumatized. At first she’d wake Michele and her husband up at 4 a.m. by loudly singing the first four notes of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. Whenever Michele approached her cage, however, Shana would go silent. After a few months and with lots of tender loving care, she came out of her shell and now says “hello, pretty mama!” when Michele comes by.

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Michael Kern

Amadeus, Lady Ross’s turaco

Amadeus came to Pandemonium with only one leg (he was attacked by a hornbill at his previous aviary). He lives with Kenya, another turaco (a species native to sub-Saharan Africa). She is very shy, and he likes to feed her blueberries.

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Michael Kern

Coffee, Victoria crowned pigeon

Coffee is one social butterfly. He likes sitting in humans’ laps and having them scratch his neck and ruffle his feathers. When Michele is in his cage, he follows her around and wags his tail. Native to New Guinea, Victoria crowned pigeons are one of the six species bred at Pandemonium Aviaries, which is proud to have the second-largest flock of Victorias under conservation.

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Michael Kern

Peeki, rainbow lorikeet

After Peeki came to live at Pandemonium, Michele acquired a female mate, Harli, a lorikeet who had a strong New Jersey accent. Peeki loved being with Harli—they took baths together, hopped together, swung on ropes in tandem—yet he never spoke. However, after Harli passed away, Peeki began talking—with a Jersey accent. In his vocabulary are the phrases “Good food” and “Hi there!” He and his current mate, Harli II, are the parents to three rowdy lorikeets.

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Michael Kern

Baby green-naped pheasant pigeon

Thanks to careful breeding and hand-rearing (shown here, a chick, which needs to be fed by hand every two hours, day and night), Pandemonium now has 18 green-naped pheasant pigeons, the largest flock in the world.

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Michael Kern

The Birds of Pandemonium

Although Pandemonium Aviaries is closed to visitors, you can enter its world by reading Raffin’s new book, The Birds of Pandemonium, an engaging and informative memoir of her bird-rescue and conservation efforts. (All of the photos here are from the book.) It will help you see the winged creatures we share our world with in a whole new light. As Raffin writes, “Birds mourn, they sacrifice, they engage in wicked tricks. They name their babies. They invent, they plot, they cope.” 

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest