Watch as Dr. Karen Becker talks with Irena Schulz, founder of Bird Lovers Only, a bird rescue organization, and her amazing dancing cockatoo, Snowball.
Recently I was privileged to have two very special guests at my Natural Pet Animal Hospital, Irena Schulz and a very special member of her family, Snowball, the Dancing Cockatoo!
I’ve been Irena’s avian veterinarian for many years and I’m familiar with the story of Snowball.
I sat down with Irena to discuss our mutual love of birds, her bird rescue organization, Bird Lovers Only, and of course, the very delightful and wildly popular Snowball!
I hope you enjoy watching the videos as much as I loved making them.
A complete transcript of my conversation with Irena can be viewed at the links above.
Irena’s Bird Rescue Organization: Bird Lovers Only
Irena Schulz developed a love of birds as a baby. Her mother kept parakeets, and Irena often fell asleep to the comforting sound of their chirps.
According to Irena, her not-for-profit bird rescue, Bird Lovers Only, wasn’t something she planned - it more or less evolved from her passion for birds.
As a bird lover, Irena once bought birds as pets. Gradually she became aware there was a large population of homeless exotic birds. She began rescuing, but soon realized she could only take in so many birds and still give each the care and attention they deserved.
So Irena began to adopt out many of the birds she rescued to her bird loving friends. But eventually, she exhausted that avenue as well.
The next step in this evolution was for Irena to create a non-profit organization to help in her bird rescue efforts, and that’s how Bird Lovers Only came to be.
Bird Lovers Only rescues birds from every conceivable situation, including:
- Birds given up for economic reasons
- Birds owners can no longer care for
- Birds that are products of a divorce situation or other family split
- Abused and abandoned birds
- Stray birds
Irena has help at Bird Lovers Only in the form of volunteers. That’s a good thing, because a lot of birds means a lot of bird poop to keep up after!
How Irena Met Snowball the Dancing Cockatoo
Irena took a call from Snowball’s previous owner. He told her two things: number one, he just didn’t have the time any longer to properly care for Snowball. And two, Snowball had grown aggressive toward the man’s daughter.
Irena agreed to meet Snowball. When his owner brought Snowball to Irena, he also brought a Backstreet Boys CD.
The man asked Irena to play a specific song on the CD - Snowball’s favorite. He said Snowball would dance when he heard the song.
Snowball perched on Irena’s arm, and her husband put the CD in the computer. As soon as Snowball heard his favorite Backstreet Boys tune, he began leaping up and down on Irena’s forearm, slamming his little feet to the beat.
Irena couldn’t believe it!
As she watched the amazing cockatoo dance to the beat of the Backstreet Boys, she tried not to laugh because she didn’t want to shake her arm and disturb Snowball’s dance moves!
Snowball’s owner explained to Irena that the bird developed a desire to dance shortly after he got him, and his dance moves became more and more elaborate over the years.
Needless to say, Irena took Snowball into her family and gave him his new forever home.
Gimme a Beat!
He doesn’t care for rap.
He’ll dance to country tunes.
He’s not much for classical music.
Snowball seems to need a beat, and certain rhythms appeal to him more than others.
When I asked Irena if Snowball ever dances not to music she puts on, but to a tune in his head, she said he does! Irena thinks when Snowball starts dancing without music, he’s telling her to crank up the tunes for him. He’s telling her, ‘I’m in the mood to dance.’
According to Irena, some days - often if it’s overcast or stormy - Snowball doesn’t feel like dancing.
I asked Irena if, since he lives with many other birds, Snowball has inspired others in the flock to try dancing.
Irena replied that indeed, there are some macaws in the group that weren’t dancers initially, but after watching Snowball, they’ve started to dance as well!
Snowball is Also a Research Subject
Dr. Ani Patel and Dr. John Iversen at the Neurosciences Institute in San Diego have worked with Snowball to learn more about his unique dancing abilities.
The doctors slowed down Snowball’s favorite Backstreet Boys tune in increments and Irena filmed him adjusting his movements to match the beat as it changed.
Irena says after viewing the video, Dr. Patel was still skeptical, so he paid Snowball a personal visit. As he watched in person as Snowball again adjusted his movements to keep time with the changing beat, Irena swears his jaw dropped!
A Packed Social Calendar
Snowball the Dancing Cockatoo is a busy bird.
He always has a calendar jammed full of events and appearances.
What Irena hopes Snowball’s fans understand is the dancing is a natural behavior for him. He hears music he likes and he wants to dance. Snowball wasn’t trained by anyone to do this – he’s exhibiting behavior that is natural to him.
Snowball doesn’t mind dancing in front of people, either. In fact, he’s quite a crowd pleaser. He seems to enjoy the attention - the more the merrier!
He doesn’t seem to experience stage fright, which is good since he often appears on national TV.
I asked Irena if she ever worried that Snowball might just decide not to dance at a scheduled event or appearance. She replied that as long as he gets a nice little rest between engagements, he’s soon ready to get his groove on again.
Sage Advice for Potential Bird Owners
Some of you watching or reading might be so thoroughly enchanted with Snowball that you’ve decided you want a bird of your own.
Exotic birds are magical, amazing creatures.
They are also high-maintenance ... expensive ... messy ... loud ... and many are aggressive.
Birds like Snowball have complex interactions and social behaviors with other birds and people. On the one hand, they are flock animals and very social. On the other hand, they bond with one mate and can behave aggressively with humans in their midst.
They can be confusing and difficult for their owners to understand.
Irena and I know that many birds in the pet bird trade are exploited for their beauty and entertaining behaviors.
Also, people acquire birds without realizing the enormous commitment involved. Birds like Snowball require lifelong environmental enrichment, biologically appropriate nutrition, and excellent over-all care in order to thrive. Many of these birds live to be 70 or 80 years old - that’s a long commitment to a creature that has very different care and social needs from other types of pets.
With Snowball, Irena is able to educate people about what it takes to be a fully committed pet owner to an exotic bird.
She helps people understand that birds are highly intelligent and in fact, research has only scratched the surface of the ways in which exotic birds use their brains.
Irena stresses that because Snowball and birds like him are so intelligent, they will not thrive sitting in a cage like ornaments. Exotic birds that don’t receive regular environmental enrichment will over time develop emotional problems and self-destructive behaviors.
I want to thank Irena and Snowball for spending a few minutes with me today to entertain and enlighten visitors to Mercola HealthyPets.com.