‘Gone to the birds’

PUHI — Marlee Gregory had a pressing question for Dia Battilla, owner of Rainbow Wings Kauai bird rescue, at the Kauai Humane Society’s Critter Camp last week.

“Are birds kind of like us?” the 7-year-old wanted to know.

Janis Martinez, who helps run the bird rescue with Battilla, walked Marlee through her question and the two of them decided humans and people aren’t so different.

“Well, we have hair and they have feathers that are kind of like our hair, and they talk,” Marlee concluded.

Marlee was one of 16 kids, ages 7-12, who were enraptured by the half-dozen exotic birds that took over the classroom at KHS for the Critter Camp.

The program, run by humane educator Debby Signaigo, puts kids in contact with different animal-based organizations around the island. Signaigo also brought veterinarians and other animal experts on board for lessons and the kids get to socialize with the animals at KHS, as well.

“It’s good for the animals and it’s good for the kids,” Signaigo said. “Plus, we have junior counselors that are over age 13. They’re doing it because they get community service credit for high school, but also because they all love animals.”

Introducing birds from Rainbow Wings to the kids at the Critter Camp was a learning experience for both groups. The birds got to adapt to a new situation and the kids to got to learn new things — about the birds and the shelter.

For example, some exotic birds can live more than 75 years.

“One of the big reasons we have to have a bird sanctuary for these birds is that they can live so long, they sometimes outlive their owners,” Martinez said.

Battilla, who has a veterinary background and worked with Scott Sims (known as the Aloha Vet, when he was making his reality TV show), has had a lifelong love for birds.

“My first bird was a parakeet, and I was 4,” she said. “His name was Sylvester and he was a good bird.”

Her husband, Tony, has always been a bird lover too, and he helps out with Rainbow Wings. The couple cares for 19 birds in their home, including a hyacinth macaw that is a little over a year old.

“Our life has gone to the birds,” Battilla joked.

Rainbow Wings has about 30 birds in its care. They are spread out over the homes of three individuals, who donate their time, energy and money.

Of those, 14 are permanent residents.

Since the inception of Rainbow Wings in 2008, the organization has found homes for 28 birds.

“We have a three-page application and we make sure that the birds go to their forever homes,” Battilla said. “If it doesn’t work out, I’ll take the bird back and refund the rehoming fee.”

Battilla is working toward establishing not-for-profit status for Rainbow Wings and she said she’d like to eventually create a permanent facility on two or three acres.

The facility would have flight aviaries, a triage room, and an organic garden to grow food for the birds.

Battilla said Rainbow Wings welcomes volunteers to help with boarding and socializing with the animals, cleaning cages and other chores. They are also open to foster or forever homes for their birds.

“If you don’t have big bird experience, we can mentor you, we’re open to that,” Battilla said. “We concentrate on exotic pet birds and we won’t ever turn a bird away that’s in need of help.”

Info: (808) 346-6277, or via email at diabattilla@gmail.com.

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